February 06, 2012
Five Super Plays The Patriots Can No Longer Make
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
In the Super Bowl XXXIX trophy ceremony, Terry Bradshaw asked Tom Brady "You know it really isn't this easy, do you?"
VII years later, Brady was reminded again what a terrific question that was.
All the plays the Patriots made back then to win Super Bowls, they no longer make them today. Super Bowl XLVI was lost because of this very reason. This was not about the Giants taking it to the Patriots like in Super Bowl XLII. This was not about a Patriot team which had to deal with the baggage of trying to complete a perfect season. This was about a Patriot team that can seemingly no longer win a Super Bowl by doing the most basic of all things, that being making the plays to win the game. The Giants did, the Patriots did not.
It's gut wrenching and heart rending. You cannot go back and question the game planning, the coaching, the team preparation, nothing like that. Basically it came down to game execution, and the Giants simply did better. Bill Belichick said that the Giants made a few more plays than the Patriots did, and that is basically it.
Here are the five key plays the Patriots did not make, or would not have made in the winning years, which lost them the game on Sunday.
First quarter, 9:00 left, Patriots have ball at NE 6, 1st and 10
During the pregame coin flip, all the Patriot captains shook hands with the Giant captains except one. Incensed by Justin Tuck's remarks during the week, they refused to shake his hand. Tuck apparently carried that sleight with him into the game, and on the first offensive play for the Patriots, made the first big play of the game.
Pinned back at his own six-yard line, Brady dropped back in the end zone and surveyed the field. After about two seconds, in came Tuck, ferociously charging right towards Brady. The Patriot quarterback suddenly let loose with a throw deep down the middle of the field, no one anywhere near the ball. Tuck flattened Brady in the end zone just as he released the ball.
A few seconds later, referee John Parry threw a flag, and you all knew what was coming. Brady clearly threw the ball away to avoid a sack. But since he was inside the tackle box, the fact that he threw it towards the line of scrimmage didn't matter. It was intentional grounding, and since it occurred in the end zone, it was a safety and a 2-0 Giants lead. It was the first safety of any kind in the Super Bowl since Super Bowl XXV and the first time a safety was the first score since Super Bowl IX (the score at the half of that game was 2-0 Pittsburgh).
This was the first play of the game. Usually you run a safe play just to feel out the defense. But Brady ran a play fake to BenJarvus Green-Ellis out of a run formation and sat back there, waiting for someone to get open. You then have an angry Tuck ready to faceplant you, and you have no recourse but to either throw the ball away quick or take a safety. The safety happened anyway thanks to the penalty.
Did Brady have time to at least run a few feet to his right and then throw the ball away? Did he get too comfortable and careless in the pocket, which in this case was three yards behind his own goal line, and by the time Tuck was there it was too late? This was perhaps half Brady's fault and half whomever called this play, either Brady or Bill O'Brien.
Actual effect on game: The Patriots did recover from a 9-0 deficit and eventually took a 17-9 lead. But on the game's final drive, the Patriots needed a touchdown to win; if there were no safety, they would have needed a field goal to force overtime and far fewer yards to accumulate in the last 59 seconds.
Fourth quarter, 14:31 left, Patriots have ball at NE 43, 1st and 10
The Patriots had just surrendered two Lawrence Tynes field goals in the third quarter, and it was 17-15 Patriots going into the final quarter. Brady had the Patriots on the move, having gone 23 yards in five plays. On first down at the 43, Brady dropped back, rolled to his right to avoid a sack and threw back left deep towards Rob Gronkowski, who was wearing linebacker Chase Blackburn at the time. Blackburn outjumped Gronkowski and hauled in the floating pig, and the Giants had the ball at their 8-yard line.
Brady was nearly sacked by Linval Joseph and then Spencer Paysinger, a third string linebacker. But Brady managed to evade their grip and roll out to the right. Then he chose to throw against the grain about 55 yards downfield to Gronkowski. The obvious thinking was that Gronkowski would instantly morph into Kendrick Perkins and grab the ball as if he was pushing Pau Gasol aside to grab a loose ball at the TD Garden. This one play may have revealed the true extent of Gronkowski's knee injury, as a healthy Gronk maybe makes that play.
In the Super Bowl, any pick is bad. Brady may have placed too much trust in his wounded stud. Bad throw and decision by Brady, something that in winning years he probably doesn't do.
Actual effect on game: The Giants drove the ball to the Patriot 43, then a defended pass by Sterling Moore on Mario Manningham that could have been called for pass interference but wasn't forced a Giant punt. The Patriots took over at their own 8-yard line, a loss of 35 yards of field position thanks to the interception. But they still had the lead and five less minutes to kill.
Fourth quarter, 4:06 left, Patriots have ball at NYG 44, 2nd and 11
Brady lined up in the shotgun, took a couple steps back and lofted a touch pass down the left seam to Wes Welker. Welker was facing inside and the ball was thrown slightly over his head. But Welker had time to turn around and get his hands on the ball. But he was not able to hold on to the ball, and instead of first and ten at the Giant 20, they had third down and 11 back at the 44. The ball was hard to catch, but it is a catch Welker usually makes, and Welker did not hide his grief at the podium, taking full responsibility for the game being lost.
Sadly, he was right. Brady could have made a better throw. Throwing inside versus outside made no difference as no defender was less than five yards away from him. Welker gets most of the blame here, some to Brady for not laying the throw in there better. Cris Collinsworth of NBC Sports said "Welker makes that catch 100 times out of 100!" Watching that pass fall to the ground portended impending disaster for the Patriots on the horizon.
Actual effect on game: This pretty much cost the Patriots the game. If they get the ball at the 20, they bleed a ton of clock with the Giants down to only one timeout. Then, at the very least, Stephen Gostkowski gets a chip-shot field goal to make it 20-15 and force Eli Manning to have to respond with a touchdown if gets the ball back with time left.
Fourth quarter, :57 left, Patriots have ball at NE 20, 1st and 10
The Patriots had just allowed a touchdown on purpose to the Giants, as Ahmad Bradshaw fell into the end zone after realizing too late that his team needed to kill clock and kick a last-second field goal. So, Brady had just under a minute to take the Patriots 80 yards for the win. If any quarterback in the NFL could do it, Brady could.
But on the first play of the final drive, Brady drilled Deion Branch right between the 8 and the 4 and the former Super Bowl MVP failed to catch the ball. Brady stepped up in the pocket amidst a four-man rush and had time to lay the throw right in there. Strong safety Kenny Phillips screened Branch and put his hands up to try and make the pick. But the ball still sailed right to Branch, and he dropped the ball. This one is all on Branch; despite Phillips defending the pass, Branch made several catches in Super Bowl XXXIX tougher than this one. This was a catch he should have made.
Actual effect on game: The drive was doomed thanks to this drop. This virtually guaranteed a Hail Mary sometime down the road.
Fourth quarter, :52 left, Patriots have ball at NE 20, 2nd and 10
On the next play, Brady found Aaron Hernandez running a crossing pattern across the formation. Hernandez, who previously had corralled seven catches for 56 yards and a touchdown, had the ball in his mitts and simply dropped it. He had second string linebacker Jacquian Williams right in his path, which might have thrown him off, but it was still a catch that had to be made.
Actual effect on game: It left Brady with only 48 seconds to get those 80 yards. He was sacked on the next play, but then found Branch for 19 yards and Hernandez for 11 yards to get the ball to near midfield. But with five seconds left, Brady was forced to try a Hail Mary from the Patriot 49, and the home run ball to the end zone was tipped by Hernandez and fell just out of the reach of Gronkowski in the end zone, ending the game.
These are plays that Patriots have made in other years, but did not on Sunday night. Manning did make plays, like the great throw to Manningham on the final drive, and the Giants are thus world champs.
When the Patriots re-discover how to make those plays, then and only then will they get that now elusive fourth Vince to put in their trophy case.
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