|Posted by Radatz on February 12, 2017 at 3:00 PM|
The Super Bowl was as momentous as such an occasion can be, giving New England the throne in dynastic runs in the SB era, though a good argument could have been made even had they lost. But in years to come as retrospect takes over (which may not be for a while yet) the most recent win will lose precious details that only viewers can appreciate.
Statistics don't lie, but they can be unintentionally deceptive. Anyone looking back at the box score will see things nobody who watched the game expected to see, and which probably stunned most as much as they did me. It's hard to fathom that a team essentially crushed for nearly three quarters could look as good in the totals columns.
Who would think that NE, seemingly unable to run the ball all day, would end up with 104 yards or that Atlanta, with Freeman appearing unstoppable, would also finish with 104? Who noticed that NE ran 25 times to Atlanta's 18? With Ryan throwing with incredible efficiency and precision and Brady looking off (at least to NE fans) for most of the game, who would have expected that Brady would have thrown for 442 yards by the end, even with a monstrous 62 pass attempts? For that matter, how did NE manage to rush the ball 7 more times than Atlanta while throwing (as a team) an incredible 40 passes more?
The answer is of course in the arithmetic. Atlanta ran 46 plays. NE ran an absurd 47 plays more than that. Atlanta had 344 total net yards. NE had 202 more.
So how did Atlanta look so good for so long? The answer is efficiency. They had short drives punctuated by big plays. Even when they drove, their defense didn't get much rest. New England, by contrast, ran multiplay drives even when shooting themselves in the foot and failing to score or turning the ball over.
None of that explains, however, why Atlanta's offense managed only one of their flash drives after scoring easily less than halfway through the 3rd quarter. That was the last time they saw the ball, when Freeman took a dumpoff 39 yards to midfield and then Jones made a highlight catch of an incredibly (and slightly luckily, with Jones covered in front) thrown ball by Ryan on the run to take the ball to the NE 23 and seemingly end the game. It was, of course, a bad time to jump to conclusions, as it was a bad game to do the same. Did Atlanta err in not taking knees or running the ball 3 times and going for the kick? Well, after the first play resulted in a 2-yard loss the field goal distance had stretched to 43 yards. Atlanta wasn't running in the 2nd half because New England had figured out their rush. Their passing game was clicking. As everyone saw, the sack of Ryan and the blatant LT hold that followed negated their chance.
Atlanta had made one real mistake, that being the earlier sack of Ryan that led to NE's second TD. But Ryan had a man breaking open long. He would have scored. Game over(?). Freeman, for all his heroics, fanned on a block and in an instant the nearly-perfect Ryan had equalled Brady in turnovers. Costly turnovers.
For as penetrable as they had been made to look, the New England defense ended up allowing 21 points, seven of the 28 total coming on Brady's pickoff. But it was their play in the last 24 minutes or so that preserved that stat and turned the game around.
It wouldn't have mattered if Brady's blocking hadn't improved, his aim and decisiveness hadn't become more focused, and his receivers hadn't stopped dropping throws. For the unglamorous but all-important first point, the return of Dante Scarnecchia became a factor. The Patriots' OL, void of Vollmer all year and hardly star-studded, began finally to adjust and do its job. No better example existed than Marcus Cannon, the revolving-door bumpkin whose continued presence on the team had baffled onlookers for several seasons. He became a worthy replacement for the PUP-listed Vollmer, holding up RT and making the interior line the bigger source of concern with its three youngsters. But as the game wore on even they began to open gaping holes in short-yardage situations, most coming near the goal line where they mattered most.
The final factor in the game has gone largely undiscussed. New England seemed to thrive on continuity. While the league mantra continued to be 'stay healthy', NE seemed to be at its best when it kept playing. Their first loss of the year was without Brady or Garoppolo, and with Brissett unable to throw due to torn thumb ligaments. That's a whitewash. But their second loss, to Seattle, came off the bye week. NE made the beleaguered Seahawks look like the Legion of Boom all over again. Their body of work would prove otherwise, but on this day they led NE 19-14 at the half, holding on with a last-second goal line stand. The second bye was the coveted wildcard bye week. NE came out flat against Houston, leading 17-13 and looking ugly until they got their act together in bits and pieces enough to run off a 34-16 win. A week later their problems had disappeared as they handled a hot Pittsburgh team with relative ease. Their last bye was the SB break, and again they came out flat.
Atlanta, by contrast, thrived on a break. After their bye they blew out the Cards 38-19. After their wildcard bye they crushed Seattle 36-20. And after their SB break they blew ahead of NE 28-3. It was the perfect nightmare scenario for NE from that perspective, if it means anything at all. How does that project to another potential NE SB opponent? Dallas was taken to OT by the Eagles at home after their bye. After their wildcard bye Green Bay sent them bye bye.
Yet one could make the point (with equal validity) that it was a dead-even game with NE seemingly the first to start figuring things out. Then on their 3rd drive, headed for points, Blout dropped the ball. That fumble seemed to simultaneously fire up Atlanta and throw water on New England, a trend that wouldn't reverse itself for nearly two quarters.
But then again, what really means anything? It's all analysis paralysis at some point. Fans of the vanquished will continue to point out that just one little thing here or there would have turned it around. Now there are five such fan bases.
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