FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bill Belichick has never been afraid to make tough decisions. From personnel matters like cutting captain Lawyer Milloy on the eve of the 2003 season to on-field issues like a fourth-and-2 call from inside his own 30 late in an eventual loss in Indianapolis quite a few years back, the New England Patriots head coach goes with what he believes is right, what he so often espouses is in the best interests of his football team.
That is exactly what he did Sunday evening at MetLife Stadium when he surprisingly called for his team to kick off after winning the coin toss in overtime against the Jets.
Five plays into the extra period Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Eric Decker with the game-winning 6-yard touchdown pass in the 26-20 victory that kept the Jets' playoff hopes alive while pushing the banged-up Patriots (12-3) into the final week of the season having failed to wrap up the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff picture.
In his postgame press conference in New York oft-defensive and always-irritable Patriots coach said simply, "I thought it was the best thing to do."
The decision came after Belichick had watched quarterback Tom Brady lead an offense that put up a season-low 286 total yards, scored one offensive touchdown and had just one third-down conversion on the day. And prior to overtime, Belichick watched his defense force three straight Jets punts, this after igniting the team's comeback from a 17-3 deficit with a strip-sack that led to a Jamie Collins defensive score.
Still, the call to have Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Co. on the bench watching to open overtime in a game where weather wasn't an issue was rather questionable.
Less than 24 hours later, Belichick expressed no regret regarding his decision in his weekly day-after-game conference call with the New England media.
"I clearly thought that was our best opportunity," Belichick reiterating why he kicked the ball to the Jets. "So that's why we did it. I didn't like the way it worked out, but to me that was the right decision for our team at that time."
Though that answer doesn't specify the reason for the decision, Belichick did make it clear that there was no confusion as to which direction the Patriots wanted to play in overtime. Pro Bowl special teams captain Matthew Slater seemed concerned when he told referee Clete Blakeman that he wanted to kick off and then was told he was not also allowed to pick the direction.
"The discussion was that we wanted to kick off, No. 1. But No. 2, if we didn't win the toss, that we had the preferred direction. Honestly it didn't really make any difference," Belichick said. "There was almost no wind in the game. So that wasn't a big consideration. What I didn't want to do was defend a goal and then have them choose to kick off. So we chose to kick off. And, again, I don't know exactly what happened out there at midfield, but we obviously didn't have the choice of goals, they did, but we talked about that sideline because that could have been our choice had the coin toss gone differently. So, yeah, we did talk about that. But in the end the direction of the goals, I don't think there was really any wind advantage. If there was, it was very minimal and not really worth taking a goal over."
Belichick also noted that he indeed informed the officials prior to the overtime coin toss that he preferred to kick off.
"Yeah. Absolutely. For that exact reason, so there wouldn't be any confusion about what was going on," Belichick said. "That's why when I was asked after the game, 'Was there confusion on the play?' ...I don't think there was any confusion. Clete came over to me after the toss and said, 'You got what you wanted here, right?' And I said, 'Yeah, exactly.'
"Seems like much ado about nothing, for me. I don't really see what the issue is. Like what are we talking about here? What should have happened that didn't happen or whatever? I don't know."
Belichick clearly doesn't think the outcome of the game in New York would have been any different had he made a different decision to open overtime. Maybe he's right, as has been the case often in the past. Maybe he's wrong, as has been the case often in the past.
Either way, the New England boss won't hesitate to make a tough, non-traditional decision next time the opportunity presents itself. That could come as early as this coming Sunday in Miami with the Patriots looking to close out the season by staying healthy and, ideally, clinching the No. 1 seed in the AFC for the postseason.
How does New England go about accomplishing those goals, which, at times, differ? Well, that's a tough decision that Belichick will have to make.
REPORT CARD vs. JETS
--PASSING OFENSE: C. Tom Brady simply isn't working with a full arsenal right now. He was without both Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola in New York, and the offense sputtered against a solid Jets defense. Brady completed 22 of 31 passes for 231 yards with one touchdown and one interception -- to Darrelle Revis on an apparent miscommunication with Rob Gronkowski -- for an 89.6 passer rating. Eighteen of Brady's 31 attempts were directed at little-used receiver Keshawn Martin and fill-in running back Brandon Bolden. Martin finished with a team-high seven catches for 68 yards on his 11 targets, while Bolden had five catches for 30 yards. Rob Gronkowski was solid in limited chances, including a pair of fourth-down conversions in the fourth quarter on the way to the game-tying score, tallying four catches for 86 yards. James White caught all five balls thrown his way for 28 yards, including a wide-open score on the only offensive touchdown of the day. Brady was sacked twice, hit five times and harried to the point that he was falling away from throws and diving to avoid contact from the Jets front. New England had just a single third-down conversion on the day, a season-low 286 yards and one or fewer first downs on four of its nine possessions (not including a regulation-ending kneel-down) on the day. It was a struggle throughout for Brady and the bulk of his targets.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: D. Seven different Patriots carried the ball in Sunday's loss, none had any consistent production. Overall New England rushed 22 times for 63 yards and a 2.9-yard average. Bolden led the way with nine attempts for just 30 yards, including a 13-yard long. Steven Jackson made his debut with seven carries for 15 yards, including a 7-yard long. The only guys who averaged better than 4 yards a carry were wide receivers Brandon LaFell and Martin, who had single runs of 9 and 6 yards, respectively. The offensive line didn't open up much room and the running backs couldn't make much happen with the limited push. It was a tough day against a tough defensive front.
--PASS DEFENSE: C minus. Playing without starting safeties Devin McCourty (ankle) and Patrick Chung (foot), New England struggled in the back end right up until Eric Decker beat Malcolm Butler for the game-winning touchdown in overtime. Brandon Marshall gave the Patriots the most issues, hauling in eight passes for 115 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He took advantage of a matchup primarily with Logan Ryan and used his size to haul in a 33-yard touchdown. Ryan Fitzpatrick was far from perfect, and actually could have hit a few more key plays early on that may have put New England in an even larger hole. The veteran completed 26 of 41 passes for 296 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 109.4 passer rating. He was sacked just once, though that was a key Jabaal Sheard strip sack that was returned for a touchdown by Jamie Collins to help ignite a New England comeback that pushed the game into overtime. During the very short extra period, though, reserve Patriots defensive backs Leonard Johnson and Tavon Wilson ran into each other on a rub route that allowed Quincy Enunwa a 48-yard catch-and-run that flipped the field quickly to help set up the winning score. New England didn't have enough pressure or coverage on pass defense, a losing combination.
--RUSH DEFENSE: C minus. The Patriots' run defense was gashed early by New York. New England allowed runs of 16, 11 and 17 yards on the Jets first two drives on the way to a consistent day moving the ball on the ground. New York totaled 27 carries for 143 yards and a 5.3 average. Bilal Powell led the way with just seven carries for 56 yards. Chris Ivory had 11 carries for 38 yards and former Patriot Stevan Ridley had seven for 36 yards. New York had three different guys with at least seven attempts for at least 35 yards and a long of at least 13 yards. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower returned to action but still seemed limited with his knee injury. New England also got caught with Sheard playing inside at defensive tackle at times and took advantage of the Patriots oversized front. All in all it was a disappointing day for the Patriots front.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: B plus. For the last month, New England's special-teams units have been allowing big plays and making big mistakes. That was not the case in New York, where the unit was the best part of the team and did its job all the way around. Stephen Gostkowski hit his two field-goal attempts (35,44) and put five of his six kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks. Ryan Allen punted four times with an impressive 44-yard net with two downed inside the 10-yard line. Keshawn Martin handled the return duties on both kickoffs and punts, and showed some spark, including a 15 yarder on a punt and a 27 yarder on a kickoff. Most importantly, for a team that's muffed/fumbled punts in three of four games, ball security was not an issue. New England's coverage units also held the Jets very much in check. Overall a very strong day in the kicking game, even in the losing effort.
--COACHING: D. Certainly the biggest question of the New England coaching staff was the decision to kick off to open overtime despite winning the coin toss. While Brady watched from the bench, New York marched to a touchdown to take the game with the Patriots offense never taking the field. Bill Belichick may have had faith in his defense and questions about his offense, but still not a good look to see No. 12 lose without even having a chance. The offensive game plan was also rather dubious. With the receiving corps undermanned, Josh McDaniels seemed so lacking of confidence in his troops that he emptied the playbook with an end around, reverse, flea flicker and Wildcat call at various points. It didn't work, as New England had just one offensive touchdown and converted a dismal one third down. On defense, Matt Patricia never did come up with anything to either stop the Jets run or keep the aerial attack from making the plays when Jets needed them most. Belichick may have kicked the game away with his controversial decision to open overtime but the New England staff didn't do too many other things well in the loss, either.