There are few constants in the coaching profession, but one of those would have to be to never give Peyton Manning the ball when the game is on the line.
Sunday, fighting their way into overtime after being down 24-0 at the half, Bill Belichick sent the New England captains out for the coin toss with specific instructions to take the wind if they won the toss. While that would obviously mean that Manning would have the ball in his hands, it also means that the star quarterback (and Denver's field goal kicker) would have to earn every yard by battling some stiff winds in order to escape with a win.
After the Pats escaped with a 34-31 win in overtime, Belichick looked like a genius, and later explained to the Providence Journal that it was a lesson from Bill Parcells in the 1986 NFC Championship game that reminded him of the importance of the wind during crunch time.
“Coach Parcells against the Redskins took the wind to start the game and we went ahead 17-0, and that was the final score of the game. I really think that that decision was a big decision in that game and a big decision ultimately in that team’s championship." Belichick explained.
“I learned a lot from that. I’m not saying that that’s always the right decision. Clearly each situation is different, but there’s a place for it. I think there’s a time when it’s right. I just thought that last night was the right time for us. But that decision by Bill in that game, it just was a good lesson for me that it’s such a huge factor in the game, if the conditions are what they are, it can be such a big factor in the game that it’s worth making that decision if you feel it’s that significant.
“He did it in, there are not many games bigger than an NFC Championship game, he did it in that game and I think that was probably the difference in the game.”
The wind was such a factor that Belichick believed that there was a solid 20 yard difference between the two sides of the field.
"I felt like there was about a 20-yard difference in field position to just attempt a field goal, let’s put it that way. I’m saying getting to the 25 on one end, to the 45 on the other. You could fudge a yard or two there, but basically that’s what it looked like to me at that time. I felt like that was a big enough advantage to try to keep the wind.”
Sometimes there is no substitute for game experience, especially when it comes from working under a legend like Parcells. Someday in the not too distant future, coaches from Belichick's coaching tree will attribute the same kind of decision to their time working under him.