Bill Belichick Was Right

Bill Belichick
Photo by Flickr user Keith Allison
People in Boston have been spoiled by our sports teams this decade. The Red Sox have won 2 World Series, the Patriots have been dominant since 2001, and even the Celtics got involved in the world beating. The Patriots and the Red Sox have been so good that the phrases, “In Bill We Trust” and “In Theo We Trust” have been tossed around unironically regarding Bill Belichick and Theo Epstein of the Pats and Sox respectively.

Last Sunday, the Patriots beat the hell out of Peyton Manning and the Colts for about 50 minutes, up by 2 scores much of the game. And then with a little over 2 minutes left, they found themselves on the Colts’ 28 yard-line on 4th down up by 6 points. Football teams punt here. Always. But Belichick sent the offense out to get the 2 yards and win the game. It’s unclear if he was trying to send a message, or if he just wanted to keep the ball out of Manning’s hands. In any case, this paragraph of cliches is over, the Pats didn’t get the first down, the Colts scored and won the game.

Bill Belichick was right. I would have been OK with him punting, but I’m more than OK with him going for it, whatever the reason and the stats agree.

Statistically, the better decision would be to go for it, and by a good amount. However, these numbers are baselines for the league as a whole. You’d have to expect the Colts had a better than a 30% chance of scoring from their 34, and an accordingly higher chance to score from the Pats’ 28. But any adjustment in their likelihood of scoring from either field position increases the advantage of going for it. You can play with the numbers any way you like, but it’s pretty hard to come up with a realistic combination of numbers that make punting the better option. At best, you could make it a wash.

Here’s a coach who never punts, ever. He also doesn’t have his team return punts or kick off deep. The last time he punted was in 2007 when he was trying to be a good sport to a team he was destroying.

Phil Simms thinks that if Belichick had been able to challenge the call, he would have gotten a more favorable spot and gotten the first down.

Via a football newsletter Gareth gets (link unavailable):

Kevin Eikenberry, leader of Indianapolis-based consultant the Kevin Eikenberry Group: “Most of us in corporate leadership or executive leadership would profess that great leaders take risks, and yet, I’m guessing most of those same people who watched the game (especially in New England) feel like Belichick made a big mistake. We can’t have it both ways. The longer I think about it from a leadership perspective, the more I applaud the coach’s decision … This is a real life example of a leader standing up and making a decision, one that in this case, didn’t turn out in his favor.”

Finally, Bill Simmons who has spent the entire year telling us Manning is unbeatable at night says Belichick should have punted. Aside from the fact that Simmons stopped killing Manning after he met him at the ESPY Awards a couple years ago, punting would have given Manning the opportunity to win the game. Getting the first down would have ended the game. I think I still like Bill Simmons, but I can’t shake the feeling that what he’s doing has gotten tired. I think he’s going to move on ESPN eventually and do something new/big and that will be good for everyone. In this column, he’s annoyingly playing homer contrarian, killing Belichick for a move he would have applauded had it worked, killing Belichick for a move he would have applauded a couple years ago, even if it hadn’t.

In Bill We Trust

Bill Belichick Was Right