I enjoy a national shanking of Bill Belichick as much as anyone, but I'm with Neon here: Belichick, who has won three Super Bowls treating football the way an actuary treats a term life policy, made the smart call yesterday.
It had nothing to do with guts or swagger or whatever Deion Sanders was talking about. This wasn't Pickett making for Cemetery Ridge. Nor was it "I'm-smarter-than-they-are hubris," as Peter King has it. This was a fourth-and-2 with a 60 percent shot at success and whose subsequent failure still left the Pats with roughly a coin flip's chance of winning. I'll let the smart people at Advanced NFL Stats explain:
With 2:00 left and the Colts with only one timeout, a successful conversion wins the game for all practical purposes. A 4th and 2 conversion would be successful 60% of the time. Historically, in a situation with 2:00 left and needing a TD to either win or tie, teams get the TD 53% of the time from that field position. The total WP for the 4th down conversion attempt would therefore be:
(0.60 * 1) + (0.40 * (1-0.53)) = 0.79 WP [win probability]
A punt from the 28 typically nets 38 yards, starting the Colts at their own 34. Teams historically get the TD 30% of the time in that situation. So the punt gives the Pats about a 0.70 WP.
Belichick's success as a coach owes a lot to his willingness to make this sort of call, and he has made it over and over, for the better part of a decade now. (For this, he was initially reckoned a genius until people realized that he treated everything in the same dispassionate and vaguely autistic way — be it a fourth-and-2 or a woozy veteran linebacker or a mildly intrusive cameraman.) That it didn't work yesterday at a crucial moment in a crucial game, right there on national television in front of god and Trent Dilfer, doesn't change the fact that it was the right thing to do.