FOXBORO -- Sunday, in New England's 34-31 win over Houston, the Patriots appeared to miss an obvious challenge.
On first-and-10 at Houston's 13-yard line, Tom Brady came out of shotgun and threw a short pass to running back Shane Vereen. It looked like Vereen tightrope-walked the sideline and broke the goal line plane for a touchdown. But officials ruled him down at the 1 and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick never contested it; his team moved quickly to its second effort.
"I don’t think you can wait to challenge the play," Belichick stated. "I think as the play caller, if you’re – [Offensive Coordinator] Josh [McDaniels] in this case – calling the plays, you have to call the play. You can’t wait and ‘Is there going to be a replay? What’s going to [happen]?’ You can’t operate like that.
"You have to say, ‘OK, the person up in the press box that relays that information says, ‘OK, the ball is spotted, it’s inside the one or it’s on the one-and-a-half or wherever the ball is or it’s first-and-goal if we’ve gotten a first down or it’s third-and-one if we haven’t gotten a first down, whatever it is.’ Then you have to make your call. You can’t wait."
The process can't exactly be standardized. A lot of information -- down-and-distance, field position, the opposition's personnel -- must be quickly distilled by the play caller.
"You get the information from the press box as quickly as we can see it. The ball is on the two, it’s second down, here comes nickel. Then, alright, you make your call. Or sometimes they hold their subs until you make your subs. Here comes goal line, whatever it is.
"As soon as you make your call, you say, ‘OK, give me whatever it is – give me three receivers.’ Three receivers start on there and then as the call is being made, the person in the press box says, ‘Here comes nickel. Or here comes dime. Or they’re staying regular.’ Then he’ll finish making his call because that might affect what he’s calling."
Meanwhile, someone independent of the player caller checks for a replay and communicates that information with Belichick. If the head coach wants a challenge, he'll let McDaniels know.
In the case with Vereen's play, it was more advantageous for the Patriots to try and keep Houston's defense off-balance by diving right into the next snap; fullback James Develin dug out the 1-yard run and scored.