Did Belichick lose again on fourth down?

December, 7, 2009
12/07/09
7:49
AM ET
MIAMI -- So what's with Bill Belichick's fourth-down fetish?

Three-card monte games have had better payoffs.

The New England Patriots head coach seems to be making it a point to go for it on fourth down to prove some sort of point, but the results this year have been destructive.

Belichick on Sunday squandered three points in a game that was decided by one because he opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Miami Dolphins' 6-yard line and failed to convert late in the second quarter.

The Dolphins crammed a Sammy Morris run and took over the ball on downs. They eventually won 22-21 in Land Shark Stadium and made a mess of the AFC East standings.

"Bad football can also be coaching decisions," NBC Sports analyst Tony Dungy said. "They had the chance to kick a field goal. They went for it on fourth down. Taking points when it's going to be a tight game is the way to go. I would have kicked the field goal, knowing it's going to be a low-scoring game."

The Patriots have gone for it on fourth down 16 times this year, tied for sixth in the NFL. They've converted eight.

All of clubs that have gone for it more often are lousy -- Kansas City Chiefs, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions, Washington Redskins -- and often need to convert fourth downs late in a game out of desperation. Those teams have only three more wins combined than the Patriots.

So logic would dictate the Patriots are going for it on fourth down unnecessarily compared to other good teams.

A field goal against the Dolphins would have made the difference, although you never can be sure what the butterfly effect would have been.

The Patriots' most infamous fourth-down case, of course, is when Belichick decided to go for it on fourth down from his own 28-yard line with 2:08 to go against the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots, ahead by six points, failed to pick up the 2 yards and handed Peyton Manning possession on the doorstep.

Has Belichick tried to prove a point since then? Counting that failed attempt, he has run an offensive play on fourth down six times in the past four games. The Patriots converted three of them, which is their season average.

And that's way off their recent success rate.

The Patriots converted 77.3 of their fourth downs last year. Their 22 attempts were fourth in the NFL.

They converted 71.4 percent in 2007. Their 15 attempts were tied for sixth.

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