Should Tom Brady have thrown it to James White?
On the final drive for the Patriots in their loss to the Steelers, on second-and-15 with less than a minute remaining, Brady seemed to have his top-catching back open when White leaked into the flat. Brady threw to the opposite corner of the field to Rob Gronkowski incomplete.
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On the next play, third down, Brady had White open again in the flat. A throw to the back might've given the Patriots an additional handful of yards that would've led to a fourth-and-more-manageable throw. Instead, Brady threw to Gronkowski again, sailing one out of the back of the end zone incomplete.
Brady was asked about his unwillingness to throw to White in that situation on WEEI's "Mut and Callahan Show" the day after the game.
"It's hard to throw the ball in the field of play," Brady said. "Even though we may have gotten the first down, we may not have had enough time."
It felt as though the Patriots would've potentially had enough time to get a final attempt off if Brady had thrown to White, even if he wasn't able to get out of bounds. But it would've been rushed.
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It seemed as though there would be a good chance there were less than 10 seconds left. It would've been fourth down. The Patriots were without timeouts.
In a conference call on Tuesday, Belichick gave an impassioned defense of Brady's decision-making at the end of the game.
"Tom’s a very experienced quarterback in our system, very experienced playing against our opponent, Pittsburgh, last week," Belichick said. "He has excellent judgment and decision-making abilities and so, again, when the play is called, the ball is not supposed to go to anybody unless it’s a screen pass or something like that. We’re not trying to throw it to one guy. All the questions about why don’t we throw to this guy – because there’s five guys out on the pattern and we’re going to try to do what’s best on that play.
"In Tom’s judgment, which I would certainly not second-guess his judgment, which given the game situation and the time and all of the things that went into that play, he made the best decision that he thought he could make at that time and I’m not going to second-guess it."
It's reasonable to wonder if how the end of the first half played out the week before -- with Brady forgetting his team was without timeouts and taking a sack that effectively wiped points off the board -- had anything to do with Brady's careful management of the clock in that scenario.
Had White picked up some extra yards on second or third down, the Patriots likely could've run a play with a little more nuance to the routes involved than what looked like a "four verticals" call on fourth down.
Still, Belichick defended Brady's handling of the spot.
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"You can second-guess it if you want to, but nobody knows better at that time, with the ball in his hands, where he feels like he’s got the best chance," Belichick said. "If we complete a pass and the clock’s running and how much time that’s going to take and what we have left, that’s a split-second decision that he’s got to make. I don’t think anybody will make it better than him.
"You can second-guess it all you want, but that’s the person we have doing that and we have great confidence in him doing that. It’s a tough situation. I don’t know if there’s a great answer when you don’t have much time and you have to throw to the end zone or you maybe marginally have enough time to throw it somewhere else if you can’t get out of bounds. And so, the defense has a big advantage in that situation. They played it well and we weren’t able to get in the end zone."
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