FOXBOROUGH — Stop us if you’ve heard this one before ….
Football coach watches his offense stall and is faced with making a critical fourth-down decision. After a similar situation backfired when he went for a fourth-and-2 from his 28 in the fourth quarter of a critical game that resulted in a victory by a heated conference rival, football coach decides to damn the torpedoes and go for it again in a game against a heated division rival three weeks later.
This time, however, it’s a fourth-and-1 from the opposition’s 6-yard line. It gets stuffed for no gain, allowing the opposition to take over with 1:55 remaining, enough time to cobble together an 11-play, 83-yard drive that is highlighted by a 29-yard field goal that pulls them within 14-10 at halftime.
So what, exactly, was Bill Belichick thinking in that latter scenario?
Today, in his postmortem address about the Patriots’ 22-21 loss at Miami, Belichick outlined the process behind his decision-making on fourth-down attempts.
“It’s what I feel what’s best for the football team at that time, at that situation, at that particular game,” Belichick said. “Is is the play we want to run in that particular situation in the game? I mean, there’s a lot of factors. I couldn’t even list a hundred of ’em, but some more important at times. It’s what I feel like what gives the best team the chance to win based on all the factors.
“That’s the way it is on every decision — fourth down, third down, second down, first down,” he added. “The coaching staff, head coach, the assistant coaches, players — everybody’s doing what they think is best at that time. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, but the intent is always to do what you think is best.”
That was Belichick’s intent when he decided to send Sammy Morris plowing into the pile at the Miami 6 with the Patriots looking to expand on their 14-7 lead. The Dolphins held Morris for no gain. Miami took over and went 83 yards in 11 plays for a 29-yard field goal that cut the Patriots’ lead to 14-10 at the half.
Asked if he was aware of some statistical studies that cited going for it on fourth down was more advantageous for a team, Belichick replied, “To me, the decisions are based on the game that you’re in, the team that you’re playing, what you think you can do, what you think you can’t do. Not all the situations are specific to that game and, to me, it’s not based on some statistical study.
“Not to disrespect any statisticians and all that, but I worry about our game and our team. That’s what I base my decision. Whatever the rest of that is, it is. I’m not going to tell you that it’s right or wrong.
“But it’s not a factor.”