It really wasn't.
Look, the average person realizes a lot about the game. The problem is that the average person also forgets a lot about the game from time to time. I mean, it doesn't take very long to figure out that it's good to have the ball and bad not to have it ... but then in certain situations, suddenly that no longer applies?
It wouldn't be that bad if it weren't for the fact that most coaches usually make the decision that will assign them the least blame. Why is that? Well, most GMs seem to be like most fans: they may know what's best, but they don't always act that way, especially not when things start to go wrong.
So coaches tend to coach not to lose so that they don't get fired ... unless they are pretty secure, either in their job or in the knowledge that their GM knows what they're doing. I think the latter is increasing – there are more and more instances of coaches going for it in situations where others wouldn't have in the past – but this was definitely a combination of the two.
Belichick, more so than almost any other coach in the NFL, doesn't have to worry about decisions. He isn't going to get fired any time soon. In fact, he can probably write his own contract. So the decision to go for it shouldn't have been surprising.
After all, if you had to choose between your QB with the ball to win, or their QB with the ball to win, who would you take? (Especially with Randy Moss on the field. And Kevin Faulk, the guy whom Tony Dungy referred to as the guy who caused them the biggest headaches in those games, probably because of matchup problems. You know you're going to put two, maybe three guys on Moss the whole game, but who covers Faulk? A linebacker? A safety? A corner?)
Belichick was coaching to win. It didn't work out. But there was a lesson to learn here: the value of timeouts. First and 10 at the IND 47 ... I think the Patriots, along with the Colts and Saints, have the kind of offense that can recover from a first and 15 better than just about anyone else in the league. I think it's better to take a penalty there rather than use a timeout ...
Update: See for yourself. Cold, Hard Football Facts shows some mainstream media responses followed by blog responses to Belichick's decision. Guess which ones are rational and which ones cry out "STOOPID SUX0R!!!!!" No, guess again. (Thanks to mgoblog for directing me there.)