The New England Patriots could’ve been resting next Sunday with the AFC’s best record all wrapped up.
Instead, a chain reaction of unorthodox decisions, confusion over the rulebook and bad defence left Tom Brady stranded on the sideline in overtime and kept the top seed up for grabs.
New England fell 26-20 to the New York Jets on Sunday – a loss that will be remembered for Bill Belichick’s decision to give the ball to New York on the first possession of overtime and Pats receiver Matt Slater’s bungling of that choice after winning the coin toss.
The team that wins the coin toss actually can choose from three options: kick or receive – or defend their choice of end zone.
Even though it was warm and not all that windy, Belichick instructed Slater to choose to defend the north end zone if the Patriots won the toss, meaning New York would almost certainly then choose to receive the kickoff. But after Slater won by calling heads, the first words out of his mouth were, “We want to kick.” That meant the Patriots had to kick the ball away, and the Jets, not New England, got to choose the direction.
Then, even more bafflingly, the Patriots defence barely resisted, allowing Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets to go 80 yards in five plays for the winning touchdown.
Belichick had won an overtime game two years ago using the “take the wind” strategy. He insisted there was no confusion about his plan this time.
“I thought it was the best thing to do,” he said.
But nothing went the way the coach drew it up.
And because of that, the Patriots (12-3) will not get to rest starters next Sunday at the Miami Dolphins. They’ll go into the game needing a win to guarantee themselves the top seed in the AFC.
In case you missed it, here are the other hot topics after the second-to-last week of the NFL season:
Not undefeated: Instead of thinking about a perfect season, the Carolina Panthers now have to worry about locking down the best record in the NFC. The Panthers fell 20-13 to the Atlanta Falcons for their first loss in 15 games this season – and their first regular-season loss since November 30, 2014. (Side note: See bottom of this page to check out Julio Jones of the Falcons with his leaping, go-ahead touchdown catch.) The Carolina loss, combined with the Arizona Cardinals' 38-8 crushing of the Green Bay Packers, means that if the Cardinals (13-2) win and Panthers lose next week, Carolina would drop to No 2 in the conference. Oh, and yes, members of the perfect and still-unmatched 1972 Miami Dolphins finally partook in their annual celebration of still being undefeated alone.
Not taking care of business: Also failing to lock things down Sunday were the Pittsburgh Steelers. They were on a three-game winning streak, playing their best football of the season and favoured by double-digits. And they lost. The 20-17 setback to the Baltimore Ravens could cost them a play-off spot. At 9-6, Pittsburgh need to win next week and get help – either a loss by the Jets or two losses by the Broncos.
The secret is timing: It's a game of inches – and seconds – and if somehow the Indianapolis Colts sneak into the play-offs, they can thank Miami backup centre Jamil Douglas. His mistimed snap on fourth-and-goal from the Indy 5-yard line with 40 seconds left led to a Colts' sack of Ryan Tannehill. That wrapped an 18-12 victory that kept Indianapolis in the hunt – barely – with Houston for the AFC South title. "Bad play by me," Douglas said. To stay in it, Indianapolis still need lots of things to go their way, starting with a Denver Broncos win Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Ground Manziel: It's December. Time to rev up those running games, right? Unprecedented warmth in the East has pretty much put a stop to that. The second-leading rusher in Sunday's games: Try Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel, with 108 yards. The only running backs to hit triple digits were Tim Hightower (122) of the New Orleans Saints, DeAngelo Williams (100) of the Steelers and, of course, Adrian Peterson (104) of the Minnesota Vikings.
Fantasy feet: Despite playing with a torn ligament in the bottom of his right foot, Drew Brees threw for 412 yards in the Saints' 38-27 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The unlikely trio of Brees, Kirk Cousins and Blake Bortles were the highest producing quarterbacks in this, championship week in most fantasy football leagues. Meanwhile, one of the biggest point producers this season, Cam Newton, struggled and didn't even manage 20 points in standard leagues.
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