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Another year, another fourth-down question

10.25.10 at 1:08 am ET
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It wasn’t exactly analogous, but the situation bore an uncanny resemblance to the most controversial play of the Patriots’ 2009 season.

As the Patriots returned from the two-minute warning, they were clinging to a 23-20 lead, but the Chargers were storming back. The Pats had just been stuffed twice on both second-and-1 and third-and-1, continuing a day of relative offensive futility that would ultimately conclude with New England amassing its fewest yards (179) since 2002.

And so, the Patriots faced a fourth-and-1 from their own 49-yard-line. They could either punt in hopes of pinning the Chargers deep in their territory or go for it in hopes of gaining a yard and, in so doing, potentially positioning themselves to run out the clock. Of course, if the Patriots failed to convert on fourth down, they would turn the ball over to the Chargers near mid-field, leaving San Diego needing just 15 or so yards to get into field goal range.

Conventional wisdom suggests that a team punt the ball and trust its defense. But for the second straight year, the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick elected to go for it on fourth down, just as they had done against Indianapolis in 2009, when they elected to go for it on fourth-and-2 while holding a 34-28 lead with just under two minutes left. And, just as was the case in the Colts game, the Patriots failed to convert, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis getting stuffed for a loss of a yard.

The Chargers got the ball, and positioned themselves for a 45-yard field goal before a penalty pushed the attempt back to 50 yards. When kicker Kris Brown‘s attempt gonged the right goalpost, the Patriots were able to escape with a 23-20 victory.

Even so, the question loomed as to whether the Patriots should have gone for it or punted on fourth down.

Members of the Pats did not express any doubts about the decision. Quarterback Tom Brady said that the offense, and not the decision, was to blame for the turnover on downs.

“I’€™ll go for it every time,” Brady told reporters. “If we get the first down, the game’€™s pretty much over. If you punt it back to them, they’€™ve got three timeouts with two minutes left, they’€™ve only got to go 60 yards. If you get the yard, it’€™s going to be pretty tough for them to win the game.

“We tried it. Didn’€™t execute it very well. Didn’€™t execute a lot of things very well,” Brady added. “It never should have come down to a fourth-and-1. It was second-and-1. We’€™ve got to do a better job when it counts.”

Belichick similarly felt no need to second-guess himself.

“I thought if we made it, we could end the game. They made a good play. Give them credit,” Belichick said in the postgame press conference.

Was it the right call for the Patriots to go for it on fourth-and-1 in Sunday's 23-20 win over the Chargers?

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