Bill Belichick has been to five Super Bowls as the Patriots head coach and won three of them, he survived Patriots owner Robert Kraft calling him a “schmuck” for SpyGate, and is one of the top five coaches of all time, so obviously he’s pretty secure.
Even so, winning the coin toss to start overtime last week against the Broncos and then electing to take the wind and put the ball in Peyton Manning’s hands was pretty gutsy and worked out much better than his decision that backfired in 2009 when he was scared to put the ball in Manning’s hands.
After the Patriots came back from a 24-0 deficit last week to take a 31-24 lead and Manning then sent the game into OT with a late touchdown, Belichick elected to take the 22 mph wind rather than the ball. He never would have done that with the old sudden death overtime rules when a field goal on the first possession ended the game.
But the new rules would give the Patriots a possession if the Broncos kicked a field goal on their first possession. New England could then either tie it to extend the game, win it, or, if the Pattriots didn’t score, the game would be over. The game would end if Manning drove the field for a touchdown on the first possession.
Eventually, the Broncos and Patriots each had two possessions in overtime before Denver muffed a punt, setting up New England’s game-winning field goal.
Belichick has been known for thinking outside the box, but giving the ball to Manning, one of the top five QBs of all time, with no guarantee Tom Brady would ever get a shot to win the game, was pretty risky.
“When Bill chose the wind, I said, ‘What is he doing,’ Kraft told the Boston Herald. “Someone (in my box) said, ‘Don’t you have a phone down there?’”
Kraft said Belichick later explained to him that the wind would force the Broncos to drive an extra 20 yards for a field goal. “Probably as a fan, I don’t think 80%-90% of our fans would think giving Peyton Manning the ball in overtime was going to be in our best interest,” Kraft said.
In 2002, Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg, now the Jets offensive coordinator, won the overtime toss for a late-season game in Chicago and was ridiculed for taking the 17 mph wind and kicking off as the Bears won the game on their first possession with a 40-yard field goal. He was confident his defense would make a stop and then be able to attempt a field goal with the wind.
“I would do that again,” Mornhinweg said back then. “Well, knowing the outcome of this game, I wouldn’t, but if it were a similar situation, I would do that again.”
He was fired after the season.
Last year, the NFL changed the rule giving the team kicking off a possession if the first team gets a field goal. Those rules were put in place for the playoffs in 2010.
Belichick was clearly confident the biting wind would make it nearly impossible for Manning to drive 80 yards for a touchdown. With the wind, a touchback by Stephen Gostkowski was basically automatic. Even so, there was always the risk of a kickoff return for a touchdown or a blown coverage leading to an easy touchdown or Denver just grinding it out on the ground.
“The wind, it was a strong wind. We just had to keep them out of the end zone, obviously,” Belichick said. “I just felt like the wind would be an advantage if we could keep them out of the end zone on that first drive. We were able to do that. The wind was significant in the game, it was definitely significant.”
The Redskins’ future depends on Robert Griffin III returning to his rookie success after forgettable sophomore campaign following ACL surgery.
Now contrast that with Belichick’s strategy in 2009 to go for it in Indy on fourth-and-two from his own 28 with 2:08 remaining and New England leading 34-28.
Belichick didn’t trust his defense to stop Manning – the Colts had had two 79-yard TD drives in the fourth quarter — even if a punt pinned him deep. So he decided not to punt.
Brady’s pass to Kevin Faulk picked up just one yard. “We tried to win the game on that play,” Belichick said.
The Colts started on the New England 29 at the two-minute warning. Manning needed only four plays to get the Colts into the end zone for the 35-34 victory.
Three years ago, Belichick didn’t want to give the ball to Manning. Last week he did.
Here’s a look at some fluid coaching situations:
Rex Ryan, Jets
The bandwagon was standing room only after the Jets beat the Patriots and Saints — two potential Super Bowl teams — in a three-week period at MetLife Stadium. But now Ryan is in a fight to keep his job after losses to the Bills and Ravens, and unless Geno Smith, who has one TD and 10 INTs in the last six games, is able to start carrying his weight starting Sunday against the dysfunctional Dolphins at home, the Jets not only won’t make the playoffs for the third straight year, but there could be an ugly ending to the season. If what was 5-4 turns into 6-10 or 7-9, it could cost Ryan his job. I think he’s back at 8-8 even without making the playoffs.
Tom Coughlin, Giants
It’s still a mystery why he couldn’t get things turned around until the Giants were 0-6, but he has built up enough collateral in the Mara-Tisch bank that it’s his call whether he returns in 2014. I can’t see Coughlin leaving after such a disappointing season. The four-year $ 21 million deal he signed after the last Super Bowl runs through 2014. I think he gets a one-year extension after this season.
Mike Shanahan, Redskins
He is 3-8 going into Sunday night’s game against the Giants and 24-35 in his fourth year in Washington. His five-year $ 35 million contract is up in 2014. His owner is Dan Snyder, who has had six coaches since he bought the team in 1999. After winning the NFC East last season, Shanahan made a horrendous decision not pulling an injured Robert Griffin III from the playoff loss to the Seahawks. Maybe he really can’t win without John Elway. Joe Gibbs came out of retirement to coach four years for Snyder. He was 31-36 before retiring again despite Snyder begging him to stay. I think there’s a good chance Snyder asks Shanahan to leave.
Jason Garrett, Cowboys
Before the ’Boys even beat the Giants last week, Jerry Jones said Garrett will be back in 2014. But what happens if Garrett loses his third straight NFC East title game in the final week to the season, this time to the Eagles? Remember, Jones parted ways with Jimmy Johnson after winning back-to-back Super Bowls.
Gary Kubiak, Texans
After starting off 2-0, the Texans have lost nine straight and in the middle of it, Kubiak collapsed on the field with a mini-stroke. He’s expected back on the sidelines Sunday against the Patriots after coaching from the pressbox the last couple of weeks. Bob McNair is one of the best owners in the NFL, but the Texans are the AFC’s biggest disappointment and Kubiak has had a long run in Houston — this is his eighth season. It would be surprising if McNair doesn’t make a change.
Mike Smith, Falcons
They were 10 yards away from making it to the Super Bowl last season and now they’re 2-9. Smith’s deal runs through 2014, but owner Arthur Blank has pretty much guaranteed Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff will be back next year.
RG3 NO AD
Griffin has been victimized by the unrealistic expectations set when Adrian (All Day) Peterson came within nine yards of breaking the NFL rushing record in his first season following ACL surgery. RG3 tore his ACL in the Redskins playoff loss to Seattle and has not been the same player this year. His explosiveness has not been there. Will it be back next year? The Redskins future depends on it. Washington gave up three first-round picks and a second-round pick to move up just four spots in the 2012 draft to get Griffin second overall, and it looked like the deal of the century — the Herschel Walker trade was in another century, remember — when he took over the second most important job in Washington and the city fell in love with him. But he hasn’t always said the right thing this season – he took shots at teammates and coaches following a recent loss in Philly – and has come off as somewhat of a diva. So much of this comes out of frustration of a lost season. The Redskins owe the Rams their first-round selection as the final installment in the trade, and it could be a top five pick. Although the Rams are making progress this year, the loss of QB Sam Bradford with a torn ACL in October creates big questions for next year.
It would be an interesting conversation between Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and Nets coach Jason Kidd about sideline etiquette for coaches after Tomlin had a foot in play during Jacoby Jones’ kickoff return on Thursday night and Kidd was fined $ 50,000 for spilling a drink on the court to get a stoppage in play one night earlier…If there was any doubt about great quarterbacks being the most important position player in any sport, consider the Colts made the playoffs in Peyton Manning’s final nine seasons and when he missed the 2011 season, they went 2-14. The Packers were 5-2 going into the game against the Bears on Nov. 4. Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in the first quarter. Including that game, the Packers are 0-4-1 with Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn at quarterback. Green Bay has gone from Super Bowl contender to being buried in the wild-card race at 5-6-1. If Rodgers is able to make it back for the last four games, the Packers have an outside shot at a wild-card. They have the Falcons at home, then at Dallas, the Steelers at home and finish at Chicago. It’s uncertain if Rodgers will be ready to play against Atlanta.