DENNIS WASZAK Jr., AP Sports Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Bill Belichick won the coin flip and lost the game.READ MORE: Ballot Initiative To Strike Detroit's Adult-Use Ordinance Rejected, Opponents Continue To Fight
And everyone was left trying to make heads or tails of the New England coach’s stunning decision.
Eric Decker’s 6-yard touchdown catch from Ryan Fitzpatrick on the first drive of overtime — after New England chose to kick off — lifted the Jets to a 26-20 victory Sunday that put New York in position to make the playoffs.
“I thought it was the best thing to do,” said Belichick, whose team failed to lock up the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC playoffs.
Before the Patriots went out to midfield for the toss, Belichick told his players that if his team won the toss, the Patriots would kick off. Referee Clete Blakeman flipped the coin, the Patriots won and decided to kick off to the Jets.
“The only confusion was whether or not we got to choose which direction we get to kick the ball,” said Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater, who was out for the toss.
According to audio from the CBS broadcast, Blakeman said: “Heads is the call. … It is heads.” He then turned to Slater and asked: “You want to kick?”
Slater responded: “We want to kick, that way.”
But then, a puzzled-looking Slater, asked Blakeman: “Hey, we won. Don’t we get to choose?”
Slater acknowledged that he was simply trying to get clarification from Blakeman on not being able to choose the direction of their kick.
“We wanted to kick the other way, but we weren’t able to make that decision because we won the toss and we chose to kick off,” Slater said. “That was the end of our decision making. We didn’t get to decide which way we got to kick it off as well.”
Slater acknowledged that he didn’t know that he didn’t get to decide that aspect of the toss.
“That’s why I asked for clarification,” he said. “There’s not much to it. We wanted to kick off. We won the toss. We kicked off, which is what we wanted to do.”
The Jets were stunned when they saw the Patriots’ kicking team take the field.
“My first reaction was, ‘Stop ’em!’ said Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall, thinking Tom Brady and the offense would have the ball first since the Patriots won the toss.
Despite most of MetLife Stadium being dumbfounded, Belichick insisted everything was fine.READ MORE: 5-Year-Old Accidentally Shoots Self In Foot At Eastpointe Home
“There wasn’t any confusion,” the coach said. “There was no confusion.”
Belichick had done it once before in 2013, but a hefty wind was involved against Denver. That decision worked. This one flopped.
And Fitzpatrick and the Jets made the Patriots pay.
“They took the ball out of (Brady’s) hands and I’m grateful they did that,” Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson said. “We’re on to next week.”
It was the third time since the 2012 rule change a team chose to kick off for OT. The other times, New England and Minnesota, were winners.
New York used a career-long 48-yard reception by Quincy Enunwa and a 20-yard pass to Marshall to move into scoring position. And then, Fitzpatrick hit Decker on a fade behind Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler for New York’s fifth straight victory.
Marshall had two touchdown catches and also became the first NFL player with 100 receptions in six seasons. Fitzpatrick tied a franchise record with 29 TD throws this season.
Brady hit James White for a 9-yard score with 1:55 to go, forcing OT. That was the only drive on which Brady got comfortable against an aggressive defense that pressured and hit him all game.
It was also the most impact Rob Gronkowski had for the undermanned Patriots, who were missing top wideouts Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. The tight end had an 8-yard reception on fourth-and-1, then a 26-yarder to set up the touchdown.
“I think we have some mental toughness,” Brady said. “A lot of guys have been in and out of the lineup. We have a lot of guys coming in off the street trying to play.”
Jamie Collins’ 14-yard fumble return on a third-quarter sack of Fitzpatrick by Jabaal Sheard made it 17-13.
“It’s tough,” Patriots running back James White said. “We just have to learn from it and move on pretty quickly.”
NOTES: New England OT Sebastian Vollmer (leg) left in the first quarter and OT LaAdrian Waddle (shoulder) went out in the fourth period, as did DB Justin Coleman (head). … Brady went 22 of 31 for 231 yards, one TD and an interception by Darrelle Revis.
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