FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The wind, for the win.
We'll remember Sunday night's thrilling finish for a lot of reasons, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick ensured we'd once again remember an unorthodox decision in a classic showdown between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
Given the chance to take the ball after winning the overtime coin toss, the Patriots instead chose to take the wind.
"The wind, it was a strong wind," said Belichick. "We just had to keep the out of the end zone, obviously. I just felt like the wind would be an advantage if we could keep them out of the end zone on that first drive. We were able to do that. The wind was significant in the game, it was definitely significant."
If Manning and the Broncos had scored a touchdown on their first drive, or even just a field goal on either of their last two drives, the narrative would be much different. Belichick would be vilified.
In the aftermath of the victory?
"Bill's a genius," said Patriots safety Devin McCourty. "He's a genius. I mean, even the captains didnâ€™t know. We [were] like, 'Defer? Take the wind?' And, it was obviously the best call, and it was a great call by him."
McCourty was one of the team captains charged with making the call of being gone with the wind. The captains repeatedly asked Belichick to make sure they were doing exactly what Belichick wanted. Due in part to that decision, the Patriots left Gillette Stadium with the 34-31 victory.
There were likely several factors at play in Belichick's decision.
The first that comes to mind is the advantage on field goals. The Broncos drove the ball to the Patriots' 37-yard line on their second possession of overtime; it would have been a 54-yard field goal try, but that's usually within range of Broncos kicker Matt Prater, who is 19-of-25 in his career on attempts of 50 yards or longer.
The Broncos didn't feel confident kicking the field goal into the wind, and they ended up punting.
Not only did the wind limit the length of a potential field goal try by the Broncos, but Manning had to throw into the wind for the remainder of the night, where he had struggled to that point.
Great analysis by @TDESPN pointing how that Tom Brady higher accuracy and more yards into wind than Peyton Manning in entire game— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) November 25, 2013
The impact may have been most greatly felt in the kicking game, namely on punts. Broncos punter Britton Colquitt's final overtime punt netted just 22 yards, setting up the Patriots near their own 20-yard line where they may have otherwise had their backs against the goal posts.
Then, there was the final punt.
"That was a great punt by Ryan [Allen] there at the end, getting it up there high and making it a tough play," said Belichick. "We were able to take advantage of it."
Make no mistake; the sequence on that final punt may have looked fluky when it happened, but with all the talk of who was to blame for that final play, an invisible influence may have had the greatest impact.
It looked like former Patriots receiver Wes Welker became tentative and indecisive with the ball in the air, and that may have had to do with the wind affecting the trajectory of the punt.
Whether the wind impacted that fateful play or not, it certainly impacted the other 31 plays in overtime. Some will undoubtedly still question Belichick's decision, but there's no question that his decision helped secure a Patriots victory.
The author is solely responsible for the content.