When previewing Super Bowl 52, one of my keys to the game was Doug Pederson’s ability to coach a complete, mistake free game against Bill Belichick. However, in a shocking turn of events, Belichick was the one who made a number of key mistakes that hurt his team in the most important game of the season.
The Eagles got the ball back with two minutes to go in the first half after a New England touchdown. After a seven yard completion and an incompletion, Nick Foles connected with Corey Clement for a huge gain that set the Eagles up at the Patriots eight yard line with roughly 1:20 to go in the first half. At this point, it was clear that the Eagles were going to score at least a field goal, so I was expecting Bill Belichick to use one of the Patriots three remaining timeouts to attempt to salvage some time for Tom Brady to try and get one last shot at points before halftime. However, Bill chose not to use his first timeout until after Philadelphia had run another play and wound the clock down to 53 seconds. By that point there wasn’t much point to use the timeout because it would have been extremely hard for Brady to move the ball down the field with less than a minute and one or zero timeouts anyways. However, Belichick chose to use it then, and used one more a play later. The Eagles would end up scoring a touchdown and giving the ball back to New England with 34 seconds and one timeout. While I clearly don’t know the game as well as Belichick, the way the game had gone so far indicated that no defense was going to be played, which meant that after the Eagles got the ball inside the Patriots 10 yard line Belichick should have immediately begun to plan New England’s offensive plan to match an Eagles score.
Belichick also used a timeout with 8:35 left to go in the fourth quarter, which was way too early to waste a timeout in a game that was clearly going to come down to the end. While this cannot be completely put on the shoulders of Belichick because his defense wasn’t organized and ready and forced his hand, it is still something that he should have been able to prevent.
The biggest coaching mistake that Belichick made was the one that everyone has been talking about all week: not playing Malcolm Butler at the cornerback position. There have been mixed reports this week on why Belichick made that decision; some claimed that he had an illness and wasn’t ready to play, while others claimed that he broke team rules and fought with coaches, prompting his benching. There’s even some suggestions that it was a personal move by Belichick because of an adverse attitude towards Butler. Either way, the situation has been muddled and it is highly unlikely that we will ever get the full story. Belichick’s mistake didn’t come from not starting Butler. If there was a legitimate reason for him to not start the game, then so be it. The problem is that Eric Rowe, Jordan Richards, and Johnson Bademosi, and other members of the patriots secondary were getting absolutely smoked by Eagles receivers. From start to finish, the Patriots defensive backs were utterly incapable of preventing Nick Foles from throwing all over them. This was a game that was clearly going to come down to the team that made one key defensive stop, and Philadelphia was that team when they forced a Tom Brady fumble with two minutes to go. If Belichick had put in Butler then the Patriots could have been the one to make that one key stop. Butler hasn’t had his best season. However, he is arguably New England’s best tackler, and is still fantastic in coverage. His presence could have helped New England get one key stop on third down, something that the rest of the defense didn’t seem to have any interest in doing.
It’s not like this is unfamiliar territory for Belichick. In Super Bowl 49 Malcolm Butler replaced Kyle Arrington who was getting torched by the Seahawks throughout the first half. Butler came in and made a number of key plays before making his historic interception. Had Belichick played him on Sunday, it’s likely that he could have made a significant difference.
This doesn’t take anything away from Belichick’s legacy overall. He’s still the greatest coach of all time. However, there are many times, especially around New England, when Belichick is given the benefit of doubt because his successes outweigh his failures. However, we need to realize that it’s actually okay to say that Belichick made mistakes that likely cost the Patriots a sixth Super Bowl. No one is infallible, and even the brilliant Belichick is mortal and has the potential to make crucial mistakes.
Until next time – B$