Tuesday, November 4, 2003
Belichick's gamble pays off for Patriots
DENVER -- With the Patriots facing fourth down from their
1-yard line and trailing Denver by a point, New England coach Bill
Belichick told Lonie Paxton to snap the ball out of the end zone.
What? An intentional safety? Yes, it was an unusual strategy.
And it worked to perfection.
Belichick's gamble put Denver up three, but New England's
defense held and Tom Brady hit David Givens on an 18-yard touchdown
pass with 30 seconds left to lift the Patriots to a 30-26 win
"That was the call of the game," Givens said.
That's an understatement. It might be the call of the NFL
Trailing 24-23 with 3:06 left, New England was pinned at the 1
after Denver's Kelly Herndon hustled to down a punt. After three
straight incompletions, the Patriots faced the daunting task of
punting from the back of the end zone.
At best, Denver would get the ball back around midfield with a
chance to kick a field goal and push the lead to four. At worst,
the Broncos would block the kick or drive for a touchdown and put
the game out of reach.
In Belichick's always-clever mind, it was an easy decision.
"I didn't think we'd get very much field position coming out of
there. We had our timeouts left, so we went ahead and took the
safety," Belichick said. "We were hoping to get some field
position there with the three timeouts and the 2-minute warning
still outstanding, hoping we could get the ball back and then be
able to at least have a shot at the field goal to tie it."
They got more than that.
Paxton's snap hit the left upright and bounced back to the end
zone for a safety that put Denver up 26-23. Denver figured to get
good field position on the ensuing free kick, but Deltha O'Neal
misjudged the punt and it rolled to the 16-yard line.
Starting the drive with 2:46 left, the Broncos gained two yards
on a run by Clinton Portis. Timeout New England. Matt Lepsis
followed with a false-start penalty, then Portis picked up seven on
the next play. New England used its second timeout.
Faced with third-and-6 from the 19, Denver coach Mike Shanahan
called for a pass play. The Broncos could essentially run out the
clock if the play worked, but Danny Kanell's pass to Ashley Lelie
"If we run the football, they would get the ball with two
minutes and 20 seconds left in the game. That's a lot of time,"
Shanahan said. "If we get the first down, we use up their timeouts
and the game is probably over."
Instead, it played right into New England's hands.
The Patriots started the final drive at their 42-yard line, and
Brady quickly got them into field-goal range with two passes to
Kevin Faulk. An incompletion and a run for no gain followed, but
Brady hit Faulk for a 16-yard gain to Denver's 18.
Adam Vinatieri could have easily hit from there to tie the game,
but the Patriots didn't want to wait for overtime. Brady hit Givens
on the next play, intentionally throwing it short so only his
receiver could catch it.
"That's the way it turned out, but it wasn't the play that was
called," Brady said. "David and I figured it out, I threw it and
he made a great catch."
But it wouldn't have been possible without Belichick's gamble.
Known for his innovative plays and confusing schemes, Belichick
may have even trumped himself with the deliberate safety call.
"What a great call," New England tackle Matt Light said. "It
didn't see it coming. It's a (great) play. What a great call!"