Most of the football world is still talking about the Dolphins multi-lateral, 69-yard touchdown to pull out the improbable 34-33 upset Sunday afternoon in Miami.
So it’s no surprise that many of the questions in Bill Belichick’s day-after-game conference call on Monday revolved around that play and New England’s decision to have tight end Rob Gronkowski on the field defensively for the final snap while Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty was on the sideline.
Belichick made it clear that the team reviews situational football decisions all the time, both its own as well as those of other teams.
“We look at all those,” Belichick said. “We look at the ones that happened and look at the ones that our opponents have had in previous games that come up and sometimes random things from around the league. We just have to do a better job of that. It starts with me. We have to play better situational football. We’ll work to try to achieve that.”
Is that improvement about the decision regarding which personnel to put on the field or getting those guys on the field to execute better?
“First of all it’s understanding the situation, that’s the No. 1 thing,” Belichick said. “And then what specifically you would call in that situation, that could have a lot of variability depending on what personnel they have in the game and various other factors. But understanding what are the critical parts of each situation and then applying the specific call that’s made to that. It’s a combination of a lot of things. As I said we just gotta…I gotta do a better job with it.”
Belichick said he did not consider using a regular pass defense on the final play and offered little explanation when asked directly why the team decided to take McCourty, of all players given his speed and tackling ability, off the field with the game on the line.
“That’s the way we substituted that group,” Belichick said with a slight sigh before being asked if he, in hindsight, wished he had the safety on the field for the play. “I think there are a lot of things that could have been better on that play. I think there were a lot of things that could have been better in the entire game. I think the game was about a lot more than that play, but certainly that play wasn’t a good one for us.”
Belichick did explain that Gronkowski was in due to “his ability to play the deep, long throw,” a common practice of teams using taller, more athletic players in a jump-ball or Hail Mary situation. Though Miami was at its 31-year line, Belichick did add that he thought a deep throw was a consideration even if Ryan Tannehill was likely unable to get a Hail Mary to the end zone.
“I think it was a little too far to get it to the end zone, but certainly a deep pass in that situation is a possibility. I wouldn’t rule that out,” Belichick concluded.
Beyond his and his team’s questionable handling of the final fatal play, here are a few other key takeaways from Belichick’s day-after-game conference call with the local media.
Gronk spike!: While Gronkowski’s role on defense on the final play, a flailing, failed tackle that allowed Kenyan Drake to score was much maligned, that really covered up an impressive overall day for the tight end. Gronkowski saw lots of zone coverage and linebackers from the Miami defense and took full advantage to the tune of eight catches on eight targets for 107 yards and a touchdown. It was a season high in receptions, his first 100-yard game since opening day and the second time in three weeks that he found the end zone.
“Wherever the opportunities come, it’s always good to see production,” Belichick said. “We can’t always control who is going to get those opportunities or when or where they are going to come. But when they do of course it’s great to see it from anybody who gets it, anybody and everybody.”
Consider going for it?: One of the biggest questions other than the defensive call/personnel on the final play, was New England’s decision to kick a 22-yard field goal with 21 seconds to play turning a 30-28 lead into a 33-28 advantage. Facing fourth-and-goal from the Dolphins 4 after three consecutive runs tallied a total of 3 yards, Belichick sent in Stephen Gostkowski for the short attempt.
Was going for it on fourth down a consideration or discussion?
“Yeah. We talked about it,” Belichick said. “I felt like the points to make it a touchdown instead of a field goal game were definitely…that changes the whole thing. Like what happened in the Pittsburgh game yesterday, needing a touchdown and needing a field goal, I think that’s significant. But, you know, you can make an argument for doing it the other way, I guess, if you want to.”
McClellan’s big day: It gets buried in the loss, but veteran special teamer Albert McClellan had a huge day in Miami, getting his hands on a pair of Dolphins punts. One was a true block that gave New England possession at the Miami 18 late in the first quarter and set up Julian Edelman’s 2-yard touchdown catch. The other was a deflection that technically turned into a 2-yard punt for Matt Haack that gave New England the ball at the Miami 15 late in the second quarter.
McClellan arrived in Foxborough on Nov. 6 shortly after being released by the Ravens, and the 32-year-old veteran has clearly found his way into the mix as a contributor.
“Well, Albert has multiple roles defensively and in the kicking game. And he’s done a good job since he’s been here. He’s been a solid addition for us. He had two big plays yesterday on the punt blocks. He’s done a lot of other good things for us too,” Belichick said.