Archive for the ‘Super Bowl XLVI’ Category

In recent years, it seems every Super Bowl has had a trademark play that etched itself into our memory bank forever. There was the David Tyree catch and the James Harrison 100-yard interception return and the New Orleans onside kick to start the second half, to name a few.

This year, two plays that took place on the same series will likely battle for the right to be the most memorable moment of Super Bowl XLVI. One was the incredible 38-yard sideline hookup between Eli Manning and Mario Manningham that started New York’s game-winning drive, and the other was Ahmad Bradshaw’s six-yard scoring run that ended it.

The plays will be remembered for very different reasons. Manning to Manningham was a clutch throw and a clutch catch in a clutch moment — a pure athletic feat in which one set of players simply beats the opposing set of players. But the Bradshaw touchdown run was arguably the strangest and most awkward play in Super Bowl history.

That, of course, is because the Patriots had decided to let the Giants score.

I can’t even imagine how much stranger things would have been had Bradshaw actually stopped and gone down before reaching the end zone. Regardless, the decision has become ideal football fodder. And no matter where you are in America today, there’s a good chance you’ll either say or hear (or both) a variation of these words: “Was that the right decision?”

It doesn’t feel right to let an opponent score. It’s unnatural and goes against everything we’re taught about sports from an early age. That said, Bill Belichick absolutely made the right decision.

Belichick noted after the game that 90 percent of field goals are good inside the 10-yard line. In reality, Belichick was underselling it. Of the 312 field goals attempted from inside the 11-yard line this year, only 11 were missed. That’s actually 97 percent. And considering that the Giants were on the six-yard line, their chances would have been even better.

New York’s kicker, Lawrence Tynes, had made 32 consecutive kicks from that distance.

And based on what had gone down on that series, there was also a decent chance that New York was going to score anyway after running the clock and/or forcing the Patriots to use their final timeout.

It was a virtual certainty that the Giants were going to take the lead, which meant that Belichick had to decide between two scenarios.

Scenario 1: Play hard defense and attempt to hold the Giants to a field goal or force a turnover.

Best possible outcome: You force a turnover and win the game.

Likely outcome: The Giants kick the field goal after two running plays, which would have taken the clock to about 15 seconds. After a New York kickoff, the Pats would probably have 10 or 15 seconds to get into field goal range (with no timeouts) and make a game-winner.

Scenario 2: Let them score.

Only possible outcome: They score, giving you 55 seconds and a timeout to manufacture a game-winning touchdown.

The Roy ‘Tin Cup’ McAvoy in competitive, supremely confident pro athletes and coaches usually causes them to follow their hearts — not their minds — and go with Scenario 1. But I don’t imagine there’s a man or woman on the planet who’d rather have 10 seconds and no timeouts to get a field goal than 55 seconds and a timeout to get a touchdown.

Belichick made the logical choice. Did it work? No, because the Patriots lost the game. But that doesn’t mean the decision is why they lost the game. I understand that, in this mourning process, some Pats fans will point a finger at Belichick. They’re looking for excuses and attempting to find as many scapegoats as possible.

But the deliberate lack of defense on that final defensive play of New England’s season doesn’t qualify as an excuse. If you want to pile on Belichick and the coaching staff for a 12 men on the field penalty that cost the Pats a turnover on D, or for their decision to essentially throw away a timeout by challenging a clear catch earlier in the drive, be my guest.

But letting them score was the right call.

When Rob Gronkowski was first injured two weeks ago during the Patriots’ win over Baltimore to advance to the Super Bowl, the reaction was instant. The angle that his ankle bent induced an instinctive wince, and immediately we assumed one of New England’s primary receiving targets would be sidelined for the remainder of the season.

As is often the case when the worst is assumed, the injury wasn’t nearly as severe as the angle of that initial bend suggested, and Gronk returned later in the second half against the Ravens. But he was Gronk only in the sense that another person couldn’t occupy the same space as him at the same time.

He wasn’t really Gronk at all. He was just a player at the tight end position, no more threatening than your average tight end. He was meek and feeble, which is exactly what we should have expected.

Fast forward two weeks, and there was improvement, but it wasn’t nearly significant enough. All week long Gronkowski’s ankle was monitored more closely than M.I.A’s middle finger will be from now on, and in some circles there was elation when the inevitable was finally confirmed Sunday morning. Gronkowski would play, we were told. Hooray?

His status as a non-factor exposed the Patriots’ passing game last night between its lack of depth at wide receiver, and their inability to stretch the field without both bruising tight ends playing at their full capacity. Gronkowski finished with 26 receiving yards, which was the second-lowest total of his season, and a steep decline from his per game average of 82.9 yards.

The blame for Tom Brady’s interception early in the fourth quarter on a pass intended for Gronkowski after a deep heave downfield has mostly been slanted in Brady’s direction, and deservedly so. Brady hung a ball high and deep, and allowed it to linger in the air far too long while Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn camped underneath. But at some point a quarterback has to have faith in his receivers to make a play, even if he knows that the target in question isn’t playing at full speed.

A healthy Gronkowoski would have capitalized on the time Brady gave him with the ball in the air, and established better position than Blackburn. He would have boxed Blakburn out to make the catch, or at the very least he would have forced an incompletion.

He did neither, and listening to Blackburn speak after the game, it became evident that a former high school basketball player who averaged 18 rebounds per game was out-basketballed by a linebacker who was stuck covering Gronk way too far downfield because of Brady’s audible at the line of scrimmage.

ESPN’s Dan Graziano spoke to Blackburn about the play that led him into very unfamiliar territory:

“I heard the crowd go wild a little bit, and I thought we had a sack. But I continued to see Gronk go up the field, and I just tried to stay with him. When I saw him look back, I looked back for the ball, and when I spotted it, I tried to just block out and go up for a rebound like in basketball.”

Gronkowski was beaten by a linebacker who was set to take a gig as a substitute teacher only a few months ago around Thanksgiving before the Giants called.

Between Gronkowski’s lack of movement and key drops by Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, and Deion Branch, Brady’s average yards per attempt was only 6.7 despite having 16 straight completions at one point. That’s a decent and average number for most quarterbacks, but not for a QB who threw for 5,235 yards this year, and did it while clipping along at 8.6 yards per attempt overall.

Brady completed only two passes for 20 yards or more, and both barely qualified (Ochocinco had a 21-yard catch, while Gronkowski had a 20-yard reception). New England led the league in 20+ yard passes this year, finishing with 72 for an average of 4.5 per game.

Gronkowski’s absence played a large role in that decline, as he was the target for 30.5 percent of those 20-yard passes. Beyond his simple ineffectiveness, he was on the field for a season-low 45 snaps last night, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Bill Belichick didn’t fully trust his Pro Bowl tight end, but he was still putting his quarterback in a position where he was forced to have faith in an injured player.

Gronkowski was exposed, and so was the Patriots’ offense beyond him.

By all accounts the celebrating in New York last night was kept within the reasonable limits of tolerable human conduct, or at least it qualified under that label given what we’ve unfortunately come to expect after major sports championship wins and losses recently (thanks, Vancouver).

Sure, there were probably plenty of garden variety arrests after one overly-intoxicated douchebag thought his Hakeem Nicks jersey is better than the Hakeem Nicks jersey being worn by another overly-intoxicated douchebag, and a fight ensued. But from a quick glance through the many fan videos already on Youtube this morning, it looks like everything was pretty peaceful.

The streets of Howard Beach in Queens had much of the usual car horn honking, yelling, and profane words screamed at no one in particular. But they added a little extra flavor, because that’s how Queens rolls.

They set fireworks off in the middle of a street, the kind of street that’s quite open to traffic. Motorists were chillin’ and whizzing by as if it’s just another Sunday in Queens. Who knows, maybe it is.

The entire five-minute video below is worth a watch with the yelling and running between cars, but the pyrotechnics start about 30 seconds in, and again near the end.

INDIANAPOLIS — For a while Sunday night, Tom Brady was lights out. At one point he completed 16 consecutive passes, which had many scoffing at the notion that the Giants defense was in Brady’s head.

That’s what many of us barked about in the week leading up to this game. Brady flinched in the regular-season matchup. Brady was pummeled by that pass rush in his last Super Bowl. Brady wasn’t the same when facing pressure since suffering a major knee injury in 2008.

Maybe they never were in his head, or maybe he somehow got them out during a solid first half. Either way, they appeared to find their way in there thanks to one big play.

Brady took a big hit from Justin Tuck early in the third quarter, aggravating the injury to his left shoulder that had caused him to miss practice time earlier in these playoffs. And although Brady had been working with a relatively clean pocket for much of the night, that one sack might have been enough to throw him off.

Ryan Wilson of did the math so that I wouldn’t have to:

Brady’s line, pre-Tuck sack: 20 of 24 for 201 yards and two touchdowns. In fact, the pass just prior to Tuck’s takedown broke Brady’s completion streak and it came 6:12 into the third quarter.

Brady’s line, post-Tuck sack: 7 of 17 for 75 and an interception.

On paper, it doesn’t appear as though New York’s pass rush was the game-changer it was supposed to be, but maybe all it took was one play.

INDIANAPOLIS — The drop itself shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise. After all, Wes Welker led the entire league in dropped passes back in 2010.

Also why it shouldn’t surprise us: it’s hard to call it a drop. I mean, this was simply a bad pass from Tom Brady…

And yet Brady isn’t taking nearly the amount of heat Welker is for that play, which might have put the game away had it been successful. It might have led to a New England touchdown to give them a two-score lead in the final minutes. But at the very least, it would have allowed the Pats to take a significant amount of time off the clock before getting more points.

Brady wasn’t under pressure and had Welker open, so I don’t understand why the pass wasn’t thrown on target. Regardless, Welker probably should have had it, and he knows it. Drops happen to Welker, but the timing was just un-Welker-like.

“That’s one of those plays I’ve made a thousand times,” said Welker, who shed legit tears during his post-game media session. “It hit me right in the hands. I just didn’t make it. It’s the most critical situation, and I let the team down.

“The ball was right there. I’ve got to make the play. It comes at the biggest moment of my life, and (I) don’t come up with it. It’s discouraging.”

It’s a game of inches in which hundreds of intermingling factors decide the outcome. If Welker makes his fairly routine catch or if Mario Manningham doesn’t make his unreal catch only one minute later, the Patriots are celebrating right now, rather than the Giants.

Is Eli Canton-bound?

INDIANAPOLIS — Eli Manning has always been known best as “Peyton’s brother,” but it’s Eli who now has two rings, joining an exclusive club that includes only 10 other players.

Peyton Manning is not one of those players.

And while Eli has never been as consistent as your typical Hall of Fame quarterback, his peaks have been so high that it would be impossible to tell the story of the history of the NFL and the Super Bowl without including a chapter for him and his coach, who have now slayed the Patriots twice in five years.

The only other players who have won more than one Super Bowl MVP? Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Tom Brady.

Eli performs best on the biggest stages, which has to mean something. With his performance tonight, I’d have to believe he’s bound to be a Hall of Famer, regardless of what happens the rest of the way.

What’s really scary is imaging what could still happen. Manning’s already accomplished those feats at the age of 31.

INDIANAPOLIS — How much shine has come off of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in recent years?

The duo has now gone seven years without a Super Bowl after winning three titles in a four-year span. Since then, they’ve posted a playoff record of 7-6, losing twice in the in the Super Bowl itself.

It goes well beyond Brady and Belichick, obviously.

By all indications, Brady’s still an elite quarterback. He’s had three historically good seasons in the last five years, which is pretty amazing considering that he lost 2008 due to a knee injury. And on Sunday night, the guy did complete 16 consecutive passes at one point.

And by all indications, Belichick is still a Hall of Fame coach. He won 11 games without Brady in 2008 and captured the AFC’s top seed the last two years despite the fact New England’s had considerable turnover on both sides of the ball. His draft record is still superb, and his teams continue to dominate despite ranking in the bottom of the barrel defensively.

That said, this was a quarterback-coach duo that was seemingly destined to eclipse the accomplishments of anyone who had ever played/coached the game. And now, they have two rather glaring stains that might prevent them from earning those reputations.

Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw never lost any Super Bowls. Neither did Chuck Noll or Bill Walsh.

When it mattered Sunday night, Brady was outplayed by Eli Manning. Again.

And based on New York’s ability to avoid costly penalties and keep the chains moving with slightly more success than the Pats, despite losing two tight ends to injury during the game, I’d argue that Tom Coughlin outcoached Belichick. Again.

It’s funny, because if Mario Manningham doesn’t make a circus sideline catch on New York’s final drive, or if an injured Rob Gronkowski is able to secure just one of two prayer throws from Brady, I’m writing a completely different post right now.

If that happens, I’m claiming that they’ve regained or even bolstered their legacies. But dynasties have to be able to overcome bad breaks.

And don’t blame the reputably horrific defense. This is a unit that gets beat on a lot, but the coverage was fantastic for much of the night. They held the Giants to only 19 offensive points, and that number would have been quite a lot lower had it not been for Manning’s astonishing accuracy.

This came down to making big plays in big moments, and despite outplaying the Giants for much of the game, the Patriots made fewer plays.

As a result, Brady and Belichick have lost some more luster.