Bill Belichick got ultra-conservative on fourth downs in loss to Titans

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One of the most surprising aspects of the Patriots’ wild-card round loss to the Titans on Saturday was that Bill Belichick twice decided to punt on fourth-and-short while trailing in the fourth quarter.

Down 14-13 with 12:52 to play, the Patriots faced fourth-and-3 at the Titans’ 47-yard line. Instead of trusting Tom Brady and the offense to pick up three yards, Belichick decided to punt. Thanks to Mike Vrabel using a Belichick clock management tactic against him, the Titans’ ensuing possession took up most of the fourth quarter: By the time the Titans punted, they had run more than eight minutes off the clock.

After that Titans punt, the Patriots gained 20 yards on their first play but then stalled and faced fourth-and-4 from their own 37-yard line with just 3:17 left in the game. Again, Belichick decided to punt. That time the Titans ran a long enough possession to force the Patriots to use all three of their timeouts, and by the time New England got the ball back they were in a basically impossible position, at their own 1-yard line with 15 seconds left.

The analytics site EdjSports.com uses a model to judge coaches’ fourth down decisions and said that Belichick had the second-worst game of any coach all season in terms of how much his fourth down decisions set the Patriots back. (The EdjSports.com model also dinged Belichick for a fourth-and-3 field goal in the first quarter, a fourth-and-goal field goal in the second quarter and a fourth-and-1 punt in the second quarter, although it was the decisions in the fourth quarter that were most costly.)

Belichick famously made one of the most aggressive fourth down calls in NFL history when he went for it on fourth-and-2 at his own 28-yard line late in a 2009 loss to the Colts. He was widely criticized by fans and the media for that, but the analytics community said it was the right decision, even though it didn’t work. Belichick could have used more of that aggressiveness on Saturday.

35 responses to “Bill Belichick got ultra-conservative on fourth downs in loss to Titans

  1. I’d probably write this off to the difference between analytics vs experience. Comparing a 4th and 3 to the rest of the league is one thing. Comparing it to how the offense performed all season long is another. If you told me there was a 90% chance of making 4th and 3 I’d probably still take the FG given how inept the Pats offense was this season.

  2. When your offense can’t do anything on the first three downs, I’m not sure “trusting” them to do anything on the fourth makes sense.

  3. Bill is always thinking and has a ton of numbers in his head and years of experience. They had no good option to get that 4 & whatever at anytime during the game. The O Line is bad, the running game is pretty bad & Bill forgot how to use a fullback to clear the path.

  4. At least he didn’t waste the clock on purpose like the end of the 1st half in Miami.

  5. I was optimistically thinking Brady and the offense would sort of “turn it on” once the playoffs started. Nope. That’s the same offense I’ve seen since Thanksgiving. The only bright side to losing last weekend is that I won’t have to watch that offense struggle this weekend. I’m just going to blame them all equally. It was about as painful to watch as watching the 2006 Patriots offense.

    My biggest shock from last weekend was that the Titans special teams out played NE’s special teams unit. 2019 Pats special teams unit was one of the best I have seen. hats off Tenn. Your team outplayed my team. May the best man win. Last Saturday that happens to be your team.

  6. With the way the Titans were hogging the ball Bill should have known better. People say the Patriots defense did its job. It didn’t. Letting the offense run all over you and run the clock out is not doing your job. It doesn’t matter they only gave up 14 points, you gotta stop the clock, get the ball back and get the offense on the field in a game like that.

  7. phillyphever says:
    January 8, 2020 at 9:56 am

    Can you blame him considering how bad the offense was that day/the whole season?
    ————————————

    Well, yes when you consider his complete failure of his on putting together the Offensive Roster the last 2 years.

    Don’t know how he seems to get a pass for not putting someone (anyone!) back to return a punt either.

    Love Bill, but he really cost them this year.

    Go Pats!

  8. This doesn’t look unreasonable to me. The defense seemed better to bet on than the offense. The bet came up wrong, but it was a decision with no great options.

  9. The 4th and goal field goal was particularly egregious. Had the Pats not made it they would have had Ten pinned down inside their 5.

  10. Little harder to win when your team gets busted a 2nd time cheating red handed. Can’t claim we didn’t know the 3rd time. But they will claim that 8 years from now when caught again. CAUGHT is the key word. They cheat straight up. All their titles are tainted.

    When they get caught cheating, have to play without that advantage. They lose.

  11. When BB took off his headset after Brady’s inexplicable pick 6 vs Miami, before half, with 3 timeouts…I knew right then Brady was done in NE.

    How can anyone blame BB for any of this when Brady is looking like Mark Sanchez as a QB?

    It’s pretty clear the last 2 seasons, downturn from brady, save for shredding 2 bad Ds in SD and KC last year, Brady is fading and BB has seen it every day in practice and on the field.

    Nothing more, nothing less. I am sure Brady saying “I am playing to 45 has annoyed BB’ as has the passive aggressive Guerrero saying “until 47” just this year on a radio interview.

    It will never, ever be about 1 person above the team in NE as long as BB is there.

    He’s the greatest GM and Coach in sports history and helped make Brady who he is.

    If it was so simple for Brady, he wouldn’t have had such a crap season as a QB (for his standards).

  12. logast says:
    January 8, 2020 at 10:21 am
    A season of the wide receivers just not getting open made that sadly an easy call to make.

    7 1 Rate This

    ————————

    Myth.

    The receivers are open. Sanu was “getting open” just fine in Atlanta before the trade. In fact, he was wide open up the middle on Brady’s pick 6 vs Miami as he was staring down Edelman into the flat for like 2 seconds, and he still threw it!

    My goodness, you Brady Fanboys are insufferable. I could have baited Brady into that INT. That’s something you do as a 10 year old playing backyard football.

  13. That game had the feel of BB and Brady wanting to end the season and go home. They both knew the team was not SB material and the season has been a grind with inept talent. So enough, let’s end this torture and go home. And I don’t blame them.

  14. bfallona says:
    January 8, 2020 at 10:04 am
    Bill is always thinking and has a ton of numbers in his head and years of experience. They had no good option to get that 4 & whatever at anytime during the game. The O Line is bad, the running game is pretty bad & Bill forgot how to use a fullback to clear the path.

    5 11 Rate This

    ———————-

    100% false. When got healthy, the line was ranked 8th in pass blocking, They also had a good run game down the stretch.

    When your HOF QB keeps getting baited by former Pats players/coaches and Brady is checking into a pass for almost 40 pass attempts in a low scoring, close game, the trap has been set.

    This is nothing with him.

    Learn the game.

  15. Analytics people believe that just because you go for it 4th down, you automatically get it.

  16. Well it was still just a 1 point game at that stage. Had they not converted around the midfield and given the ball back, the Titans would have likely been in FG range with one 1st down. The risk of going down by 4 points and then having to score a TD to win the game was not worth the risk in BB’s opinion, I guess.

    NE had not been good in short yardage situation this season. Rob Ninkovich was the 1st person who said that the loss of James Develin is going to be huge for the Pats and he was spot on. The loss of 3 excellent blockers in Develin, Gronk, and Dwayne Allen from last year was going to hurt a lot in the run game.

  17. This is why Brady needs to get away from Bill. You can’t have a team that runs an offense happy to have third and shorts and then be so conservative that when you don’t always convert you give up possession. This loss and last week’s loss to the Dolphins was on Belichick being overly conservative. You have the most clutch playoff performer in history and you decide to wave the white flag against teams your vaunted defense hasn’t been able to get off the field against all day. This is the result. No doubt Bill has lost some of his fastball. Compare him to Harbaugh in Baltimore, who routinely goes for 4th and shorts. There’s a reason that team will be tough to beat and the Patriots are staring into the abyss of a long offseason filled with unknowns.

  18. LOL, “good run game” that couldn’t convert a single short distance down and averaged below 4 yards per attempt this season. The “good run game” that was given three straight attempts with a yard to go at the goal line.

    Here’s a guy clamoring about “insufferable” Brady fanboys, but is too obtuse to see his insufferable worship of Bill, despite Bill’s clear failures in roster management.

    Anyone else feel gutted having to watch Harry get smothered all game (and failing to reel in any of his contested catches) only to watch Metcalf torch defenders and outman DBs on jump balls? The kind of big bodied receiver that would have done wonders for this offense (and was available far later than Harry in the draft?).

    Somehow the “genius” missed out on this one.

  19. TribeOfOne says:
    January 8, 2020 at 10:16 am
    With the way the Titans were hogging the ball Bill should have known better. People say the Patriots defense did its job. It didn’t. Letting the offense run all over you and run the clock out is not doing your job. It doesn’t matter they only gave up 14 points, you gotta stop the clock, get the ball back and get the offense on the field in a game like that.
    ==================
    While I agree somewhat .. to what end? So the offense can go three and out? While the defense was overrated I think they did ‘ok’ all things considered. Hard to stop them when you are on the field for more than half the game. Truth is the offense gave up half the points on the final drive than the defense did the entire game. Plenty of blame to go around but the offense deserves more than half of it IMO.

  20. tylawspick6 says:
    January 8, 2020 at 10:54 am

    Myth.

    The receivers are open. Sanu was “getting open” just fine in Atlanta before the trade. In fact, he was wide open up the middle on Brady’s pick 6 vs Miami as he was staring down Edelman into the flat for like 2 seconds, and he still threw it!

    My goodness, you Brady Fanboys are insufferable. I could have baited Brady into that INT. That’s something you do as a 10 year old playing backyard football.
    ====================
    I’m far from a Brady fanboy and would even go so far as to agree with you in general that it’s time to move on from Brady. That said, to throw the ball to Sanu you need an OL To be able to block more than 2.1 seconds. Which is something they were never able to do. All year long.

  21. The problem with these stats is they don’t take into account the skill level of the players. The patriots offense was terrible this season. If they had a great offense I would agree they should have been much more aggressive on offense. But the patriots offense was bad and was probably not going to convert on these 4th downs so you kick the FG or punt.

    Stats can tell you a lot. But at the end of the day you have to evaluate the players and their chances of being able to covert on these 4th downs. Not just if it is the mathematically best decision in terms of win probability.

  22. fireroger says:
    January 8, 2020 at 11:43 am
    tylawspick6 says:
    January 8, 2020 at 10:54 am

    Myth.

    The receivers are open. Sanu was “getting open” just fine in Atlanta before the trade. In fact, he was wide open up the middle on Brady’s pick 6 vs Miami as he was staring down Edelman into the flat for like 2 seconds, and he still threw it!

    My goodness, you Brady Fanboys are insufferable. I could have baited Brady into that INT. That’s something you do as a 10 year old playing backyard football.
    ====================
    I’m far from a Brady fanboy and would even go so far as to agree with you in general that it’s time to move on from Brady. That said, to throw the ball to Sanu you need an OL To be able to block more than 2.1 seconds. Which is something they were never able to do. All year long.

    0 0 Rate This

    ————————

    2.1 seconds? He stood back there for 5 seconds, bobbed up and down, looked, looked around some more, looked at Edelman, looked back and then threw it to him.

    And, that’s just ONE example of numerous throughout any game during the year, mainly after Wynn returned and the OL was VERY good. The run game was there, playaction was there, protection was there (8th ranked OL in pass protection holding blocks), etc.

    Go look at the first half stats from the Tenn game. They ran for 5 YPC in the first half and ran it 16 times.

    IN the second half, in a 14-13 game, the only ran it 6 times.

    This makes absolutely no sense unless the playcaller and QB think they don’t need a run game.

    And, if the theory is, the WRs “can’t get separation” the second year in a row we heard this by the way, why aren;t you just continuing to run it with the deepest RB group in the conference?

    lol

    And, I can tell you this, McDaniels subbing the backs in and off, tips the playcalls. How on earth this is still a major flaw, I have no idea. McDoofus thinks by subbing Michel and Burkhead on and off, actually is enough to fool the D from an obvious run call, yet

    Brady is a playaction dynamo, yet he lost playaction in the 2nd half by not running the ball?

    Has never made sense. Didn’t make sense in SB 46, didn’t make sense the other night.

  23. tylawspick6 says:
    January 8, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    Again, I’m not suggesting Brady was anything other than horrible. That said, the same 8th ranked OL in pass protection was also helped out by Brady throwing the ball away. The middle and right side of the Pats OL was beyond abysmal. All year long. That was true even after Wynn returned to the lineup. Everything else you posted I agree with. This isn’t a WR issue. I would argue the OL played a larger role than you are suggesting but I think we both agree Brady played the much larger role.

  24. Belicheat didn’t lose because of his fourth down decisions. He lost because he could no longer videotape his opponents’ sidelines. After getting caught taping the Bengals, the gig was up and so were the Patriots.

  25. TimTebowGodOfFootballKarma says:
    January 8, 2020 at 12:55 pm
    Belicheat didn’t lose because of his fourth down decisions. He lost because he could no longer videotape his opponents’ sidelines. After getting caught taping the Bengals, the gig was up and so were the Patriots.
    ===================
    How did they manage to beat the Bengals without the tape?

  26. The Miami pick 6?

    Slow-hammed Snafu ran the wrong route.

    Phony Michell ran the wrong route. That is why he was so close to Edelman.

    Bad throw, but it is NOT all on TB.

    Wake up.

  27. thecape15 says:
    January 8, 2020 at 5:54 pm
    The Miami pick 6?

    Slow-hammed Snafu ran the wrong route.

    Phony Michell ran the wrong route. That is why he was so close to Edelman.

    Bad throw, but it is NOT all on TB.

    Wake up.
    =================
    It wasn’t just a bad throw it was a bad decision. Sanu wasn’t open. Period. Watson running down middle of the field and Brady staring down Sanu the whole time. Probably because he didn’t trust his OL to hold their blocks. That said, they were doing so on that pick 6 play vs Ten.

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