MIAMI -- It didn't take long for the fingers to start pointing at Charlie Weis.
Until Weis announced last week that he was moving on to become the coach at Notre Dame, you seldom heard or read any criticism of the play calling of the Patriots' offensive coordinator. He was said to be "innovative," "dynamic," and "well-prepared." He was never said to be "ill-prepared" or "reckless." His calls seldom were termed "ill-advised."
Then the Patriots lost one game because their quarterback threw the ball to the wrong team four times, and the callers and e-mailers and critics came out of the woodwork with their sabers rattling in the direction of Weis. Many yesterday claimed that Weis mishandled the final two minutes of New England's 29-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins Monday night.
Maybe Weis should have expected this, because the minute he said he was leaving at the end of the season for greener pastures ($2 million compared with $500,000), some of the crazed denizens of Patriot Nation began to fret. Weis was now suspect, as seems to happen to every player or coach who leaves the frozen tundra of Razor Blade Field (not to mention Fenway Park, but that's a column for another day).
All it took was the signing of a contract and a loss six days later, and poor Weis was transformed from top-notch offensive coordinator to distracted bumbler. This idea was fueled some by "Monday Night Football" analyst John Madden, who mentioned that Weis twice had been to the Midwest last week, once to sign his contract at Notre Dame and Saturday to try to prevent a recruit from renouncing his agreement to fight for the Irish after Tyrone Willingham was fired. Weis went to Ohio on a slow day to try to persuade the kid but was in Miami in plenty of time to perform the normal functions of an offensive coordinator the night before a game.
In other words, other than spending some time talking with quarterback Tom Brady by phone rather than in a conference room in Foxborough, little changed, with the exception of some relatively minor duties that were shifted to offensvie assistants Jeff Davidson and Brian Dabol to lighten the load on a guy trying his best to serve two voracious masters.
More importantly, Weis called a fine game against Miami, one that produced 28 points, 322 yards, a 60-percent conversion rate on third down, the usual opening score of the game on the first drive of the night, and a 10-play, 71-yard drive for a touchdown late in the third quarter that immediately answered a Miami score that briefly had given the Dolphins a 17-14 lead.
So what's the beef with the beefy one?
According to some angry fans and a few media critics, Weis called a miserable string of plays in the final two minutes that cost the Patriots the chance to protect a 28-23 lead. Well, after reviewing those plays, the facts suggest otherwise.
Weis did not botch clock management or call dangerous and reckless plays. What happened was the Dolphins were able to put a lot of heat on Brady, and because of it he made two bad decisions. It happens. Don't blame Weis for that, because he didn't do anything different than he'd done the past five years.
In fact, with 2:03 to play and the clock about to be stopped at the two-minute warning no matter what, the Patriots called a pass play, which was a wise choice. Christian Fauria was wide open in the flat, but Brady's pass was tipped and fell incomplete. Had it gotten to him the way Weis hoped, Fauria would have had enough running room to create a second-and-short situation.
Weis called a running play next, and then on third and 9, tight end Daniel Graham was left uncovered. But Brady was under intense pressure from Jason Taylor off the edge. Had Brady had the time he needed, Graham would have gotten the ball and probably would have had enough running room for a first down that would have iced the game. But as Brady was being hauled down, he made an ill-considered decision to throw off-balance instead of taking the sack, and linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo intercepted the pass at the New England 23.
Miami threw the winning touchdown pass 22 seconds later on fourth down, a 21-yard loft to Derrius Thompson, the 6-foot-2-inch wide receiver who got a man-to-man mismatch on 5-10 wide receiver-turned-cornerback Troy Brown and made a good catch with 1:23 to play.
Now needing to gain about 52 yards in 83 seconds to set up a reasonable field goal attempt to win, Weis put Brady in the shotgun, but Miami's David Bowens stormed in and threw Brady to the ground for a 9-yard loss on first down, making it second and 19 at the Patriot 15 with 1:09 to play.
Obviously Brady had to throw, and he was again crowded and jostled as he went to pass. His throw in the direction of David Givens was intercepted by safety Arturo Freeman. It was a mistake that had nothing to do with Weis's play calling.
"We were trying to get the ball outside," Brady said. "I got my hand caught up as I was throwing it. I couldn't get anything on the ball, and the guy made a huge interception. It just wasn't very good."
It wasn't, but that had nothing to do with the plays that were called. It had to do with execution, same as it did in those 21 straight victories and those two Super Bowl wins when the execution made Weis's game plans look prescient.
As far as Weis's play calling in Miami, he called nine plays that led to a 77-yard scoring drive to open the game. He called 12 plays on a 50-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, and when the Dolphins finally took the lead in the third quarter, he answered with the well-designed 10-play, 71-yard TD march that made it 21-17.
That was before he called an eight-play, 65-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter that gave New England an 11-point lead with four minutes to play, a scenario coach Bill Belichick said yesterday was one any team would be glad to have.
In the end, however, mistakes were made and things fell apart. There were reasons for those mistakes, and they are correctable. The mistake that wouldn't be correctable -- or justified -- would be to blame the Patriots' last-minute loss Monday night on the guy calling the plays rather than the guys running the plays.