The Patriots didn’t score until the fourth quarter of their 27-17 loss to the Colts on Saturday night, but they still were able to mount a compelling comeback against a conference rival.
They scored on three of their four possessions in the period, but one call by coach Bill Belichick during that surge left many people perplexed.
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New England had a third-and-goal at the Colts’ 7 with 9:08 remaining. Mac Jones threw a pass intended for Hunter Henry out of the end zone.
It was presumed that the Patriots would go for the touchdown with so little time left. It’s likely they would have needed to score two TDs to overcome what was then a 20-7 deficit.
Instead, Belichick opted to kick a field goal. That cut the Colts’ lead to 10, but it left the Patriots with little room for error down the stretch. New England held and then scored a touchdown to cut the lead to three, but it was unable to get a necessary stop on the next Colts possession. Jonathan Taylor broke off a 67-yard touchdown run with 2:01 to go that sealed Indianapolis’ win.
So, why did Belichick go for the field goal earlier in the quarter? He didn’t provide much analysis when he was asked during his postgame news conference.
“I did what I thought was best for the team,” he said.
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The numbers indicate that Belichick’s decision probably wasn’t the best choice. According to ESPN’s Seth Walder, the Patriots’ win probability dropped from 9.5 percent to 5.8 percent when Belichick elected to kick.
Patriots 4th-and-goal from the Colts’ 7
WP go: 9.5%
WP kick: 5.8%
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) December 19, 2021
That adds up. After all, the Patriots were banking on stopping a Colts rushing offense that came in averaging 151.7 yards per game — second-most in the NFL — twice while also battling the clock. That’s a tall task even for a defense as good as New England’s.
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While Belichick was conservative, Frank Reich and the Colts were aggressive with their play calls, especially on the drive following the field goal. The Colts had a fourth-and-1 from their 43 and went for it. They succeeded and were able to run nearly two more minutes off the clock, which proved crucial.
But as Belichick pointed out numerous times, one decision didn’t keep his team from winning.
“I don’t think we coached or played well enough to win tonight,” he said. “Across the board.”