Review of Bill Parcells: A Football Life

parcellsThis “autobiography” of Bill Parcells is certainly fascinating, as any biography of such a character should be. Character is a good word to describe Parcells, as he is a character. Arrogant, sarcastic, demanding, profane, psychologist, restless and successful are just a few of the adjectives that describe one of the best professional football coaches of the modern era.

I have always been fascinated by people who make sports their life calling, especially one as demanding as being the head coach or executive of a National Football League team. Parcells has been one of the best with a unique and not always likable style.

This biography does a great job of providing the background of Parcells’s growing up and how being a self-described Jersey guy has colored his personality. His dedication to football and being a football coach is evident in his hopping from job to job at small schools in the college ranks, constantly moving his family and working for little pay hoping for bigger and better opportunities. The demands of his job and the constant moving eventually cost him his marriage, which unfortunately is not that uncommon for coaches. Parcells’s life has certainly been defined by football.

Bill Parcels really made his stamp on football immortality as the head coach of the New York Giants whom he lead from a bad team to two time Super Bowl champion grounded in the philosophy of a strong defense and solid running game. His time with the Giants was not always without its stresses. Parcells was furious when he found out General Manager George Young was essentially looking to get rid of him after his first season, one which saw the team go 3-12. Between the lines it appears Parcells never really got over that.

After eight seasons with the New York Giants and two Super Bowl wins, Parcells stepped down as the head coach. While it is never made clear why he left the Giants, only saying “it was time” he did have a heart condition and it is also clear that Tim Mara selling his share of his team to Robert Tish, ushering in a new ownership group, likely had something to do with this move as well. More than once in the book Parcells exclaims that a change in ownership is a good reason for a coach to leave the organization.

After heart bypass surgery and few years away from coaching, Bill Parcells became the head coach of the New England Patriots.
I am a diehard New England Patriots fan and many of my fellow compatriots do not like Parcells because he left the Patriots in a lurch before Super Bowl XXXI after the 1996 season. This was a pretty terrible thing for Parcells to do because he had been secretly working out a deal to leave for the hated New York Jets, which made him, in some ways, a lame duck head coach going into the franchise’s second ever Super Bowl. It was not quite as bad as the suspension and then reinstatement for the playoffs of New England head coach Chuck Fairbanks in the 1978 season where the team lost to the Houston Oilers in the divisional round lead by a coach on his way out the door and no respect among the players. But it was not an entirely classy move either.

But Bill Parcells did make one key decision that turned around the Patriots franchise and lead us to the Super Bowl. Had he made a different decision, who knows what the future would have held for the franchise. In the 1993 draft there were two quarterbacks that were going to go number one and number two: Drew Bledsoe of Washington State and Rick Mirer of Notre Dame. Parcells chose Bledsoe who went on to become a solid starter and part of the resurgence of a moribund franchise. Rick Mirer, while winning Rookie of the Year honors with the Seattle Seahawks, quickly became a washed up bust. Parcells made the right move. And let’s not forget that Parcells took a terrible team and through the draft, free agent signings, and his leadership turned it into a playoff contender.

And then there is the ownership situation. Robert Kraft bought the New England Patriots in 1994 and Parcells was part of the previous regime. It appears that Parcells did not give Kraft the respect he deserved as owner, as mostly what Parcells wanted from ownership would appear to be to just stay out of his way. Kraft, on the other hand, was probably a bit too meddlesome in football operations, which is highlighted by the Patriots selecting Ohio State wider receiver Terry Glenn in the first round of the 1996 draft, against the wishes of Parcells. This is probably the beginning of the end of Parcells’s stay in New England.

Bill Parcells went on to turnaround the Jets organization and make them into a contender and fostering a heated rivalry with the New England Patriots who got several New York Jets’ draft choices because of the way Parcells left the Patriots. After leaving coaching and being an executive with the Jets, Parcells again stepped down.

But like The Terminator, he’d be back, surprisingly with one of the most meddlesome owners in the league, Jerry Jones. He then turned around another ailing franchise, although not with quite the dramatic impact he had in his previous stints. But he did put the Cowboys on the right track after a four year tenure there.

Parcells’s final act was as the head of football operations for the Miami Dolphins where he tried to piece back the organization through hiring the right coaches and the draft. He didn’t have quite the success with the Dolphin’s as he did at other stops but they were certainly in a better place when he left than when he came. The wheels came off shortly thereafter.

Next I want to turn to a few of the major themes of the book that interest me the most.

Does Bill Parcells deserve to be in the National Football League Hall of Fame?

There were several detractors to Parcells Hall of Fame candidacy. The reasons included his less than spectacular overall record of 172-130-1. His job hopping didn’t help his candidacy as some wanted to make sure if elected he didn’t go back into coaching and possibly harm is legacy. He didn’t stay with any one team long enough, except maybe the Giants, to truly establish a dominant legacy with any one team. The most ridiculous argument is that Bill Belichick was with him during his most successful years.

Bill Parcells without a doubt belongs in the Hall of Fame. You can’t even think about the history of the NFL from 1983 to today without Bill Parcells’s being a major part of the story. He won two Super Bowls. And he turned around the fates of four franchises.

He also left an extensive coaching tree include Belichick, Tom Coughlin, and Sean Payton, all Super Bowl winners and many others who have been coaches in the professional and college ranks.

Relationship with Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick was the contractual heir to the New York Jets head coaching job when Bill Parcells stepped down in 1999. But in one of the most bizarre resignation speeches ever, Belichick jilted Parcells and the Jets to take the head coaching job with, of all teams, the New England Patriots. This lead to falling out over what heretofore had seemed to be an extremely strong bond as Parcells brought Belichick along with him everywhere he went and they had great success together. Parcells take on it was “a deal is a deal.”

Here I think Parcells is being a bit disingenuous and inconsistent. First, the way he left New England was a bit classes and he two broke his contractual obligations which lead to a brokering of a deal giving New England several of the Jets draft choices. Second, Parcells himself said that a change in ownership is a good reason for a head coach to be concerned and leave a job and the Jets had just been sold to a new owner.
I suspect, although this has never been stated, that Belichick also wanted to be his own man and since Parcells was set to be head of football operations and still his boss, and he didn’t want Big Bill constantly looking over his shoulder at his coaching decisions and being meddlesome.
I think Parcells feelings were just hurt. It was good to see that they have mended their fences since then.

Bill Parcells and Robert Kraft

Another difficult relationship that has since seemed to be repaired is the bad relationship Kraft had with Parcells when he took over the ownership of the New England Patriots. Parcells’s famous line “if they want you to cook the dinner, they ought to let you buy some of the groceries” is a classic. Of course a coach wants a strong say over the draft and other roster acquisitions and Kraft not handing more of the personnel responsibilities over to Parcells was a mistake. Parcells, on the other hand, did not communicate well with Kraft and presumably left in him in the dark and even had intermediaries speaking on his behalf. This is not a healthy way to run a football team. Both made mistakes. This is another relationship I am happy to see, if not fully patched up, at least each acknowledging mistakes were made and both regretting how the parting of Parcells from the team came about.

Conclusion

The one quibble I have with this book is the prose is not always as clear as it could be and sometimes I had to read something twice because of it. It was also written in the third person, which was a bit odd, but I eventually got used to it. Parcells voice is loud and clear in the book, nevertheless.

Overall I would heartily recommend the book to any NFL fan as it tells the “Football Life” of one of the most interesting and important coaches in the history of the game.

Parcells: A Football Life

 

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Well Done Short History of the New England Patriots

“The Belichick Said to Brady . . ” The Best New England Patriots Stories Ever Told by Jim Donaldson
Triumph Books 2009

There are so many “The Best Stories Ever Told” books about the New England Patriots and other NFL teams it all starts to get jumbled together and there is very little to distinguish between them.

While there is nothing really new in this volume, it is well written and organized and has a bit more than similar books on the New England Patriots of the new century.

There are a lot good, short player profiles of the prominent Patriots’ players throughout its history and of course good stories on the biggest games, including all the Super Bowl’s.

The chapter on the 1985 Patriots discussing the relationship between Steve Grogan and Tony Eason is a very good synopsis and a reminder that Eason was a pretty good quarterback.

Chapters 9-11 talk about the reemergence of the Patriots as a competitive to eventually championship team starting with Bill Parcels becoming the head coach to Bill Belichick, to Tom Brady, to new owner Robert Kraft.  These are also nicely done.

A good bonus feature is an audio CD that has interviews with Steve Grogan, Jon Morris, and Larry Eisenhauer that I really enjoyed.

Overall, if you want to get a “greatest stories” book and want to relieve the good times and the bad, this book is one of the better ones.

Then Belichick Said to Brady: The Best New England Patriots Stories Ever Told (The Best Sports Stories Ever Told)

2009 NFL Season: Week 12

My comments on Thanksgiving Day games can be found here:  https://cdbaker.wordpress.com/2009/11/27/2009-nfl-season-week-12-thanksgiving-day-special/


GAMES I WATCHED

New Orleans Saints over New England Patriots, 38-17

This was the marquee matchup of the weekend and it didn’t live up to its hype. The Saints spanked the Patriots like an unwanted step child.

The shellacking the Patriots took at the hands of the Saints was a nasty reality check for New England Patriots fans. We must face the fact the Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, and even the Indianapolis Colts, are the elite teams in the league this year. We are a notch below, along with a handful of other teams, peeking our head over the windowsill wondering how we got left out the party.

I’ll dispense with comments on the Saints in this game by simply saying they are a great team. Drew Brees is absolutely phenomenal and had an unbelievable performance. And defensive coordinator Greg Williams had a brilliant game plan and has really turned this defense around. I’ve been utterly impressed with the Saints all year long and suffering through this game left me even more impressed. I expect to see a Saints versus Vikings matchup in the NFC Championship Game. And if it turns out anything like the wild game they had in the regular season last year, it should be wildly entertaining.

Now on to the Patriots and what to make of the fiasco we witnessed on Monday night.

Let’s start with the offensive, the most fixable problem we face the rest of the season and into the playoffs, which we should reach. The offense has become utterly predictable. The Saints simply dropped numerous players in coverage and took away the short passing game and Wes Welker, and mostly blanketed Randy Moss. They were able to get decent pressure on Brady, especially in the second half, with only a four man rush. This was partially because of injuries on our offensive line, which hopefully will get back in shape by seasons’ end. But the Patriots’ offense appears pretty easy to scheme against these days. We abandon the run way too soon and in the second half, like last week against the Jets, it was bombs away with nobody to throw the ball to. We need to at least mix up our plays a bit throughout the game and come up with less predictable or more creative schemes to get receivers open. That’s not to say the offense is bad. We scored 17 points against the Saints and really should have had more but for a few errant throws and interceptions by Brady. But nevertheless, we need to address this. Charlie Weis anyone?

Our defense right now is in a complete rebuilding mode. Most of our starting defensive backs are young players or recent starters and it shows. They have been frequently out of place and burned all year by most teams we’ve faced. We have just gotten by with it, for the most part, because the offense has been putting up enough points to cover for them. The lousy play by the defensive backs was painfully evident on numerous blown coverages against the Saints. They should be embarrassed. I hope they are.

Adding to our woes on defense we cannot get a pass rush or pressure the quarterback. Drew Brees had enough time in the pocket to eat a steak dinner and down a few drinks, much less throw the ball to his outstanding corps of receivers. What happened to Adalius Thomas? He has completely disappeared as a playmaker on this defense.

Overall the defense played like it was on a 0-16 team, not a championship caliber team. Now people don’t need to wonder why Bill Belichick went for it on fourth and two to try to preserve the game against the Colts two weeks ago, after Manning torched the defense for two long drives in no time. A punt might have been giving the game away.

The defense, as noted earlier, is in a rebuilding phase and I suspect it will take some time for it to come around. Unfortunately, it won’t likely be anytime soon, and not in time for a significant playoff run.

MVP: Drew Brees, QB

Philadelphia Eagles over Washington Redskins, 27-24

I will say this about the Redskins, all these new players finding themselves in starting roles are playing very hard and being competitive. Even though the Redskins are losing some close games, at least they don’t look as pathetic as they did earlier in the season. They actually look like they belong in the NFL these days. The oft maligned Jason Campbell played reasonably well other than his two interceptions to Asante Samuel.

This was a game that the Redskins could have won but the Eagles just simply pulled it out at the end. Despite a talented group of receivers, the Eagles seem to greatly miss Brian Westbrook in the lineup. They just aren’t the same. And putting Michael Vick in to run plays seemed mostly counterproductive. It slowed the momentum of the offense.

Hats off to London Fletcher, the Redskins’ middle linebacker. He has been playing All Pro caliber defense all year long, as has Eagles’ defense end Trent Cole.

Finally, while his statistics don’t pop off the page, my MVP goes to Eagles’ wide receiver Jason Avant, whose two big catches in the fourth quarter jumpstarted the offense and the Eagles to their tying touchdown.

MVP: Jason Avant, WR

Minnesota Vikings over Chicago Bears, 36-10

I really felt this game was over before it really started. It turned out pretty much exactly as I expected it to. The Bears defense has not been great this year and the offense, especially Jay Cutler, has been subpar. But really, it’s the Bears offensive line that has been atrocious. I assume that Orlando Pace was sitting on the sideline in the second half because he was benched for poor play. I feel really badly for Pace in some ways. In his prime he was an outstanding left tackle. But injuries and time spent in the NFL getting pounded on every week has clearly made him past his prime. For his sake I hope to see him retire this year. It’s time.

Meanwhile, Cutler threw his obligatory two interceptions during the game and his receivers did nothing to help him. And what happened to Matt Forte?

The Bears are in big, big trouble going forward. They gave up a boatload of draft picks for Jay Cutler and are in such desperate need of help in so many areas that it may be years before we see this team win again, especially if the Cutler we see now is what we can expect in the future.

Brett Favre had another excellent day, and rookie wide receiver Percy Harvin lit up the field with six catches for 101 yards and touchdown.

MVP: Brett Favre, QB

Baltimore Ravens over Pittsburgh Steelers, 20-17 OT

Baltimore eked out a win against the Steelers and finally won a close game. They keep their slim playoff hopes alive. But Ravens fans shouldn’t get too excited. There is no reason that the Ravens should have had to go into overtime when the Steelers were starting a third string quarterback. They continue to play down to the level of their competition.

That’s not to say that second year quarterback Dennis Dixon from the University of Oregon had a bad game. He actually played quite well. While the Steelers obviously altered their game plan a bit for him, he did throw the ball, and mostly well, throughout the game. He also made a few nice plays with his legs. I think he has some potential. I felt sorry for him when he threw and interception in overtime that set up the Ravens for the win, but that’s how it goes.

The Ravens offense struggled a bit with the Steelers defense, but who doesn’t. I would say that Michael Oher and Jarred Gaither had a tough time against the Steelers linebackers, but who doesn’t? For the most part they played really well, but there were stretches of time where I they were getting beat. And if Michael Oher, both last week and this week sure looks like he is moving before the ball is snapped on almost every play, but I guess he’s not since the officials aren’t calling it.

Overall this was a very interesting game given the circumstances. I’m not surprised the Ravens won, I’m just surprised they found it so difficult to do so.

MVP: Ray Rice, RB

ADDITIONAL OBSERVATIONS

If I did a power ranking, the New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings, and Indianapolis Colts would be the top three teams, in that order. There are several teams just below them.

Brett Favre, Drew Brees, and Vince Young had outstanding performances. Vince Young? He’s won five straight games as the starter for the Titans and has looked really good doing it. I wonder if he is going to make me eat my words that he will never be a good starting quarterback in the NFL?

I don’t recall the last highly touted wide receiver out of Florida that wasn’t a bust in the NFL. I’m sure someone will tell me who it is. But Percy Harvin is certainly breaking that streak.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

Defensive Player: Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay Packers

Offensive Lineman: Ryan Clady, T, Denver Broncos

Special Teams: LaRod Stephens-Howling, KR, Arizona Cardinals

Rookie of the Week: Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings

2009 NFL Football Season: Week 10

OBSERVATIONS

I turned on the NFL Channel when I got home from work and they were getting ready to show New England’s 35-34 loss to the Indianapolis Colts as an “instant classic.” I wanted to puke. Does that mean I am going to be subjected to highlights of this game the rest of the season, and possibly in perpetuity, like I am Super Bowl XLII highlights?

So the NFL wants to extend the regular season to 18 games? Just off the top of my head I can name several marquee players this week that were injured: Cedric Benson, Brian Westbrook, Troy Polamalu, Kyle Orton, Terrell Suggs, Joshua Cribbs, Michael Turner, and Ronnie Brown. I may be forgetting a few, but you get the picture.

Last week I said was that a crash I was hearing, the Denver Broncos coming down to earth? This week I really did hear a crash as they lost to the Washington Redskins. Granted Washington probably played its best game of the season, but Denver has lost three in a row. Meanwhile San Diego is on the rise. Their game this weekend will be an important one for both teams.

While Denver is looking like pretenders, the Cincinnati Bengals look like contenders. They have swept Pittsburgh and control the AFC North.

Speaking of Cincinnati, doesn’t it just figure they would sign Larry Johnson? He fits right in.

Finally, what is up with the Dallas Cowboys? The entire NFC East is a mess. They were horrible against the Packers.

And Aaron Rodgers, who I like a lot, needs to get rid of the ball faster. He is taking a beating but against the Cowboys he could have avoided some of the hits.

Brady Quinn looks like a bust. Alex Smith already was one.

Finally I am crushed that Ronnie Brown is out for the season with a foot injury. I don’t like the Dolphins and would just as soon see them go 0-16 but I love great football players and what Brown was doing this year running the Wildcat formation was phenomenal. Now the AFC East has lost two great running backs in Leon Washington and Ronnie Brown, both who I have a great deal of admiration for. No, I’m not like the Jets fans who cheered over Brady’s injury last year and crowed that they were the new team in the AFC East. I have more class than that.

GAMES I WATCHED

Indianapolis Colts over New England Patriots, 35-34

I wrote my comments on this already, you can see it here:  https://cdbaker.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/bill-belichick-is-afraid-of-peyton-manning/

The synopsis, the Patriots have a lot of positives to take away from the game. They basically gave the game away, and I’m not just talking about Bill Belichick’s no infamous call on 4th and 2 from their own 28 at the end of the game. I just hope they can rebound and beat the New York Jets this weekend. I don’t want to go into a tailspin. I think they will beat the Jets, and can beat the Saints.

Indianapolis at 9-0 and a relatively easy schedule could run the table and go 16-0. But I don’t think they will.

MVP: Reggie Wayne, WR

San Francisco 49’ers over Chicago Bears, 10-6

Oh my, two bottom feeders rolling around in the muck. Jay Cutler looked awful with five interceptions. Granted some of them were partially the fault of his receivers but this was really a joke. Cutler, the big bad, I am going to be the leader of the team, I’m the next coming of John Elway, I am going to have input into the 53 man roster. I love seeing this whiny brat, wannabe John Elway get his comeuppance. He looks awful, his team looks awful, and the Bears got what they paid for.

San Francisco’s offensive didn’t look much better. Four interceptions (not counting the one late in the game) and you only score 10 points? Even a mediocre offense would have blow the Bears out of this game and made it a laugher. I’m sorry but Alex Smith just does not look like the quarterback of the future to me. The quarterback position on this team needs to be addressed.

What the 49’ers do have is heart, Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, and a solid defense. I think Mike Singletary is taking this team in the right direction.

MVP: Frank Gore, RB

Cincinnati Bengals over Pittsburgh Steelers, 18-12

The Cincinnati Bengals have swept the Pittsburgh Steelers and have proven to be a real contender in the AFC. Their defense continues to play extremely well and I am very, very impressed with their offensive line. They have one of the best offensive lines in the league. And while the offensive did not score a lot of points, they did enough to win and they basically controlled this game for the most part.

Pittsburgh is a great team as well but they certainly are not the same team without Troy Polamalu in the lineup. While Pittsburgh is on my list of teams I least want to see win, I hope Polamalu recovers. I love watching this guy play.

Rookie running back and kick returner Bernard Scott had a superman game, running a kickoff for a touchdown and filling in for the injured Cedric Benson.

MVP: Bernard Scott, RB/KR

Green Bay Packers over Dallas Cowboys, 17-7

Dallas is a hard to team to figure out, as is Tony Romo. Sometimes they look like an upper echelon team and sometimes they look like the Cleveland Browns in a different uniform. This week they were atrocious and so was Tony Romo. A lot of that can be laid at the feet of an offensive line that looked overmatched by the Green Bay Packers.

Charles Woodson, Green Bay’s veteran cornerback had a career day with two forced fumbles, a sack, and an interception. He was all over the field. It helped that the Packers defensive line was able to get penetration into the Dallas backfield. A shout out should go to Packer defensive tackle Johnny Jolly who disrupted numerous plays.

Dallas lost their left tackle Mark Colombo during the game, which is scary given that they are weak at the tackle position. Flozell Adams is a joke. And that was part of Dallas’ problem.

Meanwhile I thought Green Bay’s offensive line played better than they usually do, but Rodgers was not helping them much by holding onto the ball too long and taking hits. He needs to get out of that habit, fast.

I love seeing Dallas lose so this was a fun game to watch.

MVP: Charles Woodson, CB

Baltimore Ravens over Cleveland Browns, 16-0

Cleveland looked pathetic and inept in this game. Eric Mangenius sure made this team look better this year, didn’t he? That was one of the worst displays of professional football I have seen since, well, the Tennessee Titans laid down against the Patriots earlier this year.

Brady Quinn is really starting to look like a bust. He played horribly, as did his receivers, and the entire offense.

But Baltimore had no business looking as awful as they did either. The score was 0-0 at halftime. Baltimore, despite having three good running backs, even and excellent one in Ray Rice, had no business looking this bad and out of sync. They played down to the level of competition.

As one of the announcers said, the best unit on this night was the Browns defensive line. The dominated the action. I feel back for not giving Shaun Rodgers a shout out on my Midseason Pro Bowl team. When he gets it going he is almost unblockable.

This game was badly marred by Brady Quinn’s low block on Terrell Suggs that will knock him out of action for an undetermined amount of time. And then Joshua Cribbs got jacked up and hospitalized on the last play of the game that certainly looked like a cheap shot by Suggs’ backup, Dwan Edwards.

Both teams say the cheap shots weren’t intentional. I guess I will take their word for it.

This was a forgettable game, otherwise.

MVP: Ray Rice, RB

PLAYERS OF THE GAME

Offensive Player: Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans (232 total yards rushing and receiving)

Defensive Player: Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay Packers

Offensive Lineman: Sebastian Vollmer, T, New England Patriots

Special Teams: Bernard Scott, KR/RB, Cincinnati Bengals

Rookie of the Week: Bernard Scott, KR/RB, Cincinnati

Bill Belichick is Afraid of Peyton Manning

The New England Patriot’s 35-34 loss to the Indianapolis Colts Sunday night was one of the most frustrating, infuriating, painful losses I can remember for a regular season game in a long, long time. I know I more or less said something similar after last year’s loss to the Colts, but this is worse because we squandered a mostly wonderful game by Tom Brady and the offense.

Frankly, I am still so sick about losing this game I’m not really sure where to start in trying to discuss it. It really all came down to one play and one coaching decision at the end of the game. But before getting into what will go down as one of most infamous coaching decisions in NFL regular season history, let’s look at the positives for the Patriots. That might make me feel a little better, but I doubt it.

First, Tom Brady had an outstanding game. He actually outplayed Peyton Manning and is really starting to look like the Tom Brady of 2007. His pass to Kevin Faulk on the 4th and 2 at the end of the game was perfect and should have resulted in a first down (and some would argue it did, the officials just didn’t see it that way). Randy Moss and Wes Welker had outstanding games as well.

Second, the offensive line did an excellent job of protecting Brady most of the night. Sebastian Vollmer, the backup rookie left tackle, did a very good job of controlling the pass rushing machine, Dwight Freeney, most of the night. Nick Kazur, the right tackle, struggled a bit with Robert Mathis but he played well enough for the most part. A fellow Patriot fan suggested that maybe Matt Light, or normal left tackle who usually struggles mightily against Freeney, starts at right tackle when he is healthy and Kazur rides the pine. That doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

Finally, the young, inexperienced defense didn’t play as poorly as the score might look. While they didn’t look like the ’85 Bears, they were able to stop the Colts often enough for us to win the game and forced a couple of turnovers. They played well enough to win, but didn’t.

For the most part this game went the way I expected it to if the Patriots were going to pull off a win – the offense scoring a lot of points and the defense doing just enough to hold off the Colts’ prolific offense. The Patriots had a 17 point lead in the fourth quarter but I knew it wasn’t over. I was nervous, and had every reason to be as it turned out.

This is a game the Patriots had no business losing and it mostly comes down to Bill Belichick squandering all our time outs and his decision to go for it on 4th down and 2 yards to go from our own 28 yard line while protecting a 34-28 lead with 2:08 left in the fourth quarter. This was an all in gamble by Belichick. Make the first down and the game is basically over as the Patriots could have taken nearly all the time off the clock. Don’t make the first down and you give Peyton Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, the ball at the New England 28 yard line with plenty of time left on the clock.

As most NFL fans know by now, the Patriots didn’t make the first down (or so the officials say) and Manning threw a winning touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne with almost no time left on the clock. Game over.

And one other thing to note before discussing Belichick’s gamble on 4th down, the Laurence Maroney fumble in the end zone also was a game deciding play. Instead of scorning a touchdown we gave the ball back to the Colts on the 20 yard line. While the Colts went three and out and we did score a touchdown on our next possession, it still costs us seven points and possibly the game. Had he scored and the Colts went three and out, we would have ended up with decent field position and likely a field goal or even another touchdown, putting the game out of reach. Turnovers kill and that was a killer. Couple that with the squandered time outs and the fourth quarter was an absolute disaster for the Patriots.

Bill Belichck’s 4th Down Gamble

What to make of Belichick’s decision to go for it on fourth down deep in our own territory when he could have punted the ball and made Manning and the Colts march 70 yards for a winning touchdown? (Note most football pundits agree that the most likely result of a Patriots punt would have been the Colts with the ball at around their own 30 yard line). I have seen two schools of thought on this.

Belichick is an Idiot and Didn’t Give His Team a Chance to Win

Most analysts basically called it a “blunder.” The usually politic Tony Dungy more or less called it “stupid.” Most others are also saying that Belichick’s decision showed arrogance, a lack of respect for the defense, and it was simply a really, really bad coaching decision.

Arrogance is the funniest and silliest adjective to describe Belichick’s decision. Arrogance? Do you believe it is arrogant that the coach wanted to put the game in the hands of his offense and Tom Brady instead of the hands of Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne? Instead of arrogance it showed respect, or even fear, of Peyton Manning.

I am also sick of hearing that Belichick had no confidence in his defense. I don’t think that is the case at all. The defense is young, the Patriots have numerous injuries on their defensive line meaning defenders were playing more snaps, they lost their best pass rusher early in the game, Tully Banta-Cain, they were tired, and the Colts clearly had the momentum on offense. Two consecutive nearly 80 yard drives, and quick ones at that, certainly factored into the decision.

It’s not that Belichick had no confidence in his defense.

He is scared of Peyton Manning. Belichick’s calculation was that Peyton Manning was more likely to score a touchdown, regardless of where he got the ball on the field than the chances were of not making the first down on 4th and 2. Again, not because he has no confidence in the defense, but he’s afraid of Peyton Manning. Which leads me to the second school of thought.

Belichick is a Genius and it Just Didn’t Work Out

Maybe Belichick is right. Had the Patriots punted the Colts very well may have taken the ball 70 or so yards and scored a winning touchdown. This Web site argues that Belichick made the right decision to go for it on 4th down based on statistics of NFL teams http://tinyurl.com/yzszwzp. The basic argument is given the probability of making it on 4th down versus the probability that the Colts would score a winning touchdown if the Patriots punted the ball, Belichick made the right decision and gave his team the best chance to win. And the greater the probability you think Manning would drive the Colts for the winning score, the more the decision to go for it on 4th down makes sense.

I thought when we did not get a first down on third down that the Colts would probably win because we would punt the ball and eat a Manning touchdown in the face. But I also thought our defense could summon up one more stand against the Colts. But wait! There is no Ty Law, Asante Samuel, Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, Willie McGinnest. We have rookie defensive backs and newcomers learning the system. Let me rethink that.

So Doug, What Do You Think About the Call?

My first and immediate reaction can be summed up better by one of my fellow Patriots fans. Here I quote one of them after the game:

…I don’t know what the odds are that he makes that play on fourth down…? But let’s say it’s 50-50 or let’s even say he would make it two out of three times…I understand Bill’s concern about kicking and giving the ball back to Peyton with 2:00 left on the clock…the problem I have with the call is that it seems like he gambled the whole game on that one play. He’s the genius, but I don’t get it…if he gambles and they make the play, Patriots win, game over, I get that, but it’s all based on a huge all-in gamble. If they kick it, at least Peyton has to go the length of the field, or most of the length. Obviously, it’s Peyton Manning, and there is a decent chance he marches down and wins the game anyway, but at least you have several chances to stop them. By risking the fourth down where they were on the field, you know that if you don’t make the play, game over, there is essentially a 100 percent chance that we lose by giving one of the greatest QBs of all time the ball back on a short field. It was gambling pure and simple to me. I wish we had taken our chances with our defense. Easy to say in hindsight, but that’s how I feel.

I was very emotional and upset with Belichick for going for it after the game. After further reflection, intellectually, I think he made the right call. I am convinced by the statistics and probabilities that Bill Belichick, by going for it on 4th down and 2 from their own 28 yard line, gave my team their best chance to win the game. I see the math and I’ve seen Peyton Manning win games like this against better defenses on more than one occasion. If we had made the first down we wouldn’t even be talking about it.

And while I have not read the study on 4th down conversions that argues that coaches should be much more aggressive in going for it, I am aware of it, and Bill Belichick has studied it (see David Halberstam’s biography of Bill Belichick). He’s made this decision before and been rewarded for it far more often than not, just not on such a big stage.

So the bottom line is I think Belichick made the right call.

But the emotional part of me thinks he should have punted the ball. At least then you could say he gave his defense a chance to win the game. Had the Patriots punted the ball and the Colts drove for the winning score I would find it much easier to swallow than for Belichick to give the game away on a fourth down gamble. And while the defense was very tired and the Colts did have the momentum, the defense had shown they could stop the Colts. Why not give them the chance to try to do it?

But Bill Belichick is smarter than to let emotions rule his on field decisions. He made the right call. It just didn’t work out.