For the second time in the past three years, ridiculous play selection has cost a team destined to be Super Bowl champion to be no more than a footnote to history, an errant call away from the pinnacle of football to a heartbreaking ending to a soon to be forgotten season.
In both of those instances, boneheaded play selection and/or inefficient execution has given the championship to the New England Patriots. Bear in mind, Brady, Belichick, et. al., need no help whatsoever in winning titles. They know very well how to do that by themselves.
Two years ago, in SB 49–please excuse the absence of Roman numerals as I still haven’t conquered the alphabetizing of numbers–for some totally unknown reason, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, instead of turning around on second-and-goal from the one with less than a minute to go and giving the ball to monster running-back Marshawn Lynch to barrel into the end zone for the winning touchdown, decided to throw the ball.
Not a fade route to the deep corner of the end zone where there would have been fairly secure one-on-one man coverage but rather into a melange of red, white, blue, grey and yellow uniforms on the goal line with a half dozen arms grabbing for the ball. Predictably, the ball flew into the chest of a Patriot defender three yards away. Game over, New England Patriots are Super Bowl champions.
Fast forward two years to Atlanta and New England this past Sunday. Julio Jones makes a great catch, putting the ball on the Patriots twenty-two yard line, first-and-ten, 4:47 to go in the game with the Falcons up 28-20.
Sitting up in the heavenly coaches box, Knute Rockne, Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry and Bill Walsh all say the same thing. Run the ball to the center of the field, make the Patriots use their three remaining time outs, and kick a chip-shot field goal at which your kicker, by the way, has been perfect all season. Your running game has averaged 5.8 yards all day so it is very possible you might even drive the ball in for a touchdown.
But let’s say Atlanta gains no yardage on three rushes. New England still would have to use their timeouts to stop the clock from winding down. This is where the offensive coordinator of Atlanta, Kyle Shanahan, soon to be head coach of the 49ers (yikes) had to prove he was the smartest guy in the room.
If Belichick does nothing else well, he is extremely adept at getting the opposing coach to do something stupid at the most critical time. Note the Seattle fiasco of two years prior described above.
So a series of plays which started with the promise of grabbing an eleven-point lead only moments before now becomes a fourth down punt fair-caught at the five-yard line after a run, pass, sack, and holding penalty had moved the ball back to nearly mid-field, negating even an attempt at a field goal.
We really should have seen Shanahan’s shenanigans coming. When his team was up by 28-9 in the third period, he was presented with a gift of a botched Patriot’s on-side kick on his opponents’ 46-yard line. With the play calling acuity of an anvil, he had Atlanta go three-and-out and punt.
Atlanta never even saw the ball in overtime. For the second time in three years, the Patriots were presented with a gift of astounding stupidity enabling them to become Super Bowl Champions.
Maybe the old adage of “it is better to be lucky than good” is true after all.
At least young Shanahan had the honesty to say he blew it, something his father never did while leaving RGIII in a playoff game when he could hardly stand.