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Alec Baldwin famously said “Coffee is for closers” in the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross,” and when it came to Super Bowl 46, he couldn’t be more right. The Patriots couldn’t close. I have had a couple days to digest, and I am like many Patriot fans, I’m ready to move on.
I wanted to reflect on a few things first, because history tends to repeat itself and unfortunately for the Patriots, it’s repeated itself a few times in the last eight years. Now, the pessimistic fan would say the New England Patriots are the Atlanta Braves: another playoff run, another failure. There is obvious truth in that statement, but the Patriots are a victim of their own success. This isn’t baseball, where a large payroll can guarantee admission on a yearly basis.
The Patriots have made the playoffs 9 out of the last 11 seasons and that excellence has allowed them to reach the biggest games in the sporting world. Compare them to their contemporaries: the Steelers, Colts, Ravens, Giants, and Packers. Yes, four of those teams have won Super Bowls since the Patriots last won a Super Bowl. But, the Giants have missed the playoffs 2 out of the last 4 years. The Steelers have missed the playoffs 2 out of the last 4 years. The Ravens haven’t been to a Super Bowl since 2000. The Packers lost in the first round this year and the Colts were the WORST team in the NFL this season.
From 2001-2004, the Patriots were not just the best team in the NFL, they were the most clutch. They completed two Super Bowl winning drives with under two minutes on the clock. They had a close, but convincing win in 2004 to capture their third title in four years. With all of that said, the Patriots couldn’t close on Sunday, and in three of their most gut wrenching losses, under Belichick that has been a consistent theme.
Looking back at this game, it WAS Déjà vu all over again. If you remember that season, it was the “Year without Receivers” after the Patriots traded Deion Branch and let David Givens go to free agency. Tom Brady was still in his absolute prime, but spent much of the year throwing to Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney, an aging Troy Brown, Doug Gabriel and Benjamin Watson.
Gabriel was actually cut during the season and Gaffney was signed off the street. Watson, a former first round pick, had poor hands and was NOT Rob Gronkowski. Still, the excellence of Brady and a stout defense somehow got the Patriots to 12-4. They finished as a #4 seed in the AFC. They beat the Jaguars in the first round and then shocked the NFL when the upset the 14-2 San Diego Chargers on the road despite Brady’s three interceptions. By the way, when the chips were down, Brady hit Caldwell down the sideline to set up the winning kick.
The Patriots came into Indianapolis weary and tired. They managed to go up 21-3 late in the first half and were a controversial Troy Brown offensive pass interference call from being up 28-3 at the midway point. The Brown penalty ended up being a drive killer and the Patriots instead led 21-6 at the half.
The Patriots led 34-31 when they started a drive on their own 40-yard line with 3:22 to go in the game.
This is the game.
With a conversion, the Colts were going to get the ball back with very little time on the clock, if at all. Sound Familiar?
It’s tough to say who was at fault here. Brown was nearing the end, but was still Brady’s favorite 3rd down target. If Brown had cut outside, he had 20 yards in front of him, but Sanders made the play. This would be the first of three never forgotten failures for the Patriots in Indianapolis. The failure to convert cost them the game, the AFC Championship and most likely the Super Bowl considering the Bears were an inferior team.
I will comment briefly on this game. It’s been lumped in as another post-2004 failure for Brady and Belichick. After watching the game a few times since, I give Brady less and less blame. A bad offensive game plan, poor adjustments, a horrific performance by the Patriots offensive line and one of the greatest/luckiest Super Bowl drives you will ever see all were to blame.
Regardless, the Patriots could not close for a second time. Another Lombardi Trophy was left on the shelf.
If you had the choice knowing what you know now would you have taken the Lee Evans touchdown or the Wes Welker drop? Yes the Patriots won this game, but they made it a lot harder than it had to be and it was because they couldn’t make a play on offense to seal it.
Patriots take over possession at their own 33-yard line with 2:46 to go in the game, leading 23-20.
Just to recap, a first down here and the game is essentially over. It’s the Colts game all over again.
Mesko punts the Ravens gets the ball at their own 21 with 1:44 to go and the Patriots miraculously hold on. Was this a matter of bad decisions, good coverage, the inability to run the ball or the lack of faith to run? All good questions that would not have to be answered until…
Forget the safety. Forget the interception to Gronk. Forget the penalties and fumbles and everything else. No matter who won this game, both teams were going to be shaking their head in the end. The Giants didn’t turn the ball over and their quarterback was on target all day, but yet they were still losing for most of the second half. The Patriots HAD turned it over twice but yet, here they were: 1st and 10 on their own 8-yard line with 9:24 to go. I said at the time to people I was watching the game with that if the Patriots can score a touchdown, it’s over.
In the 2008 AFC Championship, they were able to chew up the last 9 minutes of the game to clinch a Super Bowl appearance. Last year’s 7-minute drive against the Jets that produced no points was called by Bob Neumeier the “Drive to Nowhere.” This was the “Road to Perdition.”
At this point, you still have to be thinking touchdown. The clock is ticking, but there was still way too much time to preserve a two-point lead.
Not quite close out time. At this time, it’s do or die. Both teams know a first down gets them within reach of Lombardi, and within reach of the Four Super Bowl Champion Pantheon.
People in New England are feeling it and for the first time all game, I was feeling like it was going to happen. Hindsight is 20/20, but the Patriots have been in this situation before. Today, everyone is still talking about Brady or Welker, but to me this was one of the pivotal mistakes of the game. This cracked the dam, and Welker broke it open.
This WAS the coaching mistake of the game. Not the 12-men, not the challenge, not the time outs; this play, this decision.
The Giants were on their heels it was getting desperate. The Patriots decide to pull Hernandez and bring in Politte at fullback and put Green-Ellis in an I formation. They didn’t line Brady up in the shotgun and try a halfback draw. They didn’t try to run Green-Ellis to the right with Connolly and a guard pulling like they did so successfully in the first half. Get positive yards, don’t put yourself in a do or die situation.
They did just that. Politte missed Chris Canty on Green-Ellis straight ahead run and Green-Ellis was tackled for a one-yard loss.
At this point, the Patriots are in a situation where they need to get to 3rd and 5 or 6. Belichick has to know they can’t punt the ball back to Eli with a two-point lead. Not with this defense, and not with the year Eli has been having.
I have gone back and forth on this play all week. If you’re in the “HE SHOULD HAVE CAUGHT IT CAMP!!!” – you’re right.
Recent history shows receivers make great plays in the big game. Santonio Holmes against Arizona, Tyree against the Patriots, Manningham against the Patriots.
If you think “BRADY BLEW IT!!!” – well you’re not completely off. It was a not a perfect pass. He had time, it was a broken play and Branch was actually WIDE open on a check down. Can’t question the decision by Brady, if he never wins another Super Bowl it will be remembered along with Larry Bird’s Game 5 three-pointer that just missed in the 1987 Finals. It was Bird’s last chance at greatness. It could be Brady’s.
This left a do or die play. The Patriots maybe should have taken a timeout and thought about this as two-down territory.
If you’re going to criticize Brady for a bad throw, this was it. Branch was there, but the ball was behind him because it was partially tipped. It could have caught, but it was not a no-brainer by any means. It was a do or die play, as it could have saved Wes, Tom and Patriot nation many a sleepless night. We all know what happened from there.
Well, it’s the Giants and not the Patriots who join the Steelers, 49’ers, Packers, and Cowboys in the Pantheon. All those teams have won four Super Bowls. Brady has done kind of a reverse John Elway by winning Super Bowls early and losing late as opposed to Elway, who didn’t win his first until he was 37.
If you’re a Patriot fan don’t let the media irritate you too much. In the world of Twitter, ESPN and the 24/7 Sports media cycle there will always be fools like Skip Bayless, Rich Cimini and Eric Wilbur. There will always be jealous ex and current players who will want to disparage this quarterback and this team.
Is it better to be 3-2 in the Super Bowl or 2-0? Brady is not going to be mentioned above Montana, but he’s not Troy Aikman either. Aikman might have been 3-0, but he never played in another Super Bowl after 28 years of age. Aikman’s regular season also never compared to Brady, who did much more with much less. You have to compare Brady with his peers, and unless Big Ben or Eli can capture one more and play and in another, then Tom is the greatest of his time.
As for the Patriots and their ability to close, well it’s hard to point at their collapses and give blame to one party. Belichick is a student of history so I am sure he’s read George Santayana’s quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” Maybe next time, they won’t have to rely on one play to win the Super Bowl, if there is a next time for Brady and Belichick.
The NFL football season has the longest offseason of the major professional sports. In a couple of weeks it will be time to start looking toward the 2012-2013 season, but for now it’s time for quiet, and maybe a cup of tea.