Last Monday night, Vic Fangio did his best impersonation of Bill Belichick in the closing moments of Super Bowl XLIX. It didn’t work.
On Sunday night, Belichick did his best impersonation of Fangio impersonating Belichick in the closing moments of Super Bowl XLIX. It too didn’t work.
With 36 seconds left in the early-season epic between the Patriots and Seahawks, New England had the ball 31 yards from paydirt and in turn from victory. Quarterback Cam Newton threw the ball to receiver Julian Edelman, who caught it as the Seattle 13. The clock showed 29 seconds when the play ended.
Because Edelman was ruled to have landed in bounds (he arguably didn’t), the clock kept ticking. And ticking. And ticking. From 29 seconds all the way to 13 seconds until the next snap. After the play — a throw to the end zone that went through the hands of Edelman — nine seconds remained.
The Patriots could have had first and 10 from the 13 with 29 seconds and no time outs. Instead, they had second and 10 from the 13 with nine seconds and one time out. Although the next play (a 12-yard pass) set the stage for a one-snap, all-or-nothing attempt to win the game, it’s hard not to wonder what would have happened if the Patriots had had more cracks at the end zone.
After the game, Belichick was asked about his decision not to call a timeout when the clock was turning with 29 seconds left.
“Seattle took a timeout,” Belichick said. “I mean, what are you talking about?”
But Seattle took the timeout after the incompletion with nine seconds left. When the reporter clarified the question to focus on the failure to call a timeout as 20 seconds eventually evaporated, Belichick offered a two-word answer.
That answer was followed by 22 seconds of silence (there was a stray harumph along the way), before Patriots P.R. director Stacey James called for the next question.
Because the Patriots eventually had a chance to win the game with a final play from the Seattle one, the decision to not call the timeout will draw less attention than it would have. Because Bill Belichick is the coach who failed to call the timeout, the decision to not call the timeout undoubtedly will draw less criticism and scrutiny.
Imagine the reaction if someone not regarded as the greatest coach of all time had done something like this. Imagine the reaction if someone not regarded as the greatest coach of all time explained the failure to call timeout with 22 seconds of saying nothing other than, “Yeah, well.”
It’s impossible to know whether using the timeout would have resulted in a win. However, most coaches would gladly take first and 10 from the 13 with 29 seconds on the clock and no timeouts over first and 10 from the 13 with nine seconds and one timeout. Belichick could have had the former, he settled for the latter, and the fact that all he could say in response was “yeah, well” is the closest he’ll ever come to admitting a mistake.