Sunday’s loss to the Broncos featured a distinctly unBelichickian performance from Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Twice, he opted not to throw the red challenge flag when the clear and obvious visual evidence suggested that maybe he should have.
First, a 35-yard third-yard completion to Broncos tight end Tim Patrick on third and 21 seemed to have been an incompletion, when Patrick didn’t get both feet in bounds. Belichick didn’t challenge the ruling of a catch.
Then, with the Patriots facing third and three from their own 15 in the fourth quarter and down 18-3, a run by tailback James White seemed to surpass the line to gain, thanks to a final lunge. Again, Belichick didn’t challenge the outcome.
He was asked about the decisions by reporters on Monday. Here’s what he said, behind his now-trademark bank robber mask.
“I feel it’s nice to be able to sit up there and watch replay after replay and have unlimited challenges, but that’s just not the way it is,” Belichick said. “So we don’t have unlimited challenges and we challenged the touchdown, the quarterback sneak on the touchdown, because we thought there was enough to overturn it. There’s a lot of close plays out there. If you challenge all of them, then you run out of timeouts and run out of challenges and everything else. So you have to pick out the ones that you think are the right ones. It’s certainly an unscientific process, but I feel like we take the information and do the best we can. I’m sure it could be done better, I’m sure there’s other people who could manage it better, but we’ll just do the best that we can.”
Belichick did indeed use a fourth-quarter challenge to overturn a mistaken ruling that quarterback Cam Newton had failed to score. But the other two calls also could have been challenged.
He’s right that it’s an unscientific process. And it’s unfair that coaches have to decide when and how to budget their limited ability (two, and three if the first two are successful) to contest bad calls, given that bad calls can happen all game long.
Still, most accurate challenges are sparked by a know-it-when-you-see-it process, and it looked like both of the occasions that didn’t prompt Belichick to throw a challenge flag should have.
In Belichick’s defense, it’s hard to know with absolute certainty that the Patrick play definitely should have been challenged. The question would have been whether his left foot, which clearly comes down out of bounds with his final step, had been down when he initially secured possession. The replays shown during the broadcast were hard to see, in part because there was no challenge and the game continued.
The White call clearly should have been challenged, however. And it’s possible that Belichick kept his response vague (as usual) and defensive (as usual) in order to protect whoever it was who was supposed to tell Belichick to throw the flag.