For those who were looking for a candid explanation or an emotional mea culpa from Bill Belichick the morning after his already-infamous unconventional decision late in the game contributed to the Patriots’ shocking 35-34 loss to the Colts . . . well, you haven’t been paying attention to the coach all these years.
Last night Belichick surprised — OK, shocked — Patriots fans with his decision to go for it on fourth and 2 from the Colts 28-yard line with 2 minutes and 8 seconds remaining and a 34-28 lead, a decision that backfired when the Patriots failed to convert and the Colts quickly responded with the winning mini-drive, a culminating with a touchdown catch by Reggie Wayne and the extra point with 13 seconds remaining.
But in his press conference this afternoon at Gillette Stadium, there were no surprises. Belichick was understated and vague in response to questions about his decision-making process and the effect of the loss on the Patriots, who drop to 6-3 and suffered damage to their hopes of securing one of the top two seeds in the AFC playoffs.
“Obviously, the Colts are a good football team,” Belichick said. “I thought we played them well, played them hard, and we had some opportunities. Collectively, we weren’t as able to play as well as they were. It’s disappointing to come up short in a game like that. We all feel it, as we should. We put a lot into it. There’s a lot of plays in that game that you think about. Obviously, from a coaching standpoint, there’s a lot of things that could have ended up better, by me and the players and everybody else.
“You always feel that way after a tough loss,” he continued. “But we’ve all got to do a better job, starting with me and find a way to win those games.”
When asked why he made the decision to go for it on fourth down — running back Kevin Faulk caught the pass but was tackled short of the necessary yardage — Belichick replied, “It’s the same thing I said after the game: I thought it was our best chance to win. I thought we needed to make that one play and then we could basically run out the clock. And, we weren’t able to make it.”
He said he did not fault Faulk for not getting the necessary yardage on the play.
“I think he had the first down when the ball hit him in his hands,” Belichick said. “Where it was finally marked and all, he was a little bit short. He was across the 30-yard line when the ball touched him.”
Belichick admitted that the play from the beginning probably wasn’t as executed as well as he would have liked.
“We had a little miscommunication on that as to whether we we’re going to go or punt. And once some of the guys on the punt team started out [on to the field], then the guys on offense started to come off . . . that wasn’t cleanly handled. Again, I’ll take responsibility for that.”
Belichick is taking plenty of heat nationally as well as locally for the decision. Among those who said it was the wrong call in the aftermath of last night’s game were former Patriots Rodney Harrison (now an NBC studio analyst) and Tedy Bruschi (of ESPN). If Belichick is aware of the criticism, he’s not saying.
“I don’t think I’m probably up on all the commentary,” Belichick said. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I respect that.”
Belichick was asked if it has dawned on him that the decision probably would be perceived as brilliant had it worked.
“Well, there are a lot decisions during a game that we all have to make, coaches, players, each play is filled with decisions,” he said. “You try to do the best you can, and I think that’s what we all do.”
Belichick did make it clear that a significant reason for his decision was his respect for Peyton Manning and the Colts’ big-play ability.
“That’s an explosive offense,” Belichick said. “We’ve seen them do it on one play, like the did to us two years ago on a 73-yard checkdown to [Joseph] Addai. Went the whole length of the field. We know how explosive they are. Anytime they have the ball, they’re capable of scoring. They’re capable of scoring touchdowns, they’re capable of scoring them in a hurry, they’re capable of scoring them on one play.”
While the decision, at least in hindsight, might look dubious to his players, Belichick said his motivation and thought-process was the same as it always is.
“I tell the team, and I think they believe, that I do what I think is best for our football team to win every game. I put the team first and I put those decisions first. And I would hope everybody understands that.”
Would he do it again?
“You only get one chance,” he said.