Facing a third-and-32 from and only up 16-3 in the third quarter, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady unexpectedly right-footed “The Duke” 32 yards downfield into an bewildered Buffalo Bills secondary. It is a move that only the genius Bill Belichick can pull off with a down to spare.
Such was the third occasion of one of football’s most bizarre and inane plays. Brady first tried it in a 2003 December home game against the Miami Dolphins, pooching the pigskin 36 yards downfield late in the game before holding on for a 13-0 win over Jay Fiedler and co. Granted, the winds were gusting at nearly 25 miles an hour and a constant snowfall blanketed the then-Gillette Stadium grass surface, but the makeshift special teams play seemed rather unnecessary.
The next instance of the pooch-punt was in Week 17 in 2008. The Patriots traveled up to Buffalo with the playoffs on the line, and the weather was once again playing a factor as winds peaked at 32 miles per hour. With the Patriots up 13-0 late in the fourth, Matt Cassel used his leg to send the ball 57 yards (wind and roll-aided of course).
Weather was clearly an element on Sunday, turning the FieldTurf into a wet and wild slip-and-slide during an eventual 34-20 Patriots victory. However, that is no excuse for Belichick to pull off a slap-in-the-face move like the pooch punt, especially on a third down in a still two-score contest.
Supporters of the pooch will say there was no way the Patriots were going to get the first down anyway and it was better to punt now than to risk any injury or turnover on the play. But let’s be honest, there was little chance of Thad Lewis leading a comeback in New England, where the Patriots had won 13 straight times against the Bills and were playing for their fourth consecutive playoff bye.
The pooch punt was just another way Belichick could prove he is the man, just like bringing in troublesome guys like Corey Dillon and Chad Ochocinco and being virtually useless to the media during his post-game press conferences. There is no way first-year coaches like Doug Marrone across the sidelines would even think about a move like that, especially with a down to spare.
It takes a resume like the one Belichick has built and a mindset like the one he has to run these unusual plays, so I am prepared to see more pooch punts in the future. Heck, maybe we will see Brady get his leg under one on second down next time.