FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Imagine, for a moment, what the reaction might have been on Monday night had the host Buffalo Bills scored a go-ahead-for-good touchdown against the New England Patriots on either of their fourth-quarter drives that advanced inside the red zone.
"What was Bill Belichick thinking?"
"Let Mac cook!"
"Why was N'Keal Harry back there returning punts?"
"The first coach to try to win a game without a quarterback."
"Is Belichick trying to send football back to a different era?"
Instead, after a 14-10 win in which rookie quarterback Mac Jones attempted a franchise-record-low three passes in wind gusts of 40 mph, some are referencing a masterpiece by New England's coach; how his keep-it-on-the-ground strategy was a slice of game-planning brilliance.
In a sports media landscape filled with extremes, here's a thought: Could we possibly spot the football closer to the 50-yard line -- somewhere in the middle -- and appreciate what unfolded Monday by looking at it through a different lens?
This, as much as anything, was a reflection of Belichick's conviction to win games no matter how odd it looks. In some ways, it's the unconventional fourth-and-2 call from Indianapolis in 2009 all over again ... but this time with a better result for New England.
Again, consider the reaction in the aftermath had things not worked out. There is little doubt Belichick would have been crushed, like fourth-and-2, which is why some other coaches might be more apt to stay with the conventional thinking.
As his former receiver Julian Edelman tweeted late Monday night, there is an easy way to sum up why the Patriots threw just three passes.
Belichick’s outside-the-box approach also showed up in going for a 2-point conversion after the Patriots’ first touchdown -- a successful run by running back Brandon Bolden -- giving the team an early 8-0 lead.
Kicker Nick Folk said the Patriots determined before the game the 10-yard line was as far out as they would kick to the non-tunnel side because of the wind, which proved to be critical with the Bills missing a fourth-quarter 33-yard attempt to that side. In retrospect, had the Patriots not converted the 2-point conversion, the Bills might have approached their fourth-quarter drives differently.
It's all about finding ways to win.— Julian Edelman (@Edelman11) December 7, 2021
Belichick detailed more of the Patriots' thinking on Tuesday morning, saying during his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI: "If it had been a different type of game and we had needed to throw there in the fourth quarter, we would have thrown. We were able to manage the game the way we did and that worked out all right for us."
Belichick sometimes references the book "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu as one in which he sees great lessons that apply to coaching, and you could make a connection with how he approached Monday's game. One tenet is to recognize strategic opportunities and not create opportunities for the enemy. In other words, playing it safe can sometimes be the smartest tack.
"The score definitely helped, no question about it," Belichick said. "If the situation had been different, we'd have to look at what that was. But the way the game played out, playing from ahead, and with the conditions being what they were, I thought we played a pretty good complementary game."
It's similar to what offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels referenced last week when he said of the offense: "Sometimes you have to understand what could have been in terms of worse scenarios to kind of appreciate how a possession ended the right way."
Some of that applies to the Jones-directed Patriots offense having 3 of 10 possessions result in points while going 2 of 12 on third down. But there is also room for improvement after a performance that would have had the second-guessers out in full force had a play or two gone in a different direction.
That's why, more than anything, what unfolded Monday night is best defined as bold.
And oh-so Belichick.