Bill Belichick had the chance to cement his place in conversations about the best NFL coaches of all time with a New England Patriots win in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday. Instead, a few calls that backfired on Belichick late will leave questions about the magnitude of his genius.
The first was choosing to challenge Mario Manningham's excellent catch near the sideline late in the fourth quarter. While the reward on the challenge was great — the Giants would have been returned to their 12 for a second and 10, instead of positioned at midfield with a new set of downs and almost three minutes to go — Belichick was taking a chance on a play that was made in full view of many Patriots on their sideline and ruled a catch by an official a few yards from the play.
If Belichick thought his hand was forced, that's going to be a tough pill to swallow for Patriots fans who have come to revere him for figuring out how to get his teams to play his style of football and win; if that was a challenge because Belichick thought the play wasn't a catch, it was a mistake, plain and simple.
Similarly, Belichick choosing to let the Giants score a touchdown at the end of their final offensive drive rather than run the clock out and attempt a short field goal makes sense in a vacuum: New England's defense, though it had been stout for stretches in the postseason and in the Super Bowl, was historically poor this season, and was likely wearing down late. Giving the ball to Tom Brady with as much time as possible on the clock for a touchdown drive made a lot of sense, especially with Belichick (who cited a "90 percent" figure for field goals made from within the 10 in postgame comments) considering that field goal a fait accompli should the Giants have attempted it.
But Belichick didn't call off the dogs and allow the Giants to score on their first goal-to-go down, instead choosing to keep his charges up front on the attack. They stopped Brandon Jacobs, and then Belichick called the Patriots' second timeout of the second half. Perhaps there's a case to be made that Jacobs would have simply fallen at the 1 and allowed the Giants to run out the clock, while Bradshaw was more likely to be taken by surprise and score, but the extra down cost the Patriots a few seconds and a precious timeout. It might have helped on the Patriots' final drive, when Brady found open receivers over the middle on the first two plays, but was forced to look toward the sidelines after a sack cost New England its last timeout.
Belichick is renowned as a perfectionist, a dour soul who cares about every detail and wants every decision to be right, but his macro-level accomplishments (three Super Bowl titles in four years, and five appearances in 10 years during a very strong cycle in the AFC) are more in the past than the present, and have been overshadowed to a degree by micro-level gaffes and decisions that didn't go his way. That's the recipe for being a three-time Super Bowl champion coach and still ending up underrated in the informal accounting of legacies and legends.
For more on the Giants and their improbable run to become Super Bowl champions, visit Giants blog Big Blue View and SB Nation New York. For more on the Patriots and their Super Bowl appearance, check out SB Nation's Patriots blog, Pats Pulpit as well as SB Nation Boston. For news, recaps, videos, GIFs, and information regarding Super Bowl XLVI, please stay tuned to SB Nation's dedicated Super Bowl hub.