When New England’s Julian Edelman fair caught a punt with three seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI, our PFT crew in the press box at NRG Stadium began to debate what Bill Belichick would call for the final play of regulation: Would he try the highly unusual fair catch free kick? Ask Tom Brady to launch a Hail Mary into the end zone? Or just kneel down and play for overtime? As it turned out, Belichick’s answer was none of the above.
Belichick decided to run a fake kneeldown, with the offense lining up in a kneeldown formation but running back Dion Lewis running the ball along the left sideline. Belichick got the idea from a play that Western Kentucky ran in December’s Boca Raton Bowl, and he said he hoped it might catch the Falcons off guard.
“We thought we might be able to make a play on it,” Belichick said. “Atlanta – give them credit. They were alert on it. We got a few yards, but they were alert to the play. We thought maybe at the end we might be able to get outside and get down the sideline on it. They saw it quickly. We thought it was worth a shot in that situation.”
Belichick said he briefly considered the fair catch free kick but thought it was too far and was concerned that if Stephen Gostkowski came up short, the Falcons could return it for a game-winning touchdown. He also didn’t think Brady would be able to complete a pass that long.
“Three seconds to go,” Belichick said. “It is too far to take a field goal. We could have had a free kick on that, but it was just too far. It would have been 75 yards. Throw a 75-yard Hail Mary.”
The Patriots’ comeback from 25 points down gave us the most improbable Super Bowl finish ever. The only thing that could have made it more improbable would have been the Patriots somehow winning it not in overtime, but on the last play of regulation. Belichick thought the best chance at that was the trick play.