Where does the decision to give the ball to Denver and take the wind in overtime fall among Belichick's great coaching decisions?
Jason: To be honest, I thought the decision was a no-brainer. That may sound absurd, but with every Manning pass fluttering into the wind like a drunken butterfly, how exactly were the Broncos going to score? You're basically getting free yards on every change of possession, throwing a monkey wrench into the Broncos offensive gameplan, giving your kicker a few extra yards on FG attempts while taking those same yards away from your opponent. They might as well have been playing downhill on a slanted sandlot. It was the biggest advantage on the field, so win or lose, it makes sense that he took it.
Raj: It should be one of his best decisions this season. Being one of the fans in that crowd, I knew that the decision to defer was a sporty, but smart challenge. That wind was vicious, to say the least. And even though Prater is an exceptional kicker, there's no way he could have made a field goal into the wind. My only fear was that Denver just marched down the field for a touchdown in their previous possession. But the defense did its job and Belichick was once again a genius. That's why we preach, "In Bill We Trust!"
Derek: Unlike Jason, I don't think that it was a complete no-brainer. Just minutes before, Manning had managed to take his team all the way to the end zone facing the wind. And while the defense had played admirably for the most part, this is still a patchwork unit that is missing some of its most reliable players. There was a significant risk of not getting the ball back, denying his team the opportunity to end the game with a touchdown, and also potentially conceding a possession. If the Broncos didn't fumble on that final punt, the Broncos would have likely ended the game (win or tie) with one more possession in overtime than the Patriots. Still, if the Patriots were able to hold off a touchdown, they would gain a significant advantage the rest of the way, and clearly having the wind is what ultimately lead to their victory.
Few coaches would have had the stones to make a call like that. Part of that is tied to the job security that Mr. Kraft lends to Belichick, and part of that is due to the track record that Belichick has built for himself. The fact of the matter is that Bill Belichick didn't start making bold decisions like that after he found success. It was the willingness to stick his neck out there and make unconventional, yet sound decisions, that went against the grain of how most coaches operate. Whether it's deferring the kick to take the wind or intentionally taking a safety to improve field position, Belichick is always one step ahead of his competition. This wasn't one of his most mind-shattering calls ever, but just another great call under a big spotlight, that will ultimately go down in NFL lore.