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.