Bill Belichick didn’t have any interest in rehashing his in-game decisions a day after the Patriots lost to the Cowboys 35-29 in overtime.
On multiple occasions, the Patriots went with what would best be described as conservative decisions. The first came early in the game with the Patriots leading 14-10. With 1:30 to play in the half, Belichick decided to have Mac Jones kneel the ball and run out the clock. His reasoning after the game was that the Patriots were getting the ball to start the second half. He didn’t expand on that Monday morning.
“Because we were going to get the ball in the second half,” Belichick said. “We went back and wanted to get settled in on the second half at halftime. Same thing I said last night.”
At some point, the Patriots need to be aggressive and give Jones a chance to score points in that situation. The same applies to fourth downs. The Patriots have been one of the NFL’s most conservative teams on fourth down. They’ve gone for it just three times. All three came while down 28-13 to the New Orleans Saints.
On Sunday, the Patriots had fourth-and-2 at midfield in the third quarter and elected to punt. They then had fourth-and-4 later in the third quarter at their own 46-yard line and again punted. Win probability models suggested going for it was the better decision in both cases. Those same models suggested going for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 35-yard line in the second quarter would have been the right move. Instead, the Patriots ran the punt team onto the field, missed a blocking assignment and had the punt blocked.
Each of those decisions can be argued individually. But to punt in all three instances points to a pattern of conservative decision-making that carried into overtime. This time, the Patriots had fourth-and-4 at their own 46-yard line. Jones had ended regulation with a 75-yard touchdown to Kendrick Bourne. He was a Nelson Agholor drop from opening overtime with another big gain. He was playing well. The defense had also spent a lot of time on the field in regulation. But the Patriots decided to punt. On WEEI Monday morning, Belichick said the range of Cowboys kicker Greg Zuerlein factored into that decision. From that spot, one first down from the Cowboys would have put them in range.
But a conversion from Jones would have given the Patriots a chance to win the game. After his pick-six in the fourth quarter, Jones showed how he can respond to adversity. His next throw was the long touchdown to Bourne. He’s clearly not afraid to respond after making mistakes. The Patriots shouldn’t be afraid to put him in position to make plays and mistakes on fourth downs. They did it late against the Buccaneers, settling for a 56-yard field goal on fourth-and-3. They did it again in this game.