Just a few hours after his Patriots sealed an amazing 34-31 overtime win over the Denver Broncos, Bill Belichick was back in his office and reviewing the game, and in a Monday morning conference call he tipped his cap to the work his players did the previous night in overcoming a 24-0 halftime deficit.
“It was a short night but definitely a good one,” Belichick said. “I think going through the game film, it’s just more and more evident how tough and resilient our players were last night and how they just competed down after down for almost five full quarters against a really good football team. There were many guys that made plays that made a difference. It was really a team effort.
“We got contributions in all three areas: offense, defense, special teams and our linemen, our skill players, our semi-skilled guys, the specialists. It was just a real good job by everybody of hanging in there and competing and fighting every down. Denver is a good football team so they certainly made their share of plays. They did plenty of things that gave us problems but we hung in there and battled with them all the way. I’m really proud of that and our coaching staff for the job the assistants did in the preparation this week and also making adjustments during the game and working through some situations that came up.
“We just had a lot of contributions from a lot of people. It couldn’t be more of a team win.”
There has been a lot of talk about Belichick’s decision to give Peyton Manning and the Broncos the ball to start overtime, a decision that did play out in New England’s favor. But the coach even had to convince his captains who were headed to midfield for the coin toss that he was serious when he told them to defer if they won the toss.
He explained his logic behind the call many would consider risky:
“You never want to give Peyton Manning and that offense, you never want to just hand them the ball, but I just felt in that particular situation, with the wind being as significant as it was, that we just had to stop them from getting into the end zone,” Belichick said. “If we could do that, then we would have a significant advantage in the overtime period. We just had to make one stop and keep them out of the end zone.
“Even if they drove down and kicked a field goal, I felt like in that game, the field goal to kick going into the lighthouse, you’d have to get the ball to the 25 to be confident in making it. Depending on how the wind was gusting, you might even have to get it to the 20. Whereas going the other way [toward the south end zone, the end of the field the Patriots chose], I think you could definitely get the ball to the uprights from probably anywhere inside the 45-yard line.
“I felt like that was a big enough advantage to try to keep the wind. As it turned out, the punting game also was a factor in that too. Had we had the ball and not been able to score and be punting into the wind and all that, like I said, with their kicker and his distance, it wouldn’t have taken much for them to be in field goal range. I felt like, ‘Well, if that’s the way we feel about it, we might as well put them in that situation.’ That’s kind of the thought process there.
“To tell you the truth, the whole situation was a little bit confusing because when I told the captains that, there was a little bit of a question of, are you talking about deferring. I was like, ‘No, we’re not deferring, we’re taking the wind period.’ ‘Well, is that if they take the ball?’ ‘No, it’s not if they take the ball.’ We actually, with the captains, had a little bit of a conversation that they had right what I wanted to do, because it was a little bit of an, obviously, unusual type of situation. They were doing a good job. They just wanted to make sure that they had the decision that we felt was best and we got it. It was not one of the normal ones.”
As he did earlier this season, Belichick recalled the 1986 NFC title game when he was defensive coordinator on Bill Parcells’ New York Giants staff. Parcells took the wind to start that game against the Redskins, the Giants built a 17-0 halftime lead, and that score remained through the second half, with the Giants moving on to the Super Bowl.
“I really think that that decision was a big decision in that game and a big decision ultimately in that team’s championship. I learned a lot from that,” Belichick said. “I’m not saying that that’s always the right decision. Clearly each situation is different but there’s a place for it. I think there’s a time when it’s right. I just thought that last night was the right time for us.”
On the topic of running back Stevan Ridley and whether his fourth lost fumble of the season – his third in three games – means the risk of him losing the ball outweighs the reward of what he can give the team, Belichick didn’t talk specifically about Ridley, instead noting that ball security was an issue throughout the team Sunday night.
“Ball security is the paramount issue for your football team every week, our football team every week. We fumbled the ball, whatever it was, six times last night. We can’t go on like that,” he said. “We just can’t.
“There were multiple situations and multiple things involved and it hurt us the week before in Carolina. We’re just not going to be able to overcome turning the ball over, however you turn it over. Whether it’s fumbles or interceptions or muffed punts or tipped interceptions, whatever it is, fumbled snaps – we just can’t overcome those, not for very long. You might get it for awhile but in the end, it’s just too big an advantage to give to the other team. We have to take better care of the ball.
“Obviously they had a hard time taking care of it last night too. There were multiple turnovers throughout the game. Certainly the conditions were part of it but in general we have to do a better job of coaching and playing and securing the ball. That includes everybody, everybody who touches it. It’s not limited to one guy, it’s anybody who touches the ball. That’s the center, the quarterback, the running backs, the receivers, the returners, the holders, the kickers, the snappers – everybody. Everybody that touches the ball, we have to take better care of it.”