Co-authored by Rishab Jain
As lifelong New England Patriots fans, we stood with bated breath in the last four seconds of this past Saturday's AFC Divisional Round playoff game against the Ravens, as Joe Flacco heaved up a Hail Mary that was, thankfully, batted down. If caught by the Baltimore Ravens it would have turned a 35-31 Patriot's victory into a 38-35 stunning loss.
How could this have been averted or was there a safer option?
The play clock takes up 25 to 40 seconds of time for each down. With 90 seconds left the Patriots had the ball on their own 14-yard line. Brady took the knee thrice using 76 seconds and then it was 4th down with 14 seconds left. The Patriots chose to punt the ball allowing the Ravens to have one final, potentially fatal, play left.
Here is a possible safer option. The Patriots' special teams unit could have taken a safety and chewed up more time on the clock on the punt. We saw this in Super Bowl XLVII; with a 34-29 lead in the last 12 seconds or so, Sam Koch caught the snap on the Ravens punt and stalled in the end zone, waiting for the 49ers punting unit to come running towards him, before he ran to the corner and stepped out of bounds with less than :06 to go. This gave the 49ers little return time to catch the ball on the kick-return and run it out of bounds, and the Ravens became NFL Champions by a score of 34-31, sacrificing two points.
In the case of Saturday's divisional game, New England's punter, Ryan Allen, could have taken the snap and sauntered to the back to the end zone. Eventually, by the time the whole play would have ended, it would give two points to Baltimore (with the Patriots still in the lead) and leave just about 4 seconds left on the clock. However, with the free kick after a safety, the Ravens would have been pinned around their own 30, out of field goal range, and forced to scrape up an unlikely miracle on the punt return, with time expiring almost as soon as the play ends.
So did Belichick choose to punt because he would rather risk the oft-rehearsed Hail Mary rather than have Allen handle the ball so close to the end zone and possibly fumble. Or did Belichick not think of the option of taking the safety and eating up the clock.
Though a Pats fan dare not criticize beloved Bill, we hate to say that an end zone catch could have proven fatal for New England's prospects for the Super Bowl. Monday Morning quarterbacking is so much easier!