Are the Patriots truly being punished for their insolence?

The last five years for the Patriots would make many people believe in karma. Since Tom Brady left his baby mama Bridget Moynahan for Gisele and Bill Belichick got caught videotaping other teams’ run throughs, here are the Patriots season results:

  • 2007: Crazy late game Super Bowl loss to the underdog Giants
  • 2008: Brady tore his ACL early in the season and they missed the playoffs despite going 11-5
  • 2009: Brady had a stinker in a first round loss to the Ravens
  • 2010: Finished 14-2, but Brady had another stinker in a second round loss to the rival Jets
  • 2011: Brady nearly blew it against the Ravens again in the AFC championship game and they sneaked into the Super Bowl, only to suffer another late game loss to the underdog Giants

Gisele continued her negative influence by blaming the loss on drops by the Patriots receivers (only Aaron Hernandez had a truly bad drop, and it was probably too late to matter). The Patriots have 60 wins over the last five years (12 per year), but no rings. If the Patriots go 15-1 next year and get a rematch with a 9-7 Giants team, the Giants will probably be favored. They can’t get past those guys.

Close games are generally decided by luck — Bill Barnwell gets into this at Grantland, but finds himself backtracking almost immediately to avoid angering Giants fans (“The Giants were not lucky to win Super Bowl XLVI because they fumbled twice and fell on both of them.”). There will be no backtracking from me! The Giants were lucky to win (as the Patriots would have been if they had won). Here’s the way the ball bounced on Sunday:

  • The Giants fumbled three times but recovered two and had the third wiped out by a defensive penalty (12 men on the field)
  • The Giants intercepted a 50-50 ball on the only risky pass thrown by either QB (both had great games, though Brady cost the Pats big time with his intentional grounding and a couple of questionable throws — more on this below)
  • A borderline holding call on the Giants erased a big third and one conversion for Brandon Jacobs and pushed the Giants out of Patriot territory in the second quarter

Only the holding call went against the Giants, and they got enough breaks on turnovers to win the game. This doesn’t mean the Giants are a bad team. To make the game close, they had to play well and make good decisions, just like the Patriots. Both teams have incredible offensive lines: the Giants superb defensive line got very little pressure on Brady (despite the safety) and Vince Wilfork was a non factor for the Patriots. Brady and Manning were extremely accurate. The Giants ran the ball well, as they have consistently since Ahmad Bradshaw came back from injury this year.

In such a close game, strategy and game management matters too. Both teams made pretty big errors, though only the Patriots suffered for it. First, the Patriots were extremely lucky to score a touchdown at the end of the first half. They had plenty of time and all three time outs, but ran the clock down to 29 seconds at the Giants 22 yard line. Fortunately, they scored in four plays, and the clock stopped on two of those plays due to a penalty and Danny Woodhead getting out of bounds. If they had needed six plays to score the touchdown, they would have had to settle for a field goal.

I won’t let the Giants off the hook, either. Their last drive netted a touchdown, but they could have run off much more clock. The Giants had second and eight on the Patriots 18 yard line after the two minute warning (two time outs for the Patriots). They looked to settle in for the field goal and had Eli hand off to Bradshaw up the middle, but he rumbled for seven yards. The clock ran to about 1:20 before the next snap. The Patriots elected not to take a time out here, which was the right call. With only two remaining, even if they had stopped the Giants right there, the clock would have run on one of the three downs before the field goal. Letting it run on first down kept their options open.

At this point, every man, woman, and child rooting for the Patriots was hoping for a quick Giants touchdown. Billy Cundiff missed a chip shot field goal to tie the AFC championship game, but he was rushed onto the field. The Patriots couldn’t count on that ineptitude from Tom Coughlin and Lawrence Tynes. After Bradshaw’s good run on first down, the Giants (for unknown reasons) obliged and went for the kill. Hakeem Nicks caught a four yard pass for a first down and ran right out of bounds! This was a dumb play call and dumber execution, but not the end of the world — at least he didn’t run into the end zone.

Now the Giants had the ball with 1:10 remaining on the Patriots seven yard line. They could have killed about 15 seconds total on first and second down by waiting behind the line for the Patriots defenders and then kneeling. This would have forced the Pats to use both time outs and run the clock to about 55 seconds. On third down, they could have then gone for the touchdown (pass or run). If they scored, they would have had a four point lead (at least) and left about 50 seconds and no time outs for the Patriots. If they didn’t score (or chose not to try), they could have run the clock under ten seconds before trying the high percentage, winning field goal.

Instead, Bradshaw smashed into the line and ran off five or six seconds. The Patriots were forced to call a time out but FINALLY got wise on the next play, stepped aside, and let Bradshaw back into the end zone (Bradshaw clearly intended to go down at the one and burn more clock, but just couldn’t help himself). The Patriots got the ball back with 57 seconds and one time out, down four. The Giants estimated win probability (based on past games) actually dropped from 93% after Bradshaw’s first seven yard run to 85% after the touchdown. Lucky for Nicks, Bradshaw, and the Giants, the Patriots were unable to score.

While the Giants were idiots here for not taking kneel downs, the Patriots were the real dummies for not allowing a touchdown even sooner. Both of Bradshaw’s first down runs inside of two minutes presented opportunities to allow the touchdown and dramatically increase their win probability. This brings up a bit of an issue with football strategy. Since it happened in the Super Bowl, teams will certainly take note. I expect that we see something weird like Vince Wilfork trying to carry Mark Sanchez (and the ball) into the end zone from the 10 yard line while Sanchez desperately tries to “declare himself down.” I’m not sure there’s any way to remedy this unsavory type of play.

I do give both teams credit for playing great defensive schemes, especially the Patriots. Both played a bend-but-don’t-break defense (BBDBD) with the safeties deep, and neither team gave up a particularly long pass. Accordingly, both QBs chipped away at wide open short routes, and both teams ran the ball effectively (4.1 yards per rush for the Giants and 4.4 for the Patriots), but the key to the BBDBD is holding teams to field goals. The Patriots excelled at this in the regular season (they were 31st in yards allowed but 15th in points allowed, helped in part by an excellent +17 turnover margin).

Indeed, the Patriots stuffed the Giants as the field shortened and the safeties came up to the line. The Giants got some help on their first touchdown drive (a 12 men penalty negated a Victor Cruz fumble and a big missed tackle on fullback Henry Hynoski gave up some yards), but otherwise the Pats held them to two field goals, despite giving up lots of yards. Even on the winning touchdown drive, the Patriots let Bradshaw score.

I was actually surprised that the Giants played the BBDBD. The Patriots aren’t really a threat to go deep, especially with Gronkoswki playing on one ankle. However, Brady and the Patriots can be faulted somewhat for playing into their hands. Despite leading for most of the second half, the Pats only ran the ball 19 times total against thin defensive fronts. The short plays were working; Brady put together back-to-back chip-away touchdown drives at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half. Each drive featured just one pass over 10 yards, yet the Patriots only faced three third downs, all manageable (third and one, three, and four). The Giants weren’t having success with the crucial red zone stage of the BBDBD.

On the next drive (up 17-12), Brady was sacked on third down and Zoltan Mesko let off a crappy 33 net yardage punt. The Giants picked up a quick 40 yards but ran out of gas at the nine and kicked a field goal. A BBDBD success! Still up two points, the Patriot dinked and dunked easily to their 43 yard line. It looked like another classic Pats drive, this time for a dagger fourth quarter touchdown. I was waiting for the Giants to move up the safeties and/or blitz.

But no. On second and three, Brady scrambled around and heaved one deep to Rob Gronkowski. Throwing to Gronkowski on a linebacker would usually be smart, but this was a broken play and Gronkowski was working on a (nearly) broken ankle. Brady took so long to get free for the throw that Gronkowski had outrun his arm. He couldn’t get back to make a play on the ball. Barnwell mentions that this was a low risk/high reward throw, but I disagree. Even if Gronkowksi were healthy, the Giants were having trouble scoring touchdowns and the Patriots were humming down the field. There wasn’t a great need to go for the kill. It might have been enough to grind out one or two more first downs and get a field goal for a five point lead.

The Giants churned up another 50 yards, but ran out of gas against the BBDBD  just over midfield. Rather than try a 60 yard field goal for the lead, they trotted out super punter Sean Weatherford (more on him below). Weatherford parked the Patriots on their eight yard line. Again, the Patriots steamed downfield at a steady pace. They reached the Giants 43 yard line, facing only a third and five and a third and three, with no passes over eight yards or so. I waited and waited for the Giants to tighten up the box to stop the Patriots “running game.”

Once again, Brady and the Pats saved the Giants. BenJarvus “No Fumbles” Green-Ellis lost one yard on first down, and Brady went for a deep sideline pass to Wes Welker on the next play. Gisele thinks the drop was Welker’s fault, and Brady hasn’t really blamed anyone in particular, but I think the pass should have never been thrown. It was a tricky throw and catch, with the safety closing fast across the field, forcing Brady to turn Welker around to his outside shoulder. They needed one more first down for a field goal and a five point lead! Instead, they faced a long third down, didn’t convert, and gave the ball back to the Giants with nearly four minutes left.

The BBDBD worked for the Giants, but only because Brady got impatient. I’m starting to wonder if Randy Moss ruined the Brady that won all those Super Bowls. He has a dominate short passing game but few deep threats. Old Brady would have chipped away and scored methodical touchdowns. New Brady can’t resist the occasional bomb. He was intercepted on bombs by the Ravens and the Giants and wasted a chance to clinch the Super Bowl on the throw to Welker.

That’s enough bashing, though. It’s time for my unsung hero of the Super Bowl. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the super punter, Mr. Sean Weatherford! He helped earn the first quarter safety by pinning the Patriots on their six. On his four punts, he put the Pats on their four, six, and eight yard lines, plus one touchback. One punt was a nice angle job that landed out of bounds with no need for a gunner. This approach is commonly used in rugby and underused in the NFL. He also had two perfect holds on the Giants field goals and had a great NFC championship game in the defensive struggle against the Niners (a match up with fellow top punter, Andy Lee).

If you’ve made it this far, here are a few random notes to take you home:

  • Madonna looks like she’s being held together with steel rods. It’s hard to remember that she’s 53 when she’s standing still, but it’s obvious when she’s doing cartwheels.
  • My wife‘s favorite ad was the David Beckham ogle-fest (women’s long-awaited revenge for all those Go Daddy commercials, I guess? Tight H&M underwear in my future?)
  • I laughed at a few ads, but I didn’t find anything too memorable
  • As Gisele mentioned, Aaron Hernandez dropped an easy one on the Patriots last gasp drive — it looks like he forgot his own advice!
  • Barnwell thinks that the Giants might have put 12 men on the field on purpose on the Patriots next to last play. He’s wrong (Justin Tuck was hustling off), but it brings up a great strategy point! Buddy Ryan knew the drill. Committing defensive penalties near the end of halves (but not on the last play) is a great way to kill clock while preventing a score (the Giants took an offside play at the end of the first half in a similar situation). This is the inverse of the offensive penalty situation that I described in my football riddle a few weeks ago.
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7 responses to “Are the Patriots truly being punished for their insolence?

  1. Such thorough analysis of FOOTBALL. I’d like one on the economy.

  2. Believe it or not, my brother Conor probably knows as much about the economy as I do! Check out his latest post on unemployment http://conorpwilliams.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/one-reason-why-barack-obama-ought-to-win-in-november/

    All my economics research is about individual decision making.

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  4. Gisele clearly doesn’t get the American sports/team thing. As a model, it’s all about her and she’s clearly projecting – after all, it is all about them. Tommy had better get her in check or she will hurt do irrepairable damage to his reputation! He’s a better than good quarterback but I’d say Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers are equaly skilled, more humble and don’t have women in their lives who make them look like complete as*ho*es. There’s a code and Gisele should learn it. Tom Brady can recover, but first he needs to clean house. QUit with all the pretentious crap and get back to being Tom Brady, focus, and don’t measure himself by other QBs. Legends are unique. You don’t become a legend by blaming others when you fail or chasing someone else’s record. Ask any legend.

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  6. Surely the Patriots would’ve preferred to concede the TD sooner, but everyone making your criticism is ignoring that success depends on the other team taking the bait. Is it possible that the Giants were caught off guard when the Patriots conceded on second down rather than first down? At the very least, it’s clear if Jacobs had a few more yards to run, he might have thought to stop further away from the end zone and downed himself successfully. That makes it harder to second-guess the Patriots here.

  7. In principle that might work, but the Giants seemed fully prepared for the strategy (which is why Bradshaw tried to declare himself down at all – he was told to do this in the huddle). I think the point here is that allowing the TD on purpose as soon as possible is the right thing to do, but it’s so obviously the right thing to do that the Giants should have been ready for it on every play (regardless of whether the Pats had tried it up to that point or not). The one guy who surely deserves criticism is Bradshaw – the outcome here should always be that the defense allows the offense to score but the offensive just takes a few yards and sits down. That was the Giants plan, but Bradshaw didn’t execute.

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