Kevin Faulk

Ten years ago today, on fourth-and-2, Bill Belichick made one of his most controversial decisions

Ten years ago today, on fourth-and-2, Bill Belichick made one of his most controversial decisions

It was one of the most controversial calls in Patriots history...and it didn't come from an official.

It was Bill Belichick's decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 in the final minutes against the Indianapolis Colts. And it was 10 years ago today.

THE DECISION

It remains Belichick's most talked-about moves this side of Malcolm Butler. In a Week 10 matchup in Indianapolis, the 8-0 Colts faced the 6-2 Patriots in a high-scoring affair. Leading 34-28 but backed up at their own 28-yard-line with two minutes left and needing two yards for a first down, Belichick chose to go for it on fourth down and try and keep the ball out of quarterback Peyton Manning's hands.

THE PLAY

Tom Brady completed a pass to running back Kevin Faulk, who was driven backward by the Colts' Melvin Bullitt. After a measurement, Faulk was ruled short of the first down. Three Colts plays later, a Manning-to-Reggie Wayne TD pass and extra point with 13 seconds left a 35-34 victory.

THE AFTERMATH

There was plenty of second-guessing of Belichick's move. Had he outsmarted himself? Why didn't he punt and show more faith in his defense? 

“We thought we could win the game with that play,” he explained at the time. “That was a yard I was confident we could get.” Belichick had maintained it was more like fourth-and-long-1, rather than 2. Where the ball was spotted after the Faulk play is still the subject of debate.

Those Pats would go on to lose two of their next three, finish 10-6, still win the AFC East but get smoked by the Baltimore Ravens 33-14 in Foxboro in a wild-card playoff game. Manning's team won its first 14 games, then rested its regulars and lost twice before reaching its first Super Bowl as the Indy Colts and losing to the New Orleans Saints. 

TODAY

When Indianapolis reporter Kevin Bowen tweeted about the play's 10th anniversary on Saturday, it stirred up memories for former Colts linebacker Gary Brackens, who recalled the disrespect he felt from Belichick's decision to test the Indy defense. 

To this day, "Fourth-and-2" means only one thing to most NFL fans.

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Birth of the Patriots Dynasty: Bill Belichick's vision for success begins

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Birth of the Patriots Dynasty: Bill Belichick's vision for success begins

CANTON, Ohio — This weekend, Ty Law will be the first in what could be a parade of Patriots to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

By 2030, heading to Canton, Ohio could become as routine as going to Canton, Mass. At least a half-dozen Patriots — led by the owner, the head coach and the quarterback — will probably get in. You could make a case for a half-dozen more. 

As this Patriots invasion begins and we reflect on how amazing this century’s run has been, it’s inevitable that we look at when it began. 

And there’s beautiful symmetry when you realize that the first game for Bill Belichick as head coach of the Patriots was played right here in Canton. And that, in the fourth quarter of that game, the skinny sixth-rounder, Tom Brady played his first NFL snaps, coming in for mop-up duty after Michael Bishop lit it up against the San Francisco 49ers.

When the Patriots took the field on July 31, 2000, Belichick had been on the job six months. He’d extracted himself from his commitment to the Jets, landed in New England, been given great control by owner Robert Kraft and had set about pulling the weeds that had grown in the three seasons where Pete Carroll and Bobby Grier ran the football and personnel. 

Looking back at that Enshrinement Weekend, that night, those teams and the players who took the field on both sides, there are so many threads to pull. 

The 49ers were the team the Patriots aspired to become, the dynasty that Kraft wanted to emulate. Among the players going into the Hall that weekend was Joe Montana, Brady’s boyhood idol, and Ronnie Lott. 

On the field for the Niners that night was not just Jerry Rice — arguably the greatest football player of all-time and a man who’d be on the field against the Patriots again in snowy Foxboro for the Snow Bowl game 18 months later — but also Tim Rattay. He was the rookie quarterback that the Patriots debated selecting instead of Brady until quarterbacks coach Dick Rehbein cast his vote for Brady. 

“That was an interesting game, because we started out a little bit on the Tim Rattay trail and Dick Rehbein went down there and worked him out at [Louisiana Tech],” Belichick recalled in 2016. “They ran a big spread offense and he had a lot of big numbers. We kind of liked him, thought that might be a late-round pick. Then we got on Brady, so it was kind of Brady [in the late sixth round] and Rattay in that seventh round. As luck would have it, we took Brady, they took Rattay, and here they are playing against each other. So, we kind of got a look at that. Guess we took the right one.”

The Patriots couldn’t be sure of that then, though. They weren’t sure of anything, really, except that they had work to do. 

Throughout the 2019 season, we’ll look back at that time in Patriots history when everything was unsettled except for Belichick’s vision for the kind of team he wanted to create. And we’ll share the recollections of the players, coaches and executives who were there the night a dynasty was born. 

Our first installment in the retrospective is looking at the cultural shift the Patriots were trying to enact in Foxboro. 

Scott Pioli was the Patriots assistant director of player personnel in 2000. In 2001, he became director of player personnel and a year after that was named VP of player personnel. Bottom line, he was on the front line along with Belichick in building the team the head coach wanted. 

“It was a unique time because we knew that we had this one group of players that were really, really good,” said Pioli. “And then we had another group of players, we weren’t sure where we were with them at all. Bill had spent a year here as (defensive backs coach) in 1996 so he had some intel on players like Tedy Bruschi, Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Willie McGinest, Chris Slade. 

“Bill knew some of those players and we knew we had a good nucleus, particularly on defense. But we also knew some of the offensive players were starting to age. Drew (Bledsoe) was still young so he was in that sweet spot but Ben Coates was getting older, Bruce Armstrong was getting older so it was an interesting time because a changing of the guard was happening. 

“We knew what we married into was a solid core of players that could at least be the start of a really good ascension, we hoped.”

Belichick, having been fired by the Browns after the 1995 season, spent that one season in New England in 1996 before going to the Jets with Bill Parcells as defensive coordinator. 

His return was met with skepticism by some of the old-guard Patriots. 

“There wasn’t buy-in initially,” said Pioli. “It was difficult. Some of the players on the team knew Bill as an assistant coach, and assistant coaches have different relationships with players. So when Bill got here, he had to put some new demands on players. And different kinds of demands. But he did have an understanding of who was going to buy in and who wasn’t. 

“We knew there were a lot of players from 1997 to 1999 that we knew we weren’t going to get full buy-in from. It’s not the players’ fault and it’s not the team’s fault. When there’s a marriage that doesn’t work it’s not necessarily one side's fault. There were players who were brought in under different circumstances for a different culture. We weren’t necessarily mixing and matching with everyone. 

“Bill’s program is so demanding because it’s so simple. His rule was: Be on time. Pay attention. Work hard. Those three things are pretty simple. But for some young players that have this degree of entitlement, it wasn’t working and it wasn’t going to work. Just like it hadn’t worked in Cleveland with some of the players with Bill. 

“One of the great examples of a player who was on the edge, who we knew was a supreme talent but couldn’t figure out was Kevin Faulk. There were a lot of things Kevin hadn’t done in the past that we were asking him to do. He also was a young guy that was a little rambunctious and had a lifestyle that maybe didn’t always allow him to be on time, pay attention and work hard, the three tenets. 

“Kevin we knew was talented but he had a willingness. I don’t know what made him flip, but at some point in time he said, ‘I know this group that I’m a part of but I’m gonna be different.’ And thank God for all of us, not just for Kevin but for our football team that it worked out.”

Drafted in the second round of the 1999 draft by Carroll, Faulk realized there was a new sheriff in town. 

“Pete was gone,” Faulk said when asked about the culture change from laid-back to hardline. “I had to be a full buy-in guy. No matter what. For me, I’d had a head coach like Bill before so it wasn’t hard for me to adapt to. It was just something to get used to and a lot of guys couldn’t get used to that.”

How Belichick and Pioli went about installing that culture, who would go, who would stay and how the team would get on the track to improvement will be scrutinized in our next installment. 

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Great Patriots Debates: Kevin Faulk vs. James White

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Great Patriots Debates: Kevin Faulk vs. James White

Imagine forcing Tom Brady to choose between the two best third-down backs he's ever had. Even if you pumped him full of truth serum, it might make him feel like he was being asked to choose a favorite child or pliability exercise. Impossible.

Both Kevin Faulk and James White won three Super Bowl rings with Brady. Both were real factors in two of those runs. (White was inactive for the 2014 postseason; Faulk had 35 total yards in three games en route to Patriots Lombardi No. 1.) Both are among the most trusted targets — regardless of position — with whom Brady has played.

"I think he's a Patriot type of player," Brady said before Faulk's last game, Super Bowl XLVI. "He's tough, smart and he plays well under pressure. He's made some huge plays for us in our biggest games. The last time we played the Giants in the Super Bowl he had a huge game. If you look at the plays he's made over the years — catching the ball out of the backfield, blitz pickup — he can really do everything. It's great to have a guy like that in the backfield who understands what you're trying to do on every play."

"James has been an exceptional player for us," Brady said of White back in January. "Obviously, in the biggest games and we have so much trust in him and his ability to make the right decision. He’s great with the ball in his hands; run game, pass game. He’s just been an exceptional player in every way. A great teammate and they don’t make too many like him, so I think we’re all lucky to have him on our team playing, competing. That’s what it’s about — playing your best in the biggest games and James has always done that."

Luckily, we're not asking Brady to choose. We're asking you. But first let's dig into the tale of the tape.



As runners, Faulk and White are almost identically . . . average. Faulk, though, was given more opportunity in that role. He was a second-round pick in 1999 and had the lead-back gig during Bill Belichick's first season in New England in 2000. Though his job morphed into that of a third-down specialist, he finished his 13-year career with 864 attempts for 3,607 yards (a 4.17 yards-per-carry average) and 16 touchdowns. In 161 regular-season games, he averaged 5.36 carries per game.

White, meanwhile, has been almost exclusively a passing-game weapon since he entered the league as a fourth-round pick in 2014. As a rookie, he sat for all but three games behind veteran Shane Vereen, and every season since then more than 70 percent of his snaps have come on passing plays. Through five seasons White has rushed 207 times for 856 yards (a 4.14 yards-per-carry average) and seven touchdowns. In 63 regular-season games, he's averaged 3.29 carries per game.

Though Faulk (5-8, 205 pounds) and White (5-9, 204 pounds) were almost identically-built coming out of college — and though both had success at big-time college programs as all-purpose players — Faulk was more liberally deployed by Belichick in a variety of situations during his career. That's not to say White doesn't run between the tackles. He was forced into a more regular role as a runner in 2018 when injuries to Jeremy Hill, Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead struck. And White's most memorable play as a professional came on a goal-line carry that put an exclamation point on the greatest comeback the sport has seen. 

Faulk, it can't be forgotten, made big contributions as a returner as well — something White hasn't done. He averaged 9.3 yards per punt return over 101 opportunities in his career. He also returned 181 kicks at a clip of 22.6 yards per attempt and brought two back for scores in 2002.

The strengths of these two particular players isn't necessarily in their versatility, though. They're niche guys. At their best, they're receivers masquerading as runners — albeit receivers who aren't afraid to stick their noses into the chests of blitzing linebackers. And much like their yards-per-carry averages, their pass-catching averages are remarkably similar.

Faulk was targeted 573 times and caught 431 passes for 3,701 yards (8.59 yards per catch) during the regular season. He was targeted 3.55 times per game, on average, and he racked up a yards-per-target number of 6.46. 

White? He's seen 340 regular-season targets and caught 248 passes for 2,164 yards (8.73 yards per catch). As the game has changed and Brady's number of attempts now hovers around 600 per season, it should come as little surprise that White has seen more targets per game (5.39) than Faulk did. White's yards-per-target number comes in slightly behind Faulk at 6.36. 

So far it's a stalemate. Both have been extremely productive in a narrow-but-critical role. Both have been champions multiple times over. Both rose from tenuous starts — White unable to get on the field as a rookie, Faulk nearly fumbling away his opportunity early on. Both have been beloved by teammates, though different personalities. 

White has maintained a quiet workmanlike approach that has impressed Brady even since White was a non-contributor fresh out of the University of Wisconsin. Now he's a captain and one of the team's faces. He's been a regular guest on our Monday Night Patriots program and a go-to for reporters as he's constantly available. 

Faulk, as our guy Tom Curran noted here just before Faulk was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame, went from guarded young player to veteran mentor and vocal leader. He wore his heart on his sleeve later in his Patriots career and into retirement, showing his support for Brady by wearing a No. 12 jersey to the NFL draft as the quarterback was in the throes of Deflategate. Faulk was most recently spotted at Patriots minicamp, taking on a quasi-coaching role that — who knows? — may lead to something more down the line. 

So how do we separate these two players who've meant so much to the most accomplished quarterback in league history and the franchise that's accumulated half a dozen championships over their tenures? 

Statistically — outside of Faulk's significant special-teams advantage — the differences are relatively negligible. Their average games, playoffs included, look like this . . .

Faulk: 5.6 rush attempts, 23.7 yards rushing, 3.75 targets, 2.84 catches, 24.2 yards receiving, 47.9 total yards

White: 3.3 rush attempts, 13.4 yards rushing, 5.74 targets, 4.08 catches, 35.2 yards receiving, 48.6 total yards

Faulk was the more productive runner, thanks in part to greater opportunity. White has been the more productive receiver, thanks in part to greater opportunity.

Where White probably has the edge on Faulk is in the memorable moments category. Both have scored exactly 34 touchdowns, meaning White is sure to finish well beyond Faulk's career number there. And White's MVP-caliber performance in Super Bowl LI can't be ignored. He served as one of the primary catalysts to bring the Patriots back from 28-3. He caught 14 passes that day, a Super Bowl record, for 110 yards and a touchdown. (White caught 15 passes against the Chargers in last season's Divisional Round, tying an NFL postseason record.) He ran for two more scores against the Falcons, including the game-winner, and he took a direct-snap two-point conversion mirroring Faulk's signature moment from New England's 2003 Super Bowl win over the Panthers. 

Faulk had other memorable playoff performances of his own, including an eight-catch, 82-yard showing against the Chargers in the 2007 AFC title game and a seven-catch performance two weeks later in a failed bid for perfection. But he had just one postseason touchdown in his career, and in 19 playoff games he has fewer catches (51 to 54) and receiving yards (412 to 444) than White has had in 11 playoff games.

Faulk has had a career that has spanned more than twice White's to this point. He was the more productive ball-carrier and return man. If longevity and versatility are your thing, then he probably has to be your guy. But when it comes to executing the role for which both players are known, few have done it better in big moments than White.

One already owns a red jacket. The other, if he keeps this up, is well on his way.

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