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Bill Belichick has the smartest policy to make sure Patriots don't fumble for touchbacks

Sometimes the simplest policies go a long way.

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Bill Belichick has fostered a culture in New England that makes us expect that he and his team are going to be smarter than everyone else. After a day defined by rule weirdness, we’ve learned just another example.

Belichick has a policy within the team that players aren’t allowed to extend the football at the pylon while falling across the goal line:

It shouldn’t surprise you, but ...

That’s a really smart policy to have.

It might not seem like a huge thing, but that’s a damn good idea. It feels like it’s happened more recently in the NFL the past few seasons, and in some cases has been a killer for teams.

The most recent example was last night, when Derek Carr fumbled out of the end zone for a touchback against the Cowboys:

That sealed the game for the Cowboys, and made the Raiders’ chances at making the postseason much tougher with just two games to go. At 6-8, they’re now behind the 8-6 Chiefs and the 7-7 Chargers.

But it’s not just something that the Patriots have taken into account when they’re on offense.

The Patriots try to force the worst-case scenario on defense.

Defensively, the Patriots practice situations in which they try to force the type of plays they themselves want to avoid when on the other side of the coin. It paid off earlier this season against the Jets.

In Week 6, Malcolm Butler punched out what would have been an Austin Seferian-Jenkins touchdown to cut the Patriots’ lead to 24-21:

The play was initially ruled a touchdown, but after review, it showed the ball moving as he was on his way to the pylon. The refs then ruled it a touchback.

When he was asked about whether his team practiced that situation after their Week 6 win against the Jets, he confirmed as much. “Absolutely,” Belichick said via CBS. “Absolutely. Yup.”

“He did a great job getting his hand in,” Belichick said of Butler. “He has a great knack for that, he’s done that before. He has good ball awareness and does a good job of slapping at the ball. He’s gotten those balls out before. It was a tremendous play, great awareness and saved us seven points.”

It’s the little things like this that make the Patriots great.

The Patriots (and many times, the Seahawks) know the rulebook better than anybody, but it’s also just about limiting errors. The risk that players take when reaching for the goal line is almost never worth the reward.

Driving the football all the way to where your team is in that position is difficult. What’s more difficult is trying to recover after a fumble that turns the ball over and rewards the other team with 20 yards the other way.

Whether or not that should be the rule when a football is fumbled out of the end zone is an entirely different discussion. But for now, Belichick is going to play it smart. We don’t expect anything less of him.


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