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06 Feb 2017

Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl LI

compiled by Andrew Potter

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails 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 emails 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 Steelers 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 solely 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.

New England Patriots 34 vs. Atlanta Falcons 28 (OT)

Rivers McCown: I just rode on a police-escorted bus next to Vince Ferragamo on the way to the Super Bowl. Life does not suck.

Aaron Schatz: How's the mood in the press box pregame?

Rivers McCown: I'm only in the aux press box, which is kind of just a reconstituted nosebleed section. I feel like I'm close to everyone who was sent here from a different country. So it's a little awkward compared to a normal press atmosphere between the amped up crowd noise and that, but you can definitely get the roar of this crowd, which is louder than I've heard in a long time for pre-game. Especially when the camera zooms in on Mr. Brady.

Aaron Schatz: Huh. Two years ago there was a walkway between aux press and regular so we milled around with everyone before the game.

Rivers McCown: They're quite separated here. Not that this really matters or anything.

Cian Fahey: The most important thing to know before this game kicks off is that the Cowboys would have won if they started Tony Romo.

Vince Verhei: When I went to bed last night I was ready to come out here and pick Atlanta, thinking that New England was overrated by a schedule that was even easier than it looked on the surface. Then I learned that Alex Mack was playing on a broken leg, and, well, never mind.

Scott Kacsmar: I'm not saying it's enough to make me change a pick, but when you look at Mack's leg, Julio's toe that should require surgery, and Kyle Shanahan lining up his next job, it's just more reasons to lean towards New England here.

Aaron Schatz: My guess is Shanahan has concentrated plenty enough on this game plan. That one doesn't worry me in the slightest. Julio Jones has been playing on that toe injury for a while, right? But Mack is a big, big deal. The Falcons started the same five guys all 16 games and Mack is the best one of them. If he's limited or, even worse, has to come off the field, that's going to hurt them both running and passing the ball. Ben Garland played as many snaps at defensive tackle as he did on the offensive line during the regular season (42 each).

Rivers McCown: I think Atlanta's going to have to run on New England to win this game. And while I'm not saying that can't happen, a seasonal and short-look burst at how New England's defense has performed doesn't make that look especially likely.

Aaron Schatz: First drive: Good job by Tyson Jackson pushing back David Andrews to force LeGarrette Blount to the outside on the third-and-1. Three-and-out for the Patriots, surprise!

Carl Yedor: Someone in Vegas must have made a lot of money on a prop bet for the first drive ending in a 3-and-out just now.

And then the Falcons get one big play and are forced to punt on their subsequent series.

Rivers McCown: Looks like a lot of Mohamed Sanu on Malcolm Butler in the slot and Logan Ryan/safety help on Julio Jones early. 

Pats are really threatening the Falcons with their non-Blount backs out in space, trying to force them out of base packages.

Cian Fahey: Don't understand the Patriots' pass-heavy focus so far. Blount is such an obvious mismatch against this defensive front.

Tom Gower: I was curious about how New England would deploy their defensive front. Patriots the first defensive series had the ends lined up pretty wide, trying to attack the outside zone run game, but Atlanta went to crack toss the opening play of the game so New England didn't take the outside and force the cutback. Ditto on the second play, not as big a gainer for Devonta Freeman but still a play where they got the edge.

Bryan Knowles: What's surprising so far is the failure of both teams on third-and-short. New England converted on 67.1 percent of their third-and-shorts this year; Atlanta trailed at 57.1 percent. So far, though, both teams have been stopped short on a third-and-short; the Patriots on their first drive, Atlanta on their second.

I would not have called four straight punts to open the game.

Andrew Potter: So the Belichick-era Patriots still haven't scored in the first quarter of any of their Super Bowls, wins or losses. We all expected that streak to continue here, right?

Vince Verhei: That, and I believe two sacks for each defense, also a surprise. 

I think every run for Atlanta in the first quarter was a pitch or sweep. Not even trying to run behind Mack.

Rivers McCown: Play-action pass and a deep corner. Welcome to the Super Bowl, Julio Jones.

Bryan Knowles: There's some running up the middle -- Freeman with back-to-back great decisions with cutbacks, and the Patriots are on their heels.

Aaron Schatz: The Patriots' run defense was so good all year, but the Falcons are just pushing the Patriots around, and Freeman's got extra jukes tonight.

Vince Verhei: So much cool stuff on Atlanta's first touchdown. They bring in spread personnel, motion to a tight formation, and then at the snap all the motion is suggesting a pass or run to the right, but instead it's Freeman to the left and an easy score.

Bryan Knowles: This is the first time Patriots have trailed in a game since Week 12 against the Jets. That's an impressive streak that just got snapped.

Cian Fahey: Dont'a Hightower looks lost so far. Speed when the Falcons go outside is a major issue and hasn't reacted appropriately when working off the edge.

Rivers McCown: You have to wonder how healthy he is right now. He's been banged up all year.

Aaron Schatz: Two good plays by C.J. Goodwin (?!?!) on that drive after the touchdown. Do they not have Brian Poole on the field? Goodwin hasn't played much this season, he's usually their fourth cornerback.

Scott Kacsmar: What a drive for C.J. Goodwin. Perfect pass break-up on Malcolm Mitchell, and a great open-field tackle against an elusive runner in Dion Lewis on third down. Atlanta defense is stepping up so far.

Vince Verhei: OK, New England's game plan confuses me. Only six running back carries on their first four drives, and one of those was a draw/delay. Don't understand why they're not just giving it to Blount and punching Atlanta in the mouth.

Aaron Schatz: Patrick Chung commits DPI holding Austin Hooper's arm and Hooper still catches a touchdown pass.

Bryan Knowles: Beautiful throw by Ryan to get Austin Hooper open for the touchdown. The Patriots have been double-teaming Julio Jones, and that just leaves the Falcons' other weapons in exploitable matchups.

Rivers McCown: They clearly wanted to get Hooper on Chung on that one, the motion was meant to keep that there. Great throw, too.

Cian Fahey: The Patriots doubled Julio over the middle of the field on Austin Hooper's touchdown.

Andrew Potter: The Falcons are timing New England's snap count exceedingly well. That's not the reason for the defensive stops, but it's certainly helping.

Aaron Schatz: I expected Brady to target Brian Poole. I did not expect Poole to target himself with holding penalties.

Bryan Knowles: The Falcons are beginning to shoot themselves in the foot here with penalties -- you don't want to give the Patriots extra chances.

Not that the Patriots offense is really taking advantage of the extra opportunities yet, but still.

Rivers McCown: I'm a bit confused by how the Pats are running Blount so far. Seems like a lot more stretch plays and delayed handoffs than quick hitters.

Andrew Potter: Free Jimmy G!

Wow, this was not remotely in the script.

Rivers McCown: To take a basketball quote, Robert Alford just sucked the gravity right out of the building.

Bryan Knowles: Nothing's ever over after one half, and if there's a coach/quarterback combo in the league who can make adjustments and come out in the second half rejuvenated, it's the Pats -- but this has been pretty shockingly one-sided so far.

We all questioned whether the Falcons could score enough points to keep up with the Patriots and win in a shootout. The Patriots going down three scores really wasn't in the game plan for anyone.

Cian Fahey: Julian Edelman was wide open on the slant in front of Danny Amendola for the interception. Brady completely misread the coverage.

Vince Verhei: Pats have the ball for what feels like 20 plays, with three third-down conversions on Atlanta holding calls. And they still can't cross the 20, and Brady forces a ball into double-coverage and Robert Alford gets a pick-six. I told you all that Atlanta was going to win no matter Mack's health. 

Obviously the big-picture surprise is New England with zero points in five drives now, but the small-picture surprise is Atlanta's defensive line handily winning their battle. Patriots can't run at all, and Atlanta is getting pressure with four-man rushes.

Carl Yedor: New England really needs a score here with Atlanta set to get the ball at the start of the second half. Think Belichick considers an onside kick? It may seem a little bit desperate, but if we've learned anything from Sean Payton, it could be a risk well worth taking.

Bryan Knowles: A screen to Martellus Bennett with 12 seconds left? What's the best-case scenario of that?

Carl Yedor: The only thing I can think of is that they're conceding the chance at the touchdown in order to avoid losing their field goal attempt. Which is frighteningly risk averse, especially considering who was calling the play.

Vince Verhei: And even more so given the score!

Aaron Schatz: Brady's having maybe his worst game of the year, and the play call on the screen to Martellus Bennett right before halftime made NO sense.

I'll basically say the same thing I said at halftime of the NFC Championship Game about the Packers and Aaron Rodgers. I absolutely believe Brady can score 19 points or more on the Falcons in the second half. There's no way the Patriots keep the Falcons to zero. Trying to catch up against an offense this good is even harder than comebacks usually are.

Vince Verhei: Back-to-back screen plays at the end of the half. One would have worked out if not for a holding call, but that's still some wacky clock management. 

Second half just ended, and it has already been 34 minutes in real time since the Falcons offense ran a play. Now they have to wait for Lady Gaga too.

Andrew Potter: Well I did call New England's first score of the game being a field goal. I did not call that it would come down 21-0 with two seconds left in the half.

Really looks like the best the Patriots can hope for is a huge adrenaline comedown for the Falcons during the unusually long half-time break.

Aaron Schatz: Yeah. I have a funny feeling they'll be fine.

Scott Kacsmar: Felt like the Blount fumble ended the chances of this being a Blount game. Falcons have bottled him up really well, and I would use Lewis and White for the second half almost exclusively. Really surprising to see how well Atlanta is getting to Brady, who definitely looks off his game. I'm not sure if it's a good or bad thing that Ryan has only thrown eight passes and hasn't really been locked into the game yet. He'll still have to make plays in the second half obviously, but Freeman is running so well too, that it might not matter if he barely cracks 200 yards passing tonight... Still, should be telling to see how aggressive Shanahan is on that first drive, assuming Belichick doesn't pull out a surprise onside kick.

Bryan Knowles: Alright, if you're Belichick, what do you do? I think you have to try to wear that Atlanta front four down; they're getting way too much pressure. Maybe pull out the no-huddle for the entire second half, and trust your experienced players to outperform Falcons rookies on defense?

Aaron Schatz: More Dion Lewis and James White helps you go no-huddle. Maybe even both at same time.

Andrew Potter: Well with the score what it is, they might have to go no-huddle the entire second half just to have enough possessions to wear into the deficit. Assuming not unreasonably that Atlanta tags on another 14, the Patriots need five touchdowns to even have a chance at this.

Tom Gower: The tight end screen call made just as little sense to me as it did to the rest of you. If New England was getting the second-half kickoff, I can kind of get the internal logic of it because of the improved chance to go back-to-back, but especially with Atlanta's offense and the Patriots having to kick I don't like it.

Atlanta stopped getting the edge in the second quarter, but they got outside enough to really horizontally stretch the Patriots defense and gash them in open space. By the time the second half kicks off, though, it will have been more than an hour real-time between offensive plays (last was around 7:27 Eastern Time), and I don't know they'll react and what New England will do to counter what they're doing. Obviously, it doesn't look good.

The question for the other side of the ball is how much of New England's doing is their own mistakes versus Atlanta. Yes, they're fast. The defensive backs have mostly done a great job of playing the pocket -- Alford, I believe, right before the half on Edelman, and Goodwin's first play in his big series stand out in particular. Yes, Grady Jarrett and Ra'Shede Hageman have made Pats linemen look bad at times, and Dwight Freeney has done well against Nate Solder. But Brady has just flat-out missed throws we see him make regularly. He has been so good this year, but so bad today. And I don't understand LeGarrette Blount running from the shotgun or laterally as much as he has.

So, what do the Patriots do? If I'm Atlanta, I run onside kick protection every kickoff until game situation says not to because getting a stop-and-a-TD-and-a-stop-and-a-TD-and-a-stop-and-a-TD just to tie the game in two quarters will be really, really hard and stealing a possession is almost essential. No-huddle and shifting seems like it might help on offense, but my brain keeps trying to suggest things that play into the Falcons' speed. But they haven't been able to run effectively enough to play power. So... great first half, Atlanta. But New England's really good and capable of outscoring you by 18 in the second half.

If they do go with White and Lewis at the same time, the Falcons will play sub defense and match speed with speed. So it becomes tackling, which is something Atlanta has done well for the most part. White had the one play, but Martellus Bennett has been the only player to consistently get good YAC. I forget who I saw on Twitter first mention what I was thinking, but this is the first game where it's really, really clear the Patriots miss Rob Gronkowski.

Bryan Knowles: In other news, I enjoyed the light-up bat'leths during the halftime show. More sci-fi weaponry needs to appear in high-profile locations.

Vince Verhei: Lady Gaga's halftime show was basically what it would have looked like if Jem and the Holograms were real.

Rivers McCown: Using Lady Gaga as a possession receiver might help the Pats out.

Bryan Knowles: The Patriots' odds of a comeback would be improved if they could actually catch a football.

Rivers McCown: Just too many drops/passes defensed for the Patriots. Brady made a big mistake, and Blount made a big mistake, but the majority of the balls have been put in a place where they could be caught and just haven't been. Credit to the Falcons for making it rough, obviously, but it's hard to mount a comeback when every contested post is an incomplete pass.

Vince Verhei: Really, really irritated that Patriots receivers are now dropping all the big catches they didn't drop two years ago against Seattle.

Also irritated that the defensive back who made the game-winning interception two years ago is now getting juked out of his shoes and falling down and leaving guys wide open to set up touchdowns. That was due to a great route by Gabriel, but the Pats have been shooting themselves in the foot all day.

Aaron Schatz: And another march down the field by Atlanta, 28-3 now. This is the one result I really did not expect: an Atlanta blowout. Congratulations to them. They've gone on a hell of a run the last three games.

Bryan Knowles: I can't wait to see Blaine Gabbert run this offense next season.

Rivers McCown: Matt Schaub in San Francisco will be glorious.

Andrew Potter: It's kind of a shame that Rookie of the Year was already decided, because early-season contender Deion Jones is having a heck of a game for the Falcons and this would have raised his voting profile substantially.

I mean obviously he'll take the ring, but I'm sure the personal award would have been nice too.

Vince Verhei: You could argue the Falcons defense is outplaying the offense, and Jones should be MVP, with a quarter to go. 

Falcons recovered the onside kick, but they looked like they were caught off guard by it. Shouldn't they expect an onside kick every time now?

Bryan Knowles: And just when the Patriots score and show some life... Stephen Gostkowski shanks the extra point.

Down 19, doesn't it makes more sense to go for two anyway? A bit of a strategic lapse from the Pats, even ignoring the doink.

Cian Fahey: It really felt like this game ended before halftime. The Patriots defense doesn't look capable of stopping anything that the Falcons want to do.

Bryan Knowles: Already seeing some on Twitter (Colin Cowherd, for one) suggesting that this game should keep the Patriots from trying to trade Jimmy Garoppolo. Because one bad game from Brady (a game that isn't over yet, technically) is sure proof that he's washed up.

National Jump to Conclusions Week is now an eight-month event.

Aaron Schatz: Oh, yeah. Jimmy Garoppolo would have totally stopped Grady Jarrett from repeatedly running over Shaq Mason.

Bryan Knowles: The Patriots field goal does technically make it a two-score game, but I don't think the Patriots could afford missing the full touchdown when they're that close to the end zone.

Andrew Potter: They were clearly in four-down mode with the shot play to Mitchell on third-and-short, but the sack made the latter fourth down too long for their liking. They played that drive pretty close to the way I'd like to see teams play in the normal course of things. Of course, down by 19 points is not the normal course of things, and a bit more aggressiveness has probably been called for on at least two Patriots drives now.

Bryan Knowles: Well... a turnover might make things a little interesting here...

...and Dwight Freeney plows through and blows up Brady. Clock keeps ticking.

Andrew Potter: The Super Bowl was a really bad time for last year's Patriots offensive line to reappear.

Bryan Knowles: And we have an eight-point game!

The Patriots still need a stop, a score and a two-point conversion, but those are all possible things.

Rivers McCown: Direct snap on the goal line takes some huevos. Kudos to Josh McDaniels for bouncing back from that rough first half.

Carl Yedor: Two-pointer to White is good and the Atlanta lead is down to eight. Just how we drew it up at the start of the fourth. Should be an exciting finish now.

Bryan Knowles: I am watching this game with a die-hard Patriots fan, and his reactions so far reminds me of the 49ers fans I was watching Super Bowl XLVII with. That didn't end up very well for them. We'll see if it's any different for Pats fan now.

And the second offensive piece leaves the field for the Falcons -- Schraeder goes out.

Julio Jones is ~magic~. That was perfect coverage and a high throw (only possible throw for Ryan), and Jones just made an amazing highlight-reel catch.

Vince Verhei: Oh my god Julio Jones.

Patriots should be calling timeout after that though. 

And there they do on the second-down sack.

Bryan Knowles: Trey Flowers gets to Matt Ryan, and that sack might take Atlanta out of field goal range -- at least, it makes it much more difficult. Worst possible outcome there, barring a turnover. Gotta throw it away.

Aaron Schatz: Scott Pianowski said on Twitter "New England opponents usually have one of these insane completions in the Super Bowl."

My response: "I don't think it counts as insane if Julio catches it. Just counts as Julio being awesome like he is."

Bryan Knowles: If the Falcons run the ball three times there, they're kicking a game-sealing field goal (or, at least, attempting it). Kyle Shanahan gets too cute, and now the Pats are alive...

Vince Verhei: Welp. 91 yards to go for Brady and the offense we all thought had the big advantage coming in to the game.

Andrew Potter: Now the Patriots have the most awkward situation possible, strategically. They need a touchdown and a two-point conversion, which could be one score or could be two. They want to have a chance if the two-point fails, but not give the Falcons time for a field goal if it succeeds. Yeesh. Awesome viewing.

Bryan Knowles: Julian Edelman is ~also~ magic.

Aaron Schatz: Julian Edelman reversed the Kearse.

Rivers McCown: So this game isn't bad, eh?

Bryan Knowles: Two-minute warning, so people can remember to breathe. Good lord.

Vince Verhei: And now we have gone from New England being out of this game, to maybe tying it up too quickly and leaving the Falcons time for a winning field goal. (This comment written as New England gets a first down at the 21 at the two-minute warning.)

Andrew Potter: Looks like they went for the "leave time in case it fails" option. What a drive! What a second half! What a game!

Bryan Knowles: Well. Let's see what the MVP can do...

Aaron Schatz: I still think that the Patriots should not have worried about time. The two-point conversion is a 50/50 proposition. You need to leave time in case you blow the two-point conversion, to onside kick and then try to get a field goal to win.

Vince Verhei: 57 seconds for a field goal is plenty for Matt Ryan though.

Bryan Knowles: Don't at all agree with the Falcons running it out of the end zone there. You've got the Falcons offense -- take the guaranteed ball at the 25 and go for it.

Vince Verhei: One of many bad decisions for Atlanta in the second half.

Bryan Knowles: The fake kneel got me...

And oh good lord, Dion Lewis' ankle.

Aaron Schatz: I never quite know how the fair catch field goal rule works. Would the Patriots have been able to try a field goal there? (If so, I assume they didn't because it was something like 75 yards and there would be a chance Julio Jones could return a miss for a touchdown to win.)

Tom Gower: 75-yard fair catch free kick was New England's for the taking if they wanted to try it. Could put normal kickoff personnel out there, kick could not have been rushed (The Falcons would have to be 10 yards back).

Rivers McCown: There's a huge Pats swarm right next to the aux press box and watching them live and die with the sequence from Julio on has been utterly fascinating.

Andrew Potter: See, when I said "no to overtime" in Scramble, because I wanted to sleep at some point tonight? I take it back, alllll the way back. I'm not sleeping now, no matter what happens. This game is amazing.

Bryan Knowles: Wow. What a game. What a touchdown. What a... Wow.

Lots of tweets that need to be taken back now. "Don't count out Tom Brady before the fourth quarter" appears to be lesson to take from tonight.

Aaron Schatz: All my tweets. I have to take almost all of them back. I need time to process this. I'm just in complete shock this happened. As a Patriots fan this is amazing. But the Falcons fans must feel like we did in 2007 and that's awful. I'm just in shock.

OK, not enough shock that I can't say: Hey, remember when I took James White with my last staff fantasy draft pick? That was cool.

Rivers McCown: Here in Houston, where the Oilers are officially off the hook. 

What a ridiculous game. Felt like you could tell the story of a lot of it via the hurry-up offense working for Atlanta early and New England late.

Andrew Potter: I can't, I mean, just... where do you begin? HOW do you begin? That's the greatest game I've ever seen. It's not recency bias. It's not hyperbole. That is the greatest game of football I have ever seen in my life.

Vince Verhei: So, uh, usually we put up Audibles right after the Super Bowl. 

I think it's going to take us all a few hours to compartmentalize this and put it to bed. 

But for now: wow. 

Bryan Knowles: Before this, the most exciting Super Bowl ever was probably 49ers-Bengals II (1988 DVOA shout-out!).

Recency bias? Sure, but this may top it. It wasn't great for a half, but the comeback... the overtime... this is why we stick with football. This is why we watch the blowouts, and why we struggle to understand what is and is not a catch. This is why we watch teams sputter to losing seasons and fail to even line up properly. It's the chance that we'll see something like this game.

What a game. What an end to the season.

Tom Gower: Best game ever has to be interesting and competitive for four quarters. We tend to overrate games that combine long stretches of "not that interesting" with "incredibly compelling stretches." Super Bowl XXXIV (Rams-Titans) was like that, as was Super Bowl XXXVIII (NE-CAR), and so was tonight's game. If this had ended after three quarters, it would have been considered as another dud in a playoff season full of duds. For one, Arizona-Pittsburgh, with game-changing plays very late and early in the game, was a more consistently entertaining contest.

Scott Kacsmar: Third-and-1, you run the ball with Freeman, but the Falcons throw, and Matt Ryan coughs up the ball in his own end. Second and third down, ball inside the New England 25, you run it twice, force timeouts to be used, and let Matt Bryant give you an 11-point lead with three minutes left or so. How hard is it to make these decisions that should be so obvious? The Falcons blew this one in epic fashion.

Aaron Schatz: Super Bowl XXXVIII was remarkably weird. That was totally boring for the first and third quarters and freakin' amazing for the second and fourth quarters. I still go with Super Bowl XLIX as the best ever, or Super Bowl XLIII (Cardinals-Steelers 2008).

Vince Verhei: This game was pretty crappy for about 40 minutes, then great for 20 and overtime. I may be biased, but I'll still go with New England over Seattle two years ago

Looking back... Atlanta's offense only scored 21 points tonight. Second-lowest output for the year, I think. Massive credit to everyone on New England's defense.

Thirty minutes of driving later, two more thoughts have occurred to me:

  • Scott is right -- Atlanta's play-calling was super-awful-bad at the end of the game. This was less a Patriots win and much more a Falcons loss. And that just sucks. You've got to feel bad for everyone in Atlanta, the team and the city.
  • We really should have seen New England's rally coming, not just because of what we have seen all year, but because of what we saw so much in the first half -- open receivers all over the field, but errant throws and drops leading to incompletions. There were plays to be made there the whole game, and in the second half, they made them.

Tom Gower: Two plays in particular for Atlanta's offense stand out:

  • Up 28-12, 8:31 left in the fourth quarter, third-and-1 at their 36. They go empty backfield. Devonta Freeman chips Dont'a Hightower on his way out for a route. Hightower hits, Ryan who has no idea he's coming. Patriots recover the fumble. Needing a lot to go their way, the Patriots get a huge turnover in a situation where the baseline play is an offensive conversion. Per USA Today's Tom Pelissero, Freeman says Hightower was not his man, but he doesn't go into detail on exactly what happened. Also per Pelissero, Kyle Shanahan demurs, says it was in fact Freeman's guy and Ryan was expecting him to pick Hightower up.
  • Up 28-20, 3:56 left in the fourth quarter, second-and-11 at the Patriots 23. Julio Jones makes one of those "I can't possibly believe he did that" catches to get the Falcons to field goal range. Freeman runs to the left and loses a yard, so Kyle Shanahan goes shotgun and pass rather than run the ball again to grind clock and play for the field goal (in good range -- I'm not concerned about sitting on it until you get to about 45 yards). Matt Ryan is sacked for a loss of 12 yards and Atlanta ends up punting after a hold and another incompletion.

On the other side of the ball, there's a lot to unpack and a lot of details to go into. A couple stand out. First, the comeback was the New England offense I think a lot of us expected to see for the entire game. Looked at as a whole, they ended up scoring 28 points in 11 non-kneeldown regulation possessions. That's not a superlative performance, but happened in a highly narrative and dramatic fashion. Second, Atlanta's defensive backs were kind of close, but didn't make plays on the ball like they did earlier in the game. Third, how the comeback happened reminded me of Alabama-Clemson. The trailing team ran a ridiculous number of plays, wearing down the pass rush of the team that was leading, and finishing the game with a lot of success on offense in part because the quarterback could stand in the pocket and make unhurried decisions.

Vince Verhei: Here is what happened every time Atlanta snapped the ball on third down tonight.

  • Sack for loss of 10.
  • Sack for loss of 2.
  • 19-yard touchdown to Austin Hooper.
  • Incomplete on third-and-6.
  • 3-yard DPI to set up the Tevin Coleman touchdown on the next play.
  • Sack for loss of 9.
  • Sack for loss of 11, fumble, recovered by New England.
  • Completion to Taylor Gabriel for 9 yards on third-and-23, wiped out by a holding penalty.
  • Incomplete on third-and-33.
  • Incomplete on third-and-6.

Holy crap.

Tom Gower: Guess: DVOA says Atlanta was fortunate to be in it.

Aaron Schatz: OK, I'm home now. I'm still in shock. I think I'm in more shock than I was two years ago because it seemed obvious the Falcons would win this for like an hour and a half. Two touchdowns AND two two-point conversions in 8:24 AND winning the coin toss AND scoring a touchdown so Matt Ryan didn't even get the ball? The odds are astronomical.

However, Vince said we should have seen the Patriots' second-half rally coming. Well, I DID see the rally coming. I said: I think the Patriots can score enough points to catch up but I don't think they can stop the Falcons from scoring more points to keep the lead. It's not the Patriots' second-half rally that shocks me. It's the disintegration of the Falcons' offense that shocks me. The sacks, Ryan holding the ball too long, incomplete passes on third down. The Patriots pass rush stepped up and the Falcons offense shut down except for the running backs (the Freeman catch-and-run for 39 yards, Tevin Coleman getting 9 yards on two carries to set up third-and-1 on the 36 that Tom mentioned) and Julio Jones. And let it never be forgotten that Julio Jones made big-time plays on the biggest stage. Let us swear to remember it when it comes time for him to be debated in that Hall of Fame debating room. If I can get in that room someday, I will not let anyone count this loss against him.

And the play calling once the Falcons got into field goal range with 4:40 left. I can't add anything that hasn't already been said. It doesn't seem to make sense, especially given you had a backup right tackle in there.

I think Tom might be right about DVOA, in large part because of the pick-six. In DVOA, pick-sixes are penalized based on the average return of a pick given a) the location of the pick and b) the length of the pass. There's a lot of randomness in turnover returns. Pick-sixes are mostly about where the players are positioned when you throw the interception. If there's a player running a shorter route on that side, he tackles Alford and the Falcons still have to go 60 yards to score.

On the other hand, DVOA is an efficiency metric, and the Falcons were actually pretty efficient... on first and second down. They just couldn't convert the third downs. The Patriots ran 93 plays and the Falcons ran only 46. Just seems crazy.

In many ways this reminds me of the 2006 AFC Championship Game. That game was also 21-3 at one point. That game also saw one of the greatest quarterbacks ever throw a pick-six for the third touchdown to make it 21 points. It went into halftime at 21-6, not 21-3, but I remember 10 years ago, Pats fans thought that was over. Peyton Manning was absolutely ass in the first half of that game. He came back and was great in the second half. People mentioned it on Twitter tonight, and I said, OK, but I can't see the Falcons slowing down the way the 2006 Patriots did, because they have Julio Jones instead of Reche Caldwell. But that wasn't enough.

I know a lot of people hate the Patriots. I know a lot of people think Patriots fans are obnoxious. And, you know, a lot of them are. And I'm sorry. I wish they would not act like douchebags. And screw the bandwagon jumpers, those people we all know who only love the best teams in each sport. ("I love the Patriots, and the Golden State Warriors, and the Yankees!") But really, that's not most of us. Most of us are just proud of where we grew up, and we root for this team because we grew up here, just like people root for the Falcons if they grew up in Atlanta and root for the Browns if they grew up in Cleveland and root for the Eagles if they grew up in South Jersey. Most of us understand how lucky we are to be on this run. We didn't bring in Belichick and Brady. We didn't intercept the pass two years ago. We didn't psychically cause this comeback tonight. We didn't hire Theo Epstein. We didn't sign David Ortiz as a free agent. We didn't hire Danny Ainge. We didn't trade for Kevin Garnett. We didn't build a Stanley Cup champion. We are honestly just along for the ride. We are very, very lucky. But it feels freakin' amazing.

Posted by: Andrew Potter on 06 Feb 2017

343 comments, Last at 14 Feb 2017, 10:50am by intel_chris


by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 6:09am

The biggest play nobody will remember is the wounded duck Brady tosses as he is hit, on the Patriots' last possession of the 1st half. That gets intercepted about 10 times more frequently than it results in a completion, but this time a Patriot catches it, and it ends up being a substantial gain, with the drive ending in a field goal.

I said, when the drive began, that if the Patriots gets shut out in tbe 1st half, they lose, with about 95% certainty. I think it moves to about 99.5% certainty, if that pass is intercepted, and the Falcons get to 24-0 or 28-0 at the half. When that pass was completed, and the Patriots got on the board, I suspected we'd see meaningful possessions in the 4th quarter.

However, if you had told me that the Falcons offense would score 21 points, I'd have been about 80-90% certain that the Pats would win, as the Pats offense just out-executed the Falcons defense. And that's what happened, except it didn't start until about 8:30 was left in the 3rd quarter, and the Patriots scored on their last 5 possessions, with 4 being very long drives.

Bad game by the Falcons offense really, and I do think Mack's injury played a role. In particular, he was bullrushed on a key sack late in the game. Shanahan had a shocking disrespect for the value of a field goal while up 8 deep in the 4th quarter. Belichik just seems to better organized in his thinking, much like he was, relative to Carroll, very late in the Patriots-Seahawks SB.

by Duff Soviet Union :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 6:34am

Brady was insanely lucky with interceptions tonight. You mentioned the first half one, but there was also the DB who had a hand on the ball before Edelman, and his duck on the first play of the last drive in regulation where the DB fell over, and I'm sure I'm forgetting another one or two. There was also Vic Beasley breaking up the pass in the end zone in OT but that would have been a hell of a play. Still, he probably should have had at least 3 picks.

by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 10:17am

If you're talking about the sack that short circuited the Falcon's near-FG possession, it wasn't a bull rush. Flowers beat Mack to the gap and slithered through.

Not that that couldn't also be due to the injury, just offered a point of clarification. :)

by ClavisRa :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:42pm

Flowers nickname in the Pats locker room is "Technique" for a reason. He made big plays in both halves this game.

by Jerry :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 6:20am

Congratulations to the Patriots and their fans.

Condolences to the Falcons and their fans. As Mark Cuban tweeted, "The pain of losing is far greater than the joy of winning."

by Duff Soviet Union :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 6:36am

I don't really agree with Cuban there. I think the people who do think that tend to be pretty miserable.

by PirateFreedom :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 9:19am

It depends on the circumstance. against the Bears and the Packers I was pretty happy with the AFC championship when the season was over.

Helmet catch was like being kicked in the nuts and having that sick feeling last for months. It eventually taught me to concentrate on enjoying the journey but at the time it hurt at least as much as any victory has ever felt good.

by mrh :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:24pm

Having witnessed the Lin Elliott game and Alex Gordon stranded at third, I had some bad losses and lost sleep in my fandom. And none of it was as bad as the 2015 WS win was good.

by mcheshier :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 12:18am

I still feel sick when I watch the Butler pick in XLIX.

by Kurt :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:37pm

Cuban is, to put it mildly, a little more invested than we are. It's not my livelihood at stake when my favorite teams do or don't do well.

by otros :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:22pm

Point taken on the investment, but neither is his livelihood at stake. I'm pretty sure he's set for life.

by BJR :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 7:09am

On a couple of separate occasions (before the Hightower strip sack, and the penalty/sack debacle that knocked them out of field goal range at the end) the Falcons must have reached a level of win probability in the >95% region. At this point, with possession of the ball, victory is almost guaranteed if you only ensure no negative plays. Instead they called a drop-back pass on 3rd & 1, resulting in a strip-sack, then later committed a penalty, and a sack for a loss when comfortably in field goal range. Clearly virtually the worst case happened on each occasion, and had the plays been successful they would likely never have been mentioned again. Still, it's not second-guessing to suggest the Falcons coaching screwed up in an almighty way allowing the opportunity for those negative plays to happen, and unfortunately that is what I will remember the game for rather than the Brady heroics.

Otherwise, the Falcons pass rush was shockingly effective and they were the MVPs of the game for the first three quarters, but understandably ran out of gas down the stretch. The Patriots ran 99 offensive plays which is just insane, and there's no defense in history that could hold up against a great offence for that long. It still should have been enough. It was a great defensive effort by Atlanta, and for it to go to waste makes the defeat even more heart-breaking.

The new overtime rules have undoubtedly improved the game, but still, here, once the Patriots had won the overtime coin toss the game was as good as over. I'm not suggesting it was unfair, but there was something a little sad and dissatisfying about watching that final procession down the field against a shattered opponent.

I don't know how Atlanta's players/fans recover from that. The 'Super Bowl hangover' is likely a phenomenon mostly brought about by random variance, but it wouldn't surprise me to see this young team crater next year as they get over the disappointment.

by Jerry :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 7:30am

Brian Burke had Win Probability maxing out at 99.8%.


Like you said, if one of those plays had worked, nobody would have brought them up unless it was to compliment the Falcons on being aggressive.

by BJR :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 8:43am

99.8% seems excessive, and Burke admits as much. We've all seen comebacks/screw-ups of this magnitude in the NFL before, and know they happen at a greater rate than 1 in 500 (i.e. one every two seasons). Statistical models such as his are great in 'regular' game type situations (i.e. close scoreline, time left on clock), but begin to break down as more extreme end-game scenarios are met.

But the point is, once you are in the ~95% region the absolute priority becomes 'don't **** up', and the Falcons ****ed up, at least twice.

by Scott de B. :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 9:43am

99.8% seems excessive, and Burke admits as much. We've all seen comebacks/screw-ups of this magnitude in the NFL before,

We have? I remember the Bills' comeback against the Oilers, and ... that's it.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 10:59am

Yeh, I agree. 99.8% seems *under*, not *over*

Pro teams, especially pro teams in the playoffs (aka good pro teams, usually) don't build huge leads then choke.

The standard is the standard!

by Bjorn Nittmo :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 6:10pm

Giants fans have seen their team give up 25 points in final 20 minutes to turn a 38-14 lead (v. 49ers 2002 playoffs) into 39-38 loss; Falcons gave up same 25 points in 23:30. Even more impressive, and I'd think would be a candidate as biggest win-probability choke of any NFL game, was blowing 31-10 lead to Eagles with 8:30 to go in 4th quarter. Neither of these even required overtime, like the amateur Falcons needed. Each of these games (along with Oilers loss to Bills and Packers loss to Seahawks in 2014 NFCCG) were losses from a point in the game where it just didn't seem physically possible, because of time limitations, for the losing team to come back.

by pats-fan-in-nyc :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:30pm

Estimating how frequently we should expect a 99.8% (or similar) win percentage comeback is something I've been wanting to do for quite a while but have never gotten around to it. I would argue you would expect that much more frequently than 1 in 500 games because your effective sample size* is greater than 1 per game.

* Effective sample size is probably not the right term here but is how I think about this problem given my background. I've spent a lot of time thinking about how to interpret aggregate statistics of Monte Carlo simulations of physical systems, which is a similar(ish) problem where effective sample size is an important and hard problem.

by mrh :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:31pm

I don't know how Atlanta's players/fans recover from that. The 'Super Bowl hangover' is likely a phenomenon mostly brought about by random variance, but it wouldn't surprise me to see this young team crater next year as they get over the disappointment.

To keep up the Royals theme of my previous post, I think the team has to channel the pain into prep for next year. Many of the Royals said in 2015 that what motivated them to take extra reps in spring training and stay focused during a long season was the memory of Alex Gordon stuck on third in the bottom of the 9th in game 7.

by intel_chris :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:41pm

I think that's a reasonable comparison. In 97 when the Broncos were taken out of the playoffs by the Jaguars, they used that to build a team that won 2 straight SBs. Good luck to the Falcon's going forward, I think I will enjoy them repeating that feat.

by Bjorn Nittmo :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 6:15pm

Sure, we have the '15 Royals and the '97 Broncos, and probably others. And countless other teams that never sniffed the championship again, or worse, suffered heartbreak the second time through. Which of course isn't evidence one way or the other about character, but rather how difficult it is to get that far and that it's about a 50-50 proposition even if you do get back to the finals.

by SFC B :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 8:04am

I grew uprooting for the Oilers. I was watching the Oilers-Bills on 3 January 1993. I knew the feeling that Falcons fans must have had when Ryan coughed up that ball; that feeling that a sure thing was going to be lost, and that it was going to hurt as a fan to watch. When that happened my wife asked me if the Falcons were going to win and I told her "no". It wasn't that the play itself was so bad, it was the decision that led them to trying to pass in that situation which was so bad.

by ammek :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 8:19am

Any game where the Patriots drop back 66 times and throw, what, four deep passes, is not going to be among my favorites. We've been watching this same offense for seven or eight years now, it's impressive but immensely dull, not least because all the interesting stuff – the route combinations, essentially – happens offscreen. There's just nothing else to look at: no amazing throwing arcs, or Rodgers-like movement out of the pocket, or spectacular Julioesque catches. And how many 3+ score comebacks do we need to see before the announcers cotton onto the idea that a big lead is no longer safe against these modern high-powered offenses.

The Great Comeback was a series of very accurate short passes against a bad and tiring defense. I thought it was actually one of the poorer superbowls of recent times. The most exciting unit, the Atlanta offense, hardly got on the field. And it was unsatisfying, too, in that in overtime the outcome was pretty much decided by a coin toss.

Lady Gaga saved the day, though!

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 9:15am

My kids, who, while not huge GaGa fans, do like her, and are in the demographic wheelhouse, were kind of "Eh?" about the halftime show.

by Pen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 9:36am

I agree about the coin toss. Some people are just in love with the whole sudden death concept, but honestly, I say let playoff games go an extra full overtime regardless of how much everyone scores. That would be so much better IMO.

by pats-fan-in-nyc :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:32pm

I think that could be fine for playoff games, but I don't think the players (and thereby the union) want to add that much extra wear and tear in the regular season for a *slightly* more fair overtime outcome.

by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 10:52am

Far be it for me to ask you to enjoy NE's style of play, but the specific complaints don't align with the game given Edelman's ridiculous play and the significant number of 10+ yard passes by Brady. Sure, there weren't many bombs, but it wasn't nearly an Alex Smithing out there.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 10:56am


I also don't understand why he wants every team to be the Brett Favre packers. Do people actually find the Joe Flacco Ravens entertaining?

I'd much rather watch the Patriots complicated short passing scheme than watch games that essentially break down to who gets the most favorable PI calls and hits the most essentially random bombs.

I do with the NFL/networks would do a better job with their camera work. Most of the interesting things going on aren't happening in a 10 foot bubble around the QB

by jtr :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:09am

Totally agree about camera work. The Madden-style perspective from behind the QB seems to be entirely superior to me; casual fans can still follow the ball, and the obsessive-types who populate this forum can see the routes and coverage interact downfield. It also makes it easier to see blocking unfold and gaps develop in the run game. They already have the skycam floating back there on most plays.
Is there ANY advantage to the usual side view over the back view? I seriously can't think of one.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:56pm

Neither can I.

It seems like they switch to the Madden View every once in a while after a really big, or cool play, or a fantastic throw, so it seems like they understand that its a better view.

The side, zoomed in on the QB view just doesn't really make any sense. Its tough to judge line play because the tackles are blocking the guards, you can't see half the play, and what you can see isn't all that interesting.

The only thing I can think of is that they're keeping the biggest celebrity on the field in camera all the time - but that's a bit circular.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:04pm

I've been arguing for this camera view since the advent of 16/9 HDTV

Careful though, you're wanting the same thing as a supposed retarded schizo racist.

The standard is the standard!

by jtr :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:33pm

In baseball, the camera was traditionally offset toward left field, which distorts the apparent path of the pitch--it diminishes the apparent horizontal motion of a RHP's breaking ball, while increasing the apparent horizontal motion of a LHP's breaking ball. Broadcasters have finally realized that a camera view close to dead center provides a much more accurate view of the pitch, and a number of teams have decided to make the switch for their local broadcasts.
I'm hoping the NFL can overcome inertia in the same way and make a switch to a superior camera angle.

by Shylo :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:55pm

The only good football video game with a default sideline view is Tecmo Super Bowl and even then it sucks for completing passes over 15 yards.

by SandyRiver :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:11am

I wonder if the poster of #8 would've preferred the pre-merger AFL, when it seemed like QBs struggled to attain 40% completion percentage but YPC was close to 20 yards. Darryl Lamonica had the nickname, but almost all of them were mad bombers.

by nat :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:04am

The most exciting unit, the Atlanta offense, hardly got on the field.

Damn that pick six keeping the Falcons offense off the field! If it wasn't for that, they might have won! It if wasn't for that, this game would have had more action! No... wait... that doesn't make any sense.

Atlanta's offense "got on the field" for ten meaningful drive opportunities. The Patriots had eleven in regulation time. That's pretty even. The difference in regulation was due to that pick six. That hardly seems either bad for the Falcons or unexciting for fans of football.

The reason the Patriots had so many more plays (not drives) than the Falcons was mostly about the Falcons being pretty bad on third down on both sides of the ball. As is often the case, this game was largely won and lost on third down.

by billsfan :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 8:27am

For a team allegedly trying to win, the Falcons snapped the ball a whole bunch of times with 10-15 seconds left onto the play clock in the 4th quarter. Never mind the actual plays they ran.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 9:04am

Yeah,that's on the quarterback as much as any coach. This was just a bad performance by the Atlanta offense.

by big10freak :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 8:49am

How about Wisconsin alum James White? Great game for the former Badger

The Pats pass rush was great all game. Just pressure all game. The Falcons seemed very determined to go deep which was odd given their running backs. And did Atlanta try a screen all night? This game plan looks very familiar to Packer fans where Mike and Aaron spend 3 quarters trying to hit a play deep before finally accepting it ain't happening

by PirateFreedom :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 9:24am

White had the short TD/2pt runs I expected from Blount and all the catches I expected from Lewis and him combined.
I thought it would be Dion Lewis being the star RB but I was wrong and hats off to James White.
Brady should give him the truck the way he did with Butler after SB49

by Sakic :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:00am

I second that about James White. The man sets two Superbowl records and I knew they were still going to give Brady the MVP. The underneath stuff to White is what got the Pats offense going and Atlanta really didn't have an answer.

by nat :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:20am

The Patriots had six receivers with more than 50 yards. It's hard for a receiver, especially a receiving running back, to garner the MVP when the QB is being effective with lots of guys.

White had a great game as a receiver and picked up two rushing TDs, too. I hope Brady buys him a car or something.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:25am

"I hope Brady buys him a car or something"

or something- "has Giselle set him up with all the VS models...." ?

The standard is the standard!

by Lyford :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:27am

"White had a great game as a receiver and picked up two rushing TDs, too. I hope Brady buys him a car or something."

The MVP wins a car. Two years ago, he gave it to Malcolm Butler, and he indicated this morning that he'll be giving this one to James White...

by Dr. Bill :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 6:44pm

Brady is indeed gifting the truck to White.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 9:22am

I don't know how you get over this loss as a Falcons fan. My heart aches for them. I would rather the Lions never make a Super Bowl in my lifetime, than make it and lose like that.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 9:29am

The ones that really like the game itself begin to grasp that the game really is more interesting once you stop caring so much about who wins. The ones who don't? Oh, they are going to feel bad about this forever.

by sbond101 :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 10:00am

I don't know, it's been 10 years since the 07 superbowl and for me it still stings pretty hard. I really feel like the 07 Patriots were the greatest team of all time, and a long string of fluky events combined with a really great game played by the Giants DL has meant that every time I think about it I see in my the ball bounce of Rodney Harrisons hands again. I imagine it will be the same for those who thought that this Falcons offense was historically great (I don't think we yet understand how to qualify historically great offense in the era where safeties can't hit the same way + DB's can't grab). Of course, every time I think about the Seattle come back against green bay a couple of years ago my insides hurt a little bit and I generally dislike the Packers (though not quite as much as the Seahawks), so it's more the sense of disbelief that sticks with me.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:38am

I won't begrudge anyone their decision to let a bad loss by their favorite team haunt them, but for Patriot fan, some perspective, please. The Brady Super Bowls are 7 of the 17 Super Bowls decided by 6 points or less. They were all close games that random events could have reversed the outcome, and the Patriots won 5 of them. That's favorable fortune, even if it isn't outlandishly so.

Really have to differ with the proposition that any salary cap era champ being the best team era.
Before the cap, teams could stockpile talent in a way that resulted in more dominant champions.

by Lyford :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:44am

"I won't begrudge anyone their decision to let a bad loss by their favorite team haunt them, but for Patriot fan, some perspective, please."

Patriot fans have obviously had a ridiculously amazing run. Would not trade it for anything. Luckiest fan base, by a wide margin, over the last 20 years.

But the 2007 loss was sui generis - it wasn't just a Super Bowl loss; it was the loss of 19-0, which no one else has even ever had a chance at. Someone wins a Super Bowl every year; no one's ever gone 19-0. That was a unique opportunity, and, therefore, a uniquely painful loss. The 2011 loss is more recent, but almost forgotten. 2007 won't be.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:51am

Lemme put it this way. 5 championships in 17 years anesthetizes pain in a manner that a fan, whose favorite team has never won one, has never experienced. I know this because the other team, in another sport, that I grew up with, the Minnesota Twins, won a World Series in '87, and then '91, and that changed everything with regard to how I perceived being a fan of that team.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:00pm

I'm a Buccaneers fan. The early history of the franchise is as bad as it possibly could be. The last 14 years have featured things like Greg Schiano Head Coach, the epic flameout of Josh Freeman, a rotating wheel at QB to the point Brian Griese was the starting QB two separate times, something like eight years since a playoff visit, picking in the top ten almost every year of the draft, and general failure in all sorts of ways. And every single bit of it is entirely worth it for that 2002 team that won it all.

The joy of winning is way, way better than the pain of losing.

Now, that being said, Atlanta lost in such a way that I can't imagine how bad the pain of losing is.

by PaddyPat :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:10pm

You remember the start to the 2003 season? After the Carolina kick-blocking bonanza and the impossible 21 points in... what? 4 minutes from Manning... It's that level but somewhat worse because of the stage.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:28pm

Yes, painfully. Horrible loss. Blip on the radar compared to the win.

Seriously, the Bucs have one good run in their entire franchise history, and that run makes it worthwhile. I recall a discussion at one point (on FO, maybe?) a few years back where people were speculating whether it was better to be a Tampa fan (one win in the midst of mediocrity or just bad play) or an Eagles fan (sustained excellence for a decade+, no titles), and I find it inconceivable anyone would have chosen anything other than "team that actually wins the big one once".

by PaddyPat :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:13pm

Speaking as an admittedly non-objective commentator, hailing from NE, I would actually tend to think that the opposite would be a franchise goal. You engage your fanbase and make yourself a relevant franchise by being consistently competitive, selling tickets and merchandise and building a phenomenon around your team. Short bouts of competitiveness or single grand seasons don't put a team on the map the same way. On the other hand, I do recall the experience of being a fan in 2001 and reflecting on what seemed like a completely improbable, magical season for a city with sports teams that sucked (those were different days) by thinking that if they never won again, it would be okay...

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:23pm

Ideally, yes, but if you're doing just a very simply fan-calculus, a brief era of utter peak joy outweighs the years of losses. I'd have greatly preferred something more akin to the Ravens, who won it all, had a long break between winning it all again, and were generally a good and/or very good team in the interim, with a constantly-changing roster of solid players and the very realistic chance that every year could be your year. That'd have been nice, but, given a choice between winning in one season and losing a bunch in other seasons, it's not even close.

I mean, I'm 46 years old. I have kids and a successful career and I've traveled and done all sorts of things, but on a very pure, basic level, the single moment in my entire life with the most pure, unrefined joy is Ronde Barber catching that ball at full sprint at the end of the NFCCG to send the Bucs to the Super Bowl. If you filter it down to literally just one moment, that's it. I mean, the birth of my kids is clearly a much bigger deal in every possible way, but that involved joy and wonder and fear and everything else, and there was so much going on. Sports gives you those moments of Peak Joy with nothing else in the way.

Losing sucks. Winning makes up for it.

by Duff Soviet Union :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:40pm

I feel like ever since Bill Simmons rose to prominence with his "tortured Red Sox / Patriots / Celtics fan" shtick, fans have basically fetishised the idea of "suffering" and love to claim that their favourite team is uniquely "tortured". I mean, you can expect to win a championship every 30 years or so in a modern league, so I just don't get the idea that any season that doesn't end in a championship win is a failure. Why even watch if you're just going to be miserable 29 years out of 30?

by Steve in WI :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:32pm

I think every season that doesn't end with you either contending for a championship or making real progress towards contending for a championship is a failure. Obviously no team wins a championship every year or even 50% of the time, but it is possible to contend year in and year out (like the Patriots do). And I think that should be the goal.

I think it's also okay to not have a chance at winning *this* year if the team is taking real steps towards building for success in the future. That's probably tougher in football than in other sports, but to use a baseball example, the 2012-2015 Cubs were not failures even though they did not win the World Series (and the 2012-2014 teams were not even close to making the playoffs).

by Jerry :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 6:55am

"[T]he 2012-2015 Cubs were not failures even though they did not win the World Series (and the 2012-2014 teams were not even close to making the playoffs)."

Would you feel that way if 2016 were like 2006? Sometimes a team is building toward something great. Other times, there's a good year or two before the team goes back to mediocrity, or worse.

by Steve in WI :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 2:33pm

I think it comes down to hope. When a team is following a consistent plan in an attempt to build sustained success, and the plan seems to make sense, fans are reasonably hopeful that good things are coming down the road. Whether that translates into actual championships depends on a lot of things, including luck, but as a fan there is a world of difference between following a team that seems to be built to last and a team where even in moments of success you think "how the heck did that ever happen?"

To answer your question more specifically, I would, because while I could imagine ways that the Cubs could've had a bad record in 2016 (injury and regression being the two biggest) I find it hard to imagine a scenario where they'd be heading back to mediocrity for the foreseeable future. They've built a core of so many good young players that short of Theo going crazy and trading them all away for some bizarre reason it's hard for me to envision the team not being competitive. (Which is different from winning a championship - nothing is guaranteed when it comes to actually hoisting the trophy).

To take it back to football, I could not feel less enthusiastic about my Bears and it has so much less to do with their 3-13 record than it does with the lack of direction and my lack of faith in ownership and management. If they'd finished 9-7 last year, which actually wouldn't have been out of the question considering how many games they were close to winning, I'd feel exactly the same.

by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:52am

This run has been so absurdly great that Pates could not reach antoher super bowl in next 40 years and 40 eyars from now, they still wodul have made large number of SBs in ym lifetime. Not to mention FIVE actual Super Bowl wins. so any Pates fans saddened or evebn somewhat annoyed with either SB loss to NYG or playofff losses to Denv, Balti or NYJ or Vlots is tough to take

by anotherpatsfan :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:35pm

Agreed. (or is that adgeer?)

Pats fans incredibly lucky to live in interesting Pats times before last night and would have remained so even with a loss. Enjoy it while it lasts.

by dbostedo :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 6:35pm

"This run has been so absurdly great that Pates could not reach antoher super bowl in next 40 years and 40 eyars from now, they still wodul have made large number of SBs in ym lifetime."

I assume you meant largest number, and not just large number?

Assuming you were alive for most of the 70's, the Steelers or Cowboys would only have to make one more in those 40 years to tie (or 2 to beat) the number the Patriots have now made in your lifetime. The Pats are 5-4, the Cowboys are 5-3, and the Steelers are 6-2.

by sbond101 :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:09pm

It's very true. The Pat's got the better of the randomness of football 01-04 by a margin that I can't remember any team matching (tuck rule game, all those field goals...). I'm from Toronto and remember the Bills in the 90's before giving up on football for a while so I know what it's like to be on the other side of it. What bothers me most about those losses is the way the affect how teams get remembered, years from now when the next "greatest-ever" team emerges how will the 07 Pat's be talked about differently because of that game, just like the Falcons fans will forever have to talk/think about this game when they think about how great this offense was. That's an awful feeling.

As for the pre-salary cap league; You might be right, it's really tough to compare across eras like that, and I wasn't around to watch a lot of the other candidates for that title. The 07 Pats were also way ahead in realizing the implications of the new pass interference rules, which I think led some to see that offense as more talented than it really was. Having said that, I stand by my opinion about that team.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:58pm

Well, if you are going to evaluate which champs were most "dominant" (let's hypothesize Tyree not successfully squeezing the ball against his hemet), you can only do so by how thoroughly they "dominated" the competition. There's a lot more to that question than regular season w-l record, point differential, DVOA, or any other regular season stat. You have to look at how throughy the playoff competition was dominated. Before the salary cap, there were champions that would just curb-stomp 3 straight playoff opponents, never being threatened in the 2nd half. '84 Niners, '85 Bears, '89 'Niners, '91 Washington come to mind in the era after the '78 passing rule changes, before the salary cap. The '87 Patriots not only lost the last game, they only led the Chargers by 2 points at the start of the 4th quarter in the conference championship. When you don't dominate your opponents in your two most important games, you simply aren't as dominant a champion as teams that did, even if we hypothesize as slightly different outcome in the last game. The best teams take randomness out of the equation, and the '87 Patriots didn't do that.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:02pm

The 2002 Bucs defense allowed three TDs to be scored on them in three playoff games.

That defense scored four TDs in those same games.

Granted, Bill Callahan being a moron is a contributing factor there, but, still . . .


by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:31pm

Very underrated champs, that 2002 Bucs team, and I'd put them up against any of the chmaps after the '96 Packers.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:35pm

" The '87 Patriots not only lost the last game, they only led the Chargers by 2 points at the start of the 4th quarter in the conference championship."

Took me a while to figure out the typo here. The '87 Patriots were nowhere near the conference championship. And the only time the Chargers made the Super Bowl, they didn't play the Pats in the AFCCG....

I had to jump from the '80s through the '90s to make it to 2007.

The 2007 Pats indisputably peaked a bit too soon, and the cracks were beginning to show as early as their late November. 3 of their last 6 wins were by 3 points each. (Their closest game in the first half of the season was a 34-17 win over Cleveland.)

by anotherpatsfan :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:51pm

Obviously just an opinion, but I've always believed the 2007 playoffs would have turned out differently if the Pats had lost during the regular season in one of those games they barely won (like against Ravens, Eagles or the season-ending Giants game). The staying undefeated pressure IMO ultimately added to the mix in a negative way. As much as people (including Brady) said that the Super Bowl loss didn't detract from the undefeated season, I've never understood or agreed with that sentiment.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:59pm

I disagree. I think the problem was that the 2007 team was built too much like the Colts teams that the Pats always crushed - they had a high-speed, precision offense that didn't adapt well to a slugfest against an excellent DL backed by aggressive DBs.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:11pm

It was a tough matchup, but the injuries were probably as big a factor.

Against a strong DL, they had a quarterback who was in a walking boot all week, and clearly still moving gingerly.

And they had injured interior lineman.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:55pm

Hey, I was up all night with a sick kid; anybody could misplace a couple decades!

by BJR :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 5:08pm

Funnily enough, midway through the 3rd quarter last night it crossed my mind that Atlanta was on its way to the most dominant playoff runs in recent times.

by Jay Z :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:29pm

Difference between the Packers game and this one is the Packers game included some physical lapses, failures to make plays. This one was nearly entirely on the coaching staff and bearing of Matt Ryan. The Falcons truly choked.

by PaddyPat :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:19pm

Interestingly, I was more upset about the 2011 loss than the 07 one, undefeated season notwithstanding. In the 2007 Super Bowl, I felt that the Giant defensive line beat us. Even though Tom drove down the field to get the go-ahead touchdown at the end, I was possessed with the sense that the Giants deserved to win the game based on their performance, and as stunning as the defeat was, I sort of emotionally accepted it. In 2011, fumble luck was horribly against us, and the NE team outplayed the Giants in DVOA and to the eye test. or at least that was how I felt. It was a very frustrating loss because I thought that NE deserved to win the game. I was also thoroughly vexed by the 2006 AFC Championship game, which felt like a miserable choke job at times. I agree with other posters that NE fans have nothing to feel unhappy about with our team or its run, but I thought I would add my two cents reflecting on the fan experience. For me, I can accept a loss that my team deserved and marvel at a miraculous performance by the other team, like the Giants' 4 aces routine in 2007, what I don't like is when dumb luck or something heinously stupid, like the fake punt in the 2010 divisional round game against NYJ turns a game.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 9:24am

Patriots ran 48 plays after the Falcons last score, with about 8:30 left in the third.

by Otis Taylor89 :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 10:41am

The difference in the number of plays run between NE and ATL was more than the total number of plays ATL ran (47 vs. 46).

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:53pm

That's the game, it seems to me.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 10:05am

I liked the final paragraph by Aaron. I'm a Michigan alum, and the arrogance of some of my fellow Wolverine fans (during the successful eras, anyway) often made me cringe. Most Pats fans I know aren't like that, and I genuinely have been happy for them during the Brady/Belichek era, because I know they rooted for various combinations of Millen-Macpherson, Wilson/Grogan-Rust, etc in the late 80's/early 90's.

by roguerouge :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 10:07am

Yeah, the first Pats season I really remember was 1986--the improbable run to the Super Bowl pushed by the "Squish the Fish" game in Miami, ending, of course, with the horrible Super Bowl blowout. The fact that I was also a heart-broken Red Sox fan that year makes the fact that I'm still a sports fan a miracle. Watched a lot of bad football teams and a lot of mismanagement to get to this decade of good fortune.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 10:46am

That's the first football I can remember - that playoff run.

And I vividly remember my dad wearing a "Berry the bears" tshirt and just being shellshocked watching that superbowl. The 80s and 90s were pretty damn tough for NE sports fans. The 20xxs have been ridiculously good.

by crw78 :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:27pm

Grew up near Boston, been a Pats fan since that miraculous 85 Pats team. What most people who are 30 or younger don't realize is that the Pats for so long were like the Browns today, or the Bucs (except for 2002). 1-15, 2-14, terrible almost every year. I never thought I'd see the Pats win a SB, and the fact that they've gone to 7, and won 5, in the last 16 years is absolutely astounding to me. The fact that they've done it in the salary cap era where you CAN'T stockpile talent like the teams in the 70s, 80s, and 90s did is even more astounding.

Anyone who is older than 40 and has always been a Pats fan feels similar to how I do I think. I count my lucky stars knowing that when Brady and Belichick ride off into the sunset, they're just another team again, unless they get lucky and have a Rodgers or Luck-type QB fall into their lap.

Chad W

by Athelas :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:43pm

I agree with you EXCEPT the Krafts are so much better than so many owners we have had in the past in many sports that I think we have a chance of having at least a good team after B&B leave.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:48pm

I partly agree. While Krafts have done better than most owners simply by (1) treating their staffs & players professionally, (2) giving them the resources needed to succeed, and (3) getting out of their way, it helps greatly that they have a staff & players worthy of that.

by Athelas :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:21pm

Boston teams have had some spectacularly bad owners--the Sullivans, the Yawkeys, the Jacobs for most of their tenure, John Y. Brown....compared to the Boston ownership standard, the Krafts shine. I believe their ownership has even made the owners of the other sports teams in town to get better.

by ammek :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:31pm

I know when I was a kid five years seemed like forever, but the Patriots have not been like the Browns or Bucs in your lifetime. Yes, they had five straight losing seasons from 1989-93, two of which were dire; the other three were common-or-garden 5-11 or 6-10 years in which they didn't even finish bottom of their division. In fact, the Pats have only finished in last place five times in the last 41 seasons, dating back to 1976, and one of those was with an 8-8 record in 1999.

The Browns have finished in last place in each of the last six years, and 14 times out of 18 since they were reborn. No comparison.

by crw78 :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 12:52am

You are correct of course. A better way to say it I suppose is that for most of my childhood, being a Pats fan FELT like I imagine it must feel to be a fan of a bad, non-descript franchise, because that's what the Pats were back then. Barring the random 85 season and a couple of decent seasons thereafter, they seemed like a team going nowhere (I was too young to remember the good teams of the late 70s). As a teenager, 7 or so years of being terrible to merely bad felt like forever, and up until Parcells was hired, the franchise felt direction-less and played in a terrible stadium. Parcells brought hope and got them to another Super Bowl - who knew that his leaving would lead to all of this?

My larger point was that to younger folk who haven't studied the history of the game, all they know of the Pats is excellence, and that just wasn't the case for most of their history. Much like how I thought of the Steelers as an 8 year old, watching the SB highlight films from the 70s - you can't imagine that they weren't always great. But of course the Steelers were one of the downtrodden NFL franchises for most of their history up until the 70s.

Chad W

by Scott de B. :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 12:36pm

Well, from 1989-1994, the Patriots did not appear in a single MNF game, the marquee matchup of the season. The longest gap for the Browns I see is 4 years (excluding the limbo years).

by t.d. :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 1:01pm

The modern equivalent of what Monday night football was in that era is Sunday night football today. I suspect it has been a very long time since the Browns have been on Sunday night football

by crw78 :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 1:44pm

Sunday, September 14th 2008 to be exact. Lost at home 10-6 to the Steelers. The Browns only appearance on SNF since SNF became the premier game of the week.

by t.d. :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 4:07pm

I'm actually surprised they've even been on once

by PaddyPat :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 6:23pm

You are forgetting the teaser of Crennel's 10-6 season when a lot of hope swirled around Cleveland.

by dryheat :: Wed, 02/08/2017 - 9:20am

While true, the Pats didn't play home on MNF for many years for non-suck reasons...traffic out of the stadium...fans drinking for 8 hours before the game started and trashing the place. If I recall correctly, the Patriots had asked the league not to schedule MNF games in Foxboro.

Of course, the fact they weren't in a road game was due to suck reasons. The home ban, however, feels like it was well over a decade.

by Dr. Bill :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 6:59pm

I was a junior at Boston College for SB XX. I watched the game at a friend's apartment of all NY/NJ people, so it wasn't a very pro-NE setting. What made the game so awful was that in addition to watching my beloved team get obliterated--shellshocked, indded--this drunk guy near to me kept yelling over and over again, "The f---ing Patriots suck! The f---ing Giants should be playing!" Just non-stop.

Somewhere in the middle of the third quarter I walked up to him, intending to explain that it was not possible for the Giants to be playing the Bears--that's the NFC championship game. But instead of explaining that, somehow I was punching him in the face again and again, broke his nose, and was thrown physically out of the aprtment, permabanned.

So yea, I vividly remember that game.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:43pm

The funny thing about the more Pats' obnoxious fans (who are invariably younger) is that they also are the first to panic when things are going poorly. I've learned to avoid the Pats Pulpit game threads for that reason - if the Pats fall behind by a TD, suddenly McDaniels is incompetent, Patricia is incompetent, Belichick is too arrogant, trading Collins and Jones were big mistakes, etc., etc. At halftime the site's moderator was saying the game was probably over.
No Patriots comeback surprises me. Even after the TD made the game 28-3, I said "I know the Pats can score enough points, but the defense really needs to stop with the b.s. Maclolm Butler fell down in response to a simple juke!" Didn't surprise me that they replied with a TD.
But while I'd love to give all the credit for the comeback to Brady, the fact remains that the Falcons had a win in their hands and bad playcalling choked it away.

by billprudden :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 9:29am

I'd argue that some complex situations can be described in simple terms:

1) The above-mentioned and soon-to-be-famous 3 play series following Julio's sideline catch. 3 Runs up middle for 0 yards = time off clock and high-probability FG attempt.

2) All of ATL's snaps in second half with 10+ seconds left on play clock. Shit adds up.


by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 9:51am

Regarding point 2, there are likely 10-plus starting qbs in the league who don't make that error, maybe 16-plus. I wonder if Shanahan said anything to him at some point. Probably not

by billprudden :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:44am

Morning Sir -

What I find particularly striking about that error is they had the entire extra-long halftime to chat it up.

Even teams that run the hurry-up or sugar huddle as their base off surely have a "four minute" go-slow option too. I hope...


by Purds :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 10:00am

Congrats, Pats fans. Great game!

by Led :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 10:13am

Shanahan deserves a lot of criticism, but ultimately it's on Quinn. I remember stories about Parcells walking down the sideline muttering "run it" into his microphone in late game situations. The HC has the luxury (and responsibility) to see the big picture while the OC is wrapped up in his play sheet, thinking about the next couple plays.

Also, why was the KR running a pop up kick out of the end zone up 8? Why was Quinn challenging a play everybody was going to examine on replay 3 seconds before the 2 minute warning? As mentioned above, why weren't they using the whole play clock with a big lead? That was a slow motion train wreck of game management.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 10:55am

sorry but according to this forum's regular posters: Bullshit on "it's on Quinn"

I've been told repeately on here that I'm a retarded schizophrenic racist for insisting that ultimately the buck stops on Tomlin for the teams repeated failures. According to them it's just LeBeau. It's just Haley. It's just Belichik. It's just Brady. It's just Roethlisberger. It's just the doormats that he can't ever beat. It's just the clock. It's just replay challenges. It's NEVER him (the team made the SB under his watch, you know!).

So yeh, sorry, it's not on the HC.

Oh wait, they're hypocritical trolls and they'll take your side. It couldn't be that Quinn has an insane stacked roster and is largely in over his head and wins in spite of it.

The standard is the standard!

by jtr :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:04am

I saw who had the most recent comment in the thread and tuned in to see how this could turn into a weird angry rant about Mike Tomlin. Was not disappointed.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:12am

it's not a rant about Tomlin.

it's a rant about double standards of hypocritical poster trolls on this site.

nobody is calling out people who are questioning coach Quinn as being anti-white racist, a retard, or any other form of personal attack.


the guy just led his team to a QB (near win!) in just his 2nd season. obviously he's a great coach who should NEVER EVER EVER EVER be questioned. every team should be lucky to have someone so good running their team, right?

ps, the most recent comment, was post 39, not this one.
reading, it's fundamental!
The standard is the standard!

by PaddyPat :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:17pm

Mr. Standard, you really need to cool out. The reason folks on this forum get disgusted with you is that you repeatedly post on a single issue, bringing your concern into every thread, irrespective of its relevance, and you adopt a tone and rhetoric that is not consistent with the level of discussion on FO. There have been a variety of perspectives on Quinn and Shanahan in this thread, as well as on Ryan. We have certainly questioned and scrutinized the play-calling. And several posters have pointed out shortcomings from Brady (inaccuracy) and his receivers (drops) and there is grist in discussing Belichick's decision to kick a field goal, etc. too. The discussions you have generated over Tomlin also wage back and forth with a variety of opinions, but your hyperbole and vehemence are just inappropriate, and Tomlin did not participate in this game and is therefore not relevant to this thread.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:42pm

My position on Tomlin has consistently been that he's flawed, but he's also won a lot of games. He made it to the AFC Championship game again - that's not easy to do. Fourteen other Head Coaches were watching the game from home (counting the ones who'd already been fired, of course).

OTOH, Belichick clearly can outcoach Tomlin at will. Am I, as a Pats' fan, supposed to complain about that?

Regarding yesterday's game, it's clear that Shanahan's mistakes (I blame him, not Quinn) were of the nature that are impossible to ignore. There are the obvious tactical mistakes - calling passing plays when simple runs or even clock-burning knee-takings would have made a game-clinching FG a gimme. But there are also larger strategic issues. Devonta Freeman had 71 yards rushing in the first half and finished with 75. What's up with that?

by White Rose Duelist :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 10:34am

Aw man, I hated those guys. When I was in high school, it was Yankees-Cowboys-Bulls-Red Wings.

by BroncFan07 :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:01pm

If you grew up in California, it was "Niners When They're Good" fans. Actually, this one still holds true.

by Afrocomb :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 10:57am

That was some of the ugliest play-calling I've ever seen. It goes beyond not just running it 3 times when in FG range. Go back and check the play-clock on that drive. On a drive where they should have been burning clock, with the game-clock running they consistently didn't let the play clock get into single digits. Why give your opponent so much extra time?

by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:19am

I presume the somewhat early snap was to ensure the defense wouldn't know exactly when it would occur. Atlanta's OL was struggling, they probably felt that the benefits of surprise outweighed the risk of leaving an extra 30-40 seconds of clock for the Pats. Given that the drive nearly ended the game and that NE scored with about a minute left (and with multiple timeouts), I can't say that it had much impact on the outcome.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:22am


The standard is the standard!

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:06pm

I did a quick scan of PFR's play by play, and, from the time Atlanta scored their final TD and New England tying it up, Atlanta only ran 13 plays. Only FIVE of those were runs.

Reminds me of the Patriots' first Super Bowl, where Mike Martz was so sure of his offensive genius he was going to call his favorite plays regardless of the situation. Kyle Shanahan apparently wanted a few more shiny point on the board rather than just grinding the clock down.

by mrh :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:21pm

another version of the play count: from the time ATL went ahead 14-0, NE had 75 plays to ATL 27.

I was rooting for the Pats because I hate all things Shanahan. I hadn't made the Martz connection, which is a good point, but I had been thinking Shanahan had been too wrapped up in his own genius in the 2nd half.

by jds :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:07pm

Washington Times had a story, with the following summary:

The Falcons, though, self destructed, and, guess what? It was Kyle Shanahan, who engineered the Falcons’ high-powered offense this year, who did them in with arrogant, irresponsible play calling when his team had a chance to put the game away with a field goal in the fourth quarter that would have given Atlanta a 31-20 lead — too much for New England to overcome with less than four minutes left.

I would like to go to an alternate universe, and see what NE would do, down 11 with less than 4 minutes. You've got to think that that point differential would be very, very, tough to overcome, and would need an onside kick recovery when everyone knows it is coming (and Falcons had already seen it once in the game).

by RickD :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:55pm

People outside the DC area may not appreciate just how much the locals despise the Shanahans. My friend was incredulous - "Wait, Kyle Shanahan is the O-con? How did he ever get a team to the Super Bowl??" I had to remind him he did pretty well RGIII's rookie season, but 'Skins fans remember the subsequent years more vividly, and the general shitstorm as the Shanahans and RGIII ripped each other to pieces.

I agree that, in spite of Brady's apparent ability to shit golden horeshoes in big games, a FG with 3 minutes left would have sealed a Falcons' victory.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:24pm

Where I was completely wrong is that I thought Shanahan would have more discipline than Martz. It wasn't just that pass plays were run, but deep drop passes at that.

by big10freak :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:27pm

Agreed. Just really strange that this was central to the game plan. But any Packer fan knows this experience

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:26pm

Yeah, I'm stunned at the game plan Shanahan called. I think it's up there with Martz and Bill Callahan not bothering to change the play calls for the plays his opponent (Jon Gruden) had actually designed. Actually, probably worse. I mean, there's no more basic strategy than "kill the clock with a lead", and it's not like this is a team that didn't have a strong running game this year and would logically go pass-happy in all situations.

This honestly might have been the singly-worst coaching performance I can imagine.

by Duff Soviet Union :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:49pm

Sorry, nothing was worse than Bill Callahan.

Also, while I get all the criticism for going pass happy, it does feel like we're criticising the results rather than the process. If these pass plays work, Atlanta wins and nobody's even mentioning them except maybe to praise them for "staying agressive".

by vrao81 :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 5:42pm

Don't forget Andy Reid's botched clock management late in the 4th quarter of the Eagles Pats Super Bowl in 2004. Wasting too much time between plays even though they were down by two scores.

by justanothersteve :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 10:57am

The Pats have played in an amazing number of close SB games. This SB game's six-point spread was the largest margin of victory or defeat in any of those games. Pats previous SB games have all been decided by 3-4 points.

by PirateFreedom :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:05pm

The overtime game had the biggest margin of victory out of all 7 games.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:57pm

Yeah, I'm musing over the question of whether the 6-point victory margin in OT is really the largest or whether it should be considered the narrowest, considering that they had to get to OT to win.

Aside: when it got to OT, we had to make the obligatory Donovan McNabb joke. :)

by jtr :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:23pm

I would have hated to see them cut the Lombardi trophy in half if the game had ended in a tie.


by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:01am

regarding recency bias and good games.

steelers bias, but Steelers-Cards was a great thrilling game I.I.R.C.

The standard is the standard!

by anotherpatsfan :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:06pm

I thought that was one of Tomlin's best efforts...

*time to take a break from Audibles*

by SandyRiver :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:04am

"...reversed the Kearse." Great line, and not just because it paralleled my thoughts about Edelman's catch. Each play had an apparent pass-defensed followed by pinball bounces, and great concentration by the receiver.

by Shylo :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:52pm

I was wondering what this game had to do with Jevon Kearse. I forgot there was another one on the Seahawks.

by Mike W :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:27am

I'm probably going to get argued with about this, but I don't care. Shanahan made a lot of mistakes, but Matt Ryan pooped his pants in this game. Not running clock. Poor pocket awareness. A couple of his completions to Julio were 'good' throws in that they were good enough for Julio to make fantastic plays on. Taking that (12-yard!) sack was absolutely terrible, and completely on him. He and Shanahan both get dinged for too many deep throws and not enough to the backs. He was pretty accurate - more accurate than Brady - but otherwise did a very poor job. Three scoring drives isn't enough.

The Atl D played outstanding football for a half. Once the Atl D-line got tired, the Pats were going to score on every drive. It was up to the offense to get some first downs and one lousy FG, and they failed. MVP? I'm sorry but Ryan just isn't at that level.

by PaddyPat :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:07pm

Who's going to argue with you? The best offense in the league against a subpar NE defense should not score 21 points and then go in the tank. The 3rd down conversion rate was abysmal. 4 Sacks on 3rd down? Some of that is play-calling. A lot of it is decision making. I don't know that that undermines an MVP award. Warner was MVP and got wrecked in the Super Bowl. Gannon was MVP and got wrecked in the Super Bowl. But is certainly indicates a very poor performance with the game on the line.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:16pm

There was an on-screen graphic (either NFLN or Fox, not sure which) before the game that listed all the NFL MVPs who won the Super Bowl, and the last one was Kurt Warner after the 1999 season. Never occurred to me before that the MVP for some reason is rarely never on the winning team in the end.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:42pm

Why do people keep calling NE's defense subpar?

They were better than average for the season (and better than they've been since what, 2004?), top 10 from week 8 or so on, and absolutely elite in the last 8 weeks.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:20pm

Anybody who doesn't recognize how well the Pat defense played last night, especially with regard to making adjustments, didn't watch the game closely, or doesn't understand the game. Forcing a good offensive line to make blatant holds, for instance, is indicative of extremely high level play. Think Chris Long was yet another super-economical, high efficiency, signing by the Patriots?

by PaddyPat :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:49pm

My response was in point of principle, not a reflection on how the Patriots' defense actually performed. The number one offense should score more than 21 points, and yes, perhaps NE's defense wasn't subpar but merely league average over the course of the season and playing better more recently, but they weren't objectively strong enough that they should be able to account for such a low scoring output. In actual fact, things were different.

by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:49am

still stunned at how game ended even though Atlanta crappy franchise with not a history of winning and Belichick maybe best coach ever and Brayd maybe top 5 qb. One team not knowing how to win on grandest stage and other team did. there is so much ofg this in past 15 years. a lot of pants wetting these days. feels like so many crpapy coaching. there is just no way a team should blow such a huge lead so late in game.

falcs had to have everthing go wrong after that amazing catch by j. jones in 4th quarter. and sure enough, everrything went wrong.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:55am

Really interesting that the one guy Belichik has not clearly gotten the better of in Super Bowls is another Parcells guy. I don't remember the Panthers Super Bowl all that well, however, so I may be wrong about Fox.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:02pm

I think Fox overachieved with that Panthers team. I mean - Jake Delhomme!

Coughlin isn't intimidated by Belichick and knows his tendencies as well as anybody. I think that matters. Also, the Giants as an organization know Belichick well. No doubt they have guys there who remember BB yelling at Lawrence Taylor.

What confuses me most about the Giants is how they had two superb postseason season runs four years apart, surrounded by a sea of mediocrity.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:08pm

Oh, Fox was great that year overall. I just don't remember that Super Bowl all that well, other than the 4th quarter scoring explosion.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:55am

Has to be the singly worst loss in championship history of any sort that I can think of, and I still can't believe Atlanta threw that game away. Stupid play-calling, horrid clock management, bad execution, and 19 points in the fourth quarter when you have a really good pair of RBs, but, hey, we'll keep throwing? Mind-boggling.

That Matt Ryan sack is potentially the dumbest single play ever.

For all the things said about Brady, the one thing that really stands out is we have seen so many blowouts in the Super Bowl once a team gets down, and Brady was still Tom Brady. Definitely had a series or two where he was missing his WRs, but the fact he didn't utterly panic like so many QBs before is one of the things I'll remember.

by Steve B :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:52pm

This is the 1986 World Series and the Bills' four SB losses combined into one.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:06pm

I knew Brady wouldn't panic and he wouldn't let the team give up. That's the quality that really sets him apart. I still remember the absurd comeback against the 49ers when they were down about about 5 TDs. They didn't win that game, but they did manage to tie it. Even down by 25 I knew they had enough time to score four times. But I didn't think the Falcons were done scoring at that point. I don't think anybody felt that way!

by duh :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:20pm

I really agree with this sentiment. Both in XLIX and LI there was every reason for Brady particularly to fold up the tent, especially here.

by ClavisRa :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:51pm

You're not wrong. But I'd pick the Patriots in a blowout in a rematch every time. They came in with the wrong game plan, but adjusted to the right one just in time. The best way to attack Atlanta is through Ryan; that goes against Belichick's fundamental philosophy though, and they tried to defend much the same way the did against Pitt. Pats had to make adjustments to defending the Falcons run, to the pass rush, to getting pressure on Ryan, and to attacking the boundaries of the Falcons defense. Once they adjusted though, they dominated, and I would expect them to be consistent.

The Falcons came in with the right game plan: stretch runs and heavy man-to-man, but made terrible in-game coaching calls. That said it still wasn't as poorly coached as the Cowboys first half against the Packers.

by MJK :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:16pm

"That Matt Ryan sack is potentially the dumbest single play ever."

I assume you mean in a Superbowl, or at least in a playoff game. Because otherwise, the fake punt still takes the cake.

Even if we limit it to Superbowls, is it dumber than the Bevelle pass call and the subsequent Butler interception two years ago?

by GlennW :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:40pm

I think so. Say what you will about Bevell's play call, the Seahawks did at least have to gain that last difficult yard, and with only one timeout remaining likely had only one more shot to do so on the ground anyway. By contrast, Atlanta was already in very comfortable FG range and was not substantively compelled to gain another yard. A 40-yard FG attempt versus a 30-yarder? Just not that big a deal.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:48pm

Yeah, it's not like passing when you need one yard is insanely unheard of; it still has a very good chance of being executed correctly, and it's an extremely common call. Taking a sack that literally takes you out of game-winning range? That's nowhere near the same.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 5:17pm

But the sack didn't take them out of FG range. It made it a 53-yd attempt indoors but Bryant has kicked a 59-yarders this year.

It was the holding penalty that took them out of range. And they only needed short checkdown pass or run to get them back closer to better FG range.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 5:21pm

And I would note that the holding penalty negated exactly that short checkdown pass to get them back into into better FG range.

by Alternator :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 8:39pm

Taking the sack really isn't on the play call - a deeper pass is an attempt to win the game immediately, and not let bad luck (a missed field goal), enemy good luck (White breaks through for a sixty yard TD in thirty seconds), or human error (a botched kickoff return) have its say.

Ryan not throwing the ball away once the pressure started to get there, though...that's the real problem.

by ClavisRa :: Thu, 02/09/2017 - 2:31pm

Watch on the replay. Ryan's eye is drawn to pressure from his left, which was avoidable, but that meant he didn't see Flowers break through until he was on top of him. That sack was about great execution by the Pats. Ryan really had no chance to throw the ball away without just giving up on the play from the start. Unless he can move his eyes independently.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:58am

The worst thing about this Patriots victory is that it'll give more phony fuel to the playoff w-l record and "RINGZZZZZ!" theory of qb evaluation.

This game was won by the Patriots defense and coaches, with an assist by mental mistakes by the Falcons offensive players and coaches.

by SmoothLikeIce :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:33pm

I think it's perfectly acceptable to simultaneously believe that arguing for the GOAT QB based solely on #ringz is super dumb AND that the game last night was won in part by each of the Patriots defense, coaches, and Tom Brady (with an assist by mental mistakes by the Falcons offensive players and coaches).

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:13pm

Brady was great from about halfway through the 3rd quarter. Before that, before the Falcons defense had been on the field for 50 snaps, not so much. The Patriots defense was really good throughout the game, against the best offense in the league this year. Don't get me wrong; all credit to Brady for executing on the last 5 possessions. It was the Patriots defense that made that execution meaningful.

by SmoothLikeIce :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:50pm

"Don't get me wrong; all credit to Brady for executing on the last 5 possessions. It was the Patriots defense that made that execution meaningful."

Of course the defense's play made Brady's execution more meaningful. Brady's play made the defense's execution more meaningful, too. It's a team game, after all. If we're going to (rightly) mock the standard #ringz argument that Brady's 5 automatically make him GOAT while ignoring other factors and context, it feels hypocritical to say in the same post that this game was won solely by the defense and coaches.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:03pm

I overstated. However, when one started playing great halfway through the 3rd quarter, you aren't the primary factor in vctory, compared to units that played well throughout.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:08pm

But nobody played well in the 1st half!

Brady wasn't the sole factor, but he was definitely the key factor in the comeback. Very few QBs would have been able to pull that off. It's not like they were getting anything from the running game.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:36pm

I disagree. The Pats defense held the Falcons offense to a 32 yard possession, a 24 yard possession, and a 4 yard possession, on the Falcons first 5 possessions. Against the league's best offense, that's pretty good, even if you would like to play better red zone d on the two successful Falcons drives.

by SmoothLikeIce :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:15pm

Prior to the Pats' first TD, Atlanta had scored three touchdowns in their previous four possessions. Pats D played well *for playing against the best offense in the league*, but would think it's an overreaction to say they played consistently well throughout the game. Only gave up 21 points, but Atlanta still averaged 12.3 yards a pass and 5.8 yards a rush. Kind of a microcosm of the whole season for the Pats D, actually.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:47pm

The best offense in the league is going to score. Getting them off the field quickly, on as many possessions as the Patriots defense did, is a significant accomplishment. It was kind of odd that even the first two tds scored by the Falcons happened in a way that helped the Patriot offense, they being long drives of only 5 plays. Once the Falcons defense was on the field for about 60 plays, they were largely finished.

by slomojoe :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:41pm

Well, someone had still to drive for and score those 25 points in 23 minutes and change...

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:14pm

All credit to him for doing so. It was his defensive teammates that made it meaningful.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:17pm

I think it's fair to say that the offense and the defense both did.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:45pm

Sure, but holding Atlanta's offense to 14 points, through Atlanta's first possession of the 2nd half, and one td after that, was, to me, significantly more impressive than scoring tds after the Falcons defense had been on the field for 70 snaps, with the Falcons offense having 7 meaningful possessions of 5 plays or less. There are a lot of offenses which will score a lot, against exhausted pass rushers.

by slomojoe :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:09pm

Sure. Although it was clearly not a planned strategy like Ali's, last night was a great example of rope-a-dope.

Nevertheless, if being able to muster major comebacks is part of any GOAT-aspiring QBs, then in all of those great comebacks the defense must have contributed greatly, pretty much by definition.

by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:21pm

Well said. There is no such thing as a big comeback that doesn't involve a defense stopping the other team for a while.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:15pm

I would agree, but I can also agree that Brady has cemented his GOAT status not because of RINGZZZ!, but, because of sustained excellence through age 39 (and counting). The only other player I can think of with a similar record is Jerry Rice.

Unitas, Favre, and Manning were shells of their former selves by age 39. Montana, Young, Marino, Elway, Tarkenton, Unitas, and Graham, were all retired by this age.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:00pm

On the other hand, Brady wasn't asked to carry his offense until he was about 28. Look, I have no issue with the proposition of Brady as GOAT, as long as one recognizes that it is far from an established fact, and that context issues make the question hopelessly speculative. It's why try to avoid those debates for the most part.

by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:12pm

Brady did have the luxury of coming along slowly, but he was already carrying the team by 2005 and even in the years prior NE won a disproportionate number of high scoring affairs, largely because Brady would be leaned on more in those games.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:19pm

Yeah, 2005 was his age 28 year. That's really when he started carrying the full load.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:17pm

GOAT discussions seem too theoretical to me when discussing QBs. If I were to break down every aspect of QB play, there are many where Brady isn't at the top. His arm strength, while good, isn't at Favre's level. His downfield accuracy is surpassed by many. What sets Brady apart are his accuracy at short passing, his ability to quickly read defenses and make adjustments, and his utter refusal to accept defeat.

But Joe Montana also wasn't the best QB at the other aspects of QB play. The consensus opinion in the '80s was that Marino was the ultimate QB, even though his Dolphins never won a Super Bowl.

The only player I've seen that is clearly the GOAT at his position is Jerry Rice. Though I think I'm obligated as a Pats' fan to say the same about John Hannah, the fact remains that I'm still not good at judging offensive line play, and I had no clue whatsoever back during Hannah's career.

I do think it's reasonable to argue that Belichick is the best NFL head coach since Lombardi. But as for GOAT? I don't see any way to compare him to guys like George Halas and Paul Brown.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:25pm

Where I'll tip the hat in Lombardi's favor is that he appeared to be on the verge of fixing a mostly hapless Washington franchise when he was diagnosed with cancer. Then again, I think Belichik may have succeeeded in Cleveland absent Modell's war with the city of Cleveland. There's an interesting counterfactual. What happens if Modell and Cleveland work things out, and the Browns have decent success, and Belichik doesn't get fired?

by PaddyPat :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:50pm

As a dedicated Pats fan, I have been consistently motivated to weigh in against Brady in GOAT discussions. I am of the opinion that Cassel in 2008 and Garoppolo this year suggest that Belichick and his scheme are probably the most important factor in the team's offensive performance. I believe that the Patriots would likely have won a Super Bowl or two during this span without Tom Brady, and certainly would have had many playoff appearances. That is not to detract from what Tom does or to indicate that he is not an exceptional player, but I think he profits somewhat more from coaching than the other way around. The trouble, honestly, is in selecting someone who seems definitively superior. Montana also definitely benefitted enormously from coaching. I think Rodgers may be the most wildly talented QB I've ever seen, but talent isn't everything. During the years of their competition, I did tend to think that overall, Manning was a more talented, more complete passer than Brady, but watching him press and force things in big games, especially in the 2009 Super Bowl, undermined my confidence in him as the best. I think perhaps the best answer to this discussion is simply to state that Football is a team game, and performance is linked to scheme, in-game coaching, and surrounding cast to such an extent that it really isn't possible to judge who is the "best."

by BJR :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 5:25pm

That's one of the better summaries on the subject I have read. Good job.

by hscer :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 5:49pm

The willingness I've seen of people to put Rodgers in their top 10 already, combined with recency bias, makes me think that if he gets a couple more titles while he's still playing well, you'll see a lot of new GOAT talk for him. If Green Bay continues to put half-teams on the field, however, Brady will probably have the media's consensus until the next team to get the perfect storm of an all-time QB, all-time coach and organization, relatively weak competition, and some postseason luck comes along. Which, that could easily be a lifetime or more away from happening.

by PaddyPat :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 6:47pm

"relatively weak competition"

I assume you are referring to the Patriots' division foes?

The Patriots certainly have not faced weak competition within their conference. Arguably, they have denied potential rival dynasties on multiple occasions. The Rams of 1999-2004 were a potential dynasty. The Colts of 2003-2009 could easily have won multiple titles. The Titans of 1999-2003 were perhaps lesser contenders, but also had a stretch of sustained greatness (The Patriots got wrecked by them in 2002, but bested them twice in 2003). The Ravens of 2008-2014 were a pretty grand team at times and could well have won another Super Bowl in 2011. The Steelers have been a very strong team throughout the entire Brady/Belichick era. The Broncos were supremely powerful from 2012-15, although the Patriots did not consistently or effectively stand in their way. The Patriots also ruined the Chargers' prospects on several occasions, notably in 2006 and 2007. In the other conference, the recent Seahawks could also have made a claim to dynasty status but for the 2014 season's Super Bowl loss. And of course, the Eagles... they could and arguably should have won one or more Super Bowls; I remember Jim Johnson's defenses with great fondness and admiration...

by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 7:54pm

The "weak division" case is pretty much cut off at the knees once you realize that NE's winning % is nearly identical inside and outside the division.

I suppose someone could say it is familiarity that suppresses their success in the AFCE and NE would see a corresponding decline in their win% against another division if they had been there... but now we are getting into untestable hypotheticals.

The only thing being in the AFCE has granted NE is the lack of another dominant team relegating their 12-4 record to second place, but that isn't exactly a common occurrence.

by PatsFan :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 8:32pm

In fact, NE has a worse record vs AFCE teams than vs rest of NFL.

by dank067 :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:25pm

Was thinking through some of this discussion on the level of competition the Patriots have faced in the AFC the other day and ended up stumbling on something quirky: in the Brady-Belichick era, only 6/16 AFC teams have appeared in the Super Bowl while 12/16 NFC teams have managed to make it. Expand to conference championships and it's 9/16 AFC vs. 13/16 NFC.

Did not come to any conclusion as to whether that has had anything to do with the Patriots success, easier or harder, but was a quirk that I did find interesting.

by dank067 :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:33pm

Giants, Seahawks and Panthers the only NFC teams to make multiple SB appearances in that time. Last two through multiple regimes! (And even the Giants too if you count 2000.)

by Steve in WI :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 7:44pm

As a Packers hater I hate to argue in favor of Rodgers, but he does have the best career passer rating and ANY/A of all time. I know there's no one definitive individual statistic, but I would give more weight to the argument that a guy with the best individual stats is the GOAT than the argument that the guy with the most rings is. (I know no one here is saying that rings are definitive). I know a couple more rings will make a huge difference in popular opinion, but if we're going by best quarterbacking of all time he seems (if he continues to play at the same level) to be a bit better than Brady. Brady has arguably had a better team around him and has definitely had a better coach.

by dryheat :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 8:46pm

I've said this before, but We can't have an intelligent discussion about who the best quarterback is until We decide what makes a great quarterback. I'm of the opinion that the quarterbacks job is to win, so I give winning percentage more weight than others, or points scored if you'd like to boil it down further. Others reasonably postulate that the best thrower of the football is the best quarterback. But even these are too simplistic...mitigating factors are everywhere. And we haven't even touched on where running ability fits into the equation.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 10:39am

He also has played his entire career in a much friendlier offensive environment than Brady and Manning started out in.

Quarterbacks are drastically more prolific than they were even a decade ago. That is a large part of Rodgers (and Ryan, etc...) gaudy stats.

by Raiderfan :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 5:58pm

"Belichick and his scheme are probably the most important factor in the team's offensive performance. "

The next article I read complimenting Belichick on his offensive planning prowess will be the first.

by PaddyPat :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 6:37pm

The articles I recall on this subject came out around 2002-03. When the Patriots began the season in the 5-wide set against Pittsburgh and then proceeded to innovate with, to my recollection, the first ever approach to replay by hurrying to the line to quick snap before the other team could see the replay, there were several interviews and articles focused on how the Patriots were developing an offensive personality. Belichick said at the time, in what appeared to be some self-reflection on his own thought process in the development of a consistent offensive approach, that he reflect on everything he hated to see from an opposing team's offense and tried to implement it in his game plans. The whole character of the NE offense, from the no-huddle, to the clock chewing power-running game featured in 2004, to the careful situational approach to throwing in the snow, the route trees, options, and hot routes, the system of one-word audibles, the rubbish with the substitutions in the 2014 AFC Divisional Round, etc. All of this comes directly from Belichick. The NE offense has retained similar qualities across several offensive coordinators, and Belichick works very closely with Tom Brady throughout the season. I think it is fair to say that the offense of the NE Patriots bears his stamp on it throughout.

by Led :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 7:15pm

Yes, it's a bit of black box in Foxboro, but the fact that basic fundamental offense (Erhardt-Perkins) has remained constant for 16 years through multiple coordinators (albeit with the various innovations you mention) suggests that it's as much, if not more, Belichick's offense as McDaniels. The fact that Brady has been able to play his whole career in one offensive system is an underrated element of his success, although obviously not the only element.

by CaffeineMan :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 8:15pm

I agree with the 2 above. I think an underrated aspect of Belichick's coaching is his ability to adapt his offenses to fit the skills of:
- a developing Brady, throughout his career
- a limited Cassel
- inexperienced Garropolo
- raw Brissette

Belichick's not the innovative scientist of, say, Bill Walsh. But he's a superb integrator. The engineer, if you will, rather than the scientist.

by MJK :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 1:56am

As a scientist, with a degree in engineering, I'm not quite sure how to take that...

by Alternator :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 2:48am

Make a joke about social "scientists" and get everyone to chuckle.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:51pm

All excellent points; I can't really disagree with anything you've said.

On Brady's strengths and weaknesses, I think this fits into Belichick's genius in that Brady's game has been adapted to the offense (and vice-versa) in a way that has allowed him to stay efficient at age 39 (though I suppose you could say the same about Elway at age 38).

Of the guys I've seen, Favre, Manning, and Marino losing their arm strength effectively meant they could no longer function as QBs. Brady at his physical prime was not any better than any of them, but his sustained excellence has to count in his favor in exactly the same way that a 40 year-old Jerry Rice hauling in 1,200 yards for Oakland does.

Steve Young might be the most physically gifted QB of the lot (though I'll accept anyone who wants to argue Elway); the reason I've always hated the 'Rings' argument is that Young had the misfortune to spend his prime years matched up against the Jimmy Johnson Cowboys.

Trollbait: What are the odds that Goodell hires someone to fake a positive steroid test for Brady?

by DoubleB :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:33pm

The reason the 'Rings' argument sucks is that it's not remotely used with any consistency. I don't see many arguments for Bart Starr as the greatest ever (5 titles in 7 years)? I've never seen ANY argument for Bradshaw and his 4 rings as the greatest QB in football either--and for good reason, he isn't!

by Sakic :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:55pm

"I think perhaps the best answer to this discussion is simply to state that Football is a team game, and performance is linked to scheme, in-game coaching, and surrounding cast to such an extent that it really isn't possible to judge who is the "best."

An outstanding comment. I was trying to come up with something similar regarding why rings don't judge how good a QB is are but this echoes my sentiments perfectly.

by coremill :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 6:25pm

Young also wasted four years backing up Montana. Those late 80s Niners teams were loaded and would have had a good chance of winning championships with Young instead of Montana (Young started 3 games in 1989 and had better rate stats than Montana did).

by justanothersteve :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 5:40pm

I disagree that Favre was a shell at 39. He had his last great year in Minnesota at 40. He fell apart the following year because team was also falling apart on him. Favre could be great when things were going well. But he didn't handle adversity well, especially after his father died. After that, there was nobody to tell him to just STFU and deal with it. And once his consecutive starts streak ended due to his injury, he really had no reason to keep playing.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 7:49pm

Oh, damn - my mistake. I was a year off - I could have sworn it was the other way, but you're absolutely right, and it kind of blows my comparison. Favre should get the same credit Brady does for longevity except, of course, he was never near as consistent.

by justanothersteve :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 10:18am

Favre was like the little girl with a curl. When he was good, he was very very good. But when he was bad he was horrid.

by nat :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:06pm

VOA is going to be interesting for this game. In the end, the Patriots' offense was more effective per drive and per set of downs. But the Falcons seemed more effective per play, with only 8 third down opportunities the entire game. On the other hand, VOA will ignore most of the pick-six return as non-predictive "luck". An interception is bad, but it's not seven points bad... at least to VOA.

The telling stat is going to be team VOA on third and fourth down.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:17pm

One of the details that impresses me about the Patriots occurred on the two-point conversion, the onside kick attempt and the fake end-of-regulation kneeldown.

These are typically plays that opponents know how to defend and teams usually run standard plays.

But the Patriots roll out something different. The Patriots design special plays for two pointers. And I've seen variations of onside kick by them in the past couple of years that I've not seen anywhere else.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:49pm

They take that sort of situational stuff really seriously, and spend a ton of time practicing it.

Its really too bad that Lewis popped his hamstring trying to cut on that fake kneel down - the Falcons played it well, but it was essentially a stretch run moving diagonally down the field, and there was a huge amount of open space if he managed to pop through the line. Would have been interesting to see if he got through.

I'll never get tired of Brady faking the botched snap on those direct handoffs- I honestly can't remember the last time someone snapped one over his head - but they run something like that a couple times a year, every year.

by ansum :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:22pm

I remember one flying over the head of Matt Gutierrez years ago but I can't remember if it was college or pro.

by Led :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:52pm

I hate the fake kneel down play, but I agree with you generally that their attention to detail and creativity is laudable.

The reason why I don't like the fake kneel down in particular is that the convention when a team lines up in the kneel down formation is for the defense not to contest the kneel down (except for the occasional Schiano-type jerk). That's a good convention, and I think it's a little crappy to design a play to take advantage of the opponent's sportsmanship in that regard.

by Andrew Potter :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:59pm

I totally agree on the fake kneel. If it's fair to expect that the defense won't crash a kneeldown, it's fair to expect that the offense won't run a play out of that formation.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:20pm

This sort of stuff happens everywhere in football though.

Defenders pull up when runners get near the sideline to avoid a late hit OOB, and the guys will cut back inside. (Michael Vick was awesome at this)

Defenders pull up when it looks like the QB is going to slide, which usually leads to the quarterback taking an additional 5 yards before sliding.

Good Sportsmanship gets taken advantage of everywhere. (and unwritten rules are terrible)

The biggest reason not to crash a kneeldown is that you can't get there fast enough, and if you hit the guy who is kneeling, its going to be a personal foul.

If we don't want these to be actual plays, then they shouldn't be actual plays - teams should just be able to forfeit downs for 40 seconds.

by Andrew Potter :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:37pm

Yeah, I know. Late hit OOB enforcement drives me mad, especially when I see guys cut inside like that. I really think that rule needs clarified to something like two clear steps OOB for a hit to be considered late. I like that the sliding stuff has been clarified a little so fewer late hits are called on late slides.

I just remember the brouhaha around those kneeldowns being crashed by Schiano (and he's not the only one), and this is the other side of that coin. Either it's fair to crash them, or it's unfair to run plays out of the formation.

I absolutely recognize the legitimacy of the play, and the rule's not only unwritten but unwriteable, but I still disliked it.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:41pm

Don't forget Mathias Kiwanuka's catch-and-release on Vince Young.

by ClavisRa :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:01pm

I couldn't agree more. Fake spikes and fake kneel downs are essentially 'white flag' plays with a tacit passivity agreement between both sides. The next time the Pats take a kneel down, why shouldn't the other team aggressively play to the whistle?

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:20pm

Probably because the Patriots will then go back to running up the score on them whenever the opportunity occurs. They stopped doing that about a decade ago after getting lots of criticism for it.

Bear in mind Seattle contested the kneeldowns a couple of years ago after the Butler interception. Because they were close to the goal-line and had the opportunity to create a safety.

To be honest, I agree. I don't like fake spikes or kneeldowns. But I can see why the Pats decided to run the fake kneeldown at the end of a SB - that's a new one on me.

by boog :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:35pm

I agree with a lot of the comments about how the Patriots wore them down with all the plays they ran, how the Falcons made mistakes - but still, this was SHOCKING. Who really thought that the Patriots would win when they were down 28-3? We can look back and find reasons now, but at the time it seemed impossible.

Even down 16 late in the game, the Patriots could not afford a single mistake the rest of the way, and they pulled it off. Just amazing.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:07pm

When the Falcons went three and out, after recovering the onsides kick, I thought the game may have meaningful snaps in the last 5 minutes.

by ammek :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:36pm

Honestly I wasn't shocked, and not because I'm any kind of seer, but because there have been so many large comebacks recently, and because Brady has a history of them. I mean, I doubt you were shocked that the Patriots offense would score a TD on three consecutive drives at some point in the game, and the longer the already not very good Atlanta defense was on the field, the more likely it was going to happen. It wasn't particularly suspenseful either: just one of the Pats' final 20 plays was a third down, even as they were playing four-down football.

That the Falcons offense started making mistakes (and the Patriots defense adjusted) was more improbable, but they were always the more boom-and-bust of the units.

I think the Seahawks' comeback against Green Bay was more unlikely, and so was (because they seemed rarer at the time) the 49ers being five yards away from overturning a four-score deficit in SB 47. Not to mention the Colts-Chiefs comeback in 2013. Heck, the Cowboys had a 2% win probability late in the third quarter against Green Bay three weeks ago, and leveled the score in no time.

by ammek :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:06pm

Since the merger there have been 39 games where a team has overturned a halftime deficit of 18 points or more and won. By decade:

1970s: 0
1980s: 7
1990s: 9
2000s: 7
2010s: 16 (with three years to go)

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:12pm

This cannot be mentioned too much. The game has really changed in the last few years.

by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:16pm

How about 3rd quarter deficits of 25 points?

I don't think anyone would have been shocked if NE had scored to make it 21-10 and went on to rally back from there. It is the fact that the 18 point deficit worsened and even more time ran off the clock.

by Steve B :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:42pm

Pretty sure I read that before last night teams were 93-0 in post season games if they went into the fourth quarter with a lead at least as big as Atlanta's. This was unprecedented.

by drobviousso :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:11pm

I"m glad someone else said this first. I said to my son about halfway through the second quarter that the Patriots will come back and win in the end. (My son is 8 years old, and just started wanting to learn about the game so I've been explaining everything.)

This was a mix of rational expectations and coping mechanism to protect my ego if the Pats did end up winning.

by Scott de B. :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 12:41pm

The issue was that the Patriots needed to outscore the Falcons by 25 points in around 20 minutes of game time, when before the game I thought it highly improbable they would outscore the Falcons by 25 in the full 60 minutes of game play.

by James-London :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:00pm

Like everyone else, I'm staggered at how badly the Falcons screwed themselves. Kneeling and kicking the FG should have won them the game. However, the Patriots are are like the undead, and I'm not sure you can kill them. At this point, nothing they do suprises me.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:17pm

Random comments:

1. I have no problem with the Atalanta play calls in the 2nd half. How many times have we seen Brady take snaps from the shotgun on 2nd-and-1 with a late lead? How many times have we seen Brady make the comeback because the other team went conservative gave the ball back? I think it was failure of execution rather than poor play calling. You have to make your blocks, and Ryan has to get rid of the ball when you know the pressure is coming.

2. Even though they lost, Julio made the play of the night, and arguably the greatest catch in Super Bowl history. Edelman had a great play, but it was more than a little flukey (bouncing off the defender's leg instead of hitting the ground like it usually does). The Tyree catch was a better overall play because of Eli's escape, but, again, it feels a little flukey. Julio's catch was purely Julio; it was perfect defense against what should have been a bad decision by Ryan (chucking it instead of running for a small gain and grinding the clock down).

3. What can I possibly add regarding the greatness of Belichick-Brady? It's not an absolute, but I do personally put Belichick ahead of Lombardi as the greatest HC of all time. To be this great for this long in the free agent/salary cap era is astounding. Baltimore, Green Bay, Philly, and Pittsburgh have all had down years with nowhere near the success of New England. Leaving aside the worst of the fan base (which is true of every winning franchise in every sport), this has been an absolutely astonishing (and unsurpassed) era of excellence in the NFL. They earned it.

4. Although I was kind of rooting for Atlanta last night, I have to admit I love that Brady's postseason bane is... Eli. Well, really it was Tuck/Strahan/Osi/JPP/Kiwanuka, but still - the mental image of Eli hoisting the Lombardi instead of Brady/Belichick just makes me chuckle maniacally, and only partly because I'm a Giants fan.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:25pm

I have to agree with you on point 1. I didn't particularly like the specific playcalls - I think if you're going to throw, you should be looking at faster developing plays, as a sack is what you're looking to prevent. (and ryan absolutely cannot run backwards - if the pocket is collapsing you run forward into it and lose 2 yards)

But I've seen too many teams lose games with big leads (the Patriots among them) because they come out and run the ball, and get stuffed a bunch (or fumble). The best way to protect a lead is to keep scoring.

by Led :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:37pm

"How many times have we seen Brady make the comeback because the other team went conservative gave the ball back?"

You really have to focus on the specifics of the situation. Poor strategy by other coaches in other situations is not a good reason for sub-optimal decision making. This is why heuristics like "don't get too conservative at the end of games" are unhelpful. Whether a strategy is "too" conservative or not depends on the particular situation. When you have the option of a 90+% chance of taking an 11 point lead with around 3:40 left and forcing NE to use its remaining TOs, it is not "too" conservative to take it.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:47pm

How about, "don't get too conservative at the end of the game when you've got the top offense in the league and just went 68 yards on three plays"?

I agree that taking a deep drop from the shotgun was not a good idea; I just think that passing in that situation was more than justifiable, especially when the Pats crowded the line like that.

by Led :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:03pm

Have you ever seen a team come back to win the game when it was losing by 10 points or more with under 4 minutes and no TOs? I'm sure there are examples, but not many. I'd just seen Matt Ryan take bad sacks several times (and fumble once!) in that very game.

The key point is that you're taking that extra risk to increase your chance of winning by only a few percentage points above what an 11 point lead would give you.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:21pm

And my point is that running does not guarantee them a 10 point lead, and a first-down increases their chances more than two more runs would.

I will concede that the specific playcall with a deep drop/slow route was wrong, but I don't think calling a pass was necessarily wrong.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 10:47am


If the positions were reversed, I wouldn't have been surprised to see the Pats throwing there. It would have been a quick play though - most likely something across the middle to Edelman.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:37pm

Sometimes the defense makes you throw. That doesn't mean it has to be a deep drop, with slow developing routes. That's the Martzian element of it. But I agree it mostly falls on Ryan, in that he has to know the priority one and two are 1) no int, and 2) no sack.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:44pm

I'll agree on the drop and the slow routes. I just hate the armchair analysis that says that you MUST run it up the middle to take a 40-yard FG, when the same people lambast Marty Schottenheimer for doing exactly that and losing.

Also, even a sack for -3 or -5 wouldn't have been so terrible. But he started from the shotgun and ran backwards to make it -12.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:49pm

That's what Brady/NcDaniel/Belichik would avoid risking.

by Scott de B. :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 12:45pm

I'll note that the Patriots had 1st and goal at the Atlanta 7 in the second half and Brady got sacked twice on the ensuing set of downs.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 1:01pm

I'll note that the risk calculation while leading is very different than while trailing, and that passing offense at the 7 is much different than passing offense at the 22.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:21pm

"2. Even though they lost, Julio made the play of the night, and arguably the greatest catch in Super Bowl history. "

Even if we dismiss the flukey catches (Harris, Tyree, Kearse, Edelman) I would still count the Santonio Holmes' game winner ahead of the Jones catch. There was more pressure at the time - the Steelers needed that catch.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:34pm

The pressure was higher, but I think on the catch itself, Julio's had a higher degree of difficulty. While Holmes made a tough catch, Roethlisberger threw a perfect ball; Ryan's pass was wild and should have been incomplete, but Julo did something utterly insane. (I have to admit, though, I'm a bit biased against Holmes' catch because he dropped an easy reception in the end zone right before he caught the difficult one. I know we need to look at them independently, but I have trouble separating that in my mind.)

Regardless, we're quibbling. I appreciate that the Pats fans I know were agog at the play that should have ended the game in a way that they weren't after the Tyree catch. I was deeply impressed by how they managed to be impressed by the sheer beauty of it even as their hearts sank. (Of course, this time it all ended well for them, but in the moment, I think quite a lot of Pats fans also managed to find themselves as Julio fans in spite of themselves).

by nat :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:55pm

100% this.

Julio Jones is amazing. I was in a room filled with Pats fans. Every single person was commenting on how incredible Julio's catches were. This wasn't cursing luck or things like that. People were marveling at the beauty of it.

Edelman's shoe top pinball double clutch catch was the single most amazing play of the day. But Jones looks like he can make amazing catch after amazing catch after amazing... all day, every day.

by pats-fan-in-nyc :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:16pm

Tipping your cap to one of the greatest athletes in the world doing his thing is pretty easy. Tyree was a mediocre scrub getting incredibly lucky against the greatest football team of all time.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:52pm

The greatest football team of all time is not vulnerable to a random lucky catch by David Tyree.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 5:07pm

I also would not call the Tyree catch entirely luck. Tyree (1) boxed out Rodney Harrison to make the catch, (2) gripped tight with both hands (and helmet), and (3) kept it off the ground.

Only #3 could be called lucky, and only partly so; even if it had touched the ground, one could plausibly claim that he'd completed the catch and was downed by the time the ball was in danger of touching the ground (though, given what we've seen from the officiating since then, who knows?). Points 1 and 2 were pure effort, and should be respected as such even if it came from an unexpected place.

by Joe Pancake :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:13pm

The Falcons going pass-happy in the endgame (e.g., on the 3rd-and-1 strip-sack, after the great Jones catch) would probably not be the right thing to do against any head coach, but it's especially bad to do against Belichick. Of any coach, he's going to call the play that maximizes the best thing for his team at that moment. It seems to me, the way you best counter this is to just get conservative and call low-variance plays.

On that 3rd-and-1, Belichick is probably praying the Falcons pass -- not because the Falcons have a bad pass game, obviously they don't -- but because a pass play is more likely to lead to a turnover and a turnover is exponentially better than any other result for the Patriots at that moment. Same thing on the big sack after the Jones catch. And if we go back even further to Wilson's INT two years ago.

People are talking about Brady being the GOAT after this game (let's not forget, for all his late game heroics in Super Bowls, he's often digging out of a hole he helped create), but to me this game reinforced the all-time greatness of Darth Hoodie.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:23pm

A couple points:

1. The strip-sack before Jones' catch, not after. After the catch came the the run for -1, sack (-12), penalty, 3rd and 33, incomplete.
2. If the defense gives you the pass on 3rd and short, I have no problem going for the pass, but you have to execute. Freeman whiffed on his block, there didn't seem to be a hot route against the blitz, and Ryan seemed to be looking to go long instead of getting rid of the ball.
3. Passing on 2nd-and-11 after getting stuffed on 1st down seems perfectly justifiable to me, too, but the Pats defense executed properly while the Falcons offense didn't.

by Kurt :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:28pm

Absolutely not on point 3. They were up 8, at the NE 23, with four minutes left in the game. Taking two knees and kicking the field goal would have been better than a 12 yard dropback pass.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:39pm

I'll agree on the deep drop (from the shotgun, no less), but I have no problem with the pass or going from the shotgun. But you need to have (1) a hot read for the blitz, and (2) everybody has to make their blocks, especially when you know the rush is coming.

As a counterpoint, how many people complain about Martyball costing the Chargers in this game:


1st and 10, NYJ 22: Tomlinson right tackle for -1
2nd and 11, NYJ 23: Tomlinson middle for no gain
3rd and 11, NYJ 23: Tomlinson right end for 1
4th and 10, NYJ 22: Kaeding 40 Yd FG no good

by Kurt :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:45pm

Martyball didn't cost them that game, Nate Kaeding (and to a lesser extent Tomlinson and his line) did.

Also, runs or short, high-percentage passes from Atlanta would have had an added benefit of taking more time off the clock.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:53pm

I agree on short, high % passes, and on the folly of the deep drop in that situation. But the reason Tomlinson got stuffed was because the Jets crowded the line in anticipation of the the run, just as the Pats did last night.

The lesson I learned from watching Brady and Manning all these years is that if the defense gives you the pass, then you pass. That certainly doesn't mean running backwards from the shotgun, but you can't be afraid to put the ball in the air, especially when it's already your best weapon.

by mrh :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:44pm

Agree that sometimes it's good to throw in those situations. But also sometimes you try to win on power and accept that a failed run eats clock while an incomplete pass stops it. Part of the problem with both the 3-and-1 call and 2-and-11 call was the formation. Both were in shotgun with the back(s) lined up forward of the qb, limiting the running options. An under center QB with a back in the backfield allows for a play-action call, maybe buying the fraction of a second slowing of the pass rush. Or a bootleg, staple of this offense, where the qb fakes the handoff, rolls out and either runs for a first down, makes a safe short pass, or eats the ball to keep the clock running.

Although I'm not inclined to give Shanahan the benefit of the doubt, he may have felt hamstrung by o-line injuries in his play-calling.

Ryan showed limited awareness on both plays; neither sack came from the blindside so he had at least a chance to spot the pressure and get rid of the ball. An incomplete pass is not a great outcome since it stops the clock, but better than a sack (and fumble).

by Led :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:50pm

This is exactly what I was talking about above. You have to look at the actual game situation. Playing for a 3 point lead with over four minutes left when the other team has a TO is not the same as playing for an 11 point lead with less than three minutes left when the other team has no TO. I feel like playing the "one of these things is not like the other thing" music from Sesame Street!

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 5:15pm

That "3 point lead with over 4 minutes left when the other team has a TO" was in OT; kicking the FG would have won the game, so yes, they are absolutely comparable.

by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 5:48pm

Agreed. And the Jets did the same thing not once but *twice* against Pitt in 2004. Two separate times, once at the end of regulation and once in OT, they had the ball in makeable FG range but missed it after a few obligatory runs.

by coremill :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 6:15pm

No, they aren't comparable because of the relevance of the clock. A big reason the Falcons should have been running was to keep the clock running and make the Patriots burn their timeouts. OTOH, in playoff OT as the Chargers were, the clock is irrelevant.

by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 7:20pm

Then see the Jet example above, where the first miss was preceded by a couple runs to kill clock and ensure the FG was the final play of regulation.

by coremill :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 8:04pm

The obvious difference there is that they were playing outdoors on grass in Pittsburgh in January. Heinz Field is notorious as a very difficult place to kick. In those conditions, FG% conversion rate goes up a lot by getting inside ~35 yards.

Last night's game was indoors on field turf. The advantage you gain from going from a 40-yard kick to a 30-yard kick is minimal.

by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 8:07pm

Granted, but I think you are stretching the rebuttals a little thin. An example doesn't have to be identical to be illustrative.

by Alternator :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 8:43pm

The advantage you gain from not having to kick at all, because you end up grinding out the clock and scoring a TD, is astronomical.

by Led :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:51pm

It's actually not astronomical. It's modest. The highest your win probability can go is 100%. If you're somewhere north of 90% with a made FG and an 11 point lead, then the advantage of grinding out the clock to zero is less than than a 10% increase in your odds.

by RickD :: Wed, 02/08/2017 - 6:11pm

This is why I hate the phrase "percent increase", esp. when discussing percentages.

A "10% increase" in a number is found by multiplying the number by 1.1. If your initial odds of winning are 90%, a 10% increase in those odds would move the number up to 99%. But often people will think a "10% increase" means "add 10 percentage points" and would push the number up to 100%.

by Led :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 6:33pm

My bad. Forgot that was in OT. It was a closer comp that I thought, although the downside risk of a miss in that case (tied, Jets needing a FG to win) was greater than the downside risk of a miss last night (up 8, Pats need a TD and 2 pointer tie). FG accuracy has increased somewhat since 2004 (see https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/kickers-are-forever/), but even in 2004 a 40 yarder was a good bet. I have no issue with Marty's strategy there. Sometimes you lose even a very good bet.

The Jets/Steelers/Doug Brien game is not really comparable because kicks in Hines Field, especially in January, were lower percentage options.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:57pm

I'm not saying that Atlanta should have been going for a TD or trying to make up the 11 yards in a single play (like they apparently attempted). With the Pats defense crowding the line against the run, a quick 3-5 yard completion seems like it should be a higher percentage play than running it up the middle into the wall (while an outside run seems like it has a good chance of losing significant yardage). There's a very high chance of getting at least a few yards, and maybe one broken tackle away from first down.

I think the problem was not that a pass was even attempted, but that (1) it was apparently a slow-developing one with no hot read or extra blockers, (2) there were two blown blocks (including one up the middle), leading to (3) Ryan losing his poise and backpedaling another 4-5 yards.

I'd add that even after the sack, their very next play seemingly left them no worse off than before... except the holding penalty cost them another 10 yards.

by GlennW :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 11:45am

Run-pass decision, specific playcall, Ryan's mis-execution in not avoiding the sack-- it all adds up to a massive blunder. Sometimes it's the right thing for the head coach (yes, I blame Quinn) to take the possibility of the massive blunder out of the equation entirely. Offensive coordinators can outsmart themselves, and players want to make plays-- even an experienced QB might not have the exact endgame calculus in his head under such game pressure. As it happened, I somewhat understand how/why Ryan allowed himself to be sacked there. Ryan looked fairly "safe" and probably thought he was too in rolling to his right, and then Flowers quickly shredded Mack's block, and bam, too late, Ryan's down. It happens, and it wasn't really even a case of Ryan holding onto the ball exorbitantly long (except in hindsight), given that the playcall entailed the full dropback.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 4:14pm

There's no way to take the "possibility of a massive blunder" out of the equation.

Things happen. If he'd handed off three times to Adams, and Adams had fumbled, we'd be bitching about him not letting his two best players (Ryan/Jones) decide the game. If they donked the field goal, we'd be bitching about them being overly conservative.

Even after Ryan got sacked, if they hadn't had the holding call, its still a relatively safe FG.

The major factor there wasn't a failure in decision making, it was a huge failure in execution/results - or - the other guys are pros too.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 4:31pm

I have to admit disliking passing plays requiring very deep drops, unless my offensive line is clearly superior, passing and running.

by GlennW :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 9:00pm

Especially after the strip-sack fumble, with an O-line that was increasingly struggling to protect, and against a defense that was gambling with blitzes and/or stunts in desperation to make a big play.

Of course there is no sure thing, but there are the percentages. I absolutely would not have criticized any approach that nearly guaranteed the FG attempt (which likely was going to be the end result anyway, from whatever distance), quick pass or run. In fact I had already mentally registered it as a certainty, with the complete understanding that a 40-yard FG attempt could be missed at around a 15%-20% probability. "But they certainly can't and won't take a sack here". Nope. And that left a much more difficult 53-yard attempt that forced a legitimate attempt to gain some of the yardage back, which in turn resulted in a blatant hold, which once again was caused by a collapsing O-line struggling with the pass rush. The defense's role and current stature must be considered in the equation too, perhaps most of all.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Fri, 02/10/2017 - 11:30am

If Ryan had just moved up in the pocket when he sensed pressure, it would have been about a 2 yard sack, and assuming no gain on 3rd down, that would have been a 42 yard field goal.

The problem isn't the play call, it's that Matt Ryan made a terrible decision with regard to the game situation, and tried to loop back around the pass rusher and extend the play, and got sacked for a 12 yard loss. (And then they got a holding call on the next play)

There are times when moving backwards to try and escape a passrusher and extend a play make a lot of sense - in field goal range, at the end of regulation, in a 1 possession game is not one of those times.

Taking a sack wasn't a problem there - turning a 2 yard sack into a 12 yard sack was.

by t.d. :: Fri, 02/10/2017 - 7:08pm

...and Brady's pick six was an awful decision, under duress, that very easily could have cost his team the game. It's really tough, and Quinn must be taking it hard, losing two Super Bowls in three years by the smallest of margins

by Alternator :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 8:39pm

And if the FG misses?

If the pass connects for a first down?

by Joe Pancake :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:08pm

On point 1, I meant to say (a) the strip sack and (b) the events after the great Jones catch. Two examples -- poorly worded.

As for, "if that's what the defense gives you...", Belichick is such a good coach, the only thing he's going to give you is what maximizes the best case scenario for his team. That's my whole point!

As an example, I heard recently that at the end of the Carolina Super Bowl with the Panthers down 7, he told his DC to run a super aggressive, high-variance blitz. The Panthers scored the tying touchdown on the play. But Belichick's thinking was: (a) this is going to work and we're going to get a big sack or a turnover; (b) it's going to fail spectacularly, and we will get the ball back with more time on the clock.

Of course, the Falcons could have executed better and won the game -- that's always the case. But the Falcons allowed the genius and ultra-preparedness of Belichick win the day. They could have neutralized it greatly by being more conservative.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 10:55am

This pattern is very common with him. He runs a mostly conservative scheme, but goes super high variance in certain situations - it's why you'll find a lot of similarities in his history.

(and by similarities, I mean situations where teams are in range to score in close games and you get two sacks in a row, etc, not superbowl, down by 10, etc). I think teams have a lot of trouble dealing with big blitzes after spending 45 minutes dealing with a very passive, contain based defense.

by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:22pm

During the comeback, while the score was 28-20 I think, I mentioned to my brother that if ATL won the game, there was no question in my mind the MVP should be Grady Jarrett (DT, #97).

I also said that if NE won the game, there was also no doubt in my mind who the MVP should be. Atlanta DB #32, Jalen Collins, singlehandedly permitted the Patriots comeback. Brady spent the fourth quarter (until the last drive) throwing at "whoever is on #32."

Collins lost receivers. He missed tackles. He lost receivers, turned around, found them after they caught the ball, and THEN missed tackles. He's the guy you see wandering lost behind Amendola on the flat route for a touchdown... AND the guy wandering lost behind Amendola on the flat route Amendola caught fifteen seconds before on the same side of the field.

Brady wasn't even very good for three quarters, and he wasn't great in the fourth; he had a lot of opportunity and a lot of breaks. No one on the Patriots really distinguished themselves. So I would give the award to the player who did more than anyone else to allow the comeback.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:26pm

Exactly the same pattern as two years ago: back then it was Tharold Simon. Brady found the weakest link and kept hammering away at it.

Though I think you'd be standing the award on its head to give it to Collins.

by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:21pm

Collins also barely made it out to his assignment before the snap on about 50% of plays.

by Independent George :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:34pm

I also have memories of Brady constantly picking on the old and hobbled version Troy Polamalu.

by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:21pm

Brady picked on the young, vibrant version of Troy Polamalu just as much. They really knew how to manipulate him in coverage.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 10:59am

Polamalu was exactly the sort of player the Patriots love playing against - fantastically gifted, but undisciplined as all hell, and predictable in his tendencies to bite on fakes and route combinations.

Its funny, I think BB would have given up a ton to get Ed Reed in his prime, but I think if you gave him a in-his-prime Polamalu, it would have been Jamie Collins before there was a Jamie Collins.

by Boots Day :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:23pm

Can someone explain to me what happened at the end of the third quarter? The Falcons were lined up to punt when the play clock expired with three seconds left in the quarter. They took the delay of game penalty - and then the officials let three more seconds run off the clock, and the punt became the first play of the fourth quarter.

Why did the game clock start up again there? How much time were the refs going to allow the Falcons to kill? If the Pats had run out of time at the end of regulation, that one extra play could have been a big deal.

by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:01pm

There was also a fourth quarter sack of Ryan where the clock stopped until the ball was snapped again.

Clock was odd all game.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:30pm

I checked the rulebook at the end of the quarter. Even after a delay-of-game penalty, the officials were correct to start the clock again. The Falcons could have even burned another 30 seconds and incurred a 2nd delay of game. A third one would have incurred a personal foul. And by that time they would have given up 25 yards of field position to kill a small amount of clock. Also, they would have risked getting flagged for the "palpably unfair act" penalty. But that's all hypothetical.

by Boots Day :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:13pm

Thanks for the clarification. I assume the rules are different at the end of a half? Obviously, when the Falcons punted with eleven seconds left in regulation, they couldn't just take delay-of-game penalties until time ran out.

by Anonymouse :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 5:44pm

I thought the same thing watching it last night. Once I saw a tweet clarifying, I thought Atlanta was foolish not to (for the rest of the game), do what they wanted on first and second down, run on third to get the clock moving, and take an intentional delay of game on the first fourth-down. Given that Atlanta had two meaningful drives in the fourth quarter, and the Pats scored with under 1:00 to play, I feel like clock/rules exploitation could have won the game for Atlanta.

by Jerry :: Tue, 02/07/2017 - 7:16am

According to Dean Blandino, the second delay is unsportsmanlike:


by SandyRiver :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 5:17pm

Another oddity - Following the DPI in OT, the ball was at the 1. Then the Pats missed on 1st down, and the spot now looked to be close to the 2. Since White only got about half the ball across the plane before his knee touched, that might've been important.

by big10freak :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:29pm

More James White love. Kind of. Two NFL championship games went into OT. Both ended with Badger running backs scoring. On Wisconsin baby!

by big10freak :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:32pm

The interior d lines for both teams played well NE killed Atlanta runs not on first down or seemed to. And running inside on NE last night looked to be pointless. And ATL kicked tail for 3 quarters. That young guy for ATL throwing NE lineman around like a young Keith Millard was awesome

by big10freak :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:40pm

Agreed with above that Ryan did not play well. He was throwing high seemingly all night. Cripes on that 4th quarter pass to the wide open rb if that was a less skilled guy it bounces off the guys hands. That was a poor throw to a WIDE open receiver. And that was the rule versus the exception. Think all of Jones catches were Ryan going WTF make a miracle happen genre

by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:24pm

Jones made a catch in the first quarter that was objectively at least as hard as the one in the fourth. Ball must have been five feet out of bounds and eight feet up, and it -really- looked like his feet were out at full speed. But they were in - by one inch each.

by alexcaster :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:43pm

in The DVOA coment for 1988, Aaron said the next statement: "On one side, a team coming off a losing season that finally put it all together thanks to the NFL's most powerful offense, led by a quarterback winning his first league MVP award", the similiraties get to the superbowl, where the "dinasty" get heartbreaking comeback over the team that finally put all the pieces together, that is weird, history repeats itsel? jajaja, great game.

Alejandro Ontiveros

by big10freak :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 1:49pm

Offensive line play and injuries To said lines sure were shown to be critical last night. Really doubt a healthy Mack gives up those inside pressures

by Will Allen :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:15pm

Belichik did say that this was the healthiest Super Bowl team he ever had, which was another reason to like the Pats, even if the first two and half quarters went poorly.

by GlennW :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:17pm

On the fair catch/free kick question-- does the clock run there before the ball is touched by the opponent? (Which probably wouldn't happen, the kick attempt would likely go through the end zone.) If the clock doesn't run you can't risk missing that FG attempt and giving the Falcons a crack at a much easier FG attempt, obviously.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:33pm

Given that nobody seems to be seriously arguing that Gostkowski could possibly make a 75-yard FG (let's not forget he doinked a PAT earlier in the game), the entire discussion seems like little more than an intellectual exercise.

Oh, right, the weird stat of the day: the Pats scored 34 points and yet Gostkowski didn't kick a single PAT!

by GlennW :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:45pm

I don't know about that. This is a free kick-- no snap and hold, no rush, no worries about a block with a low trajectory. Occasionally we do see kickers put one through the uprights on kickoffs, when they're not even trying to do so.

by anotherpatsfan :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:45pm

Clock starts when the ball is kicked (without a tee) per the NFL rules digest so the potential for a run back seems to be the main reason not to take the chance.

by GlennW :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:56pm

Thanks. I wonder if Belichick even considered it (I sure didn't) because it seems a very low risk proposition, knowing that you only have to be concerned with a runback for TD as opposed to playing normal kick coverage for a field position advantage. Not much gets by Belichick, but there was a lot going on in the moment...

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:36pm

He obviously considered it because he told Edelman to fair catch the kick. But once he knew it was 75-yds, he liked his chances of the fake kneeldown better.

by Kalyan :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:36pm

1. An amazing win that showed that flaws can be covered by superlative effort. Fumble, Pick 6, Many INT misses, missed extra point - all become story points than nails in the PATS SB storyline. This win is more about a team believing that they can recover from any situation. Hats off to the Pats

2. I consider SB49 to be ahead of this game because it took a special game to claw back the negative freakish catch momentum that NE seem to develop. That made this game sweeter because we have the shoelace catch against the helmet catch.

3. To the Falcon fans, i say this: Your team is loaded with talent. They should remember that 9 years ago, Pats suffered a similar heartbreaking loss & then one more in Feb 2012 (that wasn't freak catch but an amazingly good play!). These 2 SB wins - 49 & 51 wouldn't be as sweet without those downturns. If Matt Ryan & team take the right lessons, i expect to see them in SB in the near future and this PATS fan will be rooting for their victory (as along as it isn't against the Pats!)


by Steve B :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:48pm

There is no "similar loss" to this one. Have to factor in the Falcons' history, too.

by JIPanick :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:14pm

1992 Oilers vs Bills, maybe. It wasn't a Super Bowl, though.

Did they ever recover from it?

by DoubleB :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:24pm

Went 12-4 the next year, lost another heartbreaker to Kansas City in the playoffs and then were never heard from again.

by Steve B :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:26pm

And left Houston a couple years later. That one comes close but, as noted, it was a Wild Card game instead of a SB. Also, the Bills had already closed the gap to 35-31 by the start of the fourth quarter.

by hscer :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:27pm

12-4 the next year before losing to the Chiefs in Joe Montana's last playoff win, then cratered to 2-14 in 1994, moved a couple years later...but of course were in the Super Bowl before the end of the decade. Have not had a particularly good 21st century, though.

by Steve B :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:34pm

Go to the SB by the end of the decade, but it was a completely different team.

Should be noted that the 12-4 finish in '93 came after a 1-4 start (which included a blowout loss to the Bills). That would indicate that they didn't get over that playoff game quickly.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:39pm

Just to be clear, the Oilers didn't crater because of any heartbreaking playoff losses (not that you, specifically, were implying that), they cratered because they were totally unprepared for the advent of the salary cap and had to dump all of their well-paid, good players (including their franchise quarterback).

by Steve in WI :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 3:56pm

There are two things that make me deeply unsatisfied with this game, and with the NFL product:

1. On the 3rd and 23 play where Atlanta was penalized for holding, the New England defender clearly yanked on the facemask of the receiver. It was so blatant that Fox even showed the replay. No flag. So instead of pushing Atlanta out of any hope of field goal range, it should have been offsetting penalties and if Atlanta failed to gain another yard, they'd have had the option of trying a 52 or 53 yard field goal to make it a two score lead. (I mean, Shanahan probably would have dialed up another pass and maybe Ryan gets sacked or turns the ball over anyway, but that's beside the point).

I'm really tired of seeing critical calls like this missed. It wasn't a judgment call like pass interference; it should be simple to spot and if the referee misses it somehow it should be reviewable.

2. The new overtime rule really isn't much better than the old one. Each team should be guaranteed a possession. It very well might not have changed the outcome of this game as it looked like Atlanta was incapable of stopping New England ever again at that point, but it would have been much more interesting to see Matt Ryan try to lead a tying touchdown drive. The coin flip still matters way too much and that's ridiculous in the biggest game of the year. After 60 minutes of play, both defenses (well, maybe not NE's last night, but generally speaking) are exhausted and are not going to play at their normal level. Making it possible for one team to keep its defense off the field entirely is an enormous advantage.

by Lyford :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:16pm

"On the 3rd and 23 play where Atlanta was penalized for holding, the New England defender clearly yanked on the facemask of the receiver"

Butler clearly did get the facemask. Of course, at the same time, the receiver committed an even worse facemask against him, actually pulling his helmet off. And the hold was blatant. It's tough to see the resolution of that play as an injustice...

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:27pm

Seems like the facemasks should have been offsetting penalties.

The refs generally tried to avoid a lot of calls early on ... until the sequence of three consecutive defensive holdings.

The hit on Edelman OOB on his first punt return was unmissable.

But why called the Pats block of the extra point I've got no idea or as Belichick said "that's bullshit" #longforgottenbyOT

by nat :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:51pm

The extra point block penalty was because the defender had gotten to the line of scrimmage covering the center before the ball was snapped. Covering the long snapper is against the rules. It's an illegal formation.

Of course, Belichick was pissed because the defender jumped the guard not the center. He was right, and the refs were wrong. But I can see why the refs would be confused. The Patriots lined up strangely, with neither the center nor the left guard covered by a defender.

It's the kind of play where the "review anything" idea would have helped to get it right. It's one of the few instances where these refs flat out got a call wrong.

In the end, it didn't matter to the result. If the score was one point closer, I expect the Patriots would have settled for OT with a kick after their final score in regulation. That's a little less tension, but the ultimately the same result.

by RickD :: Wed, 02/08/2017 - 6:18pm

That was a play where FOX's replays were pretty unhelpful. For starters, they weren't really describing the penalty well. But we also had no idea how close the jumper was to the line when the ball was snapped. They didn't even consider the possibility that he was jumping over the guard and not the center.

Fox also had a bad habit of showing a replay of "This is what Julio Jones was up to" on plays where the passes were to other people. I don't know why they kept doing that. We get it, you have a camera on him every play. Smart thing to do. But that doesn't mean we want to see a replay of his route when the pass was to Gabriel.

by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 02/06/2017 - 4:30pm

Logan Ryan, but I agree.