From one fan to a coach, thank you, Coach Belichick, for being not like the others
Dear Coach Belichick,
You’re taking a lot of heat today for a decision to “go for it” on 4th and 2 late in your game last night. As a Patriots fan, I just wanted to say Thank you!
When you came to the Patriots, it was a franchise on a downward trajectory. They went from the Super Bowl to out-of-the-playoffs quickly, and they stayed there. Just getting by was good enough, playing in the Super Bowl was good enough. And for a fan of a team that was usually middle-of-the-pack at best, expectations were low.
You changed all that. You brought with you knowledge, strategy and instinct that quickly became the hallmark of the league. You won more games over the last 10 years than any other head coach in the League. You set records for consecutive wins, total points, and you did what no one thought possible in the “free agent” era: Win three out of four Super Bowls.
Today people who have done none of those things (and a couple people who have done one or two) are criticizing you for a “bonehead” decision. To me, it was a great one.
We’ve all watched Peyton Manning with the ball in the final two minutes of a game. A team is up by less than a touchdown, they decide to punt, and the Colts march down the field for the win. After those games, people wonder, “Why would you give the ball back to Peyton Manning with two minutes left?” Some people criticizing you now are the same people who have said in the past, “The other team should have just gone for it.”
Manning had already done it to you three of his previous four possessions! The Colts went 80 yards in 3:02 for a score, then 79 yards in 2:04, then 79 yards in 1:49. Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi wanted you to trust the defense. Why? They hadn't earned your trust and were falling apart!
On the flip side, you have the greatest quarterback champion of this era, Tom Brady. With you he's won more playoff games in the last eight seasons than any other quarterback. You could either put the game in his hands or the hands of a defense full of young players still finding their way around your schemes. You made the right choice.
More than your call being the right thing to do for the game, it was who you are. You’ve been the master of “going for it” on 4th down. It’s part of who you are. Bill Parcells did it the same way: No guts, no glory. You’ve been wildly successful with it in the past, and you’ve even been successful with it this season. It is who the Patriots have become, and I couldn’t be happier about that transformation.
Fans of other teams have to pull their hair out wondering, “why did they punt?” Or “Why are they in prevent defense?” Or “Why did they run the ball there?” From you, we New England fans know we’ll always get aggression and creativity. And, in the case last night, all of that wrapped up with football intelligence and knowing the right thing to do.
Unfortunately, the media is setting the tone: If you do something unconventional, you will get roasted for it. Other coaches will look at this and say, "See? This is why I don't get aggressive at the end of a game. I'd rather lose doing it their way than lose doing it my way." Please, coach Belichick, don't listen to the media. Don't let these people tell you what you should and shouldn't do; You know better than all of them.
I will levy one criticism against you: You used two timeouts on that last “drive” that cost you. You should have known the officials wouldn’t give you any benefit of the doubt. You should have known that a referee would suddenly get x-ray vision and be able to see through the receiver on 4th and 2 to make up a “he was juggling the ball” call. He did juggle the ball, but he clearly had possession of it before he was knocked back. They’ve done it to you before in Indianapolis. Hell, they did it on the Colts’ previous drive! You knew they’d do it to you if they got a chance, you gave them that chance, and you should have kept a timeout to challenge it.
At the end of the day, you’re being criticized for a play that WORKED! But the refs aren’t an excuse anymore. While the receiver clearly gained possession of the ball at the first-down line, you let the officials get the best of you. That’s not on them, it’s on you, and for that you should be criticized.
So thank you for not being a copycat coach. Thank you for being yourself. Thank you for continuing to set the tone of your team. Thank you for truly understanding the game, game situations, probability and having the guts to do the right thing even when it isn’t “conventional.” It didn’t work out last night, but next time it will and you’ll be called a “genius” again. Win or lose though, I love you for it.
Cyd Zeigler jr.