An unusual exchange between Patriots captain Matthew Slater and referee Clete Blakeman during the overtime coin toss left New England kicking off to start the extra period, a decision that helped the rival Jets to a much-needed victory on Sunday.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick confirmed he instructed Slater to choose to kick if New England won the toss, even though overtime rules allow a team to win outright if it scores a touchdown on its opening possession.
"We thought that was the best thing to do," Belichick said, adding that he did not regret the decision.
The Jets' official Twitter account posted a jab at Belichick and the Patriots after the coach's explanation of the decision.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) December 27, 2015
On Monday, Belichick stood by his decision.
"I clearly thought that was our best opportunity, so that's why we did it," Belichick told reporters on his standard day-after-game conference call. "I didn't like the way it worked out, but to me that was the right decision for our team at that time."
Slater on Sunday told reporters that the confusion revolved around whether the Patriots could choose the direction of their kick. He said he confirmed multiple times with Patriots coaches that they wanted to kick off if they won the toss.
"Before we went out for the toss, Coach told us that if we won the toss, we wanted to kick off," Slater said. "So obviously, as a player, you ask three or four times to double check because you want to make sure you get it right. ... The only confusion was whether or not we got to choose which direction we got to kick the ball."
Said Fitzpatrick: "Nothing surprises you about the Patriots and strategy and what they think. We were excited to get the opportunity to get the ball and have a chance to put them away."
As the road team, the Patriots had the option at the start of overtime to call heads or tails, and Slater called heads.
Based on a review of the CBS broadcast, Blakeman acknowledged: "Heads is the call. It is heads." As the camera focused on the coin, Blakeman asked the Patriots, "You want to kick?"
Slater replied that the Patriots wanted "to kick, that way," before asking: "Hey, we won [the coin toss]. Don't we get to choose?"
Blakeman, with his microphone off, replied, "You elected to kick." Had Slater said he wanted to defend a specific end first, his choice would have been granted, but because he said "kick" first, he wasn't allowed to pick which end to defend.
"I was just trying to get clarification because we wanted to kick the other way," Slater said after the game. "But we weren't able to make the decision because we won the toss, and we chose to kick off. That was the end of our decision-making. We didn't get to decide which way we got to kick off."
Jets defensive back Calvin Pryor, who was one of the New York captains for the coin toss, said: "Slater did say they were going to kick the ball. He said, 'We want to kick this way.' I was confused what [Slater and Blakeman] were talking about because I thought they were going to receive."
Slater said he was just following directions when making the call.
"They don't pay me to manage the games. It's not my decision," he said. "When I'm told to do something, that's what I'm going to do. The captains, when we're told that we want to kick off, we do it. Obviously in that situation, as a player, maybe you're thinking, 'Hey, we want the ball if we win the toss,' but that's not what Coach wanted to do."
The Jets (10-5) moved into sole possession of the AFC's second wild card with the victory, moving one game ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6). New York can clinch a postseason spot with a victory next week against the Buffalo Bills.
The Patriots also chose to kick off to start overtime during a 2013 game against the Denver Broncos. Belichick said the wind affected the decision then, and it worked out that time, as New England went on to win 34-31.
ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss contributed to this report.