New Years Eve has long been described as amateur night. Thats because, on December 31, too many people who dont go out for an evening of aggressive drinking very often wind up throwing up into a noisemaker and walking home with no pants.
Something about the post-Super Bowl XLVI reaction around here feels similar. Its a contest to be the maddest guy in the room or on the message board or in line at Dunkies.
You might be outraged, but my soul has left my body. I killed the dog I named Brady and the goldfish I named Welker and lashed myself to a tree in my front yard and screamed for crows to eat my eyeballs so I never have to watch football again. That didnt work and the cops cut me down but Im still considering spooning them out.
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I understand. It sucks. I cried when the first sports team I ever followed closelythe 1976 Patriotswere beaten by the Raiders in the Divisional Playoffs. And Ive never trusted the Red Sox nor been a bloodthirsty fan of them since the twin traumas of 1977 and 78 (my 10-year-old ass got dismissed early from Hobomock Elementary to attend the one-game playoff).
But Im not sure these Patriots deserve the level of bile being directed at them.
Ill grant you all this, my job DOES make my football-watching experience different than yours. I dont buy season tickets and sit in traffic so I can sit in the cold and scream my face off and forfeit a Sunday with the family.
I get to watch the games for free in a warm spot with free food and I get to directly ask players what in Gods name happened and then spout my opinions and get paid for it.
So my level of pissed isnt even in the same stratosphere as a dues-paying fan because my commitment of money and leisure time isnt there. Honestly, because of the job, Im more pissed when Im wrong in my analysis than when a team Im covering loses.
I got the Super Bowl wrong. I was really close to getting it right andperhaps because of thatI guess I seek qualifiers to prove that, while I was technically wrong, I wasnt that far off.
I think Tom Brady is the best quarterback thats ever played. Hes played in five Super Bowls in 10 seasons and won three. In the two he lost, he led a go-ahead drive in the closing minutes andin the otherhe was a very good catch away from being in a position to salt away the win. I believe hes personally done enough to be 5-0 in Super Bowls.
Those details, combined with the ones I will list now, convince me I am still right in my analysis. Hes won two league MVPsone unanimously and the other when he threw a single-season record 50 touchdowns and just eight picks and led his team to the first 16-0 regular season. Hes been the Super Bowl MVP twice. Hes 140-41 as an NFL starter including playoffs and has never been surrounded by Hall of Fame teammates as the others in the greatest ever conversation were.
Which brings us to Sundays game. If youre already sick of the game analysis, I dont blame you. If youve spooned your eyes out, thats your fault. If you arent sick and still have your eyes, thanks for reading.
Bradys key blunder was the safety. The pick? The high throw to Welker? Neither is even close. The 2-0 lead he staked the Giants to quickly became a 9-0 lead because Bradys mental blunder sent a gassed defense back on the field after it had done its job on the Giants first drive. A lot of things may have been played out differently over the next 54 minutes if the safety hadnt happened. But I kept coming back to the idea that, if not for those two points, the Giants would have been starting their final drive trailing 17-13 instead of 17-15 and needing a touchdown to win.
Bradys interception was a poor throw but a good decision. Watching the game again Monday night, I saw the angle that showed Gronkowski behind Chase Blackburn by a step. And I saw Gronkowski raise his hand and take off. Lumbering though he was, he remained behind Blackburn andhenceopen. Brady HAD to make that throw. Gronk 1-on-1 with an even more lumbering linebacker behind the defense with no help over the top? If Brady had simply thrown it away, people would have been screaming that Brady missed Gronk behind the defense with a stiff on him.
The problem with the throw was that it didnt come out of Bradys hand cleanly. A tight spiral and the ball was either Gronks or incomplete. It wasnt Bradys left shoulder that caused the ball to wobble, it was simply that he had to hurry the throw and didnt get time to set as he normally would. The wobbling pass Brady threw probably cost him 5 yards. Enough for Blackburn to be in position. And Blackburn still had to make a winning play, which he did.
Which brings me to the much-debated throw to Wes Welker. In the 2008 Super Bowl, Santonio Holmes made a brilliant catch for a touchdown that delivered a Super Bowl for the Steelers. Minutes earlier, Larry Fitzgerald made a singularly brilliant play on a Cardinals touchdown. Mario Manninghams catch on the sideline Sunday? Brilliant. The point is, those plays were winning plays in a big game against excellent competition. Those are the plays that help win Super Bowls. Welker was in a position to make a brilliant play. The ball hit both of his hands as he leaped and turned. Difficult catch? Sure. But would it even be in the top 20 most difficult catches Welkers ever made? Probably not. He is an incredible player and should have made the catch, as he said time and again. That he wouldnt make it or would be excused for not making it probably would never enter his mind. Great players make great plays in huge spots. Was Bradys throw great? No. But it was good enough to be caught and it wasnt.
And, as much as I respect and enjoy the work of Greg Bedard at The Boston Globe, the research he did to absolve Welker of blame for the play misses the point. Welker should have caught the ball. He didnt. Hes not a goat. Hes not a failure. Hes guilty of not making a terrific play that was easily within his ability to make. Think about itaside from Brady going 16-for-16 and directing a 96-yard touchdown drivedid any offensive player on the Patriots make a play youd call exceptional? A run, a catch, a move? Maybe Danny Woodhead? Maybe. And while the Giants didnt have a lot of them eitherthe Hakeem Nicks catch down the middle and the Manningham catch on the sideline both qualifythe Patriots didnt have any.
The biggest coaching failure in the game was the 12-men-on-the-field penalty that gave the Giants a first down. It was a third-and-3 play andwhile you couldnt see it on television, Antwaun Molden was lost in the secondary for about three seconds before the ball was snapped. Whoever sent Molden in screwed up. Any player who saw Moldens confusion before a key third-down in the red zone and failed to call timeout screwed up.
Jerod Mayo did not have a good Super Bowl. That Eli Manning could throw a dangerous pass for a touchdown to Victor Cruz past the doing-who-knows-what Mayo was disturbing. Again, not a winning play by one of your best players. Mayo played hard but without major impact. Even on his forced fumble, NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth pointed out that Mayo was out of position on the pass. And, of course, the ball wasnt recovered by New England either.
Brandon Spikes, Sterling Moore, Patrick Chung and Mark Anderson made winning plays. Spikes had an outstanding game while Moore and Chung played with the kind of physicality the Patriots needed in the secondary. That the New England defense allowed 13 pointsjust 13 points with no turnoversbefore the game-winning touchdown against a powerful offense was overachieving. And if Welker made his winning play, the winning play by Manningham along the sideline would never have occurred.
Ive never seen a sadder moment of video than Robert Kraft standing by himself as the owners box emptied out, hands in his pockets, resignation on his face and a look to the sky. His team came so close to authoring the most incredible ending in American sports history. Gronk was a foot away from getting his hands under the Hail Mary pass Brady threw as time expired. To get it there in time and accurate was, again, an amazing play by Brady, much as the 70-yard throw to Moss near the very end of Super Bowl 42 was an astounding play overlooked.
But the blustering did you win or did you not bottom-liners who dont see sports as a game of nuance and context and believe the Patriots failed and blemished themselves Sunday miss the point. And, at this point, trying to make them see the point is a lost cause.