Tipping Pitches: Sports: Belichick Roasted for Unpopular Call


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sports: Belichick Roasted for Unpopular Call

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Early in the day, I sat on my couch dumbfounded by a coach's ultra-conservative play calling.

The Philadelphia Eagles trailed the San Diego Chargers by a score of 14-0 with a few minutes remaining in the first half.  Philadelphia put their first big drive together.

First and goal from the one.

Second and goal.

Third and goal.

Fourth and goal from the one.

Field goal.

Seemed incredibly illogical to me.  But a largely supported move.

The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts faced off for yet another historic clash of the decade's two greatest teams later in the day. The Colts overcame a 17-point deficit to win 35-34 in the waning seconds.

Yet, this game will be remembered for one thing: New England head coach Bill Belichick's decision to go for it on fourth and two from his own 28 with just over two minutes remaining.

With a six point lead.

Running back Kevin Falk bobbled and then secured the fourth down pass near the first down marker, but was called inches short. Replays were inconclusive.

A challenge was not a possibility since the Patriots foolishly squandered their timeouts. A call from the booth was not possible since the play occurred just outside of the two minute warning.

But even had the play been reviewed, it never would have been reversed. Not because it was clearly correctly called on the field, but because there would not have been any irrefutable evidence either way.

In other words, had it been called a first down on the field, it's unlikely such a call would have been reversed either. It was a very subjective call. One of many in football.

Analysts were quick to lambaste Belichick afterwords. He may deserve it. He's not the warmest guy. He's incredibly ballsy.

And this was the ballsiest of ballsy calls.

Thing is, Belichick is the only coach who makes this call. That's a compliment. No other coach has the balls or support from ownership to make it. Any other coach would be fired for such a move.

"The obvious call."

I hate absolutes in football. Immediately we hear...

"You punt the ball in that situation."

"Every time."

"Worst call he has ever made."

Incredibly surprising is the best way I'd describe the call. But mainly because it is never done. Doesn't mean it is completely irrational.

Of course, I thought he was just faking such a move before calling a time out. But when he brought his offense back onto the field to run that play?


Belichick had supreme confidence in his offense.  But he had no confidence in his defense. He was facing Peyton Manning who was moving the ball at will. If the Patriots punt there, Manning has two minutes to drive 60 or 70 yards to win.

Granted, that's a much better alternative to driving 30 yards. But Belichick expected to pick up the first down and end the game there. He wasn't going for it on fourth and 15. It was fourth and two. And I'm still not convinced they didn't pick up the first down.

Look, I can't stand the Patriots. Granted, not a fan of the Colts either. But I enjoy seeing unconventional moves in football. I appreciate a coach who understands there isn't only one way to do things.

Because I'm not a Patriots fan, I feel like I can look at this with an unbiased eye.  Because if I were a Patriots fan, I'd probably be pretty pissed right now.

Belichick's balls may have gotten in the way here. Would have been much safer to punt. But punting guaranteed nothing, too. Getting that extra inch would have guaranteed him a win.

But let's think about this with an open mind, completely unaffected by football's "absolutes." He had two pretty clear options:

1) Go for it on fourth down.
2) Punt the ball.

If he goes for it on fourth down and converts, the game's over. Patriots win. An absolute.

If he goes for it on fourth down and fails, the Colts still need to drive 30 yards for a touchdown. Not an absolute.

If he punts the ball, the Colts still need to drive 60 or 70 yards (or less, who knows?) for a touchdown. Not an absolute.

Either way, if you hand the ball over to the Colts the momentum is on their side.  And the control.

Bill Belichick is a control freak. He didn't want to sit there and watch Peyton Manning pick apart his defense again. He wanted to end the game right there.

But football fans will have plenty of fun ripping Belichick for making the most unconventional, aggressive call, possibly in the history of the game -- or at least the modern game.

In reality, coaches who make the ultra conservative call, the "absolute" call, the "job saving" call that results in a loss are those who should be ripped.

It's funny the polar opposites I witnessed today. On one hand, I saw Andy Reid and the Eagles refuse to go for it on fourth and goal from the one when they were down 14-0 to the San Diego Chargers near the end of the first half.

On the other, I saw Belichick make the most aggressive fourth down call I have ever witnessed.

The majority -- or at least a strong minority -- likely supported Reid's decision. At least those talking in front of a TV camera.

Just put some points on the board. Have to give your team some confidence going into halftime with a field goal.

Worst decision of the day.

He gets that yard, it's 14-7. He fails, his defense still is set up to force a safety or at least get very good field position before the half ends to score again.

But this blog entry is likely to be the only evidence you will read in support of Belichick. Not so much that it was the right call, but I don't fault his aggressiveness.

Belichick was playing to win. Reid was playing to keep his job.


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