The New England Patriots are the best pick to win the Super Bowl, but they also have a glaring Achilles heal that could spell their demise in January. The Pats have been a bend-but-don’t-break defense in the past 5 seasons or so, but their 30th ranked red zone defense this season is a huge departure from the norm.
New England has given up touchdowns on 80% of opponents’ trips to the red zone. That’s flat out horrible — good for a tie with Atlanta for 2nd worst in the league. That’s exactly the type of weakness that could cost the Patriots a playoff win. Even if the pats means that they give up just one more red zone score than an average team in the playoff game, that’s a 4 point swing right there. In the 4 years that the Pats won the Super Bowl, they’ve won 7 games that were decided by 4 points or fewer. Their seasons also ended in playoff games decided by that same margin in 2006, 2007, 2011, and 2015. The importance of the Pats’ red zone defense cannot be underrated.
Malcolm Butler has shut down the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. before, but I’m still concerned about him facing a bigger receiver like A.J. Green. Green represents the perfect test for the Pats defense, as the Bengals are similarly ranked 30th in red zone offense. If New England is going to have a chance at being a good red zone defense, the Bengals are the type of offense that they have to contain in the field’s final 20 yards. We need to see Butler and the rest of the secondary handle A.J. Green, and we need to see Mike Nugent get as many field goal opportunities as he gets PAT chances. If that happens, then the Pats will be making an almost undeniable argument that they’re the best team in the league. We’re going to learn a lot about our team’s Super Bowl chances today.
A year ago, the Pats had just locked up homefield advantage throughout the playoffs thanks to the Bengals’ win over the Broncos in Week 16. We were thrilled that the Pats didn’t have to risk further injury to a team that had escaped the season with season-ending injuries to only 2 key contributors — Jerod Mayo and Stevan Ridley — but no one would say that Pats fans were at peace. We not only wanted a 4th Super Bowl more than anything else in the sports world. We needed Brady and Belichick to get that 4th ring.
This year, we have an inner peace. Don’t get me wrong, I speak for every Pats fan by stating that our Patriots passion has not diminished in the slightest. But if they lose this season in the playoffs like every year from 2005 to 2013 except for 2008, we’ll always have that 4th Super Bowl last year in Glendale. Brady and Belichick were still able to put the final bookend on the shelf of their time together, even if it runs for a few years. They still won one without the defensive superstars of 2001-2004, still won without Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, and still took the taste of 2 Super Bowl losses and 3 January losses in Foxboro out of our mouths.
Pats fans have been through a lot this year. Deflategate was one thing, but the internal struggle that each of us had between “GOODELL IS TRYING TO SCREW US OVER THIS IS BOSTON WE DON’T STAND FOR THIS” and “Maybe I’m taking this too seriously, and maybe I shouldn’t cuss at my girlfriend’s friend who still stupidly believes that 11 out of 12 balls were significantly underinflated.”
Can you even imagine how much worse this spring and summer would have been if Malcolm Butler hadn’t jumped that route? Throughout that entire sting operation, it felt somewhere between 50 and 5000 times better because we had the backdrop of a SB49 win. When my Seahawks fan friend texted me wondering if Tommy Football was gonna play as well in 2015 with properly inflated balls, I was able to respond, “Well, they were properly inflated in Arizona in February, and l think you know that he did just fine then.” Being able to respond with that instead of “Fuck yourself, learn the facts of the case” probably decreased my chances of a heart attack by about 35%.
Overall, the Patriots and their fans have had a damn good 2015. We almost saw another playoff loss in Foxboro to the Ravens, which would have left us with the feeling that Brady and Belichick were destined to end their careers as playoff losers. Then we saw them stomp the Colts in the AFCCG and face the BS that was deflategate, and nobody wanted to admit it, but we were kinda worried on the Monday and Tuesday after the game that Brady or Belichick would be suspended for the Super Bowl. NExt, we went on one of the all time emotional roller coaster rides in sports history in the final 2 minutes of the Super Bowl with the Jermaine Kearse catch and Malcolm Butler interception. Then there was deflategate, followed by a win in court that felt like a playoff win itself, and then we had a 10-0 start en route to a probable #1 seed. What a year.
When you reminisce on how great of a year this has been for the Pats and us as fans, remember how much better it is because Russell Wilson’s pass would up in the good guy’s hands. Heading into the playoffs at the start of 2016, we may care just as much, but even if they don’t go all the way, we’ll still have a sense of inner peace that we never could have dreamed of last year.
I’m sorry for doubting you, Bill Belichick.
Up until this morning, I really thought that Bill Belichick had cost the Patriots their chance at a 4th Super Bowl by not calling a timeout after Marshawn Lynch’s run to the 1 yard line. You have Tom Brady in vintage mode, and you can get the ball back with 50 seconds left and 1 timeout only needing a field goal. Definitely call a timeout and get the ball back after Seattle scores on the next play, right?
Wrong. And I was proven wrong this morning when I read Bill Belichick’s explanation of why he didn’t call a timeout. Those beliefs were solidified when Bill Simmons, who was another Boston sports figure this week who went completely vintage and dialed back the clock for one of his best performances ever, put into words exactly how smart BB was and why he didn’t call the timeout. As Simmons perfectly phrased it, Bill Belichick mindfucked Pete Carroll.
The Hooded One didn’t call the timeout because he saw the offense that the Seahawks were in, with 3 wide receivers, so he and his defensive coaches put in Malcolm Butler, as shown by this vine in a post by Barstoolsports. They then stacked the box and baited the Seahawks to throw, trusting their defense. Belichick felt that letting the Seahawks throw the ball on 2nd down, hopefully getting either a pick (because the pass play was so obvious) or at least an incomplete pass that would set up 2 plays for a goal line stand to win the Super Bowl, would be the better option than calling a timeout and letting Seattle figure everything out.
How perfect is that? The coach of the Patriots before Belichick, who was absolutely awful when here (I remember hearing Scott Zolak say that players would openly laugh and not pay attention during Pete Carroll’s meetings and speeches), gets blown out of the water on the biggest play of either of their coaching careers. The decision to pass wasn’t that terrible, actually, but the decision of the type of passing play was. Russell Wilson is listed as a 5’11” QB, and is probably shorter, and the chances that his pass gets deflected in the air, especially when there are 37 linebackers and defensive ends on the line of scrimmage at that time, is really high, relatively speaking. Wilson should have rolled out and thrown to the back of the end zone to the really tall Chris Matthews or Ricardo Locklear so that the pass would either be caught or incomplete. The Pats had 3 cornerbacks on the field, one of which was an undrafted free agent rookie who is also 5’11”. Why not challenge the Pats D in a way that can’t burn you?
Belichick knew that Carroll, Wilson, and a receiver like Locklear might make that fatal mistake, and so be allowed them to crash and burn. If your opponent is trying to drive themselves into a brick wall, why stop them? Just get out of the way and let it happen.
I can’t believe I doubted Belichick. I think it’s still debatable as to whether or not it was the right call to not call a timeout, but it’s clear that BB had a plan. I never should have though otherwise for a second. That’s why he’s the best of all time, and that’s why anyone who argues with that claim is as wrong as I was from Sunday night until Wednesday morning.
(You’ll have to click the link in the video to watch it on Youtube, but obviously, it’s worth it.)
Malcolm Butler saved the season, saved the Patriots’ legacy, and saved all of our sanity. Just think of how great these past few days have been, and remember that they could have been the exact opposite had Butler not made one of the best plays ever.
It’s only fitting that we try to determine that play’s place in history. You’ll notice that I put “most important” play in the title, not “best,” because I think it’s clear that it was not the best play ever from a standpoint of skill or anything else. To crown something as the “best,” I think it’s gotta come down to skill and execution (and very little luck, sorry David Tyree), not just the magnitude of the game. But was it the most important play ever? I say yes.
Bill Barnwell’s awesome Super Bowl recap on Monday cited Brian Burke’s win probability calculator, saying that the Patriots had about a 12% chance of winning the Super Bowl after 1st down. Think about that. If you went back to August and thought about which teams had the best chances to win the Super Bowl 6 months later, you probably would have given the Patriots more than a 12%, or about 1 in 8, chance. Hell, even from a purely mathematical standpoint in which you ignore seedings and basic common sense, the Patriots had a 1 in 8 chance entering the playoffs, because they were guaranteed to be 1 of 8 teams in the divisional round. That’s how low the Pats’ chances of this awesome season working out had stooped.
And then Malcolm Butler put those chances up at 99%. That’s an 87 (Gronk!) percent swing, which Barnwell noted was clearly the biggest swing of all time.
Now, let’s take the fact that that happened in the Super Bowl with 20 seconds to go, and let’s also factor in that Locklear clearly would have caught the ball had Butler not been there. It was an amazing play that took the best possible break on the ball that a cornerback can have. If you watch the play over and over, as I certainly have since Sunday night, you’ll be able to see that Butler sees Wilson look his way, as he said after the game, and then waits until he sees Locklear move in that direction just to make sure that’s actually the route he’s running — then BOOM, he’s running harder than he ever has to the exact spot where he knows the ball is coming. And making that catch is nothing easy, either, as he’s 20 pounds lighter than Locklear and the ball bounces in between his right arm and shoulder pad.
And this Super Bowl was so important, even objectively. This was the greatest QB of all time getting his 4th, 10 years after his 3rd, or the Super Bowl repeat of maybe the greatest defense ever. Legacies flying up and down based on 1 play. Add all this up, and it was definitely the most important play of all time, no question. Thanks Malcolm Butler.
First, let me say that the reason that this recap has taken til Monday afternoon is only because I was at the game and couldn’t get adequate internet on the flight back. But I hope that I can provide some great analysis from the perspective of someone who was there.
And second, let me say that Seattle Seahawks fans really do deserve the credit they get as great fans. They made a neutral stadium in the 4th quarter louder than Gillette Stadium often is. And hell of a season for the Seahawks, even though I’m about to laugh at a few of them for having their trash talking get blown up in their face.
I’m going to start by talking about the two pillars of the past 15 years, because where else would we start? There are not many QBs who could do what Tom Brady did last night, throwing 2 horrible picks and then leading his team on 2 perfect, beautiful, backbreaking drives with under 12 minutes left in the 4th quarter against one of the best defenses ever. That’s incredibly difficult even when your team has a legitimate running game, but the Pats had no such thing in the 2nd half last night, making Brady’s accomplishment nearly impossible.
What I’m struggling with is how much to factor those 2 interceptions into the overall evaluation of Brady’s performance last night. The 1st one was down right horrendous, and the 2nd one was merely bad. Those 2 picks more than anything else are the best example possible of why this is not the Tom Brady of old anymore. Remember his game ending pick in the 2006 AFC Championship Game? Remember how much of a shock that was, because Tom Brady wasn’t supposed to throw picks in big games at big times? And that was with a receiving corp of Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney, old Troy Brown, and rookie Chad Jackson. Nowadays, Brady throws 4 picks in 3 playoff games, all of which are 100% his fault. When you think of it like that, I don’t think there’s any way we can’t hold it against him.
The 2007 vs. Jacksonville or 2011 vs. Denver Tom Brady are both gone, but 2014 Tom Brady vs. the best defense in the league is pretty damn good. Think about the 5 drives that went the length of the field, including the 4 TDs and the early one with the 1st quarter pick. As much of a cliche as it sounds like, I’m a believer in the feeling/atmosphere that a player can give the people in the stadium, and it was evident in University of Phoenix Stadium that we were watching a craftsman at work. The Seattle Seahawks usually play the same zone and just dare an offense to beat them, and the only way to beat it is to find the holes with a precise quarterback and a bunch of shifty receivers. The shifty receivers with the underneath routes are also the only way to open up passing plays down the field against the Hawks, a la the Rob Gronkowski touchdown. Brady is one of the few quarterbacks in the league who could do that, albeit with the 2 INTs.
And Belichick is the best coach of all time, but last night was an off night, at least by his relative terms. He made the right move by benching Kyle Arrington for Malcolm Butler (!!!!!!), but the fact that Chris “Hardball” Matthews got the better of the Pats defense up until Brandon Browner asked to be put on him doesn’t speak well for Belichick. With 2 weeks to prepare, you’d expect The Hooded One to be ready for that, but Pete Carroll is a damn good coach, too, and Carroll seemed to beat BB there.
The famous final minute of the Super Bowl saw both coaches make horrible mistakes, but Belichick got bailed out by his 5th string cornerback, while Carroll got let down by his 3rd string receiver (Locklear letting Butler beat him to the ball). The fact that Belichick didn’t call a time out is indefensible in my opinion, because there is no reason to hold the 2 timeouts until after 2nd and 3rd down, as BB suggested he was doing. I’d rather have a minute and 1 TO than 20 seconds and 2. Even if the Seahawks purposefully wasted a play to keep the clock running, burning another timeout there would be worth it. Forty second were worth way more than each timeout in that case, and it’s too bad that the best coach ever turned into Andy Reid during the final minute of the Super Bowl. Thank God that Belichick the GM bailed out Belichick the coach, as the former saved the latter by signing an undrafted rookie free agent named…
MALCOLM MOTHER@#$%^&* BUTLER
What a story. I know that we always talk too much about he heartwarming stories, which are a little overrated considering that NFL teams readily employ convicted wifebeaters and other kinds of scum left and right, but this one is legit. The dude was a Popeyes manager because he couldn’t make the grades to be a college athlete, and then decided that he wanted to do something better with his life, so he went to community college, transferred to Western Alabama, which I didn’t know existed until last night, and then wowed everyone in training camp when he got a shot. Butler told Sal Pal after the game that he felt that a loss would have been his fault, which shows you exactly how an undrafted rookie in the NFL thinks. He was only thrown into the game because another guy sucked even worse, and the biggest play of the game up until that point was one of the luckiest catches ever. It wouldn’t have been his fault, but I’m glad he thought that way. He said that he saw Wilson look his way right before the snap, so he knew what was coming, and he jumped the route for the biggest play of his career.
That right there is one of the biggest differences between the Patriots and everyone else for the past 14 years. When the Patriots target and pick on an overmatched guy like Tharold Simon, they succeed. Brady picked Simon apart, never throwing at Richard Sherman except for an opening 2 yard pass on the first play of the game. But when the Seahawks target the lowest CB on the depth chart, he reads Wilson’s eyes before the play and jumps the route. It’s good to be a Patriots fan.
I hope the O line gets the credit it deserves. By no means was it a brick wall, but the line held its own against the awesome combo of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. While they also couldn’t block well for Blount in the final half, Brady had more time than many of us feared that he would have on Super Sunday. The O Line didn’t have a great game, but I hope they get at least some of the credit they deserve.
The secondary also didn’t have a great game, but they also won’t get the credit they deserve. Just like the Super Bowl in 2001, the Patriots didn’t blitz much, instead choosing to rely on their great secondary to handle the job. Darrelle Revis was Darrelle Revis, holding Dough Baldwin to just a 3 yard TD catch on a play where he was picked by the ref, and, frankly, the Seahawks were gonna score anyway. Devin McCourty and Pat Chung didn’t have any huge impact plays, but also didn’t have any gaffs, which is good enough for any DB. The only soft spot in the secondary was the Arringon/Butler spot, but I’m not gonna complain about that after the final interception.
Belichick didn’t have his guys blitz a ton, but they didn’t allow Russell Wilson to get too many rushing yards, which was a fear going into the game. Marshawn Lynch certainly had a day, but he also didn’t break the game wide open. I think that if you had told us beforehand that Lynch and Wilson would combine for 141 yards, we wouldn’t be happy with it, but we all knew that the Pats could still win the game with that total.
The front seven, and the secondary for that matter, get a TON of credit for holding the Seahawks on 2 drives when the Pats were down in the 2nd half. That was a key to the game that everyone will miss because it’s sexier to talk about Tom Brady. But the defense kept the team in the game, and the offense brought them back. And then the defense made the crucial final stop.
Vereen, LaFell, Gronkowski, Amendola
I’m putting these 4 together because that’s how the Patriots think of their receiving options: as a unit. This was vintage Brady and Patriots passing offense, when Brady ignored the name on the back of the jersey and just threw to whoever way open — or, more accurately, whoever Tharold Simon was covering. If it wasn’t for Demaryius Thomas’ unforgettable 13 catch performance last year, Vereen would have tied Deion Branch for the most reception in a Super Bowl with 11. Gronkowski was there exactly when and exactly however the Pats needed him whether it was a long play for a touchdown of a few important 3rd down conversions. LaFell stepped up when needed, especially on his touchdown catch, and Amendola came through in key moments as well. The Patriots receiving core was a unit, and that’s when it’s been at it’s best during the Brady-Belichick reign.
He gets his own section. Edelman was an absolute warrior last night, and he is the kind of guy that the Patriots would have during those 2001-2004 years that we remember fondly. It’s only appropriate that he would play such a key role and get the winning touchdown. He got absolutely rocked by Kam Chancellor on a play that absolutely should have been 15 yards for helmet to helmet, and I hope that people remember that play as a necessary one for Super Bowl number 4. On the play where Edelman got down to the 4 yard line, 2 plays before he connected with Brady for the go ahead score, you could see how hard it was for him to get to his feet. Didn’t matter — he came up when needed, and he will be remembered as the best receiver on the field in Super Bowl 49.
I’ll be writing more posts on Tom Brady, Malcolm Butler, Bill Belichick, Julian Edelman, Super Bowl 49 itself, and the Patriots Dynasty this week. After all, this one deserves multiple posts. But for now, that’s all, and it’s good to finally have the one we needed. So glad I was there.