|Though Bill Belichick's team is 3-0, he is 0-3 when calling for a replay. (JONATHAN WIGGS/GLOBE STAFF)|
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Patriots' only losses are coach's challenges
FOXBOROUGH - Upon further review, the Patriots' play this season has raised few red flags. They have been largely unchallenged on their way to a 3-0 start.
However, three times Bill Belichick has reached into his sock to pull out the red challenge flag, calling for a replay review. He did it on back-to-back plays during the second quarter of the Patriots' 38-7 romp over the Buffalo Bills Sunday.
The first play was a first-and-goal fumble by quarterback Tom Brady that Buffalo, which led, 7-3, at the time, recovered on its 1.
The second was on Buffalo's first play following the turnover, as backup quarterback Trent Edwards came perilously close to placing his foot on the end line of the end zone while throwing an incompletion to wide receiver Lee Evans.
Belichick lost both, and his record on challenges this season is the inverse of his team's won-lost mark (0-3). Last year the Patriots were 1 for 5 on replay challenges (20 percent), according to the NFL. Their 12.5 percent success rate over the last two seasons is well below the league average.
This season, there have been 47 coaches' challenges, 12 of which have been successful, a 25.5 percent success rate, according to the league. Last year, 45.1 percent of coaches' challenges resulted in reversals (107 of 237).
Since the NFL re-instituted replay in 1999, putting it in the hands of the referee on the field, 42.1 percent of calls have been overturned on coaches' challenges (689 of 1,635). Coaches are allowed two challenges per game outside of the two-minute warning of each half, when replay can be triggered only by a league-assigned official. Teams are docked a timeout per unsuccessful challenge.
Belichick said his challenge philosophy is based more on the importance of the play in the game than the likelihood it will be overturned.
"The more important the play is, the more likely I probably would be to throw it regardless of how convincing the evidence was," he said.
He cited Brady's fumble, which was inconclusive upon video replay. Brady's knee could have hit the ground before he fumbled and he could have been ruled down by contact on a review, but the play was equivocal.
"The ball is down there on the 1-yard line, it turns over. Even though we hadn't gotten it in, you think you could score from down there, so it's a 7-point play," said Belichick. "Did we have a great look at it? Was I convinced that it wasn't a fumble? No, not really, but it was such an important play and it was close that you take a shot at it. I think those things, for me, work in inverse proportions."
Belichick said he thought Edwards's play was "probably called correctly," but that was another potential scoring play, as New England would have been awarded a safety had it been ruled that he stepped on the end line before releasing the ball.
"It's early in the game. I thought it could've been a big play, that's why I threw it," he said.
The Patriots' first challenge of the season, which came during the fourth quarter of a 38-14 win over the Jets Sept. 9, was inconsequential to the outcome of the game. With his team up, 31-14, Belichick challenged a Heath Evans run on first and goal from the 1 with 2:38 remaining that was not ruled a touchdown. He lost, but Evans pounded it in a play later.
He was asked a day later if that challenge was done as practice for future challenges. He said it was not.
"The reason for it is you're just coaching the game competitively and trying to make good decisions, whatever they are and whenever they are," said Belichick. "I just didn't think there was anything to lose in that situation. It was a safe call to make. Given the score and the situation in the game, I don't think those timeouts were that important, but it wasn't done for practice for another game. It was done because we thought it was a challengeable situation."
Or to prove a point to an opponent.
Despite being well below the league average in challenge percentage over the last two seasons, Belichick said he's confident in the Patriots' replay protocol.
"We have it organized so that the information flows smoothly," he said. "I'd say I get good information from the booth. I have no problem with that. Like I said, sometimes it's the magnitude of the play more so than somebody saying, 'This is absolutely the way it is.'
"If they look at it and say, 'Hey, it's close. We can't get a good look at. It's hard to tell,' and the team is coming out of the huddle. They're getting ready to run the next play. You have to make a decision."
(Correction: Because of incorrect information provided to the Globe by the NFL, the statistics on coaches' challenges to referees' calls were incorrect in a Patriots story in Tuesday's Sports section. In the first three weeks of the season, there have been 47 coaches' challenges and the officials using instant replay have reversed 12 rulings. Since the NFL reinstituted replay to be used for coaches' challenges, 42.1 percent of the calls have been overturned.)