I remain so intrigued by yesterday's over-the-top reaction to Belichick from Sunday night.
The simplest answer is that it was a big game and a big call -- and it didn't work out. And sports pundits like nothing more than the safety of the second-guess.
The next-most simple answer is that the media hates Bill Belichick and extreme schadenfreude was the reason for the collective freak-out.
But in today's SN column, I put out another theory, because I just don't think the level of hostility -- the level of allergy -- can be explained away fully by the first two reasons.
I think that underlying all of it was what the 4th-and-2 call symbolized: The evolution of analytics in sports.
You saw it all over the place yesterday: The numbers bear out Belichick's decision. That it didn't work out was irrelevant; it was not only the smarter bet, but the safer bet.
The notion that he "should have" punted is the collected "wisdom" of decades of conventional thinking in the NFL. It's not right -- just conventional. And nothing brings down the thunder of sports pundits like going against convention.
Belichick (because of who he is) and the moment (biggest game of the year) simply put this decision on a higher plane, but it was a moment for the camp that dislikes -- even loathes -- quantitative analysis to say, "THERE: DO YOU SEE?!?!?"
There is a very real -- and quite possibly justified -- fear within sports media about the emerging work being done with data, mainly because it undermines long-held assumptions, but also because it exposes the cliches -- the conventional -- to being debunked.
Obviously, some embrace those new models -- you don't have to give yourself over to it entirely, but at the very least you need to acknowledge its validity and incorporate it into your analysis. (Joe Posnanski might be the very best at bridging the gap between qualitative and quantitative analysis -- he can think and write like hell, but always wants to back it up with data.)
Sports media -- and by that I mean the punditry -- is watching their expertise (sports) and their industry (media) transform... sometimes erode... right before their eyes. And it is unsettling. And many have decided that is best represented by young-ish, new-ish, quant-ish thinking.
So when they have the opportunity to try to undermine that advance -- say, when a leading practitioner goes with the analytically correct decision and it fails -- they will do it.
Yes, part of it was the "bigness" of the game. Part of it was loathing for Belichick. But part of it was their own complex about the evolution of sports... and their own place within it.
UPDATE: Check out this interesting analysis by Cold Hard Football Facts about the coverage of 4th-and-2 by the traditional media compared to non-traditional. (I get a shout-out, which I appreciated -- I'd pass along this link even if I didn't get one.)