Bill Belichick addresses key fourth-quarter decisions in Patriots’ loss to Eagles
Bill Belichick said after the New England Patriots’ Week 1 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that his team was good enough to “make it competitive,” but not good enough to actually win. He put himself on that same list, and justifiably so.
Belichick was asked multiple times about various decisions he made late in Sunday’s 25-20 loss at Gillette Stadium, during both his postgame presser and his follow-up media availability Monday morning. Chief among the curious choices was to go for it on fourth-and-3 from the Eagles’ 17-yard line with 9:39 left in the fourth quarter, down 22-14. Mac Jones’ pass attempt toward Ezekiel Elliott fell incomplete, leaving a rallying Patriots offense empty-handed.
When asked after the game whether he wished he’d tried more field goals, Belichick played all the hits.
“Made the best decision we could at the time,” Belichick said. “Didn’t know we would be down there multiple times. Six minutes to go in the game. I don’t know. If we had kicked it, I’m sure you would be asking why didn’t we go for it.”
He felt he made the best decision for the team. He manipulated a key number (again, there was actually 9:39 left). He blamed the reporter for asking a pretty standard question. Classic Bill. The kind of stuff that was more amusing when the Patriots won more.
Another key decision was to go for it on fourth-and-17 from the Eagles’ 48-yard line with 2:24 left, now down 25-20. Since they were almost at midfield, deciding to punt was in play. This would’ve been more risky than passing up the field goal, but the Patriots defense ended up getting their stop, anyway.
“Yeah, well, I mean look, there wasn’t a lot of field position to be gained,” Belichick said Monday. “We could have punted it – probably should have punted on fourth-and-17, but we’re on their side of the 50. It’s too long for a field goal. Fourth-and-17 is a lot tougher than fourth-and-12.”
A third decision was a little more nebulous, as to where the buck stopped and why it went the way it did. But it came on the Patriots’ final fourth-down attempt of the game, when Jones’ pass attempt to rookie wide receiver Kayshon Boutte was ruled incomplete on review. Boutte failed to get both feet in bounds for the second time in the game, a clear teaching point for him going forward.
But why was Boutte, a rookie sixth-round pick, the one entrusted to make such a crucial play in his first career game? Why was Boutte on the field in the first place? Why was veteran big-money free-agent addition JuJu Smith-Schuster NOT on the field? Was it due to a lack of trust? Or could it be something physical?
“Yeah, again we had different groups, different rotations, so we’re good with whoever is in there,” Belichick said after the game, when asked about the receiver package on the field during their final offensive drive. They lined up in “11” personnel (three receivers) with Boutte, fellow rookie Demario Douglas, and Kendrick Bourne, with Smith-Schuster on the sidelines.
Boutte played 55 snaps in the game (69 percent), compared to 43 for Smith-Schuster (54 percent). No matter the reason for Smith-Schuster’s low workload, it’s a concern that he couldn’t get on the field as much as a rookie who couldn’t get both his feet down in bounds. They also opted for Douglas in the slot over him, to make a direct comparison.
Still more important to note, however, was Belichick’s decision-making on fourth down. His feel for kicking field goals versus punting versus going for it seemed off. It’s easy to say in retrospect, but the decisions were eyebrow-raisers in real-time, too.
It’s why Belichick gave in and put himself on the list of people who need to be better. He will have to be, if the Patriots are going to push themselves from merely being “competitive” to “winning.”
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster 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 and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. Check out all of Matt’s content here.