Final two minutes of Patriots-Bills included some subtle drama

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Last night’s game between the Patriots and Bills provided 60 compelling minutes of football. It finished with two minutes that were far more intriguing than they may have seemed at first blush.

The final 120 seconds started with a bang, as the Bills tried to convert a fourth down and 14 from the New England 19. After the throw failed to connect, the Patriots had first and 10 with 1:55 to play, and with one timeout for Buffalo.

If the Bills had no timeouts left, it would have been a three-knees situation for New England. The ability of the Bills to stop the clock one more time meant that, unless the Patriots made a first down, the Bills would get the ball back after a punt.

The Patriots still could have gone into kneel-down mode at that point, milking more than 80 of the remaining 115 seconds before giving possession back to Buffalo. If a slow, step-or-two-back kneel-down play would have consumed three seconds each, that would have chewed up another nine seconds beyond the 80 seconds that would have evaporated after two of the three plays. That’s 89 of the remaining 115 seconds, leaving Buffalo with 26 seconds, minus the time that would have elapsed during the punt.

The Patriots instead opted to run the ball. To risk having rookie quarterback Mac Jones pull a Joe Pisarcik. To risk having another key fumble like the one from running back Damien Harris in Week One, as the Patriots closed in on a game-winning field goal against the Dolphins.

For coach Bill Belichick, the question becomes balancing out the risk of a fatal miscue versus the chances of getting a first down, while also considering the possibility of a blocked punt or a punt return for a touchdown or a Hail Mary to win the game.

Should the Patriots have simply taken three knees and punted? If Jones had bungled a snap or one of the running backs had dropped the ball, we’d be saying that, yes, they should have done that. Absent a disaster, Belichick gets the benefit of the doubt and then some; who if anyone is questioning his decision to have receiver N'Keal Harry attempt his first career punt return in strong winds?

The Patriots eventually caught a huge break, when Bills linebacker Matt Milano suffered an injury with 1:23 to play, causing (because the Bills had not time outs left) the play-clock to reset to 40 seconds and giving the Patriots the chance to burn the entirety of it, take a knee, consume all of the next 40-second clock, and end the game with a kneel-down.

Even then, things didn’t go entirely smoothly. Belichick got mad at Jones for taking a timeout with 44 seconds on the game clock and one second on the play clock. Taking the delay of game penalty would have removed one more second from the game clock before the third-and-seven play, increasing the chances that the Patriots wouldn’t have to snap the ball again after that.

Ultimately, everything worked out for the Patriots. They didn’t have to punt. They didn’t have to defend a Hail Mary. They didn’t have to get a first down. And, perhaps most importantly, they didn’t have to hand the ball off one last time before it became clear that they’d be able to kill the clock.

12 responses to “Final two minutes of Patriots-Bills included some subtle drama

  1. As someone who lives in Connecticut I can assure you pretty much everyone is asking why Harry was in there for that punt return.

    I don’t blame him for making a mistake, coaches put him in a bad position. He’s been doing well and accepted his role as DE-Earholer. I hope all the Pats fans cut him some slack and get after the coaching staff for a bad decision.

  2. That was a confusing sequence of events at the end. But Belichik’s decision making turned out to be safe and effective

  3. The better question is why didn’t NE try a Hail Mary at the end of the 2nd quarter with the wind, on their own 45, with 7 seconds left, instead of attempting an even riskier punt.

    Take the snap, roll out and fire it as high and deep as possible. Definitely would have burned the rest of the time, might have results in another TD.

  4. Belichick set the narrative by going for 2 on the first score. That one additional point loomed for the entire rest of the game.

    Running the ball at the end was a milder bookend to that. The story was: we are in control here.

  5. I’ll say, I was holding a narrow lead in my 12 person, winner take all, FD game… was hoping Singletary didn’t break a long run or make a big play on a screen pass. alas, the good guys prevailed.

  6. The way Belichick handled that last 1:55 was a great example of situational football. As the situation changed within that period, he instantly recalculated and did what was necessary to bleed the entire clock. Not many other coaches have what it takes to do that; some don’t even have the math skills to get it done. It was impressive to watch, and yet every single TV outlet’s coverage I’ve seen treats the game as ending with the bat-down of Josh Allen’s 4th-down pass.

  7. Once the Bills injury popped up, and the play clock got reset to 40, I said “they will be able to run the rest of the clock out now because of that rule”. I imagine the rule will change next year so that it resets to 25 seconds instead.

  8. BB’s chessboard got a workout and McDoofus was busy yelling at the refs all night with a loser’s mentality.

  9. Harry was probably in there for his catch radius. I rarely get to watch the Pats to know if Harry has the best catch radius on the team, but catching a punt in high wind is probably close to catching a pass in high wind. The ball’s probably being kicked closer to the arc of a pass than floating high through the air like a typical punt. And the wind is going to put the ball wherever it damn well pleases, just like a quarterback. I don’t know if it’s the right move on Belichick’s part, but I feel like this may have been a factor.

  10. “who if anyone is questioning his decision to have receiver N’Keal Harry attempt his first career punt return in strong winds?”

    Pretty much everyone in the Pats local press is questioning that and it has been a common topic on sports radio yesterday in this area.

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