Wasn’t that a truly awesome way for the New England Patriots to lose Sunday night? Even for their nonplussed fans, “awesome” can mean “taken aback by awe” or simply “speechless,” which they are.
With a six-point lead and just over two minutes left, the Pats’ decision to attempt converting a 4th and 2 on their own 28-yard line fell just short, relinquishing the ball to Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts, who perfectly milked the clock into a delicious parfait, securing the 35-34 win and staying perfect (9-0) this season.
Naturally, the blame went on the hooded shoulders of coach and area villain Bill Belichick, whose decision to go for it instead of conservatively punting it away bit him in the bum which, for the next week, is what he has become.
But … would a punt have avoided the loss? Certainly it would’ve marginalized the risk. Kicking it away would’ve forced the Colts to go, let’s say, 72 yards instead of 28 with two minutes and one timeout. Even with Manning’s rich fourth quarter history, 70-plus yards with that slice of time is asking a lot.
We all look at that decision, the subsequent outcome, and say, “well, duh, of course they should’ve punted.” But I — and I’m sure many others, too — look at the play, and look at that fourth-down play. Had Patriots running back Kevin Faulk secured Tom Brady’s pass where he was standing (the 31-yard line), it’s a first down, and Belichick’s decision would go down in the game notes as brilliant, dastardly, and demoralizing. Then he would’ve lined up in a “victory formation” shaped like a middle finger.
Instead, the veteran running back with typically reliable hands bobbled the ball, and when Faulk was driven to the ground to the 29-yard line by Melvin Bullitt, he finally grasped the ball and was ruled down a yard short.
What are the odds Faulk makes that catch cleanly? Nine times out of 10? Eight?
What are the chances Manning would’ve driven for a touchdown had the Patriots punted? 20 percent?
This ought’nt be a defense of Bill Belichick’s decisions, nor is it. So I’ll just completely pin the blame on Kevin Faulk.