Belichick's gamble pays off for Patriots
DENVER -- With the Patriots facing fourth down from their 1-yard line and trailing Denver by a point, New England coach Bill Belichick told Lonie Paxton to snap the ball out of the end zone.
What? An intentional safety? Yes, it was an unusual strategy. And it worked to perfection.
Belichick's gamble put Denver up three, but New England's defense held and Tom Brady hit David Givens on an 18-yard touchdown pass with 30 seconds left to lift the Patriots to a 30-26 win Monday night.
"That was the call of the game," Givens said.
That's an understatement. It might be the call of the NFL season.
Trailing 24-23 with 3:06 left, New England was pinned at the 1 after Denver's Kelly Herndon hustled to down a punt. After three straight incompletions, the Patriots faced the daunting task of punting from the back of the end zone.
At best, Denver would get the ball back around midfield with a chance to kick a field goal and push the lead to four. At worst, the Broncos would block the kick or drive for a touchdown and put the game out of reach.
In Belichick's always-clever mind, it was an easy decision.
"I didn't think we'd get very much field position coming out of there. We had our timeouts left, so we went ahead and took the safety," Belichick said. "We were hoping to get some field position there with the three timeouts and the 2-minute warning still outstanding, hoping we could get the ball back and then be able to at least have a shot at the field goal to tie it."
They got more than that.
Paxton's snap hit the left upright and bounced back to the end zone for a safety that put Denver up 26-23. Denver figured to get good field position on the ensuing free kick, but Deltha O'Neal misjudged the punt and it rolled to the 16-yard line.
Starting the drive with 2:46 left, the Broncos gained two yards on a run by Clinton Portis. Timeout New England. Matt Lepsis followed with a false-start penalty, then Portis picked up seven on the next play. New England used its second timeout.
Faced with third-and-6 from the 19, Denver coach Mike Shanahan called for a pass play. The Broncos could essentially run out the clock if the play worked, but Danny Kanell's pass to Ashley Lelie fell incomplete.
"If we run the football, they would get the ball with two minutes and 20 seconds left in the game. That's a lot of time," Shanahan said. "If we get the first down, we use up their timeouts and the game is probably over."
Instead, it played right into New England's hands.
The Patriots started the final drive at their 42-yard line, and Brady quickly got them into field-goal range with two passes to Kevin Faulk. An incompletion and a run for no gain followed, but Brady hit Faulk for a 16-yard gain to Denver's 18.
Adam Vinatieri could have easily hit from there to tie the game, but the Patriots didn't want to wait for overtime. Brady hit Givens on the next play, intentionally throwing it short so only his receiver could catch it.
"That's the way it turned out, but it wasn't the play that was called," Brady said. "David and I figured it out, I threw it and he made a great catch."
But it wouldn't have been possible without Belichick's gamble.
Known for his innovative plays and confusing schemes, Belichick may have even trumped himself with the deliberate safety call.
"What a great call," New England tackle Matt Light said. "It didn't see it coming. It's a (great) play. What a great call!"
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
MORE NFL HEADLINES
- Browns suspend WR Gordon for season finale
- Sources: Ryan expects to be fired by Jets
- On the house: Bar offers free tab if Lions win
- Chiefs' Smith (spleen) out against Chargers