Bill Belichick's decision to go for it on fourth down from his own 28-yard-line in the fourth quarter of Sunday night's 35-34 loss to the Colts has been roundly used as evidence that the Hooded Genius may be slipping. That couldn't be further from the truth.
Sure, it was an aggressive move, maybe even an arrogant one. But those calling him an idiot on Monday have hailed the same kind of aggressive arrogance as brilliant and gutsy in the past. They'd be doing the same thing if the play worked out, and it's doubtful that any of them would be couching those compliments with any mention of the fact that Belichick made a stupid choice and just got lucky.
With Peyton Manning on the other sideline and a once 17-point lead whittled down to six, it's not surprising nor damning that Belichick decided his best chance to win was gaining two yards. What all the talking heads and ranting fans are missing out on is that the decision to go for the first down was the least problematic thing about the way Belichick coached in the final minutes of the loss.
Let's start with the play call. Belichick opted for a short pass to Kevin Faulk and the normally reliable veteran running back bobbled the ball on his way down which meant that he couldn't be given credit for forward progress that looked a lot like a first down. It wasn't an awful call, but if the idea was to go out and win the game, you have to ask why Belichick wouldn't put the game into the hands of his best player.
That would be Randy Moss, who the Colts weren't able to cover at any point on Sunday night. Belichick never forced the Colts to stop him on any of the four plays the Patriots ran in that series, a decision far more detestable than trying to gain two yards on fourth down. The idea that you'd rather have Tom Brady than Manning deciding your fate is a sound one, but you can't say the same about Faulk over Moss.
Returning to the actual play, as you can see in this video on NFL.com, the spot of the Faulk play could have been argued via a replay challenge. Problem is, the Patriots couldn't challenge because they were out of timeouts. The Pats burned one early in the third quarter, used one before running a play on their final drive and lost the third one as Belichick and company discussed how to handle fourth down.
That meant no challenge and it also put the Pats at a major disadvantage once the Colts had the ball. It's defensible to argue that Manning was going to score no matter where you gave him the ball, but it's hard to accept that Belichick gave his team so little chance to fight back once he did.