Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief
Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter

Andrew Potter: Football is nuts. That game was nutser. I still haven't caught up on sleep.

Bryan: I'm still more or less speechless. What an astounding game -- we got to witness the greatest comeback in NFL history, bar none. Sure, there have been larger comebacks, but this was the Super Bowl. Nearly everyone was writing the Patriots off for dead. They should have been dead! They needed so many things to go their way in the second half -- and every time there was a major do-or-die point, the Patriots did, and the Falcons died.

Andrew: They were dead. The only thing missing was the stake. Of course, Bill Belichick's a vampire, so missing the stake is kind of a big deal. Thus, here we are.

Bryan: They were dead when Robert Alford returned Tom Brady's interception for a touchdown in the second quarter. They were dead when the Falcons kept them from scoring a touchdown at the end of the first half. They were dead when they had to settle for a field goal on their first drive of the fourth quarter. Surely!

Andrew: They were deadest when Atlanta was in 40-yard field goal territory up eight with three minutes left.

Bryan: Pro Football Reference gave Atlanta a 97.5 percent chance of winning there. Not their highest for the game -- but higher than it ever got after that point.

Andrew: Ah, the fabled Win Probability Estimate. Much-maligned, much-misunderstood.

Bryan: What gets me the most about this game is how there are so many great moments that are just forgotten, considering what came after it. It's the story of the Atlanta Falcons finally bringing a conference championship home, after collapsing in the 2012 NFC Championship Game, rolling to an easy victory over the dominant force of the NFL in the past few years. Wait, no, it's the story of Tom Brady and the experienced Patriots marching down the field, crushing the Falcons under his boots. No, stop, it's the story of Julio Jones having his Lynn Swann moment, making one of the most phenomenal catches you'll ever see to put the Falcons over the top with an easy, game-clinching field goal. But wait, it's the story of the Falcons' questionable play calling and the Sack that Never Should Have Been Taken.

And those are just the headlines! They ignore Devonta Freeman's big game as the Falcons rushed all around New England's line. They ignore James White and his three touchdowns, including the game-tying and game-winning results.

Andrew: And Grady Jarrett, Super Bowl MVP if the game ended after the third quarter.

Bryan: I'm pretty sure Alternate Reality Grady Jarrett is complaining that Julio Jones wins that MVP after a phenomenal fourth quarter as a skill position guy, but your point stands -- all those amazing storylines and fantastic play, and we end up with Tom Brady winning MVP. Again. After breaking the record for passing yards in a Super Bowl -- something both of us basically said would not happen.

Andrew: Well, I said the record would be broken, but it would be his opposite number doing it. Fortunately, as we'll get to shortly, the prop didn't ask us to specify which quarterback would break it.

Bryan: Everything from the comeback -- the largest in Super Bowl history -- to the DVOA splits to the sheer number of plays run by each team simply doesn't compute. Football games aren't supposed to go like this. Was the best game I've ever seen? That's really, really hard to judge -- but it's the greatest unique game I've ever seen. I can't think of anything like it, ever.

Andrew: What gets me, going back to what you wrote above, is that for all the absolute MADNESS of the game itself, Vegas still absolutely nailed it. Look at the over/under of 59.5: if the winning overtime score is a field goal, the point total is under. It's a touchdown, so it's over. If the Patriots lose the overtime coin toss, they might lose the game. They win it, so they cover the spread.

Bryan: And because they don't have to kick the extra point, they fall into the Patriots 1-6 block, instead of 7-13.

Andrew: Right. The highest scoring quarter, the MVP, the first touchdown. Julio Jones was one catch from the over on his yardage total. Julian Edelman was one catch that he dropped away from the over on his.

Bryan: Turns out the Vegas guys are pretty good at this sort of stuff; that's why they do it for a living, I suppose.

Andrew: This is also why I only ever gamble imaginary money, never my own.

Bryan: I do want to dial one thing back from Audibles, while we're at it. We're talking about how great the game was and how amazing the finish was, and don't get me wrong -- it's one of the all-time great finishes and fourth quarters and all that. It belongs right up there with the greatest games ever played.

But, in the excitement of the moment, I called this one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever played, and I'm going to have to take issue with that. With myself. In the cold light of day, I don't think I agree with that at all, actually. The fourth quarter? Phenomenal. But most of the game played out like a blowout, and it's only really exciting in retrospect.

Andrew: It depends what angle you're coming from, I suppose. To me, the very fact that it was a complete blowout until the fourth quarter started is what made the rest of the game amazing. If the teams had simply traded scores 7-3, 14-9, 21-12 (with a 10-point swing on the pick-six), 28-20, 28-28, it would have been a terrific game, but I think we'd have more of a sense of "Atlanta was fortunate that the pick-six gave them a two-score lead in a game New England mostly dominated" than "what the freaking heck just happened and how?!?" Exciting, certainly, but not mind-blowing.

Bryan: You're looking at this from an overarching point of view, with context and knowing how everything transpired. That's fine, but I'm thinking about the game in the moment, sitting on the couch and not knowing what's coming next. There's only so much you can get excited about anything going on in a 28-3 game in the third quarter; I know I was getting up to get chips and refill my drink and things like that. Compare that to the fourth quarter, when I was glued to my seat the entire time.

So much of this game seemed uncompetitive at the time -- compare that to something like Super Bowl XLIX, where the Patriots and Seahawks were throwing outstanding plays back and forth up and down the field. I'd argue that was more exciting to watch as it happened. Super Bowl LI may be greater (your mileage may vary), but less exciting.

Andrew: I definitely understand what you're saying. Super Bowl XLIX was way more exciting for the rest of the game, and had the unbelievable "did that just happen?!?" sequence at the end. It's just that, for this game, that end sequence lasted around half an hour rather than a single drive. I completely agree that other games were objectively "better," and that "greatness" is much more subjective.

Bryan: If you want to make an argument that it was the most exciting endgame in Super Bowl history, I'm not sure I could disagree.

Somehow, we have come this far and not even mentioned the insane Julian Edelman foot-catch -- there were so many great moments at the end that we're forgetting half of them.

Because I was so excited about the game -- and because I'm a huge nerd -- I spent the night afterwards combing through play-by-play of previous Super Bowls. I used a working definition for "excitement" -- basically, taking the sum total of the play-by-play changes in win probability, under the theory that "exciting" plays are ones that produce massive swings in terms of who is going to win -- and I came up with the answer of Super Bowl XXIII being the most exciting Super Bowl ever. I'm happy with that, 'cause it's my team winning it all -- Joe Montana marching the 49ers down the field in arguably the best comeback of his career; a tight back-and-forth contest all the way; Jerry Rice setting the Super Bowl record for receiving yards; the best Bengals team ever coming up just short... it's good stuff. I recommend people go watch that one -- which you can, 'cause the NFL put it on YouTube!

Andrew: You are a huge nerd. I'm impressed. I'm guessing, by that metric, this past weekend actually graded out quite poorly. All the big win probability swings were at the end, whereas the rest of the game was -- as you say -- a blowout.

Bryan: While that's true, they do add up. It actually finishes 25th, pretty much smack dab in the middle. If I was doing this more officially, as opposed to something at 2 in the morning, I might also think about weighting the fourth quarter more heavily, which would boost it up the rankings.

The second-most exciting Super Bowl by this metric would be Super Bowl V, which is generally considered the sloppiest Super Bowl ever played -- a combined 11 turnovers. That certainly isn't one of the greatest games of all time, but I'm fine with it ranking high -- I would consider the buttfumble an exciting play, even if it was a poorly executed one. Super Bowl V was the buttfumble of Super Bowls.

Rounding out the top five would be John Elway helicoptering into the end zone in Super Bowl XXXII; the epic Patriots-Panthers back-and-forth match in Super Bowl XXXVIII; and the first of the three Steelers-Cowboys matchups in Super Bowl X. A good set of games all.

Andrew: Though again, no Super Bowl XLIII (Steelers over Cardinals) or Super Bowl XLIX (Patriots over Seahawks).

Bryan: XLIX is in the top 10, though this metric calls it only the third-most exciting Patriots Super Bowl of all time. XLIII ranks fairly highly, though I have always had a hard time placing that one myself. I watched it on a balcony, leaning out to get free wifi from a convenience store down the road in Japan, and the low-quality feed made it seem more like an impressionist's version of a football game than an all-time classic.

Andrew: It was a great game, though I was aggrieved about both the outcome and the final play. I really wanted Kurt Warner to win that.

Bryan: Ultimately, this is all subjective anyway. I mean, by the metric, the least exciting Super Bowl of all time was the 49ers pasting the Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX, and I seem to remember that one being very exciting! At least, I certainly enjoyed it.

Andrew: I bet Seahawks fans were more excited by XLVIII (obliterating Denver) than XL (hey, did you know Jerome Bettis is from Detroit?), too. As was I, because seeing the very best team play like the very best team is itself awesome even if it ends up 40-8. Neither Pittsburgh nor Seattle played particularly well in 2006, even if the game was closer.

Bryan: Yeah, there's a sense of awe that can come from seeing the best team absolutely dismantle the second-best team. It looked like this year's Super Bowl was heading in that direction, but, well... Brady happens.

No matter how you want to slice it -- greatest, exciting, thrilling, awe-inspiring -- this game was great. Go watch it again.

Andrew: I'm not sure my heart could take it. Pretty sure I aged five years on Sunday night alone.

Bryan: You and me both.

For the record, here is the complete list of Dynamic Indicies of Super Bowl Excitement Levels Incorporating Every Fluctuation, or DISBELIEF for short.

Rank Super Bowl Rank Super Bowl Rank Super Bowl Rank Super Bowl
1 XXIII (SF 20, CIN 16) 14 XLII (NYG 17, NE 14) 27 XXVIII (DAL 30, BUF 13) 40 XXXIII (DEN 34, ATL 19)
2 V (BAL 16, DAL 13) 15 XXXIX (NE 24, PHI 21) 28 IV (KC 23, MIN 7) 41 XIX (SF 38, MIA 16)
3 XXXII (DEN 31, GB 24) 16 XIV (PIT 31, LARM 19) 29 XXI (NYG 39, DEN 20) 42 XXVI (WAS 37, BUF 24)
4 XXXVIII (NE 32, CAR 29) 17 XVII (WAS 27, MIA 17) 30 XXXVII (TB 48, OAK 21) 43 VI (DAL 24, MIA 3)
5 X (PIT 21, DAL 17) 18 XLV (GB 31, PIT 25) 31 XXXV (BAL 34, NYG 7 ) 44 XXXI (GB 35, NE 21)
6 XLVII (BAL 34, SF 31) 19 IX (PIT 16, MIN 6) 32 XVIII (LARD 38, WAS 9) 45 XLVIII (SEA 43, DEN 8)
7 XIII (PIT 35, DAL 31) 20 XLIV (NO 31, IND 17) 33 XXVII (DAL 52, BUF 17) 46 I (GB 35, KC 10)
8 XLVI (NYG 21, NE 17) 21 XXIV (STL 23, TEN 16) 34 XXII (WAS 42, DEN 10) 47 XX (CHI 46, NE 10)
9 XLIX (NE 28, SEA 24) 22 XL (PIT 21, SEA 10) 35 XV (OAK 27, PHI 10) 48 II (GB 33, OAK 14)
10 50 (DEN 24, CAR 10) 23 XLI (IND 29, CHI 17) 36 VII (MIA 14, WAS 7) 49 XXIV (SF 55, DEN 10)
11 XXV (NYG 20, BUF 19) 24 III (NYJ 16, BAL 7) 37 XII (DAL 27, DEN 10) 50 VIII (MIA 24, MIN 7)
12 XXXVI (NE 20, STL 17) 25 LI (NE 34, ATL 28) 38 XI (OAK 32, MIN 14) 51 XXIX (SF 49, SD 26)
13 XLIII (PIT 27, ARI 23) 26 XVI (SF 26, CIN 21) 39 XXX (DAL 27, PIT 17)  

Super Bowl Commercial Watch

Andrew: Scramble wouldn't be Scramble without at least one Super Bowl commercial review, which we'll keep relatively short. Here's my absolute favorite of the Super Bowl commercials:

Good slapstick gets me every time. I laughed, and laughed, and am still laughing now. Melissa McCarthy's facial expressions are gold. Most of the ones other people liked (#NSFWireless in particular) kinda creep me out.

Bryan: I'm a simple man. All I ask for from my commercials are a funny premise, executed by a solid comedian, with an '80s soundtrack in the background. And people getting hurt. That's important as well. This clearly was the best commercial of the night for me, and it wasn't really close. Hell of a weekend for McCarthy, picking up the best commercial on the Super Bowl and the best sketch on Saturday Night Live in less than 24 hours.

Andrew: As for the worst, I'd give that either to the Budweiser Spuds MacKenzie ghost-dog thing (for which I recognize I'm not the target demographic) or this Justin Bieber abomination:

Bryan: The Spuds ad mostly serves to remind people that Spuds is dead, which seems like an odd choice to celebrate during a Super Bowl. That, or millennials rushing to their computers to google "who the heck is Spuds MacKenzie?" Seriously, I bet a third of the audience had no idea who that was supposed to be. Nor should they! The Beiber ad was... well, it certainly was a thing that happened; we can all agree on that. It was one of those ads where you can tell the company shelled out some money to hire a celebrity… and then really didn't have a plan to follow that up, assuming the celebrity himself would carry the ad. Better to get McCarthy -- or the host of celebrities Honda got for their Yearbooks ad -- and have them do something amusing than just go "look! It's the Beebs!"

Andrew: The Honda Yearbooks ad was pretty good, yeah. Though I still think most of the vehicles in those commercials have about two too many wheels to faithfully carry the Honda marque.

Bryan: My worst ad of the night is shared by the entire concept of mobile games. Mobile games are always a little bit cruddy -- even the best are glorified Skinner boxes, designed to get you to come back again and again with hundreds of dollars in microtransactions -- so maybe I'm a bit biased. But none of the commercials worked at all for me -- not Ah-nold grunting about military action, not Aaron Eckhart wearing a funny hat, and certainly not parodies of reality show trends that peaked in popularity a good five years ago.

Andrew: I'll agree with your complaint about free-to-play mobile games like Mobile Strike and World of Tanks. That's the free-to-play stuff though; there are some absolute gems of "proper" games on mobile, like Shadowrun Returns and Knights of Pen & Paper and... well anything in the Humble Store, really. But that's a discussion for another time!

Bryan: I view those as games that happen to be playable on mobile, as opposed to mobile games, if that makes sense -- I'm currently sucked well down the rabbit hole of Hearthstone, and probably won't see the light of day until draft season kicks off. But even if I was a fan of mobile games, those ads feel a good five years too late.

Andrew: Though still better than Kate Upton horrendously hamming it up for Game of War.

Bryan: Good lord, yes. What is it about mobile games that inspire the absolute worst ads on TV?

I also have to give a bit of a shout-out to Tide for year-after-year coming out with a very solid ad. Ever since they had the pilgrimage to a Joe Montana stain back in the Ravens-49ers Super Bowl, they have been very consistent, and while this year's Terry Bradshaw stain spot suffered a little from "look what we can get trending on Twitter"-itis, I still found it pretty darn amusing. More Jeffrey Tambor, please. Not the funniest of this year, but another in a string of consistently amusing ads.

Andrew: It wasn't one of my favorites, but I can accept that a lot of other people liked it.

I feel unable to end this segment without mentioning one final ad, one that might not have been seen by a lot of people who don't follow these things on MyFace and InstaBook. It seemingly only aired in the Boston area, with Shields MRI being a local company, and was first aired during the post-game show.

Roger that, indeed.

Bryan: That's all well and good, but what I want to see is the ~other~ ad. They had to have filmed something else in case the Patriots came up short, right? How does that commercial go?

Andrew: Oh, the alternate one has been airing since October, and basically just ends after the four rings go into the locker. It's nothing special. They did, however, record both endings in September, before Brady had even stepped onto the field this season.

Bryan: I'd be more interested to see that one air before the Super Bowl. Broadway Joe it ain't.

No, our last ad has to be this one, which aired during the pregame -- at least, it did in some markets. Cards Against Humanity came out with this:

Now. This is how you do an anti-ad right, as opposed to the awful "we just wasted $2 million" E-Trade ad from back in the day, but the joke doesn't land until you read their post-mortem of "why our ad didn't work", including such lines as "we spent so much time selecting the right potato for the ad that we never stopped to question whether a potato would convey the essential brand experience of Cards Against Humanity." It's hilarious, and worth a read.

Andrew: Three cheers for grunge advertising, I guess. Though I confess, I have never once seen the appeal of Cards Against Humanity.

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Bryan: Oh no, the game is terrible -- maybe funny once, if you're 12, or drunk, or both. Their marketing has consistently been solid, though.

Andrew: Well it would have to be, really, to enable them to sell something like that. Dangit, now I sound like my grandmother talking about R.E.M.

Bryan: It's OK, Andrew, I know we're well past your bedtime. I'll go chase those kids off of your lawn.

Andrew: I appreciate it. And I think that's it for commercials!

Staff Playoff League Results

Bryan: The question coming in was whether Sterling could hold onto his lead, or if Aaron and the Falcons offense could overcome a 25-point deficit. In the end, it wasn't even close.

Aaron is your champion, roaring past Sterling behind the duo of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones -- plus three touchdowns from James White. Sterling holds onto second place after the great showing of the all-Packers strategy, but it just wasn't enough in the end. Vince finishes third, with Devonta Freeman's strong day ensuring no one caught him from behind.

Despite Tom Brady's record-setting day at quarterback, Scott finishes tied in fourth place with Bryan, whose strategy of "have a bunch of players on the Super Bowl teams" should have been changed to "have a bunch of good players on the Super Bowl teams." Andrew brings up the rear with a collection of one-and-dones.

Scott Aaron Sterling Vince Bryan Andrew
QB Tom Brady Matt Ryan Aaron Rodgers Russell Wilson Ben Roethlisberger Dak Prescott

79 91 86 38 42 28
RB Jay Ajayi Ezekiel Elliott Ty Montgomery Le'Veon Bell LeGarrette Blount Spencer Ware

4 12 26 47 14 9
RB Dion Lewis James White Lamar Miller Devonta Freeman Tevin Coleman Latavius Murray

19 38 21 49 26 10
WR Julian Edelman Julio Jones Jordy Nelson Doug Baldwin Antonio Brown Odell Beckham

39 50 13 30 41 2
WR Dez Bryant Chris Hogan Davante Adams Jarvis Landry Michael Crabtree DeAndre Hopkins

25 44 32 10 3 18
WR Cole Beasley Tyreek Hill Eli Rogers Taylor Gabriel Malcolm Mitchell Mohamed Sanu

4 3 7 16 7 23
TE Travis Kelce C.J. Fiedorowicz Jimmy Graham Ladarius Green Martellus Bennett Jason Witten

7 12 11 0 9 11
K Robbie Gould Stephen Gostkowski Mason Crosby Chris Boswell Matt Bryant Steven Hauschka

8 31 25 30 22 17
D New York Kansas City New England Seattle Atlanta Houston

0 1 19 1 21 10
Total 185 282 240 221 185 128

The perfect team would have been:
QB: Matt Ryan, Atlanta (Aaron, 91 points)
RB: Devonta Freeman, Atlanta (Vince, 49 points)
RB: Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh (Vince, 47 points)
WR: Julio Jones, Atlanta (Aaron, 50 points)
WR: Chris Hogan, New England (Aaron, 44 points)
WR: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh (Bryan, 41 points)
TE: Jared Cook, Green Bay (Undrafted, 33 points)
K: Stephen Gostkowski, New England (Aaron, 31 points)
DEF: Atlanta (Bryan, 21 points)

Best of the Rest

Bryan: Believe it or not, no one scored any points in the Super Bowl for the Best of the Resters -- Michael Floyd was inactive and Justin Hardy was limited to special teams duty. That means, for the second straight year, BedfordP is your champion; his 102 points were about all anyone could possibly scrape together this season. Featuring Alex Smith, Thomas Rawls, Jared Cook, Dan Bailey, and the Pittsburgh defense, BedfordP made nearly every possible correct decision with the poor pool he had remaining. Well done!

Football Outsiders Playoff Challenge

We've got two winners for the 2017 FO Playoff Challenge. Chris Long and Tammer Raouf will both get free copies of the 2017 KUBIAK projections and FOA 2017. Here was the winning roster:

QB Aaron Rodgers GB
QB Tom Brady NE
RB Ezekiel Elliott DAL
RB Lamar Miller HOU
RB Latavius Murray OAK
RB Le'Veon Bell PIT
WR Julio Jones ATL
WR Jarvis Landry MIA
WR Odell Beckham NYG
WR Doug Baldwin SEA
TE Eric Ebron DET
TE Travis Kelce KC

Since a majority of teams had Tom Brady and Julio Jones, this contest was really won in the first two rounds of the playoffs. We apologize for some confusion, as the Playoff Challenge page above listed scores of the most recent week rather than total scores for the entire postseason. Whoops. Here's a page listing season standings.


Keep Choppin' Wood: It feels bad to pile on to the Falcons' misery, so we'll keep this short. Devonta Freeman replaced the injured Tevin Coleman mid-drive for a snap he simply wasn't meant to play, but that doesn't quite excuse his whiff on a critical block against a blitzing Dont'a Hightower. Matt Ryan was sacked from his blind side, fumbled, and the Patriots recovered for a critical turnover. Freeman said afterward that he didn't think he was meant to block Hightower, but his coaches said otherwise. It's the kind of mental mistake teams trying to close out an upset against a top opponent simply can't afford to make.

John Fox Award for Conservatism: Your Audibles crew was not fond of the tight end screen to Martellus Bennett on New England's first scoring drive of the game, shortly before halftime. Your Scramble team agrees with the consensus: it was a startlingly conservative call in the circumstances, even though the ensuing three points did eventually prove vital.

Mike Martz Award for Confusing Coaching: Welcome to San Francisco, Kyle Shanahan; if you wouldn't mind leaving your fourth-quarter playbook from the Super Bowl behind when you come, that would be great. Fourth quarter, 4:40 left in the game, Falcons ball holding an eight-point lead from the New England 22-yard line. Kneel three times, and you get a 39-yard field goal to essentially ice the game. Instead, a second-down pass play results in a 12-yard loss on a Trey Flowers sack (gotta throw the ball away, Matt Ryan!). A third-down pass play ends up forcing Jake Matthews to hold to prevent another sack. End result: fourth-and-33 from the New England 45, a punt -- and you know the rest.

"Bottom of the Barrel" Fantasy Player of the Week: I'll be honest with you; when only one game is going on, every significant offensive player is going to be taken in any fantasy league possible. James White's three touchdowns are a great choice here, but even the third Patriots running back was likely owned in most formats. Danny Amendola was the best player not owned by anyone in our Staff League or the Best of the Rest, so his 78-yard, one-touchdown day takes home the last honor of the season.

Prop Bet Extravaganza Results

Bryan: Everything was going so well. After bidding thousands of bars of gold-pressed latinum on the results, both Andrew and I were close to breaking even -- down about a hundred each, which is well within the vig. That's a perfectly acceptable outcome, considering we were betting on random things like coin flips and song choices.

And then, for the first time in Super Bowl history, we went to overtime.

No Super Bowl had ever gone to overtime! It was supposed to be a high-scoring game, making two teams tying in regulation less likely! There were missed extra points and two-point conversion attempts; the odds of this game ending up exactly tied were very low. Both of us picked "no" on overtime, and it cost us each 1,500 bars. I guess we'll be stuck in Aaron's Dabo pit for another season, dreaming of what might have been.

But which of us will at least have the silver lining of being the Scramble Prop Bet King?

There were areas where we both took a bath. Both of us had no special teams or defensive touchdown being scored -- Robert Alford made fools of us late in the second quarter, and cost us each 200 bars. We each thought that the Patriots would outscore Russell Westbrook, but Westbrook went ahead and put up 42 points on Portland. Ding us another 140.

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Both of us were right on some things. We both saw the Patriots' onside kick coming, which netted us 145 bars. We both thought that someone, somewhere would attempt a two-point conversion for another 110. We thought that Julio Jones would be held under 95.5 yards, and while he was amazing, he did come up just short.

I got Tom Brady right for MVP and the first team to score losing, which bolstered my score. Andrew correctly picked the second quarter as highest scoring, and Lady Gaga opening with the field at halftime. It was a close fought race.

But the difference came on two props. I thought the two kickers in the game were solid enough that they wouldn't miss a PAT; when Stephen Gostkowski clanked one off the uprights late in the third quarter, Andrew had a 700-bar swing. I also thought Kurt Warner's record of 415-plus passing yards were safe, so when Brady etched his name into the record books again, Andrew picked up a 1,450-bar swing.

Had either of those events not occurred, I'd be your champion today. As it stands, though, Andrew finishes with a loss of 1,720 bars, and I find myself in a deficit of 1,755. The agony of defeat.

Lock of the Week Final Results:
Bryan: 10-9-1
Andrew: 7-11-2


That was one of the most painful losses in NFL history, Atlanta. No team in Super Bowl history has had a win so firmly in their grasp, only to watch it slide through their fingers. That one's going to take some time to recover from.

On the plus side, you're not likely to be a one-and-done team. The only significant free agents on the team are fullback Patrick DiMarco and the aging Dwight Freeney. While the offense isn't likely to be quite as good again next year, just due to regression toward the mean, it's still likely to be one of the best in football. Your very young defense showed improvement down the stretch and looks poised to continue to take steps forward in years to come. Improve the front seven in the draft and free agency, and you could see yourselves right back in position to blow another huge lead in Super Bowl LII.

As for you, New England, spread some of the joy around, will you? With five championships under the pairing of Belichick and Brady, you're really hogging the NFL's supply of shiny trophies and colored confetti. Most fans outside of New England wouldn't mind if you held off on winning another one through, oh, let's say Super Bowl LXI.

Unlike the Falcons, the Patriots have many free agents to worry about this offseason -- Logan Ryan, Dont'a Hightower, James Devlin, Martellus Bennett, and so on. If there's one thing they have proved during their dynasty, however, it's that as long as Brady is playing at a high level, the Patriots can rebuild around him with guys you've never heard of. They, too, could use a boost to their front seven -- their "top scoring defense" ranking this year was mostly smoke and mirrors -- but until age finally catches up to Brady, there's no reason not to consider them Super Bowl contenders yet again.

Cleveland, you're on the clock. The 2016 season is done. Everyone's 0-0. Hope dawns again!


Bryan: Thank you all for putting up with us through an odd and turbulent 2016 season! Scramble goes back on the shelf for now, but it shall return for a 15th season next year.

Andrew: In the meantime, we'll still accept e-mails for award suggestions, crazy videos, outlandish Super Bowl conspiracy theories...

Bryan: … but for now, those will be for our own amusement. So long, and thanks for all the fish!

Andrew: Oh, so now you out yourself as a Dolphins fan...


51 comments, Last at 13 Feb 2017, 1:30pm

1 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

Not to beat a dead horse here, and props for noticing Grady Jarrett's huge game, but going through this and not giving Jalen Collins, DB #32, the KCW or even a shout out is insane.

Dude played like he had an uncashed check from Gisele Bundchen in his locker.

20 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

I agree with Will. But then Brady started picking on Collins. And the Patriots suddenly looked like World Champions, because Collins couldn't cover anything, and barely even made it out to the sideline to his assignment on time every play. He allowed a touchdown, covering the same receiver (Amendola) he had allowed a catch on the same route (a simple flat route) the previous play (on the same side of the field). Chris Hogan broke his tackles.

I haven't seen a DB look so helpless since the regular season when the Saints were playing regularly. And he was covering the #2-3-4 receivers on a team thought of as having very ordinary receivers (Not TEs, Bennett and Gronk are awesome).

I think about 10 of 12 passes went to "whoever was guarded by #32" between the Falcons last score and 28-20.

22 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

It reminds me of the 2006 AFCCG in that way. Both groups outscored their dynamic opposing offenses in the first half, but once the tide turned you got the sense it wasn't coming back. A purely coincidental similarity is that NE allowed 32 second half points vs. the 31 conceded by Atlanta on Sunday.

EDIT: Another similarity is Eric Alexander as a corollary for Collins. Both offenses made particular hay by constantly poking at the same scab.

2 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

"In the cold light of day, I don't think I agree with that at all, actually. The fourth quarter? Phenomenal. But most of the game played out like a blowout, and it's only really exciting in retrospect."

But I don't see why it's wrong to assess it in retrospect. In retrospect, the performance of _Our American Cousin_ on April 15, 1865 was the most significant dramatic performance in American history. Nothing wrong with saying that.

3 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

Sooo World of Tanks player here, and while I agree that the ad is somewhat cringeworthy, it is most certainly NOT a mobile game, as you can tell by those PS4, XBOX 360, and Windows 10 logos.

8 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

It is, however, a F2P game, even if it's a great improvement over the normal kinds of pay-to-win mobile garbage like Mobile Strike, plus there is a mobile version in World of Tanks Blitz (if that still exists). I World of Tanked a lot until I hit what was effectively a paywall.

Also, relevant to the article itself:
"Improve the front seven in the draft and free agency, and you could see yourselves right back in position to blow another huge lead in Super Bowl LII."


5 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

The Patriots top scoring defense held Atlanta to 21 points. It pushed them out of field goal range twice. And Atlanta moved the ball and scored on some extremely high degree of difficulty catches that even Julio Jones is unlikely to replicate in the same circumstances.

And the defense is young. They will sign Hightower 100%, and Butler 85%. Ryan is the question mark, and it depends on what the market is on him.

Prediction: The Pats will flip Garappolo into picks that include one of the best linebackers in the draft that can cover tight ends and is smart and fast sideline-to-sideline filling stretch run gaps.

If they can improve their edge rushing even a little bit as Flowers continues to emerge as one of the best inside rushers in the league, Brady will enjoy a twilight supporting one of the defenses in the league for several years.

9 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief


This season the Falcons 18 games before the SB. They scored 30+ in 14 of them.

In the others they scored 15 (Eagles), 23 (Denver), 26 (Seattle), 28 Chiefs.

I don't know what the Eagles did or how good their defense is, but the other three are considered among the best in the league. Come playoff time, the Falcons put 36 on Seattle. Yes there's a question mark due to the absence of Chancellor.

But hey, 21 pts conceded by the Pats is second worst of the year for the Falcons offense.

11 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

First, they only gave up 20 - that illegal formation or whatever it was - horseshit.

I think people have trouble with the fact that the first touchdown drive was ridiculous (with the falcons moving the ball in 20 yard chunks), and the 4th one also had some serious chunk plays.

The defense looked pretty helpless on those drives (although they were a PI call away from getting a FG on one of them - call was right, but atleast they got to 3rd down), and I think that colors people's memory. They were pretty stingy outside those drives.

18 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

Falcons offense had big plays not just on the scoring drives.

- Their opening run of the game went like for 35-yds.
- On their 2nd-to-last drive they started on their 9-yd line and in about two plays they were on the Pats 22-yd line ready to run the ball and kick the clinching FG. A big run and the big pass to Julio.

I've never seen the Patriots defense gashed like that before. It broke every rule of what BB tries to achieve on defense. But they were effective in scoring defense.

23 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

"Their opening run of the game went like for 35-yds."

It did. Here's the next 3 plays though:

(12:55) 24-D.Freeman left end to ATL 48 for 3 yards (98-T.Flowers, 90-M.Brown).
2-7-ATL 48
(12:16) 2-M.Ryan pass short right to 42-P.DiMarco to 50 for 2 yards (23-P.Chung).
(11:32) (Shotgun) 2-M.Ryan sacked at ATL 40 for -10 yards (98-T.Flowers).

That's not getting gashed. That's a successful defensive drive. The 35 yard run was irrelevant because drives (and time) are the limiting resource in football.

People shouldn't be surprised that when the Patriots played a team that could be expected to hang with them, they switched to a much higher variance defense. Its exactly what they should have done.

26 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

I was agreeing with you and yet you seem to want to quibble over the words "gashing the defense" and turn it into an argument.

I was giving further examples of why other people don't think it was a decent defensive performance. In all, there were at least four, maybe 5 drives by Atlanta that had plays for big yards and that sticks in people's minds rather than the actual points conceded.

10 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

"Andrew correctly picked the second quarter as highest scoring, and Lady Gaga opening with the field at halftime. It was a close fought race."

Didn't she open with "Poker Face", which was one of the options?

19 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

Not that it really matters or anything, but can someone explain the scoring for the fantasy challenge? On the weekly standings seems the top is all Brady/Julio, but surely Freeman scored more than Julio this week right? Most the bottom teams seem to involve Freeman. Am I missing something about how it was scored? Does he get a huge penalty for missing that block?

EDIT: I now see the page is dated to Feb 4th so presumably Championship week standings, makes more sense now. Ignore me.

21 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

I’m not sure the Bennett screen pass counts as a "conservative call" as it very well could have led to time running out without either a touchdown or a field goal attempt. So it was actually risky. "Worst call ever" comes to mind, possibly with "one of the" in front of it.

27 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

"As was I, because seeing the very best team play like the very best team is itself awesome even if it ends up 40-8."

43-8, actually. The only time in NFL history a game has ended in that score.

By the way, in that game, John Fox chose to punt the ball early in the third quarter, down 29 points, on the Seahawks side of the field! Contrast this with the Patriots trying an onside kick and going for it on 4th down in the third quarter. It's an example of Belichick outclassing pretty much every other coach in the league, and it shows what a big part his decision-making and tactical moves played in the comeback.

28 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

Super Bowl XXIII was wonderfully great but as I recall it was 3-3 at halftime. It got exciting in the 2nd half. I'm not sure that half-time score qualifies it as the most exciting ever.

29 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

I found it surprising that XX ranked anywhere but last on the excitement index. Was it Fridge vulturing a TD from Sweetness? Tony Eason's deer-in-headlights performance? To me, that was the greatest mismatch (in hindsight) of any SB. Having 51 in the midrange reminds me that "The Greatest Game Ever Played" would probably land about the same place if pre-SB NFL championship games were included. Like 51, that game had 35-40 minutes of meh, followed by some wicked excitement.

"That was the Top 5 defense everyone in NE was expecting at the beginning of the year - who knew that they had to get rid of their two most talented players to get there?"

As proof that correlation doesn't imply causation, the Pats' D appeared to play its best after Gronk went on IR.

31 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

I think the reason XX doesn't fall dead last is the fact that the Patriots had the lead in that game! Walter Payton fumbled on the opening drive, Tony Eason missed three passes, and the Patriots settled for a field goal. 3-0, Pats! The Bears then had to go on a comeback which, I think we would all agree, was ~almost as impressive~ as what the Patriots did this year.

XXIX was considered a bigger forgone conclusion before the game (Bears were favored by 10 points; the 49ers were favored by 19), and then the 49ers scored touchdowns on the 4th and 14th plays of the game -- and I'm including kickoffs and extra point attempts in that list.

The '85 Patriots provided a brief moment of hope that the game might be competitive. The '94 Chargers...did not.

32 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

I recall watching SportsCenter the night of the conference championship games that '94 season, and Olbermann's line; "This just in--the San Francisco 49ers have already scored the first touchdown of Super Bowl XXIX." That game was boring two weeks before it was even played.

33 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

According to Pro Football Reference's win probability model, the Chargers had a less than 7% chance of winning the game -- at the opening kickoff! That seems absurdly low given the nature of NFL football (even 23 years ago), but it seems absurdly high given the actual result of the game.

Once the Chargers beat the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, a Super Bowl blowout by the NFC was a virtual guarantee. I think the Cowboys would have crushed the Chargers as well. But you have to hand it to Stan Humphries and the Gang (including Natrone "Refried" Means); they beat Miami on the road down 21-3 at the half and then beat the Steelers on the road down 13-3 at the half. That's a pretty good (if fluky) Super Bowl run.

35 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

Part of the 7% chance is actually -after- the opening kickoff -- the 49ers, thanks to a short kick and a facemask penalty, got the ball on their own 41 yard line.

If I were making this a fully rigorous, Football Outsiders-approved metric, I'd probably use a form of win probability that used DVOA rather than betting spreads to set the baseline chances for winning the game -- or even just have it 'assume' the teams are equally matched, as if you were coming into the game with no preconceived notions whatsoever.

But yeah, San Diego had a nice run, but were just definitely outclassed. By weighted DVOA, they were at a respectable 7.7% entering the playoffs. The 49ers were at 39.5%. I think the prevailing mood at the time was that the Chargers wouldn't stand a chance, though I don't think most people had a blowout of ~quite that caliber~ on the cards!

I would have taken the Chargers +19, at least, and the under of 52 points. I would have been wrong both times!

36 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

The fumble recovery must be that brief moment. Everything after that clearly demonstrated - on that day at least - the Pats didn't belong in the same area code as the Bears, much less on the same field. (And "almost as impressive" wins this week's snark award.)

41 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

Reminds me of a Sammy Baugh anecdote after the 73-0 obliteration by the Bears. He'd had a TD pass nullified by penalty when the score was something like 14-0, and when asked later if scoring there would've made a difference, he responded: "Sure. It would've been 73-7."

43 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

I don't remember this. In fact, I thought Dawson got hurt on their first play from scrimmage on a sideline incomplete pass and never returned.

It was, however, a long time ago, for this 13-year-old boy who thought the Patriots were going to win, and I've never re-watched it.

49 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Disbelief

It was Stanley Morgan who dropped the TD pass. I don't think he gets tackled if he catches this

Interesting that Dawson's injury which came on the play before, left the Pats with only one tight end for the rest of the game. Against that Bears 46 defensive front which put up to 7 men on the line of scrimmage that seems like it would have been a huge handicap.