Monday, November 16, 2009

In Belichick I Trust

I didn't want to, but I've just got to address last night's epic Pats-Colts game. I wasn't going to write anything and I heard some mixed talk on the radio today, but I'm listening to Bill Simmons (a Patriots fan) podcast with Cousin Sal and it has me simmering. I was upset with the loss last night, but it wasn't the toughest loss I've ever had to deal with as a Patriots fan. There weren't any bad calls from the officials and there were a relatively equal number of "we should of had those" type moments from each team. What we had last night were two teams at the top of their game, two of the greatest quarterbacks ever in the prime of their careers, playing a great game. The margin of victory was one point and that was probably the difference between the teams. Brady didn't make a play at the end of the game and Manning did, end of story.

I feel bad for Bill Belichick and all the crap he's getting today, but I think I might feel worse for Peyton Manning who did the improbable to bring the Colts back and has become a second page story to Bill Belichick being a supposed idiot.

Let's be 100% completely clear for all the armchair Monday morning quarterbacks out there who haven't won three Super Bowls and six division titles: Going for it on that fourth down was not a bad call. Remember, these Pats and these Colts had top rated offenses and top rated defenses going in, but if there was any doubt, however good the two defenses might be, these are elite offensive teams that were operating at a high level last night. The Colts had scored touchdowns on two of their previous three fourth quarter drives, scoring on drives of 2:04 and 1:49. The sole drive they didn't score was a one play drive that ended in an interception after a miscommunication between Manning and Reggie Wayne. Best case scenario, a Patriots punt on that fourth down would have put the Colts at somewhere around their own 35, with just under 2 minutes to go and 1 timeout. Worst case scenario, the Colts are starting at their own 40 or 45 and still get the 2 minute warning in addition to their timeout. Regardless, it was plenty of time for that Colts offense to score. Going for it was a calculated risk, for sure, but there was nothing stupid about it. The choice was, leave the game up to Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. Punting it puts the game in Manning's hands and going for it gave Brady one last shot. Again, how about some respect for Peyton Manning? As I watched last night, I had no problem with the call because I was terrified of Peyton. My hope at the time was that a missed fourth down conversion gave the Pats a better chance than a punt, because a punt would considerably dimmed the chances of Brady even getting the ball back. It turns out the Colts milked the clock just enough for Brady only to get nine seconds.

The most puzzling criticism of Belichick today has been the criticism of his clock management. Yes the Patriots left themselves without timeouts, but it's not as though they needed them. Yes, they could have potentially called several timeouts when the Colts brought the ball down to the 1 with just under a minute left, but that would have been delaying the inevitable. They did burn timeouts on that final failed drive, but once again, that was the strategy. Just as they went for it on fourth down, taking the timeouts was designed to win the game then and there. 2:23 left, all they needed was one first down and they couldn't do it. Given the nature of the game, given the nature of the quarterback on the other sideline, I just can't argue with the strategy of giving your superstar a chance to win the game.

The story today should be that Manning beat Brady and manning may be the most unbelievable quarterback ever. I've always placed Brady ahead of Manning, but after last night it's hard to argue against the proposition that Manning has surpassed Brady. But instead, the story today is nothing but criticism from the Monday morning quarterbacks who can't hold a candle to Belichick in terms of football strategy. Criticize coaches when they do Dick Jauron like things and actively do things that hurt your football team and don't put players in the position to win. But don't be a Monday Morning asshole and criticize a reasonable strategic move when it fails. Remember back in 2003 when Belichick took that safety? It was the right call and would have still been the right call if the Patriots had lost that game in Denver. And last night's call was tough, no doubt, but it certainly wasn't stupid.


Anonymous rose said...

Couldn't agree more.

Let's say there's a 65% chance the Pats pick up that 4th and 2. And let's say there's a 70% chance that if the Pats do not get it, the Colts score and win.

(1-.65)(.70)= .245

If you accept my two assumptions above, then the Colts only had a 1/4 chance of winning based on the Pats decision to go for it.

So the question then is, what were the odds of Peyton leading a TD drive if the Pats had punted? Probably about 30-35% right?

I agree that Belichick made the right call. But even if I disagreed, I'd appreciate a coach erring on the aggressive side for ONCE, compared to the numerous too-conservative mistakes we see every Sunday. And lastly, anyone who thinks punting was a no-brainer and going for it was inexcusable, really hasn't thought about this very hard.

And Tedy Bruschi is an idiot.

9:25 AM  
Anonymous rhofulster said...

Rose wrote EXACTLY what I was going to write. Down to the numbers.

It seems odd to me that Jones-Drew was widely hailed for downing the ball at the one while Belichick has been crucified in the media. While , in my opinion, both maneuvers were sensible, the outcomes could easily have been flip-flopped.

I don't watch the Pats closely. It seems that they have another very good team, but they don't totally outclass everyone else (as they usually do.) I hope that Belichick is sitting on some data/analysis suggesting that going for 4th and short in one's own territory is the percentage play, and he uses it to get an edge in the playoffs.

11:56 AM  

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