INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Bill Belichick gave clear instructions to his defensive unit: Let the runner score.
Playing the odds and inviting critics, the calculating coach of the New England Patriots told his players to get out of the way, open a wide path for Ahmad Bradshaw and give Tom Brady a chance to win the Super Bowl in the final 57 seconds.
Crazy? Not at all.
They led 17-15 with 1:04 left but had just one timeout as New York faced a second down only 6 yards from the goal line.
If the Patriots tackled Bradshaw, the clock would keep running if they didn’t use the timeout. If they did use it, the Giants could let the clock run after the next play, leaving precious few seconds with Lawrence Tynes setting up for a chip-shot field goal.
A field goal, Belichick said Monday, that had a “well over 90 percent success rate” from that distance.
And that strategy was used, although it also failed, in the 1998 Super Bowl by Green Bay Packers coach Mike Holmgren against the Denver Broncos.
Still, it went against the competitive nature of defensive players, whose job it is to keep opponents out of the end zone, and runners, whose goal it is to get there.
“It killed me,” said linebacker Brandon Spikes, a hard-hitting linebacker who simply stepped aside. “When the call came in to let them score, I was kind of like, `What? I’m here to do my job and it’s my job to play defense and let them score?’ It was tough. It definitely was tough.”
Bradshaw also had to fight off his instincts. As he approached the goal line, he tried to stop, like someone trying to avoid losing his balance. But his momentum carried him across the goal line, falling backward, even as game MVP Eli Manning yelled at him to go down.
“I tried,” Bradshaw said, “but I couldn’t do it.”
So it was 21-17 and Brady had those 57 seconds to score a touchdown. He had done it many times before.
Starting at his 20, he threw two incompletions and then was sacked. But on fourth down, he connected with Deion Branch for 19 yards and a first down at the 33. Then he hooked up with Aaron Hernandez for 11 yards to the 44 before spiking the ball. The Giants then drew a 5-yard penalty, moving the ball to the Patriots 49.