Bill Belichick is the one who decided to roll with a rookie quarterback this year.
So he needs to stop coaching scared and put his faith in Mac Jones.
Belichick did a terrific job in slowing down Tom Brady and the Buccaneers’ offense in Sunday night’s 19-17 loss, but two conservative fourth-down decisions may have cost the Patriots the game.
The most crucial was the decision to attempt a 56-yard field goal with 59 seconds left instead of going for it on fourth and 3 from the 37-yard line. Per EdjSports, an analytics outfit that is an official partner of the NFL, the decision to kick the field goal decreased the Patriots’ chances of winning by 10.1 percent, making it the third-most harmful coaching decision across the NFL in Week 4. Belichick said Monday “there wasn’t any consideration” to going for it.
Belichick justified it by saying Nick Folk was kicking well, and the Patriots were 2 of 9 on third down. But even if Folk made the kick — and to be fair, it did have the distance — Brady still would have had 55 seconds and two timeouts, only needing a field goal to win it.
Then factor in that Folk doesn’t have the biggest leg (he hasn’t hit a 56-yard kick since 2010 in Denver) and it was pouring rain in Foxborough.
Then factor in that the Patriots only needed 3 yards; Jones was playing well, completing 77.5 percent of his passes Sunday; and that the Bucs were without their top four cornerbacks because of injuries before and during the game.
Going for it could have been a galvanizing moment for Jones and the offense, knowing that their coaches have faith in them on a crucial play. If they made it, they could have run out the clock and won it at the buzzer. Instead, Belichick played it scared.
The other conservative decision was punting on fourth and 2 from the Bucs’ 44-yard line with two minutes left in the second quarter and the Patriots leading, 7-3. Per Edjsports, that decision decreased the Patriots’ chances of winning by 4 percent, and was the sixth-most harmful coaching decision in Week 4.
The Patriots had just picked up 15 yards on a double-pass, and seemed to have momentum. A score right before halftime could have been a huge boost.
Instead, Belichick took a delay of game and punted away. Jake Bailey pinned the Bucs on the 5-yard line, but Brady still led the Bucs 69 yards for a field goal right before the break. The Patriots led, 7-6, but it easily could have been 10-3 or 14-3.
“At the TB 44, there’s not as much win probability to be gained in field position on a punt,” EdjSports wrote.
Perhaps Belichick misses Ernie Adams more than we knew.
Other observations after re-watching the game:
▪ Both defenses set the tone on their first snaps: The Bucs sent a cornerback blitz, and the Patriots dropped four defenders into the short-middle portion of the field and played it safe.
And with the game on the line, both teams resorted to the same tactics. The Bucs blitzed Jones with six on three straight snaps on the Patriots’ final drive, and on the crucial third and 3, Lavonte David jumped at the line of scrimmage and batted down Jones’s slant pass to Jakobi Meyers. If David doesn’t make that play, Meyers has an easy first-down conversion and the Patriots probably win.
On the Bucs’ final drive, the Patriots dropped eight into coverage on almost every snap, forcing the Bucs to settle for a 48-yard field goal.
⋅ The Bucs blitzed Jones on 21 of his 44 drop-backs, the most blitzes any quarterback faced in Week 4. Jones handled it well, for the most part: 15 of 20 passing for 161 yards, one interception, one sack, and a 77.3 passer rating.
|Player||Comp||Att||Yards||TD||INT||Sack||Rating||3rd down conversions|
|Mac Jones||15||20||161||0||1||1||77.3||2 for 4|
|Tom Brady||4||6||84||0||0||0||109.7||2 for 4|
On the interception, Jones’s protection broke down when no one picked up a blitzing Devin White up the middle. But Jones still shouldn’t have thrown that ball into tight coverage over the middle.
The Bucs didn’t play it safe often, with Jones going 2 for 4 for 9 yards against a three-man rush. But the Bucs did have one play with 347-pound defensive tackle Vita Vea dropping into zone coverage, which was entertaining to watch.
⋅ The Patriots took the opposite approach with Brady. They blitzed him on just six of his 44 drop-backs, and he was 4-of-6 passing for 84 yards and a 109.7 rating. But they threw a three-man rush at Brady 10 times, with Brady going 5 for 8 for 45 yards plus a 31-yard pass interference penalty on Kyle Van Noy.
⋅ The Patriots blitzed once in the second half, but it was costly. It was third and 9 midway through the fourth quarter, the Bucs were almost in the red zone, and the Patriots decided to send an all-out, seven-man blitz. Brady recognized it right away, got the ball out well before the Patriots’ pass rush could get home, and found Cameron Brate for an 18-yard completion. The Patriots still held the Bucs to a field goal on the drive.
⋅ The Bucs didn’t just blitz Jones — they sent complicated blitzes at him. There were multiple instances where the Bucs blitzed five, but dropped their two defensive ends and sent three linebackers or defensive backs after Jones. One of Jones’s best plays of the day came against one of these blitzes, when he was able to sidestep David and fire a strike to Kendrick Bourne for 16 yards.
⋅ Using a heavy dose of shotgun and no-huddle offense helped Jones diagnose the Bucs’ defense and handle the blitz. From shotgun, Jones was 20 for 26 for 205 yards, a touchdown (to Hunter Henry), an interception, and three sacks, averaging 7.9 yards per attempt. Under center he was 11 of 14 for 70 yards, one touchdown, a sack, and 5.0 yards per attempt.
⋅ Playing their first game without James White, the Patriots struggled with running backs picking up pressure. On two separate occasions Devin White came screaming up the middle on a blitz, yet neither the interior offensive linemen nor the running back recognized it. When Brandon Bolden missed it, Jones threw an interception. When Damien Harris missed it later in the game, Jones was able to side-step Devin White and still hit Harris out of the backfield for 21 yards.
⋅ The offensive line is a mess. The Patriots became just the fourth team since the merger to rush for negative yardage in a game. Left guard Mike Onwenu got hit for two holding penalties on one drive (though one was ticky-tack) and he got benched for Ted Karras. Isaiah Wynn played a role in two sacks, unable to handle an inside swim move by Joe Tryon-Shoyinka before getting bulldozed by Vea to give Tryon-Shoyinka another free run at a sack.
Wynn also flinched on the final drive and should have been called for a false start, but got away with it. Yasir Durant and Justin Herron each got plowed through for sacks on back-to-back plays.
On the final drive of the game, the Patriots got called for a false start on second and 1 when the entire line moved early except for the center. The Patriots were in no-huddle, and either David Andrews or everyone else messed up the snap count. You simply can’t have that in crunch time.
⋅ Five days after signing with the Bucs, cornerback Richard Sherman played 58 of 59 snaps. And while Sherman had seven tackles and recovered a fumble, the Patriots had no issues moving the ball against him, as Sherman was mostly playing off-coverage.
Bourne caught a 16 yarder on second and 20; Meyers caught a 15-yarder on third and 4; Bourne caught another 16-yarder; and Meyers went for 21 yards on a beautiful back-shoulder throw in the fourth quarter. Sherman was also called for pass interference to give the Patriots a third-down conversion.
⋅ As for Brady, the Patriots did a good job of taking away short throws to Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin by putting Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, Van Noy, and Dont’a Hightower in the middle of the field while also playing tight man coverage.
But Brady also did a good job of taking advantage of the man coverage by putting his running backs out wide, and forcing Patriots linebackers to play in space on the perimeter, where they are not nearly as comfortable.
⋅ The Patriots also did a nice job of confusing the Bucs’ offensive line. The Patriots only rushed three in the red zone, but still got a free rush for Matthew Judon while two Bucs’ offensive linemen stood around doing nothing.
⋅ The Bucs were most successful when running against a lighter, DB-centric Patriots defense. On their lone touchdown drive, late in the third quarter, the Bucs called five runs and just three passes, and one of the passes went to Leonard Fournette. Running backs picked up 43 of 52 yards on the drive, and Ronald Jones was able to run through an unblocked Devin McCourty on his 8-yard touchdown run.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.