The New York Jets‘ crucial win over the New England Patriots in overtime Sunday was overstuffed with twists and turns, great plays and chokes. But one bizarre moment is going to be remembered for as long as the Jets and Patriots remain AFC East rivals.
During the overtime coin flip, Patriots special teamer Matthew Slater signaled the Patriots‘ decision to kick off, which was surprising to say the least. It looked like a disastrous decision after the Jets went right down the field for a game-winning touchdown pass to Eric Decker.
The scene seemed even stranger because Slater expressed confusion to official Clete Blakeman after the coin toss. After it came up in the Patriots favor, Slater appeared to yell out that he wanted to kick. Blakeman asked Slater: “You want to kick?”
“We want to kick, that way,” Slater responded.
After the game, Slater told reporters that he was indeed instructed by coach Bill Belichick to ask to kick.
“We wanted to kick off,” Slater clarified after the game. “We won the toss. We kicked off, which is what we wanted to do.
“I just asked (Belichick) three or four times just to make sure I’m not the guy that goes out there, ‘Yeah, we want to kick off.’ So I double-checked three or four times. I think he was looking at me like ‘Are you concussed?’ because I kept asking him. But that’s what we wanted to do. You never question a coach’s decision-making. He’s the best in the business and we trust him fully, so that’s what we do.”
There did appear to be confusion from Slater though, as to why the Patriots couldn’t choose what end they wanted to defend.
“There was no confusion,” Bill Belichick said. “We were looking at field position. … I thought it was the best thing to do.”
Here’s what we think could have happened. The Patriots had the option to chose to kick, receive or choose which direction they wanted to defend to start overtime. So Slater essentially chose to kick. If he had chosen what end zone they wanted to defend, the Jets would have very likely elected to receive and the Patriots would have had their ideal scenario.
None of that changes the fact Belichick made the curious decision to kick in the first place. The Patriots‘ offense had been struggling for most of the day, but they were coming off a touchdown drive of their own. The Jets out-gained the Patriots by 144 yards, and it seemed needlessly risky to create a scenario where Tom Brady wouldn’t touch the ball in overtime.
It’s not a devastating loss for the Patriots, who still can clinch the No. 1 seed with a win over the Miami Dolphins next week. But it was a rare tactical move by Belichick that backfired immediately, and is hard to defend. Just like the combination of Decker and Brandon Marshall.