Last night’s game was like a punch in the gut to Patriots fans everywhere. We led the entire game except for the last few moments, which are the only moments that matter. We were all prepared to move into second place in the AFC, just a game behind the Colts, and with the tiebreaker to boot. But it never happened. Peyton Manning did it again. The Pats lost. And all that we’re left with are questions. Why did the Patriots blow two timeouts on their last drive? Why did they go for it on fourth and two when they were only on their 30-yard line? Most importantly: how did we lose that game?
I don’t have answers for you, I’m just a blogger with journalistic aspirations. But I do have some questions of my own that may help to ease the pain. The first one is: who do you trust? Who on the Patriots do you put your faith in to win the game for you? The first answer had better be Bill Belichick. The man has done WAY too much for the New England Patriots to not have earned that respect and trust. He brought us 3 Super Bowl titles. He brought us the perfect regular season, which featured the most prolific passing game EVER. And he turned the Patriots around from a train-wreck of a team to the model by which other teams construct themselves (and no one has managed to do it so far). You have to trust in the decisions your head coach makes, especially if he’s good as Bill Belichick. You have to assume that he saw the Patriots’ best chance at winning coming at the hands of its offense, not its defense. And I don’t blame him for that decision. The offense had already scored 34 points. The defense had given up 28. In that situation, you go with the more successful team. The field position made it a dangerous play, to be sure, but I think it might still have been the right decision because I trust our head coach.
Here’s a second question: if you had to pick one player on the Patriots to make the big play for you, who would it be? Your answer had better be Tom Brady. Who else on the team is as big a playmaker? Who else has been a super bowl and league MVP? Certainly no one on the defense can be said to be bigger than Brady. I’ve commented before that I think the team’s defense is above-average at best, lacking the big-time playmakers they make up championship defense. With Jarvis Green hurt, the front lacks a lot of its forward push. This makes it hard to get pressure on the quarterback. And with average cornerbacks, giving a quarterback that much time will most certainly kill you. With the game on the line, you give it to your offense, not your defense, especially when you KNOW the defense is tired.
So all in all, Belichick’s decision was a defensible one. He picked the best player on his team and said “win the game.” More times than not, Tom Brady has risen to his coaches challenges. Yesterday he did not. But that doesn’t make the decision to go for it on fourth-and-two such a bad one. Still, this loss stings, and will for awhile.