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Patriots strategy, not referee’s announcement, was botched on overtime coin toss

Week 16: Patriots at Jets

An unusual exchange played out at the start of the overtime period as the Patriots elected to kick off rather than receive the overtime kick. Although it seems that referee Clete Blakeman is leading Patriots captain Matthew Slater towards kicking off, this was apparently discussed by coach Bill Belichick and Blakeman in advance because it was an unorthodox decision. Here is how it played out before the cameras:

Slater: Heads.

Blakeman: Heads is the call. [Off-camera] It is heads. You want to kick.

Slater: [Off camera] We want to kick off.

Blakeman: You want to kick off. [To Jets] You’re going to receive.

Slater: That way.

Blakeman: [To Jets] Where do you want to receive? Where do you want to receive at? That way? OK, [stand] just like this. New England wins the toss. They’ve elected to kick.

Slater: We won, don’t we get to choose? [Blakeman turns of microphone.]

Blakeman: [no audio, appears to say “You said you’d kick.”]

When Blakeman says “you want to kick,” it is not posed as a question, but as a confirmation of the team’s prearranged decision. Slater’s response was emphatic to the point where there is no question that this was the way it was planned. Where it seemed to deviate was when Slater was confused that he was not able to elect which goal to defend, however Blakeman handled this according to the rules.

The winner of the overtime coin toss is given two options, only one of which may be selected: (1) to receive or to kick or (2) select which goal to defend. Since Slater (and coach Belichick) chose Option 1 (kick), the Jets are presented with Option 2. For regular-season overtime, the option to “defer” is meaningless, because there is no third overtime period to defer the choice to. It also is essentially meaningless in the postseason, as the only professional game to go into a third timed overtime period was a USFL game in 1984. Slater can defer at the start of the game and select the goal to defend, because the defer declaration means you aren’t making a selection.

The Vikings were able to select their field position in an overtime game against the Rams earlier this season because the Vikings used Option 2 to defend the goal with the wind at their backs. The Rams then chose to receive. Belichick, in fact, did the same for a game in 2013 (video) by electing the field position. With wind not a factor in the Jets game, Belichick did not seem to have any qualms over which goal to defend. Belichick’s gambit was to be in the responding possession if the Jets scored a field goal or failed to score. Since the Jets scored a touchdown, the Patriots did not have that comeback possession.

What is unusual, as well, is that Belichick often employs strategy with the coin toss. It is, therefore, incumbent upon a captain responsible for executing that strategy to be fully versed on the few coin-toss rules there are.

Although it was not a decision based on wind direction, the situation recalls the coin toss in overtime for the 1962 AFL title game between the Dallas Texans and the Houston Oilers (today, these teams are the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tennessee Titans). Texans captain Abner Haynes said “we’ll kick to the clock.” Referee Harold Bourne accepted Haynes’ election to be kick. It did not matter, as the teams changed goals as they moved into the second overtime period.

Ben Austro
Ben Austro

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref’s Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

8 thoughts on “Patriots strategy, not referee’s announcement, was botched on overtime coin toss

  1. Regardless of whether the head coach makes a decision beforehand, the speaking captain at the coin toss makes the decision. He could go against his head coach’s wishes and choose something else and get an earful later. Head coach has no privileges at the coin toss. Ref needs to ask a generic “what do you want?” every time if there is more than two options.
    This is poor communication between the parties involved. I’ve done this too as a ref and realize it too late.

  2. Derek, I and every other referee that I know do the exact opposite of what you said. As a referee, I ask the coach before the game, “Coach, what do you want to do if you win the toss?” He always tells me what he wants to do and I always do it, if he wins the toss. This is no different than what Cleteman did.

  3. What was wrong with the strategy? The Jets offense was awful for most of the second half. They scored 3 points on a very long field goal in the last 25 minutes of the game. They gave up a touchdown to the Pat’s defense. And, generally, the Jets O looked very tight and very inept. Heck, the Pats defense outscored the Jets offense 7-3 in the last 25 minutes!

    I fully expected the Jets to go three and out and give Brady a short field for a game ending Gostkowski field goal. Somehow, Fitzmagic directed a 5 play drive of 80 yards to seal a Jets win over the Pats. The culprit is not the bad call by Belichick. The reason the Pats lost is they allowed Enunwa to get 48 yards on a quick rub route.

  4. Jets Fan, it’s certainly a valid strategy… though if I have Tom Brady, I elect to put the ball directly in his hands and let him try to score a touchdown to win. Whatever the case, the fact is the Jets went out and beat the Patriots. Had it not been for the fluky turnover, it wouldn’t have even been close.

  5. @JW- Tom Brady with Edelman, Amendola and a healthy offensive line – yes.

    Tom Brady without Edelman, Amendola and a banged up line – maybe.

    Yes, the Jets were better most of the game yesterday. But, it did not appear that the Jets were in any state of mind to march 80 yards for a TD to win.

  6. After thinking about it Belichick’s decision made good sense albeit a gamble. If they could stop the Jets then Brady would only have to drive them to a certain field goal position and not a TD. Figure, the Jets needed to go around 80 yards in a sustained drive to win. Even if the Pats subsequently got the ball on their 1, a sustained drive of 80 yards put them in position for a game-winning field goal.

  7. TH, you are absolutely correct. From youth to college and I am sure in the NFL, as Referee’s prior to the toss will ask the Head Coach what he wants to do if they win the toss, kick, receive or defer? Which goal do they want to defend and more specifically when the elect to defer, be sure to let the Captain know to say “defer” not kick!
    If the Patriots chose to “kick” as Belicheck claims he told his Captain, then so be it! Even the professional can screw it up from time to time!
    The officials got this one right!

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