Viewers who hadn’t already slipped into a coma Monday night will have noticed a funny sequence early in the fourth quarter of the Patriots’ blowout victory over a spectacularly inept Jets team. A pair of declined penalties against New England’s punt team produced the ultra-rare scene of Bill Belichick, whose default expression is a sour scowl, smiling and chuckling on the sideline of an NFL football game.
That the Patriots were even punting was an indication of how thoroughly unthreatened they were by the Jets by that point in the game. It was a fourth-and-two from New York’s 33-yard line, which is a down-and-distance scenario that not only overwhelmingly favors going for it, but is one that Tom Brady can convert with his eyes closed and his hands tied behind his back. If the Patriots were playing the percentages against a team they even vaguely respected, they would’ve gone for a fourth-down conversion. But Belichick seemed to have it in mind to preserve the shutout above all other considerations, and the punt would make it that much more difficult for a hilariously punchless Jets offense—seriously, they produced 154 total yards and turned the ball over six times—to put points on the board.
But, having made the decision to punt from the 33, Belichick determined that the best course of action would be to give his punter a few extra yards of space to work with. That would only be possible by taking a penalty, and what better way to take a penalty late in a blowout than by burning up every second available off of a running game clock. The failed third-down play ended at the 11:04 mark of the fourth quarter—the Patriots simply lined up in punt formation and ran out the play clock for a delay of game.
Here’s where things got dumb. Brain genius Adam Gase identified that Belichick might prefer to give his punter more space, and, in a fit of pettiness, resolved to deny his counterpart this most minor of prizes. Gase declined the delay of game penalty, sticking the Patriots back at the 33. But that was ultimately a hollow victory, and one possibly baited by Belichick—by a quirk of the rules, the game clock was restarted following the ball being reset and the play clock being whistled to life, which allowed Belichick to run another 25 seconds off before punting. Belichick, having thus won the prerogative to burn more than a minute off the clock between plays, decided the fun thing to do would be to take a second crack at giving his punt team five additional yards of space, and instructed his team to take a deliberate false-start penalty just before the expiration of the play clock.
But this damn Adam Gase, more determined than ever to salvage this moment and win just this incredibly stupid and pointless battle of wills against a team and a coach that had so far spent the evening thoroughly trashing him and his football team, declined the false start. Belichick, having truly taken up residence rent free in a penthouse in Gase’s mind, could only smirk and chuckle in disbelief:
Afterward, Belichick admitted that he’d knowingly exploited a loophole in the rules in order to run off some additional clock with his team way ahead. The five yards of space might’ve been a nice bonus, but from the sound of things, what Belichick really wanted was to use the opportunity to flex his big brain and take a little ill-gotten advantage:
“It was just the way the rules were set up, Belichick told reporters at his postgame press conference. “We were able to run quite a bit of time off the clock without really having to do anything.”
Belichick closed with saying that this little trick to consume clock should and probably will be banned from usage.
“It’s probably a loophole that will be closed,” Belichick said. “It probably should be closed but right now it’s open.”
This is the kind of shit you can get up to when you’re light years ahead of your opponent, and you’ve spent your career scouring every rule and regulation for every possible exploitable vulnerability. It’s what makes Belichick the best, and also what makes him pure evil.