Phil Perry

Why Belichick's second-half punt decision in Saints rout is telling

The Patriots coach seemingly declined an opportunity to keep his team in the game.

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FOXBORO -- Even with his team's bad day getting worse, Bill Belichick made a head-scratching decision in the third quarter that seemed to hurt the Patriots' minimal-and-shrinking chances of making things competitive.

Trailing 24-0 with 9:48 left in the quarter and facing a fourth-and-3 situation after a Mac Jones incompletion on third down, Belichick opted to punt from the New Orleans 40-yard line.

In the moment, it appeared as though Jones motioned to his teammates to huddle up -- perhaps he assumed his coaching staff would give the offense an opportunity to start digging out of its scoreless hole -- but soon thereafter they were all trotting off the field in favor of rookie punter Bryce Baringer and the punt unit.

The Patriots ended up with six more possessions in the game. Half-a-dozen cracks at the end zone, of course, would mathematically be enough to make up a three-score deficit. But it had been 27 drives -- going back to the Jets game in Week 3 -- since the Patriots last scored a touchdown.

In order to try to stay in the game, going for it when bordering on field-goal range, keeping the offense on the field with about 25 minutes left in the game felt like a logical decision.

Asked about it after the game, Belichick said he didn't think of going for it in that scenario.

"Until we're better on third and fourth down," he said, "I don't think so."

The Patriots were horrible on third and fourth down on Sunday. They went a combined 1-for-16 in those spots. And coming into the game, they were among the league's worst offenses in those short-yardage situations. Per Sports Info Solutions, they were the last-ranked EPA passing team when facing third- or fourth-and-three and shorter. When running in those same situations, according to SIS, they were 24th in EPA.

Belichick said Monday that, with the benefit of hindsight, he'd make the same decision he did in the game. He was asked multiple follow-ups, the first of which wondered, why not go for it -- even if there was a low-percentage chance of success based on the team's third and fourth-down performance?

"I just answered the question," Belichick said. "So sorry if you don’t like the answer, but it’s the same answer."

At that point, though, did Belichick believe it was a "desperation mode" point in the game? 

"There was still time left in the game," Belichick said. 

The Patriots offense has given Belichick no reason to believe they would execute and ultimately pick up points on that drive. But with so few possessions left in the game, in need of an offensive spark, with the offense having just picked up 35 yards on the previous four plays, Belichick's choice to punt in that spot stood out as a telling one.

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