Referee Clete Blakeman huddled at midfield with the captains for the Jets and the Patriots for the overtime coin toss. The Patriots chose heads and the flip went their way. And the Patriots’ way was to kick off.
Kick off? A mistake, right? Bill Belichick couldn’t have wanted to give the Jets the ball. If they scored a touchdown, the game would be over.
But the postgame media huddle with Belichick and special teams captain Matthew Slater revealed this was no mistake, just Belichick thinking outside the football box again. He said he had no regrets, at least none for public consumption.
“I thought that was the best thing to do,” Belichick said, adding, “There wasn’t any confusion.”
It turned out to be the wrong thing to do. The Jets drove 80 yards, finishing with Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 6-yard touchdown toss to Eric Decker. So they increased their odds at a playoff ticket with a 26-20 win Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
The Pats have been ravaged by injuries, but they already have their ticket and a first-round bye, sitting at 12-3. The defending champs still haven’t nailed down home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
After the game, they primarily played defense for Belichick and his fateful decision.
“That just shows he has trust in our defense,” safety Duron Harmon said.
Belichick made a similar call in OT against Denver in 2013. He wanted the side with the wind advantage, so the Broncos got the ball first. New England ended up winning.
“I have 100 percent confidence in Coach,” Slater said. “He knows what he’s doing a lot better than all of us. [The Jets] made more plays than we did at the end of the game. Hats off to them.”
Slater made sure to double-check with Belichick.
“You just don’t want to be the guy that goes out there and says you want to kick off when really we want to receive,” Slater said. “So I double-checked three or four times. I think he was looking at me like ‘Are you concussed?’ because I kept asking him. But that’s what he wanted to do.”
Slater’s choice was to tell Blakeman whether Belichick wanted to kick off or receive, or say the side the Patriots wanted to defend, which would have turned the kicking or receiving option over to the Jets.
“We want to kick off, that way,” Slater told Blakeman.
Then Blakeman turned to Antonio Cromartie and asked, “Which way do you want to receive?”
Slater looked confused.
“Hey, we won,” he told Blakeman. “Don’t we get to choose?”
“I was just trying to get clarification because we wanted to kick the other way, but we weren’t able to make that decision because we won the toss and we chose to kick off,” Slater said. “That was the end of our decision-making.”
Tom Brady also backed Belichick’s decision, saying, “Whatever Coach decides, that’s what the team does. We as players just have to play better.”
NFL teams are 6-7 when they elect to kick off to start overtime, according to STATS, since 1997. It was the first time since the 2012 rules change allowing both teams a possession was adapted that the team opting to kick off has lost. Here’s how the games went, with team kicking off listed first.
Oct. 26, 1997: Denver wins at Buffalo, 23-20
Dec. 19, 1999: Seattle loses at Denver, 36-30
Oct. 14, 2001: New England wins vs. San Diego, 29-26
Dec. 2, 2001: Cincinnati loses at Tampa Bay, 16-13
Nov. 24, 2002: Detroit loses at Chicago, 23-20
Dec. 31, 2006: Pittsburgh wins at Cincinnati, 23-17
Nov. 13, 2008: Jets win at New England, 36-30
Dec. 14, 2008: Tampa Bay loses at Atlanta, 13-10
Nov. 22, 2009: Pittsburgh loses at Kansas City, 27-24
Nov. 7, 2010: Arizona loses at Minnesota, 27-24
Nov. 24, 2013: New England wins vs. Denver, 34-31
Nov. 8, 2015: Minnesota wins vs. St. Louis, 21-18
Dec. 27, 2015: New England loses vs. Jets, 26-20