The New York Jets beat the New England Patriots 26-20 in overtime in a huge game that kept the Jets’ playoff hopes alive.
However, the game was not without drama, particularly down the stretch.
The Patriots tied the game at 20 with less than two minutes to go, eventually stopping the Jets to force overtime.
During the coin-flip to decide possession at the start of overtime, a bizarre situation occurred. The Patriots won the coin-flip and, oddly, decided to kick off instead of receive. In NFL overtime, the first team to score a touchdown wins, meaning that the Patriots were gambling the Jets wouldn’t score despite having first possession.
Furthermore, the ref then asked which side the Jets wanted to receive the ball. Patriots’ captain Matthew Slater, who was at midfield for the coin toss, seemed confused, asking, “Hey, we won, don’t we get to choose?” Instead, his argument seemed to be ignored, and the Jets received the ball on their preferred side.
Here’s video of the confusing moment:
The Jets then easily moved the ball down the field, with Ryan Fitzpatrick hitting Eric Decker for the game-winning touchdown moments later.
The result immediately called the Patriots’ decision to kick off into question.
Slater said the decision to kick off was clear, but they were confused over which direction they were going:
Matthew Slater says coach instructed Patriots to kick off at start of overtime. The only confusion was which direction they were kicking.
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) December 27, 2015
Mike Reiss also reported that Slater checked with coaches several times on the decision to kick.
Bill Belichick said after the game that the Patriots just made a bad decision:
Belichick on the coin toss: “Thought it was the best thing to do.” Don’t think we’re going to get an explanation out of him
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 27, 2015
Either way, the Patriots handed the Jets the ball and lost the game.
This raises several questions. Did Slater tell the ref before the flip that the Patriots would kick off? Is that why the ref immediately asked, “Do you want to kick off?” once the flip was over? After all, in an overtime scenario where it’s essentially sudden-death, why would any team choose to kick off, unless the Patriots felt overwhelmingly confident in their defence to stop the Jets?
As some have speculated, did the Patriots also intentionally sabotage their own efforts to win the game? Entering Sunday, a Jets loss and a Steelers win would clinch a playoff victory for the Steelers. If both teams won, the situation would carry over to Week 17. Instead, the Steelers lost to the Ravens, and a Jets win puts them ahead of the Steelers for a Wild Card spot. There’s been speculation that the Patriots would rather face the Jets — a solid team that’s had a fairly easy schedule — over the Steelers, a very good team that’s had bad injury luck. Perhaps the Patriots let the Jets win in hopes of setting up a potentially easier playoff bracket in the AFC.
More likely, there was some confusion over the call, and as the Patriots’ offence struggled to get going most of the game, perhaps they felt they could get a stop and make it far enough down the field for a game-winning field goal. Instead, the Jets got the win and now find themselves in the driver’s seat heading into the final week of the season.
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