Revisting Belichick’s 4th-and-1 Call


Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers was full of memorable moments where the Patriots made the right decisions in key situations that helped them win the game. Rob Goodman placing the ball on the ground after making a catch, despite not getting touched by a defensive player, and James sander picking up the ball and running with it is one example. Philip Rivers’ incomplete backward pass to Jacob Hester, which he just looked at as it lay on the ground, that was picked up and returned by Rob Ninkovich is another example. However, Bill Belichick’s decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 at the two minute warning on the 49-yard line is one that many have questioned as the Patriots failed to convert and set up a potential game-tying field goal for San Diego. Luckily, after a false start penalty, the Chargers failed to make the kick. Many immediately brought up last year’s failed 4th-and-2 conversion attempt against the Colts. After the game, Belichick wasn’t second-guessing his decision (surprise, surprise). In this case, I have to agree with Belichick’s decision to go for it. The Pats only needed 1 yard, and that would have essentially sealed the game. What I do disagree with is the play call the Pats ran to try and pick up the yard, and then the execution of the play itself. Let’s take a look at the play.

Above is an overhead view of what the play looked like just before the snap. The Chargers were playing run the whole time and had a defensive tackle lined up over center. Earlier in the game, the Pats converted a 4th & 1 utilizing the same play that they called in this situation, an off-tackle run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis. I’m sure the Chargers were looking out for this play, and a play like this usually takes more time to develop than you have in a 4th-and-short situation. A QB sneak straight ahead would not have made sense in this case with a DT lined up over center, but a sneak does not have to go straight ahead. Tom Brady could have sneaked the ball left or right and pushed ahead for 1 yard. The best place to sneak would have been to the left because, as you can see in the picture, there is a gap between the defensive end and the DT. A surge through ‘A’ gap or following directly behind the left guard would likely have resulted in the 1-yard pick-up.

So we don’t call the QB sneak and we have the Law Firm running off-tackle. BJGE may have picked the yard needed had he not stretched the play so far to the outside. There were two defenders outside surging forward to take him out. Do you see what I see in this play?

The picture above shows the play progressed ahead of the previous pic a second or two. Dan Connolly, serving as a lead-blocking fullback in this play, knocks the end out of the play. If BJGE followed Connolly, he likely could have fell forward for that one yard. The linebacker coming off the edge to the left of Connolly would have had to make a pretty spectacular play to stop the Law Firm from getting just one yard. Instead, BJGE runs it wide and the two edge defenders are able to make the play.

Luckily the play didn’t cost the Patriots the game, likely due to the Chargers’ ineptness all game. I was really surprised the Pats didn’t have Brady sneak the ball, but maybe they thought the Chargers were thinking the same thing. Either way, I’m sure the Pats wish they executed better on the play, but they certainly don’t regret going for it.