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Michael Wilbon
Columnist

Michael Wilbon

Washington Post sports reporter and ESPN personality

Belichick's Blunder

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Ask yourself if Vince Lombardi, with his team leading by six points, would have gone for it on fourth and 2 from his own 28 with two minutes to play in the game? You think Don Shula would have made that call? Tom Landry. No, of course not.

Let's recap: Down six, on the road, you can force Peyton Manning go 70 yards for the win if you punt. If you go for it and fail on fourth down, Manning needs just 29 yards to win the game. It's a no-brainer right? Ask yourself if Chuck Noll would have gone for it in such a situation. Joe Gibbs? Bill Walsh. No, of course not.

But no great coach, no head coach with multiple Super Bowl victories, would have made that call -- except the most arrogant great coach of them all, Bill Belichick. And the decision to try and pick up those two yards in Indianapolis last night instead of punting, fittingly, is the most arrogant end-of-game decision I've ever seen in 40-plus years of watching pro football.

Not surprisingly, Tom Brady said he loved the call; would you really expect the Golden Boy QB to publicly second-guess his coach in the moments immediately following one of the most dramatic endings in modern NFL history? But you'll forgive me if I take my cue from one of Belichick's former players, Rodney Harrison now of NBC's "Football Night in America," who has the guts to talk it like he played it. Harrison was honest enough to tell the viewers that his old coach, a man he respects and loves, made a "the worst decision" he'd ever seen.

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By Michael Wilbon  |  November 16, 2009; 8:34 AM ET  | Category:  Indianapolis Colts , New England Patriots Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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This is not an irrational decision: Belichick had amply-deserved confidence in his offensive line and quarterback. As is the case in most introspectives, did he foresee that his receiver would bobble the catch enough to not be awarded forward-progress and a first down? Not likely. It's a controversial call, to be sure, but to call it a blunder is to overstate the case. Belichick certainly knows what everyone else does: Manning can go 28 yards -- or 98 -- with two minutes on the clock. So he gambled and lost. That's life, that's football. Give the guy a break on this one.

Posted by: sailmaker1943 | November 16, 2009 10:07 AM

I'd take this "ego" (and four Super Bowl appearances with a QB drafed in the 6th round) over incompetence anytime.

Posted by: c_e_daniel | November 16, 2009 11:49 AM

Belichick is clearly an idiot. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bob Kraft makes a change this off season and brings in someone who will take a more conservative approach to play calling. Jim Zorn perhaps?

Posted by: washcitypaper | November 16, 2009 12:32 PM

Wilbon is jumping to conclusions, as usual, because the truth is so much less exciting and won't sell nearly as many newspapers. Belichick's decision to go for it was likely based on his respect for Peyton Manning's ability and his lack of confidence in his defense. By comparing Belichick to Lombardi, Wilbon ignores the fact that the game has fundamentally changed in the last 40 years.

Great job, Wilbon -- keep up the hype.

Posted by: diehardlib | November 16, 2009 12:52 PM

A coach made an imperfect decision that didn't work and if was all about arrogance? Was Gibbs arrogant in his second Super Bowl when he made a call that turned a close game into a rout?

Bet a little research would show every coach mentioned had at least several bone head calls to his credit - but finding them would require a reporter to work as hard as a coach. NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.

Posted by: mgferrebee | November 16, 2009 1:11 PM

Ego or imbecile? Wilbon's the expert.

Mike, give up the hate. It comes through in every piece you do on the Patriots. remember urging teams to take shots at Brady in '07, even outside the rules?

I've watched more Patriots games than you have, by a lot. When was the last time their defense made a 4th quarter stop with a big game on the line? Last I recall, it might have been Willie McGinest against the Colts in '04. Certainly not in the "06 AFC Championship game or the '07 Super Bowl. It is a huge weakness. Mannning had just taken the ball 2x more than 70 yards in the 4 quarter in

I probably would have punted too, not so much to win the game as to see if my defense could do the job and maybe boost their egos. But Belichick tried to have his best players win the game. The call worked but for the ruling of on bobble. Even after the change of possession, the defense could have won the game. The short field takes away routes, and they forced a 3d down on the last drive.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | November 16, 2009 1:20 PM

Who really cares who wins - they're both going to the playoffs.It was a stupid call. He must not trust his defense. Belichick figured we play them again indoors now, it's better than in the snow.

Posted by: tombrgr | November 16, 2009 1:20 PM

Problem is, Mr. Wilborn has been watching too many Redskin's games to realize there are teams, like the Patriots, that can make two yards 98% of the time...just not the Redskins.

Posted by: JCM-51 | November 16, 2009 3:08 PM

Wilbon - There is an old saying "those who can't do - just complain" Belichik is a great coach who made a decision that did not work - Big deal.

You would be that same dunce who would have been complaining that Lombardi did not kick a field goal at the goal line against Dallas. Quit over analyzing everything.

Posted by: WaltCT | November 16, 2009 3:14 PM

Come on. Blunder? Why are these folks making such a big deal about Belichick's call? It must be a slow day. It's not as if New England is fighting for a playoff spot. Furthermore, Indianapolis could have run a punt back even further than the 28 yard line. And then what?

As a Giant fan, I have much more gripe about Tom Coughlin's play calling like last week. He (or his team) really habitually commit blunders.

Posted by: KT11 | November 16, 2009 3:39 PM

Well, arrogant maybe. But like the boys here are saying give me that arrogant SOB and trade you for Snyder.

Posted by: webman2 | November 16, 2009 6:16 PM

Take a safety and kick the hell out of it unobstructed from the 20. 6 points ahead is no different than 4 points ahead.

Posted by: Truckbomb | November 16, 2009 8:04 PM

Wilbon's got it completely wrong. It was a blunder, but it was not because of Belichick's arrogance. Instead Belichick's fear of Manning drove him to commit the blunder. You cannot win by fearing your opponent. This is exactly what happened to Belichick. He lost the game mentally!

Posted by: mqpham | November 16, 2009 10:46 PM

Forget about Belichick's arrogance, statistics/probabilities, and histories. The Colts proved to be a superior team by rallying in the 4th period to overcome the Pats and beat them, period.

Posted by: Azterix | November 17, 2009 12:26 AM

Ask any statistician. Which call had the better odds of producing the desired result-- gaining the necessary 2 yards on 4th down or stopping the opponents from scoring a touchdown on a 70 or 80-yard drive?

Posted by: jwmorrison | November 17, 2009 2:24 AM

Well, he's been doing this for years and had it worked, this time it didn't...

Posted by: bromisky | November 17, 2009 6:48 AM

For the record, I never liked the Patriots or their coach Belichick. Nonetheless, they are a talented and well coached team. I watched the game last Sunday night and I have no problem whatsoever about his decision to go for it. It was a gutsy call and the execution failed by a hairline. The Patriots controlled the game throughout...why not go for it as long as you have confidence in your offense. NFL pundits have known all season his defense was not as strong as past seasons. Give the man a break...one mistake does put him in the Zorn or Spurrier class of NFL coaches..the man is still a great coach. These attacks against him are fueled with bias based on past indiscretions. Give it a rest Wilbon...your over-the-top rantings are getting old as your PTI buddy Tony Kornheiser.

Posted by: RickQ4 | November 17, 2009 2:51 PM

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