Bill Connelly takes a look at what we can learn from defensive box score stats and general rates of havoc.
07 Feb 2008
by Bill Barnwell
The point at which you realize your team is going to win the Super Bowl is the moment at which all the stupid nonsense you go through supporting a team becomes not only worth it, but null and irrelevant. Before the year started, I picked my team, the New York Giants, to be the worst team in football. I've been accused of being biased both against and toward them, or biased toward and/or against their Super Bowl opponents, the New England Patriots. When Tom Brady's final pass fell incomplete, this did not matter to me.
The calm, reserved, thoughtful part of me knows that, in the course of one single game or even several single games, a lot of things can happen that aren't indicative of anything, that aren't signs of a great team, but that doesn't mean anything was wrong with the effort or performance of your 2007 New York Giants.
What made the game so much fun was that, well, the Giants played with the Patriots. Yes, they were lucky to recover all three fumbles in the game. Sure, Eli Manning didn't have an MVP-caliber game. It doesn't matter. They played one of the greatest teams in NFL history to a virtual dead heat by both simple and advanced metrics, and when some luck bounced their way, they took advantage of it and came out legends.
The idea that "luck" is an insulting discourse to use in reference to a Super Bowl team is, to me, a little silly. Any team needs luck to win. There are just too many scenarios in a season, in the playoffs, in a game, that a team goes through in order to not require some luck to get somewhere. Do the 2005 Steelers, the closest equivalent to this Giants team, win the Super Bowl if Ben Roethlisberger doesn't make a miraculous tackle on Nick Harper following a Jerome Bettis fumble? Do they win if Harper's wife doesn't slice up his knee during the week?
Go back two years prior to that. The Panthers tie up the Super Bowl against New England, 29-29, with 1:16 to go in the fourth quarter, on a Ricky Proehl touchdown catch. John Kasay boots the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, meaning Tom Brady only has to go 36 yards, not 56. Adam Vinatieri gets his chance to kick a game-winning field goal and does. If the Patriots are buried deep in their own half instead, and can't advance far enough in time to attempt a field goal, do the Panthers win the toss in overtime and use their momentum to win a game? Do we think of the Patriots' dynasty entirely different as a result? Perhaps.
The point isn't that those teams are any better, or any worse. It's that those teams have their histories, their measures of merit, defined by incidents they have little or no control over. For every story we see about a man who switched his flight at the last moment and avoided being in a plane crash that would have ended his life, there's likely one unreported one about someone who switched onto that flight at the last moment and ended theirs. Sometimes, there are simply things that are out of our control that cause dramatic differences in our lives, and there's nothing we can do about them. The same thing happens to Super Bowl winners.
And yet, thinking about all this as the clock struck :01 and the Giants needed to -- yes! -- kneel to win, I didn't care. I jumped around in a stupor, silly with excitement, hugging and high-fiving people I'd met a half-hour earlier (True story: FO TWIQ impresario Ben Riley had his DirecTV feed lock up immediately after the Burress touchdown, causing us to sprint next door to a neighbor's apartment to catch the end of the game.), attempting to comprehend what had happened.
Corey Webster went from fake corner in Week 3 to world-beater. Kevin Boss went from roster-filler to key player. Ahmad Bradshaw came out of obscurity to beat out Ryan Grant for a spot in the lineup, and then somehow developed into an integral part of the Giants offense over the course of five weeks. Shaun O'Hara bravely battled through injuries to neutralize Vince Wilfork, and David Diehl, he of the 13.5 sacks allowed in the regular season, kept Richard Seymour off of Eli Manning.
Oh, and Eli. Yes, we saw something more like the regular season Eli in this game, putting throws in awkward spots (one of which led to the interception off Steve Smith's hands) and being part of the chicken/egg conundrum that are his receivers' drops, but on the biggest throws of the game, Eli was perfect. He hit Boss perfectly in stride, while his lob to Amani Toomer was a duck, but a duck only Toomer could catch. His most impressive throw, though, was the bullet to David Tyree for the Giants' first touchdown, a perfectly thrown pass through traffic that was exactly what and where it needed to be.
By the end of the game, I didn't care whether any of these things was sustainable, a trick of a small sample, or proof of future performance. All I cared about was that sitting through all the stupid things I'd been through since Bill Parcells left was worth it. Rodney Hampton falling into a hole for two yards at a time while failed picks like Jarrod Bunch and Thomas Lewis sprinted around and took jobs away from Dave Meggett and Ed McCaffrey. All the bitterness faded. Chris Calloway's fumble in the Vikings loss. The Kent Graham-Dave Brown quarterback wars. Jason Sehorn tearing his ACL returning kicks in the preseason. Jason Sehorn later getting burned on a go route by Brandon Stokley, of all people, in the Super Bowl. The Jessie Armstead touchdown that got wiped off the board by a nonsensical holding call. The utter meltdown of Shaun Williams and the rest of the team in the playoff loss to the 49ers. Trading away the pick that would have resulted in Shawne Merriman rushing the passer next to Osi Umenyiora, Michael Strahan, and Justin Tuck, all to acquire a worse quarterback at a higher salary. Brian Westbrook's game-winning punt return. The disaster against Carolina, the meek defeat by the Eagles a year later. All of it's inextricably part of being a Giants fan, just like the lucky breaks and the imperfections they showed in the regular season. When they had to run the camera crews off of the field so that Eli Manning -- my pitiful, comically "unstoppable" Eli Manning -- could down the ball and make it official, I didn't care about the flaws or the past. There was only the present and the brilliance of the moment, illuminating all the imperfections and heartbreak to the point where they were simply blended into some ugly history. In an instant, my favorite team was something it had not been for a long time and seemingly never would be again: They were champions.
|Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive and Jason's wacky Gil Thorp blog.|
Speaking of imperfections, I don't really want to discuss my performance in the playoff draft at much length, but I do want to offer my congratulations to Sean McCormick, who won the FO Playoff Draft with a final score of 188 points. Buoyed by nice games from both Tom Brady and Wes Welker, Sean barely overcame Jason Beattie, who finally got a game from Randy Moss but could only finish with 182 points. Doug Farrar finished third on 166 points, Aaron fourth with 156, editor-on-loan-to-Germany Tim Gerheim with 136, and finally myself with ... 61. No asterisk needed for sucking.
As for the Best of the Rest, we must give massive props to "mrh," who not only overcame all other selectors, but in fact, picked the best team of anyone, Outsiders or non-Outsiders. At a whopping 218 points, his team, which featured five Giants, blew away all competition. Second place was "DerekZ" at 182.
And, with this, we draw Scramble to a close for the season, as we've discontinued the free agent off-season pick'em contest for a variety of reasons. As always, it's been a pleasure, but I wanted to thank several people. One of those people is not Jason Beattie, whose comics were consistently funnier than my columns and, really, anything else on the Internet. Someone needs to learn how to not overshadow the writers. Vince Verhei put up with a lot of hacked-together sentences submitted to him late at night with seeming aplomb, and FO interns and researchers like Parker Woodard and Chris Povirk helped out with data projects throughout the year.
Of course, the people who I really need to thank are you, the readers. How would I ever remember how wrong I was about everything? Thanks guys and girls, and see you at book time.
82 comments, Last at 12 Feb 2008, 3:22am by Scott