FOXBORO -- When the Patriots were presented with a fourth-and-one opportunity down eight points with about six minutes remaining in the AFC Championship Game, there was no question on the sidelines about what they were going to do.
The decision simply didn't go as planned.
Tom Brady's hurried play-action pass to Julian Edelman hung up in the air long enough for Broncos defenders to pursue the play, and when Edelman caught it behind the line of scrimmage, he had almost nowhere to go.
The Patriots had turned it over on downs, but in coach Bill Belichick's mind, it was still the right decision to go for the first down and not kick the field goal. He re-iterated his stance during a press conference on Monday morning.
"Time, and number of possessions that you have left, and what you need to do," Belichick replied when asked what went into his decision. "And the number of opportunities that we had had to do that. Wasn't very many . . . At that time, there was no hesitation in doing that."
Prior to that point in the game, the Patriots had just one touchdown drive in 11 opportunities, and even that ratio didn't indicate just how thoroughly dominant the Broncos defense had been. The only time the Patriots scored a touchdown was after linebacker Jonathan Freeny recovered a backwards pass from Peyton Manning, giving New England possession on Denver's 22-yard line. Two plays later, they were in the end zone.
In Belichick's mind, needing just one yard to extend a rare potential touchdown-scoring drive on the Denver 16-yard line was an opportunity that needed to be seized.
With 2:25 left in the game and the Patriots still down eight points, they were faced with another fourth-down call -- a fourth-and-six play on the Denver 14-yard line. With so little time left, and no guarantee at another possession, Belichick was just as certain in that decision to go for it again.
"There was like two-and-a-half minutes to go in the game," Belichick said. "Two-and-a-half minutes to go in the game, down by eight, fourth-and-five, or whatever it was. Yeah, we felt like the best thing to do was to go for it at that point. Yeah."
This time Brady attempted a pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski in the back of the Broncos end zone with three defenders in the area. It fell incomplete, and the Patriots turned it over on downs again.
The Patriots ended up regaining possession one last time -- their defense held the Broncos to just one field goal and five punts in the second half to keep them in it -- and scored with 12 seconds left to play. A failed two-point conversion effectively ended the game.
Their number of opportunities in the red zone in the fourth quarter led many to wonder whether Belichick would have been better off taking field goals -- or at least one field goal -- instead of lining up Brady behind center on fourth down.
But Belichick made it clear on Monday that a second opportunity at a touchdown was not guaranteed when the first fourth-down scenario presented itself. And a third opportunity was not guaranteed when the second fourth-down came up.
Given just how difficult it was for the Patriots offense to move the ball, Belichick and his staff felt as though there was no other option at the time but to do what they did. Even in hindsight, there was no doubt as to what they believed to be the right call.