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Easy to second guess, but Belichick was just playing the percentages

'Tis the day of reckoning for Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who is getting his comeuppance for making one of the most costly decisions of the weekend, which ended up resulted in AFC East-leading New England losing 35-34 to still unbeaten Indianapolis on Sunday night.

Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press
With Bill Belichick as coach, the Patriots have converted more than 70 percent of their fourth-down situations with two or fewer yards to go.
Fourth downs converted by Pats with 1-2 yards to go
Year
Rush play %
Pass play %
2009
66.67% (2-3)
33.33% (1-3)
2008
90.91% (10-11)
66.67% (2-3)
2007
100% (8-8)
100% (6-6)
2006
88.89% (8-9)
66.67% (2-3)
2005
88.89% (8-9)
100% (3-3)
2004
66.67% (2-3)
0% (0-0)
2003
80% (4-5)
66.67% (2-3)
2002
50% (4-8)
0% (0-0)
2001
57.14% (4-7)
50% (1-2)
2000
66.67% (6-9)
75% (3-4)
Totals:
77.78% (56-72)
71.43% (20-28)

Going for a first down on fourth-and-2 from his own 28 with 2:08 to play is about as Barry Switzer-like of a decision as there was. All the percentages say punt it and make Peyton Manning drive 80 yards, but Belichick didn't stick when he was showing two face cards and busted. Now, he's got to live with the sting for a few days.

All these years of winning games and Super Bowls, making really good players out of guys nobody else wanted and making other big decisions –- Tom Brady over Drew Bledsoe, for instance -- are awash in a bone-headed decision that might cost the Pats home-field advantage in the playoffs.

Not a playoff berth, but home field in the playoffs.

Here's saying there are about 18 coaches who would trade places with Belichick and would have made the same call if they had the Patriots' offense and staff instead of the ones that are trying like mad to get into the playoff chase.

Granted, by all accounts, Belichick lost his mind for making the decision, and today he's wearing a Dunce hoodie. His team is 6-3 instead of 7-2, and their hated rival, the Colts, are firmly in the driver's seat and steering the playoffs through 'Nap Town.

I don't think the Patriots' world is coming to the end, though. After hours of thinking, Still Bill had channeled his inner Richie Kotite, "I'm going to take the contrarian" perspective.

Spot the ball where Kevin Faulk actually caught Tom Brady's pass and what do we have? First down. Ball game. Belichick is being hailed today. What a genius.

Faulk briefly bobbled it though and was stopped a few inches shy of the finish line. Colts ball. Ball game. What an idiot.

Belichick has been successful nearly 60 percent of the time he's gone for it on fourth down in his career with the Pats. In the past four seasons, that percentage has been well above 70. Those are the percentages he played, although he bypassed how things have gone this season on fourth-down attempts (45 percent) and when he's thrown it on fourth-and-three or less (50 percent).

Empirical evidence and data aside, Belichick also was working with Brady and an offense that already dropped 34 points and rung up 467 yards of offense against Indianapolis. New England's offense was so efficient that it only had to punt four times -– although a fifth with a fairly fresh-legged Chris Hanson arguably might not have been a bad idea.

Carucci: What was he thinking?
Yes, that really was Bill Belichick who just made -- I can't believe I'm about to type this -- one of the all-time goofiest decisions an NFL coach can make, writes Vic Carucci. More ...

The stakes in the games where Belichick had gone for it on fourth down in his own territory prior to Sunday night might not have been as high, and the moment might not have been as big. But, unless I missed it, I didn't see the Colts handed the Lombardi Trophy after their comeback.

A quick diversion here too: Indianapolis should be getting a lot more praise for rallying from a 31-14 fourth quarter deficit than it has, courtesy of Belichick's gamble.

Now, in having his offense take the calculated gamble that ultimately cost the Patriots, Belichick clearly showed a lack of faith in his defense, whether he meant to or not. Most defensive players would rather make the offense drive 80 yards with two minutes on the clock instead of 28.

The thing is, Manning had driven the Colts 79 yards on two fourth-quarter possessions to pull Indianapolis within position to win. So Belichick might have been thinking that playing keepaway was less of a risk than giving him 79 more yards to ring up on the Pats. Plus, in the minds of most coaches, even when playing Indianapolis, scoring 34 points should be enough.

I don’t think Belichick was thinking about his defense, though. This was about him believing his offense was good enough to get two yards. That’s where his faith/stubbornness betrayed him -– by six inches. Maybe.

The fallout has been brutal and, for those who feel Belichick has thumbed his nose at them a million too many times, this is a time to relish. The hangover from this won't last too long, though. The Jets and Rex Ryan are next and a victory will extinguish this moment.

The big-picture implications could prove a little more damaging as the Patriots might have to play during the first weekend of the postseason instead of getting a bye. Or, they may have to compete for the conference title back in Indy. But if that's as bad as it gets, Belichick might go for it again.

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