By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Not long after the smoke settled on a truly unbelievable final play in Miami, many folks started wondering aloud why Rob Gronkowski was on the field to play defense.
While most observers understand that the 6-foot-6 Gronkowski can serve a critical role in batting down a Hail Mary, the Dolphins ran the play from their own 31-yard line. A Hail Mary wasn’t ever really in play.
And, in a case of Murphy’s Law, the deciding play of the game came down to Gronkowski standing in the open field, needing to make a tackle on an NFL running back. It did not work out.
Head coach Bill Belichick was asked about the play immediately after the loss, and he didn’t have much to say, aside from noting that both the Hail Mary and the hook-and-lateral options were certainly in play prior to the snap. But on Monday, in his conference call with reporters, Belichick fielded a series of questions on his decision to not only have Gronkowski on the field but also to take Devin McCourty — arguably the Patriots’ best tackler and fastest player — off the field for the critical moment.
Here’s how the conversation went. (Reporters’ questions are approximated.)
Reporter: On the last play, when Gronkowski’s in and Devin McCourty’s out, what is Gronkowski giving you in there in that situation that makes him the choice?
Bill Belichick: It would be his ability to play the deep, long throw.
Reporter: The deep long throw, is that Hail Mary, even though the Hail Mary might not at that point reach the end zone? Or are you thinking on that situation that the end zone might be in play?
BB: Uh, I think it was a little too far to get into the end zone, but certainly a deep pass in that situation is a possibility. I wouldn’t rule that out.
Reporter: Was there any consideration to run a regular defense on that play, instead of the Hail Mary defense?
BB: Uh, no.
Reporter: I’m just curious, of all the players to come off the field for the last play, why was it Devin McCourty who came off? He seems to be one of your team’s faster players and one of your better tacklers. Why was he the one that came off?
BB: Yeah, that’s the way we substituted that group.
Reporter: Do you wish in hindsight you had him on the field for that play?
BB: I think there’s a lot of things that could have been better on that play. I think there are a lot things that could have been better in the entire game. I think the game was won by a lot more than that play.
Reporter: Did you have an option to, instead of defending the end zone, have something in place where you have to defend the hook-and-lateral? Because it was unlikely that Ryan Tannehill could throw the ball 70-plus yards to the end zone.
BB: Yeah, so what’s the question? Play both plays? Yeah, that’s the idea.
Reporter: Since he was never going to reach the end zone, should you have had better tacklers on the field, rather than a 6-5, 265-pound tight end.
BB: Yeah, I just said, I thought there were a lot of things we could have done better on that play.
Reporter: Do you coach it up to account for the laterals on a play like that?
BB: Look, when the offense snaps the ball, there’s a lot of different things they can do on every play. So, when you’re on defense, you have to defend everything, all the things that could happen, all of the eligible receivers out there, and wherever they’re placed, and so forth. That’s the way it is on every play.