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

Blakeman handled toss correctly; it was Belichick’s decision to kick



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.

Quirky Research has a list of the times a team kicked off in overtime, despite winning the coin toss.

Winning the OT coin toss and kicking

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)

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