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Hoisted By His Own Petard, Belichick’s Strategy Backfires

Was it the smart call?  Why did Belichick allow the Giants to score the eventual game clinching touchdown in Super Bowl XLVI?

Sam Borden, writer for the New York Times, tackles this subject.  In his article titled, After Giants’ Surreal Touchdown, Debates on the Strategy.  Because the Patriots lost the Super Bowl, many people think Belichick’s decision to let the Giants score was a miscalculated gamble.  But was it?  

With the Giants trailing the Patriots by two points 17-15, the Giants had the ball on the Patriots six yard with a little over a minute left in the game.  After taking a hand off from Eli Manning, Ahmad Bradshaw runs toward the end zone.  It was all too easy as he reached the goal line.  Despite not getting any specific instructions from head coach Tom Coughlin,  Bradshaw teetered at the goal line.  His mind wanted him to fall short of the end zone.  On the other hand, his body fell forward.  The Giants score a touchdown and are up 21-17. 


After the game ended with a Giants victory, Belichick was asked about his controversial decision.  His rationale for letting the Giants score was based on how short a potential winning field goal attempt would have been. With the ball inside the 10, Belichick said, it is “a 90 percent field-goal conversion” rate for N.F.L. teams.  Indeed, there is a kernel of truth to his reason.

But there were other factors involved here.  

As Andy discussed in yesterday’s recap, the Giants got lucky breaks on this Super Bowl run.  And none luckier than seeing a sure-handed Wes Welker drop a crucial pass with four minutes left in the game.  If Welker makes this catch, the Patriots and not the Giants are celebrating a Super Bowl Championship.  

Even with critical miscues, from the four minute mark of the second quarter , the Patriots were able to move the ball against the Giants defense.  Yes, the Patriots scored only 17 points.  But this is somewhat misleading.  The Patriots had 5 possessions in the second half.  They scored a touchdown on the opening possession of the third quarter.  After that it was punt, INT, punt, and failed Hail Mary.  On the third and fourth possessions, the Patriots were getting into a rhythm.  Brady’s long pass intended for Gronkowski was picked by Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn. And the fourth possession snarled because Welker could not secure the football.  I believe Belichick made the decision to let the Giants score because he KNEW their best chance of winning was by scoring a touchdown.  I do not think he has faith in his kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

In 2006, after clutch kicker Adam Vinatieri left the Patriots and signed with the Colts, Stephen Gostkowski has been the Patriots plackicker.  If you look at his statisitics on ProFootball Reference, he appears to have good numbers.  In 2011, he had a very admirable 84.8 percent FG conversion rate. Over his entire NFL career, Gostkowski has an 84.4 percent conversion rate.  So with these impressive numbers, it would seem he is a better than average kicker. But is he?

Remember in Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots were leading the Giants 7-3 early in the third quarter.  The Patriots were looking to pad their lead.  On a important 3rd and 7 from the Giants twenty five yard line, Brady was dumped on the ground by Michael Strahan for a six yard loss.  Strahan’s sack moved the ball back to the Giants 31 yard line.  Instead of opting to attempt a 48 yard field goal, Belichick decided to go for it on 4th and 11.  Again a risky decision by Belichick, and like his decision in Super Bowl XLVI, it too was foiled.  Brady’s pass fell incomplete. The Giants got the ball on downs. And Belichick did not trust Gostkowski in 2008.  It sure seems he still does not trust him.  Why is this?

Let’s look at Gostkowski’s numbers from 40-49 yard field goals.  Over his career, he has attempted 34 field goals and converted only 25 of them.  Therefore, despite having 84.4 percent overall conversion rate, his longer field goal percentage is 73 percent.  So he is not as accurate from longer distances.  Most likely, if Belichick did not use his matador defensive strategy, the game could have come down to a long field goal.  When Belichick was the defensive coordinator of the Giants in 1990, he witnessed first hand a pressure packed Super Bowl deciding kick. Buffalo’s Scott Norwood’s 47 yard attempt went wide right.  And Norwood talked about his missed long field goal in Super Bowl XXV, “Maybe you overdo the analysis,” he says. “The truth is that, at 47 yards, the  percentages are against you. If it were 30 yards, O.K., but 47 …. At that  distance, the average in the NFL is under 50 percent. You’re working against the  numbers. Maybe you break everything down too much. A quarterback doesn’t get two  throws a game and then sit down and analyze where his feet were and how his arm  worked on the one he missed. It’s 1.3 seconds. You go out and do it.”   

Speaking of the percentages, like Norwood stated, the rate of field goal conversion from long distances especially in a Super Bowl are against you.  This is why Belichick made his gutsy decision.