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Debate team

Decision by Belichick still one very hot topic

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / November 17, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - Patriots coach Bill Belichick grabbed the sides of the podium during his press conference at Gillette Stadium yesterday and maintained the call that ignited a national sports debate gave his team the best chance to beat the undefeated Colts Sunday night in Indianapolis.

Hours removed from sending his offense out on fourth and 2 from its 28-yard line leading by 6 points with 2:08 to play, Belichick repeated his thinking behind the controversial decision. The Patriots ended up short of a first down and set up the Colts for the winning touchdown in a 35-34 triumph.

“[I’ll say] the same thing I said after the game: I thought it was our best chance to win,’’ Belichick said. “I thought we needed to make that one play and then we could basically run out the clock. We weren’t able to make it.’’

Tom Brady’s pass to Kevin Faulk was spotted a yard shy of continuing the drive, which would have allowed the Patriots to work the clock protecting a 34-28 lead. Faulk seemed to grab the ball across the 30-yard line but didn’t secure it until he landed back at the 29.

The Patriots couldn’t challenge the spot because they had no timeouts, they turned the ball over on downs, and they watched Peyton Manning lead his team into the end zone, beating the Patriots by a point on a national stage.

“It’s disappointing to come up short in a game like that and I think we all feel it - as we should - [because] we put a lot into it,’’ Belichick said. “There were a lot of plays in that game that you think about. Obviously from a coaching standpoint, there are always a lot of things that could have been done better by me, the players, and everybody else.

“You always feel that way after a tough loss like that. We’ve all got to do a better job, starting with me, and find a way to win those games.’’

There were other issues for the Patriots, from turnovers to miscommunication late in the game that caused them to burn timeouts. The moment the Colts secured the victory, which improved their record to 9-0, Belichick became the subject of much criticism. Statistical analysis made the rounds. Everyone from analysts to fans and even former players weighed in.

Ex-Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, now a commentator with NBC Sports, called the move “the worst coaching decision I have ever seen Bill Belichick make.’’

Former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi wrote for ESPNBoston.com that the decision would have “made my blood boil for weeks’’ because the call sent a message to the defense that Belichick “felt his chances were better to go for it on his own 28-yard line than to punt it away and make Peyton Manning have to drive the majority of the field to win the game.’’

Belichick didn’t respond to that criticism yesterday, saying “everyone is entitled to their opinion.’’

There wasn’t much discussion in the locker room following the game, but cornerback Leigh Bodden said he thought Belichick’s move was a vote for the defense.

“It shows confidence in the defense,’’ Bodden said. “If the offense doesn’t get it, we have to stop them right there, that’s the way you look at it. It’s confidence in the offense or defense.’’

It wasn’t the first daring call Belichick made this season. Against the Falcons in Week 3, he directed the Patriots to go for it on fourth and 1 from their 24. Sammy Morris ran up the middle for 2 yards. The Patriots won that game, and the play was viewed as Belichick showing confidence in an offense that had been struggling.

This season, the Patriots have converted 5 of 11 fourth-down chances. But it is the attempt from Sunday night that now is infamous.

When Belichick was asked if he would do it again, he said, “You only get one chance.’’

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