But Belichick was right in letting the Giants score the go-ahead touchdown in the final minute of the fourth quarter. He was right in telling his defense to give Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw a clear path to the end zone from 6 yards out.
Here are the two options that the Patriots faced late in the fourth quarter:
Belichick's decision to give up the touchdown: Down by four points (21-17), Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense needed to go 80 yards in 57 seconds (with one timeout) to score the winning touchdown.
The alternative of holding the Giants to a field goal: Down by one point (18-17), the Patriots would have had 20 seconds (or possibly less if the Giants decided a squib kick) to march about 50 to 55 yards to get into field-goal position with no timeouts.
"Bill [Belichick] has always put us in the best position to succeed no matter what. We trust him," safety James Ihedigbo said. "We want the ball in Tom's hands. That's his call. We are behind him in everything."
Belichick did put New England in the best position to win its fourth Super Bowl. It wasn't like the Patriots could bank on another Billy Cundiff moment.
As Belichick put it after the game: "[The ball] was inside the 10-yard line. A 90 percent field-goal conversion [in that territory]."
If you want to be angry with someone in the fourth quarter, it should be the receivers that dropped passes: Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez. If you want to be angry with Belichick, it should be for his decision to throw the ball on the Patriots' second-to-last possession which stopped the clock and gave Eli Manning more time for the winning drive.
Honestly, the one at fault is Bradshaw for scoring the touchdown.
As soon as Bradshaw took the handoff, Manning was telling him to go down and not to score. Bradshaw ran through the huge hole and tried to stop at the 1-yard line. He twisted around before awkwardly falling backward into the end zone.
"I tried to declare myself down and tapped down," Bradshaw said. "My momentum took me into the end zone."
Bradshaw needed to stop short of the end zone so the Giants could have run more time off the clock. He was a Hail Mary catch away from being remembered as the player who gave the ball back to Brady for the winning touchdown pass.
"They didn't score at the end and that's all I was hoping for," Bradshaw said.
The Patriots said it didn't matter if Bradshaw would have stopped short of the end zone. "We were going to drag him into the end zone," linebacker Jerod Mayo said.
New England put itself in such a precarious position after five straight Manning completions of 38, 16, 2, 14 and 4 yards moved the Giants to the Patriots' 7-yard line with 69 seconds left. After a Bradshaw 1-yard run, the Patriots called their second timeout to stop the clock with 64 seconds remaining.
The Patriots' defense then just stood up as soon as the ball was snapped and watched Bradshaw score the 6-yard touchdown. Defensive end Mark Anderson, who had never given up a touchdown like that, wasn't totally sold on the idea.
"I still wanted to try to get a turnover," Anderson said. "But the captain says what to do and I follow his orders."
Belichick's plan almost worked. Unlike his previous three Super Bowl comebacks, Brady couldn't carry the Patriots to victory this time, although his desperation pass into the end zone on the final play fell just beyond the grasp of tight end Rob Gronkowski.
"You want to let them score so you can get your offense back on the field," Mayo said. "It's situational football. We go over those situations all the time."
This isn't like Belichick's controversial fourth-down decision in Lucas Oil Stadium two seasons ago. He was right in this situation. Belichick just doesn't have the victory to support it.