Originally Published: Nov 17, 2009 2:22 PM CDT
Oklahoma Sports Staff Writer
NORMAN, Oklahoma -- On Sunday night against the undefeated Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick made a controversial fourth-down decision that has sparked debate across the country.
With slightly more than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and with a six-point lead, Belichick elected to go for it on fourth-and-2 on his own 28-yard line.
The Patriots did not get the first down, giving the Colts the ball and ultimately allowing Peyton Manning to throw a touchdown to Reggie Wayne with less than 20 seconds remaining. The Colts won 35-34.
In hindsight, that fourth-down call seemed to cost the Patriots the game. But even after the loss, OU head coach Bob Stoops said he thinks Belichick made the right decision.
“I thought it was a very legitimate call, and I guess only us who have to make that call understand it,” Stoops said. “That wouldn’t be the case maybe if he doesn’t have Tom Brady ? I didn’t understand what all the controversy was about.”
Stoops has faced similar situations and made comparable decisions in the past. Luckily for the Sooners, Stoops’ choices have yielded better results.
Against Missouri in 2002, the Sooners trailed 24-23 in the fourth quarter. Mizzou quarterback Brad Smith had been decimating the OU defense all day, racking up 178 passing yards and 213 rushing yards.
On fourth down at the Missouri 18-yard line, Stoops could have sent kicker Trey DiCarlo out for a short field goal to take the lead. Instead, he called a fake field goal. Holder Matt McCoy threw a touchdown to Chris Chester – the first catch of his career – on the play, and the Sooners followed that with a two-point conversion to take a 31-24 lead. That was the final score.
At his press conference Tuesday, Stoops forgot some of the details of that situation. He thought the Sooners led by one point, but they trailed. Regardless, the message was still the same.
“Brad Smith had been going up and down the field on us late in the game, and I didn’t feel a four-point lead was going to hold up,” Stoops said. “I said, ‘We need a touchdown.’ Fortunately we make it; otherwise I’m a knucklehead ? That’s one of those decisions. I felt in my gut that we needed that to win the game.”
The circumstances Stoops faced in that game were remarkably similar to the ones Belichick faced Sunday. Peyton Manning and the Colts’ offense had been moving the ball well in the second half and had built momentum.
Belichick wanted to keep the ball out of Manning’s hands, just as Stoops did in 2002 against Brad Smith. Stoops said the decisions he and Belichick made are difficult and not necessarily popular, but coaches must do what they feel is best for their team.
“A lot of times your gut and what you feel you need to do to win the game isn’t the overwhelming popular thing,” Stoops said. “You know when you make that call; if it doesn’t work you know what’s coming, but that’s okay. That’s what you feel you had to do to win the game.”
Stoops made another similar decision in 2006 against Texas A&M. With less than two minutes left in the game and leading 17-16, Stoops elected to send his offense onto the field on fourth-and-1 inside OU’s 30-yard line.
“I didn’t want to kick to them, and we were into a little bit of a breeze,” Stoops said. “I said it on the phone, ‘It’s a 10-yard breeze, it’s a one-club breeze according to golf.’ So they’re going to get it 10 yards closer, and on the field goal they would have had the breeze behind them.”
Luckily for OU, the Aggies had 12 men on the field on the ensuing play, giving the Sooners a first down. Since Texas A&M had no more timeouts, that first down sealed the Sooners’ victory.
While Stoops’ and Belichick’s decisions led to opposite results, Stoops said such difficult choices must be made for a coach to be successful.
“It’s one of those things where if you make it everything is right, and if you don’t then everyone questions it.”
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