As is often the case following a tough loss, there was plenty of second-guessing to go around following the Patriots 25-17 loss to the Steelers on Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Why didn't New England run more against Pittsburgh's sub defense?
Why did Bill Belichick decide to attempt an onside kick with 2:35 to play, despite the fact that his team could potentially stop the clock four times when you include its three timeouts and the two-minute warning?
But maybe the biggest set of questions revolved around Rob Gronkowski's near touchdown on the Pittsburgh goal line with a little more than four minutes to play and why Belichick chose not to challenge the call on the field that he was stopped just short of the end zone.
Here's how the scenario unfolded. Gronkowski caught Tom Brady's pass coming back toward the line of scrimmage with 4:11 on the clock. The officials ruled that while the tight end's feet were in the end zone, that the ball did not cross the plane.
With the clock running after the completion and the Patriots in hurry-up mode, New England rushed to the line of scrimmage to run another play. As such, CBS' TV coverage stayed with the action live on the field, rather than going to a replay of the would-be touchdown that would have stopped the clock.
As Brady set the offense for the next snap he seemingly had to tell Aaron Hernandez where to line up, had Kevin Faulk switch sides in the backfield and took time to set the pass protection up front. So the next snap didn't take place until the 3:34 mark, around 37 seconds after Gronkowski caught the ball.
Brady's pass to Faulk on the right side was complete, but the back was stopped short of the goal line and pushed back. Again Brady had to reset the offense and the next snap didn't take place until the 2:48 mark, when he threw toward Gronkowski in the left side of the end zone. Though his pass was intercepted, a defensive holding penalty on Ryan Mundy in coverage wiped out the play.
With all the action on the field, still no replay of the Gronkowski goal line reception.
Brady then found Hernandez crossing the back of the end zone for the touchdown at the 2:35 mark of the fourth quarter to pull within a score at 23-17.
It was at that point that CBS finally aired a replay of the Gronkowski catch, from the left sideline right at the goal line that showed, seemingly pretty clearly, that the tight end possessed the ball across the plane of the goal line before he was tackled back into the field of play.
But it's a view that neither Belichick nor his booth replay advisor Ernie Adams got to see when the play actually occurred. So Belichick would have had to throw his red challenge rather quickly after the play happened in real time, and rather blindly going only by his own, less-than-ideal view from the sideline.
There is no fault here. Not with Belichick, Adams nor the CBS feed. The time and situation of the game didn't allow for a replay to be shown. There is little that could have been done about it, other than had the official erred on the side of the new rule that calls for all scoring plays to be automatically reviewed and actually have called it a touchdown on the field. But they didn't do that, and earlier this year officials said that the new rule would not change the way they made such bang-bang scoring play calls.
In the end the series of events cost the Patriots approximately 1:35 on the clock. It likely may have pushed Belichick to call the much-maligned onside kick as the kickoff took place with 2:35 on the clock rather than more than the four minutes that would have been left had the Gronkowski play correctly been called a touchdown.
In fact the only criticism that might be fair is that if Belichick did indeed plan on going for the onside kick regardless of the situation – due to what many believe is a fourth-and-two-like lack of faith in his defense that had allowed the Steelers to gain a first down on eight of Pittsburgh's nine drives on the day – then he could have blindly thrown his challenge flag because it would have either given his team a score and used a timeout. That's a timeout he likely would not need if, hypothetically, his team had recovered the onside kick and needed to go only some 60-ish yards with more than two minutes to play and two timeouts remaining.
The bottom line is the Patriots lost. There was nothing they could do about it. And there was just as little Belichick could do to try to get a better look at Gronkowski's would-be touchdown. Had he been at Gillette Stadium, with a more friendly home video board, maybe it would have been a different story.
But he wasn't and it wasn't. Even after further review on this Take Two-sday!