FOXBORO -- When the clock struck zeros on the fourth quarter and the game between the Patriots and Broncos was still tied, 31-31, New England's captains went to meet with coach Bill Belichick. It's standard procedure before overtime since that's when Belichick makes it known what he wants pending the results of the coin toss.
When he told Logan Mankins, Matthew Slater, Rob Ninkovich and Devin McCourty that if the Patriots won the toss, he wanted to kickoff, the players weren't sure they had heard their coach correctly.
"We all looked at each other like he was crazy -- then we all asked again and again and again," Mankins told Comcast SportsNet's Postgame Live. "And we just wanted to make sure we were doing exactly what he wanted."
Of course, Belichick hadn't misspoke. He wanted to kick away from the open end of Gillette Stadium where the wind was strongest, forcing the Broncos and their offense to march into the gusts.
The move was a brave one, however, since a Denver touchdown would end the game. Putting the ball into the hands of the most explosive offense in the NFL this season required confidence in the New England defense.
"It was a strong wind," Belichick said. "We just had to keep it out of the end zone, obviously. I just felt like the wind would be an advantage if we could keep them out of the end zone on that first drive. We were able to do that. The wind was significant in the game, it was definitely significant."
And in the overtime, especially. The Broncos drove to the Patriots 37-yard line on their second overtime possession. Normally, that would be on the edges of Denver kicker Matt Prater's range to try a field goal. However, with the wind, it wasn't a realistic option.
As a result, the Broncos punted, it was muffed, and the Patriots recovered deep in Denver territory to set up Stephen Gostkowski's game-winning kick.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said he wasn't surprised that the Patriots chose to kick to start the overtime.
"That's what they do sometimes," he said plainly.
Belichick's captains were far more taken aback by the decision, Mankins explained.
"We were just making sure -- you never want to be that bonehead out there that, your coach tells you you want the ball and we want to kick it," Mankins said. "So we were just making sure we were doing exactly what he wanted. That doesn't come up very often where in overtime you say you don't want the ball, so we were just making sure we had it exactly right."