There were a lot of things to take away from today's game. You could talk about the defense's continued hot streak, the offense's woes, how the Pats missed big Vince and Gronk. There's really a lot to digest with the first loss of the year. However, I want to just take a second and discuss what I felt was a critical moment in the game. Late in the 4th quarter, down by ten points, the Patriots had 1st and goal on the 1 yard line and walked away with three points.
I didn't like that one bit.
The Pats had struggled all day to get into the end zone and they ended up kicking a field goal when they were three feet away from pay dirt. Although the situation was quite a bit different, in contrast, when the Bengals faced 4th and goal on the one yard line, Marvin Lewis went for seven and got it. Clearly, at that point the Patriots needed both a field goal and a touchdown to get back in the game and if they failed to convert their 4th and 1, they would have almost certainly lost. There was too little time remaining at that point for two more defensive stops and two scoring drives. However, by kicking the field goal and "keeping hope alive", Belichick was basically forcing his offense, who had done close to nothing all day, to put together yet another long drive to the end zone. As we all know now, the Patriots were unable to move the ball very far on their subsequent two possessions and they never got the seven points they needed.
So my question is this: wouldn't the Patriots have been better off rolling the dice and trying to get the single yard they needed on 4th down for a touch down? If they were successful, they would have only needed a field goal to tie. At the end of the game, the Patriots definitely found themselves within Gostkowski's range and it's possible he could have tied the game. (However, the ensuing monsoon may have been a factor.)
While it's true that a failure on 4th down would have sealed the game, the game ended up getting sealed anyway a few minutes later when the Patriots failed to get anywhere near the end zone on their subsequent drives. If I were the one making the call there, I would have felt much more confident in the Patriots picking up the one yard vs. having to pick up the 50+ yards they would eventually need to score the final TD to tie the game. The chances for a Patriots touch down on 4th and goal was probably roughly 50-50. Their chances for a later touchdown were probably 20% at best judging by the prior 55 minutes of play. They needed a touchdown regardless, so why didn't they try and pick up the higher percentage score?
Also by kicking the field goal, the Patriots put themselves in a situation where any Cincy score would have ended the game. If the Bengals had marched down and scored a field goal, that would have put them back up by ten. If the Pats get into the end zone and the Bengals scored a field goal, the game would still be in reach with a six-point deficit.
I know it's a bit nit-picky and I have the benefit of the retrospectoscope, but I thought the Pats should have been more aggressive there. For the man who went for it on 4th and 2 with the lead in Indy against Peyton Manning, I thought the decision to kick the field goal was a bit conservative.
At any rate, I think the discussion is good food for thought. Ultimately, the team's failure to execute had more to do with the loss than any single call Belichick made. In the future, though, down ten at the 1-yard line, I'd like to see the Patriots try to punch it in on 4th and 1.