To go for it, or to punt?
One of football's essential questions provided an interesting case study in Week 6 of NFL action on Sunday.
In the Sunday afternoon thriller between the Cowboys and Patriots, New England coach coach Bill Belichick was questioned for a conservative punt call from just shy of midfield during the overtime period, in a game that the Cowboys went on to win.
According to the popular punting tracker Surrender Index, the Patriots' punt was one of the most "cowardly" calls of the past 22 seasons given the context of the score and juncture of the game.
Patriots punter Jake Bailey's kick resulted in a touchback for the Cowboys, whose high-power offense then marched 80 yards for the game-ending score, capped by a 35-yard touchdown reception by wide receiver CeeDee Lamb from QB Dak Prescott.
Appearing on WEEI on Monday morning, Belichick said he hadn't considered going for it.
“No, not really," he said. "With [Greg] Zuerlein, his field goal range, they can play on a pretty short field there, so if that’s when you’re talking about one first down could probably beat you there. So, no, not really.”
On the play prior, Mac Jones missed Nelson Agholor on an out route, but the Patriots receiver had his facemask grabbed on the play, which the referees did not call.
Interestingly, the Patriots' cautious call came on the same day as one of the most aggressive 4th-down calls in recent memory.
That play came in Baltimore, when Brandon Staley of the visiting Chargers decided to go for it on 4th and 1 from his own 19 yard line. The call came midway through the third quarter, with the Chargers trailing the Ravens, 24-6 -- a margin of three scores.
The Chargers turned the ball over on downs when Justin Herbert's 4th-down pass sailed incomplete.
The Ravens then kicked a field goal on the ensuing drive, extending their lead to 27-6.
The Chargers didn't score again in the game, while the Ravens tacked on another touchdown, so ultimately, Staley's decision was inconsequential to the final result.
And after the game, the rookie head coach, who has already developed a reputation for aggressively going for it on 4th down, stood by the move.
"We weren't desperate," Staley told reporters. "We liked the down and distance, the matchup, and yeah we needed to get something going. That wasn't the entire motive -- certainly part of it -- and they just covered us up a couple times. We were just a little bit off.
"Give credit to them, they earned it."
Entering the game, the Chargers were 4-for-4 on 4th-down attempts from midfield or inside their own territory, according to CBS Sports.