The New England Patriots lost Sunday to the Denver Broncos, 20-18, and lost out on a trip to the Super Bowl when their two-point conversion attempt with 12 seconds left failed. However, many are looking back at a play in the first quarter as a turning point, because if Stephen Gostkowski had made the extra point after the Patriots’ first touchdown, they wouldn’t have needed to go for two at the end.
By that logic, though, one could find an AFC championship game turning point all the way back in May. That was when the NFL moved extra points back 13 yards — in a rule change advocated by the Patriots. From a story at that time by CSN New England:
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has long said that the extra point as it currently stands — attempts come from the two-yard line — is essentially a non-competitive play. Pushing the kick back, making it a 32 or 33-yard field goal, would make it less of an automatic bid.
Yes, it was the New England which proposed adding some drama to the extra point attempt. That certainly added drama to the end of Sunday’s game — in part because of decisions the defending Super Bowl champions made in the wake of that missed kick — and it is fair to wonder if the team now wishes it had left well enough alone.
Of course, the Patriots had every reason to feel confident that their extra points would continue to be automatic, because they had one of the league’s most consistent kickers. And sure enough, heading into Sunday’s game, Gostkowski had connected on all 52 of his point-after attempts this season, extending a record-setting streak that dated back to 2006.
At the time, the miss kept the score 7-6 in favor of the Broncos. Denver would go on to score another touchdown and kick two field goals, as would New England, giving people plenty of reason to look at Gostkowski’s gaffe as the difference.
However, the Patriots had opportunities to tack on more field goals in the fourth quarter, which would have altered the calculus at the end. Of course, they would have altered the way the rest of the game played out altogether, but it is certainly worth noting that, with his team down eight points, Belichick eschewed two chances to add three points.
The first came with just over six minutes left, with the Patriots looking at a fourth-and-one play at the Broncos’ 16-yard line. That would have made for a theoretically easy field goal — almost the same distance as an extra point — but New England went for it, and Julian Edelman was stopped short of a first down.
Then with 2:25 left in the game, New England went for it on fourth-and-six at the Broncos’ 14, and failed again. That would have made for an even easier field-goal attempt, but the Patriots’ decision in that case was quite understandable, given how little time was left.
After the game, Gostkowski said, “I feel terrible. … It’s a nightmare scenario. That’s how I feel. I let a lot of people down.”
However, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who made a terrific play on the touchdown catch that preceded the failed two-point attempt, came to the defense of his teammate. “I love playing with [Gostkowski] and he definitely shouldn’t put the heat on himself,” Gronkowski said. “It’s a team game.”
Indeed, as a team, the Patriots have plenty of directions in which to point fingers. For instance, their offensive line struggled mightily to protect Brady, who threw two interceptions, while their defense didn’t make enough big plays against Peyton Manning, even though he once again struggled with accuracy and arm strength.
But perhaps, if New England wants to look at how it cost itself the 2016 AFC championship game, the team might think back to May 2015, and a rule change that took eight months to come back and haunt it.