Andrew and Sterling take an awards-style look at the crowded playoff picture. Plus, a special Thanksgiving Loser League announcement!
06 Feb 2012
compiled by Rivers McCown
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these e-mails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching, just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.
Tom Gower: The pregame shows are over, and it's still 2012!
Sean McCormick: Eli Manning's ball placement on the first drive has been absolutely stellar. He's hit two tightly-covered receivers by putting the ball where only his man could catch it. If the Giants can complete passes when the Pats actually have good coverage, look out.
Tom Gower: Concur with Sean. That pass to Hakeem Nicks absolutely should not have worked -- Molden had outside position and Nicks had to make an out cut into him. Excellent placement by Eli, and Nicks did a great job of being physical. Then, of course, the two sacks. It looked like Eli had Jake Ballard on the first one but didn't pull the trigger for some reason, while the second one was just a bad job of blocking by D.J. Ware and David Diehl.
Ben Muth: It's tough for an offensive tackle when you underset a guy, expecting a chip, and the back whiffs. I'd put that sack more on Ware than Diehl.
Aaron Schatz: I thought Eli had guys open in the zone when he got sacked on first down. Then the Giants ran on second down for a loss. I believe I said in the Super Bowl preview that the Giants were one of the only teams that ran a higher percentage of the time on second down than on first down. They do this all the time -- first down fails, go to the run on second down. That's going to be a win for the Pats every time. Of course, usually the Pats just allow the third-down conversion anyway, but this time they got another sack.
Rivers McCown: Never thought I'd live long enough to see Echo and the Bunnymen in a car commercial.
Sean McCormick: That was a completely obvious call, but I'm stunned that the officials threw the flag on intentional grounding on the opening safety.
Aaron Schatz: Well, I guess I should say that I don't know why Tom Brady threw the ball nowhere near any receivers, but I've never seen intentional grounding called on a throw downfield. Only on throws to the sideline. Does anyone remember ever seeing that before?
Sean McCormick: Usually the refs give the offense the benefit of the doubt that there was a miscommunication.
Tom Gower: Yes, more than once, in that kind of situation. Again I concur with Sean -- that's an obvious flag, but the benefit of the doubt given to veteran quarterbacks is ridiculous. The problem there for the Pats is that the receivers seemed to have already made their cuts when Brady threw the ball. If somebody runs a dig and cuts after the ball is thrown, the refs seem to assume there's a miscommunication and the quarterback thought the receiver should've run a post, so no grounding.
Aaron Schatz: The Pats are making huge mental errors early. First the grounding, now the 12 men on the field penalty that cancels out a fumble recovery. What a mess. If the Giants were overconfident before, well, they can be confident with reason now.
Tom Gower: Add Jerod Mayo's play on the Victor Cruz touchdown to that list. James Harrison had that kind of underneath coverage on Kurt Warner's slant right before the half of Super Bowl XLIII and ended up with a pick-six. This time, Cruz gets the score.
Aaron Schatz: Were those Aaron Ross' best two tackles of the year, on the first run of the Pats second drive, then on the end around? I never remember Ross tackling that well in the open field.
Ben Muth: I was just thinking the same thing about Ross. That guy has seemed allergic to contact at times, and out of the blue he makes two real good tackles on the same drive.
Mike Tanier: Greetings from the auxiliary press booth. It is high in the Patriots corner of the end zone, with no televisions to catch the replays. The stadium replays are mostly close-ups of the quarterbacks' eyes as they hand off. I am trying to do strategy blogging. These are not ideal conditions for that.
But holy cow! I am at the Super Bowl!
Aaron Schatz: At some point, the Giants have to play action off the second-down handoff, right? I mean, they're seriously predictable, if the first-down play goes nowhere, they run on second down.
Sean McCormick: That's an NFL trope at this point.
Rivers McCown: Boy, those replays they showed of Rob Gronkowski were basically in slow motion. Doesn't look like he'll be a factor today.
Aaron Schatz: I have no idea how the Patriots are going into halftime with the lead. Just stunning. They've been totally outplayed, made mental mistakes, can't figure out how to throw a pass above Jason Pierre-Paul's hands, and yet here we are, 10-9, and they get the ball first in the second half.
By the way, there was pretty obvious holding against Brian Waters on the touchdown pass to Danny Woodhead. As a Pats fan, I'll take it, but if Giants fans want to complain they have every right. Of course, they've barely called holding against anyone all postseason.
Vince Verhei: I was just coming on here to say what Aaron said. How on earth does New York only have one touchdown in four real drives (throwing out the end-of-half kneeldown)? And it's not because New England's best defender is doing anything -- Vince Wilfork has been neutralized.
The other call that Giants fans can complain about is the holding flag that turned a third-and-1 conversion into a third-and-11 incompletion. There was barely a grab at all there. That goes uncalled all the time.
Rivers McCown: With you on this Vince -- that was a game-changing call.
Aaron Schatz: Actually, given the way they've been not calling holding all postseason, it's actually a bit of a surprise that holding has been called twice, period (once on each team).
Tom Gower: The Pats started having the ball and finding Michael Boley in coverage. On Wes Welker and on Aaron Hernandez, and both those guys have been beating him, which comes as not much of a surprise. I didn't expect Woodhead to play much of a role, but he's been out there. Rushing three, like the Giants did on Woodhead's touchdown, doesn't seem to make a ton of sense, especially when you line up Pierre-Paul at defensive end and he's not one of the three men rushing. Overall, if I'm Belichick, I'm very happy to be up 10-9 at half and looking to receive the kickoff given how the game began.
Rivers McCown: Boley on Hernandez is going to keep causing problems for New York until they make a change.
Mike Tanier: Watching the lights go down for halftime is rather magical. And watching them erect this stage is also quite cool. It is like a giant Tetris game.
The Giants have to take a long look at what they do once they cross midfield. They are taking shots downfield on early downs then checking down to Ahmad Bradshaw on third down. They need to reverse that.
My brain is melting. Halftime ... well this isn't those Black Eyed Peabrains.
Rivers McCown: I don't think the FO writer demographic matches up very well with the halftime demographic. I would have commented on that show had I, at any point, understood what was happening.
Aaron Schatz: OK, we're going to have to see about this, but I have a theory. What about the possibility that the Patriots would not give Gronk a painkiller before the game so he would look somewhat hobbled, then give him the shot at halftime when the Giants are adjusting their coverages to pay less attention to him? Is there any possibility of a painkiller given before the game wearing off before the game ended, especially during the long halftime? Because that would give more support to my theory.
Clint Eastwood ad for Chrysler/Dodge gave me the chills. Never thought I'd feel all patriotic about a car ad.
Rivers McCown: For the record, I felt more patriotic when the Dodge Challenger that took out the British.
Vince Verhei: Actually, somebody in the pregame circus (Tony Dungy maybe?) did say that it looked like Gronkowski hadn't had a shot yet. They were suggesting that he'd get it right before kickoff, not wait till the second half. Then Hines Ward started talking about playing with a bad knee in the Super Bowl against Arizona, where he played well in the first half but then his shot wore off in the second half and he disappeared. You may well be onto something there.
Aaron Schatz: Giants look like they're now leaving in a sixth man to block most of the time, even against just four. They seem worried about the Pats pass rush.
Vince Verhei: Did Al Michaels just say that the Patriots' trainers were "fondling some beads" after the sack that shook Brady up?
Tom Gower: Three-man rushes work better when both offensive tackles get destroyed one-on one, like the Giants did before they kicked the field goal to make it 17-15.
Aaron Schatz: The Giants did finally run the play-action on second down, though. The Patriots are definitely in "bend but don't break" mode today, keeping every play in front of the safeties and forcing field goals. They need to score a bit more themselves though, or the next field goal is going to put them down 18-17.
The announcers were talking about how surprising it was that a linebacker was able to cover Gronkowski one-on-one on the deep Brady interception, but it wasn't Gronk's fault that the ball hung a bit too much in the air.
New York is winning the fumble luck battle today, by the way ... but the Patriots are winning the referee luck battle. Sterling Moore just committed defensive pass interference by grabbing Mario Manningham's shoulder on third-and-10 and got away with it. I think the Pats got away with an inadvertent face mask earlier in the drive as well.
Tom Gower: That was a killer sequence for the Giants, burning a timeout on third down, then the false start on Kevin Boothe that turns third-and-5 into third-and-10, and then the no-call. Even with the no-call, if Boothe doesn't false start, they might go for it there.
Aaron Schatz: Then a killer sequence for the Pats with 4:00 left, as Brady slightly overthrows Welker and then throws behind Deion Branch and neither can hold on to the ball. That gives the Giants the ball back with 3:53 left and needing just a field goal. Sigh. This game's over, Giants will win.
Vince Verhei: Both teams have played remarkably conservatively today. A 15-yard gain feels like something spectacular. It's been death by a thousand cuts for both offenses.
Aaron Schatz: The Pats should have just let the Giants score with 2:00 left. This is over. They just have to lose in the most heart-wrenching way possible, don't they?
Tom Gower: I don't think Belichick would've really minded if Nicks had broken that tackle for 6 at the two-minute warning. I'm surprised the Pats tried at all on the first-and-goal play, and then Bradshaw's momentum seems to carry him into the end zone on second-and-goal.
J.J. Cooper: Give Belichick credit. It's an obvious play to most any Madden player, but there are a whole lot of NFL coaches who wouldn't let the other team score like New England just did on the parting of the Red Sea for Bradshaw. It may not work for New England, but it gives them a much better chance than they would have had otherwise.
Vince Verhei: Aaron called it. When the Giants had the first down completion at the two-minute warning, whichever cornerback was in coverage on the play should have just let the receiver go. They should have let the Giants score on each of the next three or four snaps instead of wasting all that time.
What a weird Super Bowl. So many mental mistakes by New England. Tons of big hits by the New England secondary. A bunch of great throws by Eli Manning and the Giants receivers that somehow rarely led to the end zone. Penalties that ended drives or erased turnovers. Dropped passes. Offensive mistakes a go-go, by both teams. A defense that seemed determined to play keep away from its own offense. And a game- winning touchdown that the defense wanted to give up, that the offense scored literally on accident.
Ben Muth: I'm not sure how I feel about this game. It was a close game. It wasn't exceptionally well-played, but it wasnt sloppy to the point of being offputting either. The only two plays I'll remember in July are a long catch that got the ball to midfield, and a redundant touchdown run. The Giants win and they deserved to, but I feel like if you played the 2012 playoffs 10 times they would win once. I guess it was kind of a let down to me after a really exciting few rounds in a row.
Danny Tuccitto: Everyone's going to remember the Manningham catch at the end, but the play that will stick in my mind was Blackburn's interception in coverage on Gronkowski. You have your all-world tight end being covered by a middle linebacker, and, even though Gronkowski's slowed by the high ankle sprain, he beats his man by almost three full yards, only to see Brady underthrow him by five to 10 yards.
Sean McCormick: In a way though, it served to re-affirm the importance of the regular season, because the final results were heavily determined by specific matchups. If New Orleans played at home, I have no doubt they would have won the Super Bowl, but they had to go on the road and play a tough match up in a venue that didn't accentuate their strengths. The Giants caught Green Bay on a good day, but otherwise had great matchups throughout the playoffs. Pittsburgh could have knocked New England out early, but they had a gimpy Ben Roethlisberger and went into a tough place to play.
Rivers McCown: So, Justin Tuck for MVP? I mean, after they award it to Manning because he's a quarterback. (Not that he wasn't also awesome.)
Sean McCormick: It should go to Manning. He made multiple fantastic throws, and he very much powered the offense.
Vince Verhei: I nominate Steve Weatherford for MVP. He punted four times, one touchback, and three downed deep in Patriots territory.
Mike Tanier: My brain is pudding right now. Being in a quasi-fan section was great. We could hear the crowd and feel the energy, unlike in the press box, where it is often very hushed.
There was no clear-cut MVP in this game, so Eli will get it. This was a clear team effort though, especially when you think of the contributions by players like Chase Blackburn, the tight ends, and so on.
Tom Gower: Eli was outstanding, and showcased consistently great ball placement. I have no problems with him winning MVP, especially without a single other player having, in my mind, a particularly standout performance.
J.J. Cooper: It's hard to complain in any way about a Super Bowl that features a game-winning touchdown in the final minute and a final play that actually had drama. I wouldn't say it was the best Super Bowl ever, but I'll happily watch that game replayed again and again.
Sean McCormick: I do think this complicates the Patriots' legacy quite a bit. They just lost their second Super Bowl to an inferior team (that was even more inferior than last time), and this time around I'm not remotely surprised. What does that say?
Vince Verhei: I refuse -- refuse -- to consider a season that ends with a Super Bowl loss as a black mark on a team's/player's legacy.
Aaron Schatz: When it comes to the Patriots, you are very clearly in the minority.
Sean McCormick: No, I'm not suggesting anyone should. It's just interesting.
J.J. Cooper: I don't want to offend the Pats fans by saying this, but to me it's very hard to say the Giants were inferior this time. They beat the Pats twice this year. I felt the fact that the Patriots were ahead in the final two minutes was a testament to an amazing coaching job and gameplan.
I mean this with all kinds of respect, but is it fair to ask how good this Patriots team was? New England has an all-time great quarterback, an all-time great coach and a couple of great tight ends. But they also lacked a signature win -- they finished the season with one win against a winning team and a 1-3 record in games against teams with winning records. They were good enough to beat everyone on the schedule they should have beaten, but in the end, the Ravens' game is the only time they managed to pull out a win against one of this season's elite teams. Admittedly they didn't have many chances with their schedule.
It's amazing how the Patriots' coaching staff pieced together a competitive defense from a random assemblage of spare parts. But when the game was on the line, the Giants were able to hit play after play against an outmatched secondary.
Tom Gower: This isn't 2007. The Giants weren't great, but they don't feel like a crappy team like they were for the first 15 games of 2007. Eli's been outstanding all year, and the problem was the defense swooned in the second half of the season. When the defense (defensive line in particular) started playing really well, they were clear Super Bowl contenders, and everybody who was paying attention at all realized it. Meanwhile, nobody thinks these Pats are the 2007 Pats, because they weren't. The defense sucked all year, and the offense, while great, didn't have the vertical threat of Randy Moss like they did in 2007.
Sean McCormick: Agreed on all counts. Plus, the Giants clearly matched up well with this team, particularly once Gronkowski was hobbled.
Aaron Schatz: Well, a lot of it comes down to the question we just don't seem to be able to answer. Why is it that the Giants every year collapse on defense in the second half of the season, and how on earth did they manage to stop that collapse and turn things around in 2007 and 2011 and not in, say, 2008? It's strange that the two worst regular-season teams to ever win a Super Bowl are both a Giants team with the same coach, quarterback, and a lot of the same players. I think it is fair to say that this means those teams are better than their regular season records, but it doesn't answer the question of why their regular season records were like that.
Vince Verhei: Yeah, it's totally fair to question how good the 2011 New England Patriots were. Had they won today, they probably would have been considered one of the weaker Super Bowl champions. As for the Giants, they're certainly not an all-time great team, but I tend to agree with Tom's viewpoint: In hindsight, most of their in-season struggles can be chalked up to some key injuries along the defensive line, and when they got those guys back, they had as good a chance as anyone.
And part of that is that there were no dominant teams this year. Green Bay, New England, and New Orleans had defensive issues. San Francisco and Baltimore had offensive questions. I thought the best team going into the playoffs was Pittsburgh, and they crashed and burned worse than anyone. New York wasn't so much the best of the best as they were the last team standing.
Danny Tuccitto: My view is that probably a good part of the answer is right in front of our faces. We all know how much luck plays into the outcome of a single game, and -- with all due respect to New York's performances over the past month -- they got incredibly lucky over and over and over to win games. At Green Bay, Cruz fumbles in his own end so clearly that everyone in America can see it, but Bill Leavy somehow comes back with the call standing as down-by-contact. They score on a Hail Mary to completely take control of the game. Then, at SF, they won -- and I'll take this to my grave -- because of two ridiculous fumbles by the opponent that they did recover, and another of their own that, although the other team recovered already in field goal range to win the game, was called as forward-progress stopped. That's a 17-point swing in a three-point game. Finally, in the Super Bowl, they find themselves once again on the positive end of fumble recovery luck, yet again have another one of their own lost fumbles nullified, and yet again have another wide receiver make the catch of his life.
Not to mention coming back against the Jets to get in the playoffs in the first place thanks to a 99-yard broken-tackle-assisted touchdown.
All of this is just to say that when a mediocre-to-good team gets lucky every week for a month, and that month-long string of good luck coincides with the tail end of the season, you end up with said team winning a Super Bowl. It just so happens that it's been the same team twice in four years. I mean, all year long, we sat there explaining away Tim Tebow's success as an incredible string of luck. We felt comfortable doing so because Tebow is not a good quarterback, and Denver is not a good team. We have to remember that good teams and good players get lucky too. When we see completed Hail Marys, 99-yard scoring plays, two fumbled punts by the same player in the same fourth quarter/overtime of the same game, nullified lost fumbles, and opponent fumbles bouncing into the hands of defenders, we shouldn't be reluctant to call a lucky duck a lucky duck.
I'm not saying that the Giants should have some kind of asterisk as champs, or that they didn't play well enough to win a lot of the games during their recent runs. Homer bias aside (honestly), the only game where I thought they got outplayed was against the 49ers. I'm just pointing out that, if we're going to acknowledge that luck plays a big role in the short run, and five weeks is a short run, then it stands to reason that luck can produce a Giants-esque anomaly.
Tom Gower: Two other notes: officiating is not a storyline coming out of the Super Bowl. Given that it ended a one-score game, I'm very happy about that. There were a couple calls that could've gone one way or the other, notably the non-call on Moore, but they didn't decide the game. Also, the announcers have not been a storyline either. Michaels and Collinsworth were professionals, occasionally adding things to the broadcast and never, in my mind, detracting from it.
Sean McCormick: The Belichick Patriots have now played in five Super Bowls. Their point differential? Plus-2.
That contrasts with the dynasty-era 49ers putting up a point differential of plus-109. It's worth looking at simply because of the way the results structured the resulting New England dynasty narrative.
J.J. Cooper: Rodney Harrison emphasizes again he'd rather have Eli in the fourth quarter than Brady. I don't think he's staying on the Brady's Christmas Card list, but I'll give him credit for not being the normal post-playing career jock who won't criticize ex-teammates.
Robert Weintraub: I go back to something Belichick said a couple days ago after a practice, words to the effect of "our concepts are solid, we feel good about what we are going to do, but there are a few places where we are just a little bit off, either physically or mentally." I feel that pretty much summed up what happened. They clearly had a good gameplan, especially on defense, but either due to mental mistakes or simply being out-athleted by the Giants they came up just short.
I have to say I'm surprised the Giants won only because it defies the "when everyone likes one result, go the other way" construct. I was pretty sure the Pats would win for that reason alone.
I suppose the main lesson from this season (and the Giants run in general) I take is that my Bengals should draft another pass rusher, even though the defensive line is already pretty good. Adding Pierre-Paul to replace Michael Strahan put Big Blue over the top.
Sean McCormick: Yes, as a Jets fan, I can't help but notice that the Giants' strengths and weaknesses are essentially the inverse of the Jets. And they keep beating New England while we keep losing. I hope Rex Ryan is taking notes somewhere.
Vince Verhei: "Pass rush uber alles" is certainly not a bad philosophy, it seems.
Sean McCormick: Have a vertical game, a receiver set that runs three deep and provides a mismatch in the slot, either thanks to a receiver or a tight end, and have a pass rush.
It certainly explains recent and not-so-recent NFL draft trends.
Tom Gower: Looking at the box score, both teams ended up with not many possessions: Eight for the Giants, not counting the knee at the end of the first half, and nine for the Patriots, including the final drive. The Pats had terrible field position all night -- their best start was their own 29. The Giants didn't have great field position, but it was better, and the two third-quarter field goal drives both had good field position.
Rivers McCown: Congrats Giants fans!
Aaron Schatz: New England ended up with the higher VOA thanks to fumble luck. With opponent adjustments, since the Patriots were better than New York this year, the two teams ended up equal at 13%. Agonizing.
470 comments, Last at 29 Feb 2012, 9:51pm by rich31689