Now that we’ve had 24 hours to digest Bill Belichick’s decision to elect to kick to the Jets after winning the Overtime coin toss, perhaps more questions than answers have arisen. Hopefully, the thoughts I have about the situation will answer some of your questions, and shed some light on one of the most controversial coaching decisions of the NFL season.
First, it was initially reported by Mike Reiss that Special Teams captain Matthew Slater accidentally elected to kick off, rather than receive the ball. This is actually understandable, since the Patriots never take the ball when winning the coin toss to start the game. So my initial thought was that Slater had a brain fart, and just went through the motions per usual like a robot.
However, after re-watching the coin toss, it was clear Slater knew exactly what he was going to say, and repeated it. The confusion came when Slater said “we want to kick in this direction“. When winning a toss you are allowed to make one decision: whether to kick or receive or whether to pick a direction. You can’t pick both, even if you choose not to take the ball.
What Slater could have done is picked a direction, which would have left the possession decision up to the Jets. I think possession, rather than direction, was the more important choice to the Patriots. Belichick confirmed in his post-game comments that he indeed wanted to kick off. Unless he assumed the Jets would elect to receive after the Pats picked a direction, it was more important to him to kick, than the direction to defend, thus the decision. My assumption is that Slater was unclear that he couldn’t pick a direction after deciding possession, and thought by deferring, he got the other choice as well. Unless he was just trying to pull a fast one on the officials. This explains what he said and the confusion that ensued on the field.
The second point is one that many may not realize; Bill Belichick has done this before, successfully. In a November 2013 game against the Broncos, in windy Mile High Stadium, the Patriots decided to kick off at the start of overtime due to the gusty winds experienced throughout the game. They ended up winning the game later in overtime with a Stephen Gostkowski field goal, with the wind at his back. The difference in this case is for the coin toss, the Pats left the possession decision up to the Broncos. They chose the direction they were going to defend, no matter who got the ball first. The Broncos took the ball… and eventually punted.
Lastly, when looking at the game as a whole, you have to admit that it could have potentially been a good decision. The Pats’ offense, weakened by a string of injuries, looked incredibly hobbled all game. Through 4 quarters they had only scored 13 points and had maybe 2 good drives all game, including the last one to tie it up which included two 4th down conversions. The defense looked good, only allowing 20 points for the game, and just coming off an impressive final stand to force the game into overtime. Had the Patriots caused a 3-and-out on the Jets’ first possession of overtime, the Pats would get the ball back only needing a field goal to win the game. Bill had more faith in his defense than his offense.
What I think Belichick was doing was playing a field position game. Assuming the offense can’t move the ball well in the first possession of overtime, they would have to punt to the Jets from deep in their own territory, possibly giving the Jets the ball 20-30 yards closer to the end zone, only needing a field goal to win. Bill assumed his defense would be able to hold the Jets to a field goal at most with the first possession of OT, putting the ball into Brady’s hands to either tie it up again with a field goal or win it with a TD. The last thing he envisioned was the Jets driving 80 yards on 5 plays to score a touchdown to win the game, which of course is exactly what happened.
In hindsight, I obviously didn’t like the decision. The greatest quarterback in NFL history didn’t get a chance to touch the ball in overtime. But hopefully now you understand the coach’s logic. He was more confident in his defense in that game, in that situation, in that spot. And his defense let him down.
Boston Sports Analyst, Spark Sports
Twitter – @BSMike