By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
They saw that fumble coming.
Bill Belichick made multiple puzzling coaching decisions in the Patriots' 24-21 loss to the Bills on Sunday, and they add up to something ominous for the 2020 season: he didn't trust his quarterback to protect the ball, let alone make a play with his arm, in a key situation.
The Patriots certainly raised some eyebrows when they kicked a field goal on third down with 12 seconds left in the first half. In Belichick's words, he wanted to "ensure the three points," and taking one more shot at the end zone was "really a low-percentage play."
A low percentage of what? Not turning the ball over or taking a sack? Brian Hoyer did each of those things in Kansas City. Against the Bills, Belichick ostensibly felt Cam Newton could do one or the other to hurt the Patriots offense.
Ultimately, Belichick was proven right. At the worst possible time. With just 29 seconds remaining, Belichick trusted Newton to take a designed run around the left edge. He cut up field just fine, but then disaster struck as Justin Zimmer punched the ball out and Buffalo recovered. Game over.
Perhaps Belichick and Josh McDaniels should have just done what they did on six out of 12 third-down plays, which is take the ball out of Newton's hands. Why did they call handoffs to Rex Burkhead on a third-and-12 and a third-and-10, a Newton keeper on third-and-8, a James White run on third-and-2, the Nick Folk field goal?
Belichick denied that the windy weather played a role in those decisions. There is a logical conclusion, though: they were protecting Newton from himself. And the game-losing fumble showed why.
"I'm jeopardizing this team's success with my lackluster performances protecting the football," Newton said after the game. "Coach trusts me with the ball in my hands. I wouldn't want it any other way. I just have to protect it."
Newton protected the ball just fine on his two-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. If he's untouched it can't get punched out. But it takes just one big mistake to undo a lot of good, and in their quest to finally play a turnover-free game, the Patriots offense came up 31 seconds short. Newton has no one to blame but himself for his game-ruining error.
Belichick may have been onto something to shield Newton from slinging the ball too much on third-and-long, and certainly to heave one into the end zone at the end of the first half. Wouldn't want to run the risk of your quarterback throwing points away.
There's been too much of that lately. And on Sunday in Buffalo, it bit the Patriots in the game's biggest moment. Belichick stands by Newton for now.
But ball security is job security, and at the end of the game, Newton showed why the Patriots don't feel as secure as they want to be with their quarterback.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at [email protected].