Really, how often has anybody been able to second-guess a decision by Bill Belichick in a big game? He's one of the best strategists in the history of the NFL and there he was last night, looking like he was going to turn green after going for it on fourth down inside his own 30-yard line with a six-point lead and two minutes left in a great showdown against the Indianapolis Colts.
The Pats came up short and basically served up the game on a silver platter to Peyton Manning, who was in the process of directing one of the greatest comeback victories of his career.
The postgame analysts, including former Colts coach Tony Dungy and NBC rookie Rodney Harrison, unanimously blasted the decision. Harrison, who played for Belichick called it the worst decision he ever saw his formere coach make, and -- based on the outcome -- it certainly might have been. Belichick basically gave his defense a huge vote of no confidence by choosing not to punt and force Manning to go the length of the field.
What's worse, he burned his final timeouts unwisely, leaving him unable to challenge the spot on a very close fourth down play.
I can't defend the decision, but I think I can understand it. Manning had just turned the momentum in favor of the Colts with a lightning-quick drive for a touchdown. He made the Patriots defense look tired and helpless. Belichick gambled that Tom Brady could get him two yards and put New England in a position to burn most of the remaining two minutes. He gambled and lost very big, but it's very possible Manning would have gone right down the field again.
One thing is certain. It was a truly great game between the two best teams in the AFC. And the Colts will arrive in Baltimore next weekend still undefeated and working on an 18-game regular season winning streak.