New England Patriots on Paper: To defer or not to defer…


It’s a family tradition, though no one knows why.

The coin toss at the beginning of a National Football League game is perhaps the most random act in sports, where destiny truly is up in the air – and when either of the Harbaugh brothers win a toss, they always defer to the second half, choosing to kickoff to the opposing team to start the game.

They refuse to reveal why, as if it’s some ancient secret that has to do with numismatics or superstition.  But it is none too important because even when  coaches factor in wind direction, team trends, momentum and such, they are still at the mercy of lady luck…

Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick hiopes to see touchdown celebrations from his team early and often on Sunday night. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

…and she is either a princess or a back stabbing shrew, depending on how things turn out for you – so it goes to figure that Bill Belichick would try to even the odds with her.

Belichick likes to defer to the second half as well, so when Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers and Belichick’s New England Patriots’ team captains meet at midfield before tonight’s blockbuster prime time NFL matchup, somethings got to give.

Some have quipped that Belichick’s reasoning has something to do with Tom Brady’s health, as the enigmatic coach has not accepted the ball after winning a coin toss since the first game of the 2008 season, when that knee-bending, season-stealing troll Bernard Pollard tore Brady’s knee cartilage in two…others cite momentum while still others suggest that it’s just Belichick trying to be different, as if he has to try…

But just the fact that he leaves the call of either “Heads” or “Tails” up to his defensive captain, Vince Wilfork, suggests that he really doesn’t give it much thought, he just wants the ball to begin the second half.   “I leave that up to them.” Belichick said recently of the call, “I’ve seen a coach tell a guy what to call. Or, more important, criticize what the call was.’’

Being the visitors, it is up to Harbaugh’s charges to call the coin in the air tonight, though it’s uncertain whether Harbaugh tells his captains what he wants called.

When a team wins the coin toss,  they may either take the opening kickoff or defer to the second half.  No matter what the winning team decides, the losing team gets to select which end of the field to defend – and a lot could go into that decision as well, but in Belichick’s case, it’s a chance to score twice without the other team getting the ball in between.

It’s called “piggybacking”.  Under perfect conditions, Brady would drive his team down to score as time expires in the 1st half, then get the ball back to drive down and score to begin the 2nd half.  That’s either potentially blowing a team out of the building if you already had a lead, or potentially producing a 14 point switch in momentum if you’re behind.  Either way it makes sense.

The Patriots’ head coach doesn’t seem to be given to superstition, but is a merciless leverage junkie with no room in his heart irony or chance.  He is prepared no matter what, and probably laughs at the thought that people like me even care…

Going up against Harbaugh’s Forty Niners this evening, there are advantages and disadvantages to either.  For Colin Kaepernick to have the ball first, Belichick would be banking on his defense getting off the field with some viable intelligence coming down from his booth rats.  If Brady gets the ball first, it is imperative to come away with points to force the young 49ers’ quarterback’s hand.

Either way will dictate how things are going to be, because to Belichick it’s all about leverage and the opportunity to send a message to the opposition, to defeat them psychologically, to sap their confidence, to dictate and to control.

Much of the discussion involves momentum: Because of the strength of San Francisco’s defense, does Belichick need the chance to set the tone by scoring right away? Or can his defense stop the 49ers offense quickly, securing Brady good field position?

Recent history has given us a tangible baseline from which to contain the Read Option, and the smart money is on scoring first, building an early lead and forcing the opposing offense to be ordinary.

Whether that be by taking the ball first and driving down San Francisco’s throat or by stopping the Niner’s offense and scoring quickly when they get the ball, that all depends on winning the coin toss – and for something so important to both coaches to be such a matter of chance,  you’d think it would cause both anxiety and resultant panic attacks.

Maybe that’s why neither likes to talk about it.