The decision that will haunt Belichick

Ahmad Bradshaw's game-winning touchdown with 57 seconds remaining in Super Bowl XLVI has sparked plenty of debate, but there's one aspect to the bizarre play that has been virtually overlooked:

Why didn't Patriots coach Bill Belichick instruct his defense to let Bradshaw score on the previous play? It he had done that, it could've had a dramatic impact on the final minute.

After all, it was basically the same situation. With 1:09 on the clock, on a first down from the 7, the Patriots stopped Bradshaw for one yard and immediately called their second timeout with 1:04 to play. At that point, Belichick gave Bradshaw an E-Z Pass to the end zone, allowing him to score from the six with 57 seconds left.

Too late.

If they had let Bradshaw score on first down, the Patriots would've had the ball with 1:04 to play and two timeouts at their disposal, not one -- and that could've made an enormous difference for Tom Brady & Co.

Belichick apologists -- and there are many in Boston -- will say there could've been a fumble on first down, so that's why he chose to play defense. That logic could've been applied to second down, too, but Belichick decided to go outside the box. If you're going to go with that strategy, use it when it can help you the most.

Belichick has taken some criticism from purists who say it's unsportsmanlike to intentionally let an opponent score. To that, he has noted the success rate for field goals in that range is 90 percent (actually, it's about 97 percent). In this case, it would've been a go-ahead field goal, as the Giants trailed by two points.

The bottom line is, Belichick made the decision he felt gave his team the best chance to win -- within the rules. The problem is, the so-called genius made it one play too late, and he'll probably be kicking himself throughout the offseason.