New England Patriots: Trying to Decipher the Coin Flip Controversy


Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots lost 26-20 in overtime on the road to the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon. After being outplayed for three-and-a-half quarters, New England quarterback Tom Brady led his team on an eleven play drive culminating in a nine yard touchdown just before the two minute warning to tie the game.

The Jets took over with 1:55 to play and after a defensive pass interference call on Malcolm Butler on third and four seemed to be in position to march down the field and kick the winning field goal. Instead, the New England defense stepped up and forced the Jets to punt away and go to overtime.

Then, everything went crazy.

I will be the first to admit, I had no idea what was going on with Patriots captain Matthew Slater and the coin flip. When he indicated he wanted to kick and was arguing about the side of the field they would be defending, it seemed as if there was a major mistake made. In fact, if you head over to my twitter feed during the game, the confusion about the decision to kick the ball to New York was quite evident.

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Apparently, New England head coach Bill Belichick seemed determined to put the game in the hands of his defense to stop the Jets. The defense had just stopped them once right before halftime. In addition, in the two prior fourth quarter drives the Patriots’ defense had held the Jets offense to consecutive three-and-outs.

Leftover thoughts from loss to Jets

With the current overtime rules, the team which gets the ball first has to score a touchdown on the first drive to end the game. If they do not score or kick a field goal, the overtime continues with the kicking team given the chance to tie or win the game. Even so, most teams want the ball to give their quarterback a chance to score a touchdown and end the game immediately.

The plan was clearly to kickoff to the Jets, have them start at their 20 yard line, force another three-and-out, and then get the ball back with the ball around their 40 yard line and then need just two first downs to get near kicker Stephen Gostkowski’s field goal range.

Mandatory Credit: Jim O’Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Belichick was either overconfident in his defense or under-confident in his offense. Either way, it was a puzzling decision to kick away and trust a defense with backup safeties playing, a hobbled and less than 100% Dont’a Hightower. The third cornerback position was a weak spot as well as Leonard Johnson was torched with seven receptions allowed for 83 yards on nine targets (per tracking by Doug Kyed at Justin Coleman was playing well until he re-injured himself and Johnson returned.

Unfortunately, the defense did not hold.

4 positives from loss to Jets

On the first play of overtime the Jets ran Chris Ivory and starting strong safety Jordan Richards–filling in for an injured Patrick Chung–went down and was replaced by third-string safety Tavon Wilson. On the next play the Jets went right after Wilson with a variation of the rub play springing Quincy Enunwa for a huge 48 yard reception.

The rub play–or the illegal pick and offensive pass interference as it is called seemingly every time New England runs the play–had former Patriots wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins pushing off on cornerback Leonard Johnson to free up Enunwa who inexplicably had defensive end Chandler Jones outside in the slot across from him. Tavon Wilson clearly had coverage responsibility and came charging toward Enunwa to make a play with the ball in the air. Prior to the catch, Thompkins–after pushing off Johnson–clipped Wilson knocking him off balance with the ball still in the air and well past the legal one-yard blocking zone.

With no one in the area, Enunwa was off the races before being slowed down by safety Duron Harmon and finally tackled down at the 30 yard line. After another Ivory run, Fitzpatrick found Marshall for 20 yards and then ended the game finding Eric Decker in the right corner of the end zone.

Mandatory Credit: Jim O’Connor-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets won 26-20 in overtime. The Patriots never got a chance to have the ball in overtime despite winning the coin flip. Did the strategy make sense? Somewhat. There is a certain logic to the plan, but it seemed odd to make the defense, which had already been worn down by the Jets’ offense for three quarters, get back on the field without an extended rest.

6 frustrations from loss to Jets

The other part of the plan that did not make sense was keeping Tom Brady on the bench. Yes, he was getting hit seemingly every other pass attempt due to the offensive line being on option five at left tackle. Yes, the running game was non-existent. Yes, the only dependable receiver was Rob Gronkowski. However, if there was anyone to make more with less it was future-Hall-of-Fame quarterback Tom Brady

Could the logic be spun to a sensible plan to stop the Jets and get the ball back with good field position and only need a field goal to win? Certainly. Would it be one that anyone would want to see used again this season (or particularly in a playoff game)? Definitely not.

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Was it the right move? Well, it is only the right move if the plan works and the Patriots win…and the Patriots did not win.