Monday, February 06, 2017

The Patriots Are the Pick

I’m no fan of the New England Patriots. Now that I think about it, I have probably rooted against them in every Super Bowl they’ve ever played.

I suppose I was neutral on them up until 2004 when the Pats defeated my Carolina Panthers in that wild Super Bowl 38. Carolina lost 32-29 after a crazy fourth quarter that saw the Panthers score three touchdowns, New England two, and the Pats hit a game-winning FG at the end.

That was New England’s second title in three years, so it was easy to root against them thereafter as they dominated season after season. It has never come close to rising to Duke-level dislike (deep and unchangeable in this Tar Heel), but it’s been a pretty consistent feeling of antagonism toward the team for me nonetheless.

That said, I have one rule in Pigskin Pick’em I’ve (almost) unerringly followed for years. I always pick New England. No matter what.

Last night Vera and I attended a fun Super Bowl viewing party, and just about everyone there was on the Atlanta Falcons side, too. Here in North Carolina most were either Washington Redskins fans or Atlanta fans growing up, as they were the teams always featured on regional coverage here up until the Panthers franchise debuted in 1995. Not too hard, then, for many around these parts to be leaning Atlanta’s way last night.

It was pretty festive up through the middle of the third quarter as Atlanta surprisingly built that 28-3 lead. The largest comeback ever in 50 previous Super Bowl had been just 10 points, so a 25-point lead seemed more than insurmountable.

Actually the party remained fun during the Patriots comeback. Everyone wanted Atlanta to win, but it wasn’t like we were Falcons diehards. The fact that the game got closer as the night wore on ensured the game remained the focus of everyone’s attention the entire way.

If you watched, you saw how it all went wrong for Atlanta. You may not understand it, but you saw it.

Bill Barnwell breaks it down step-by-step this morning in an article titled “Anatomy of a Miracle” over on ESPN. It was way more nutty than that Panthers-Pats finish 13 years ago. It was also much more improbable than the New York Giants’ unlikely win over New England in SB 42, or the Seattle Seahawks’ surprise gift to the Pats two years ago at the end of SB 49.

It was a bit like watching a player with a 10-to-1 chip lead heads-up lose flip after flip to let victory slip away. There were several bad-luck plays for Atlanta, the incredible catch (and release and catch) an inch above the turf by the Patriots’ Julian Edelman on that tipped ball during the game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter the most memorable example. There were so many if-they-just-get-this-one-it’s-over plays in there, it was kind of like watching queen-six beating ace-ten over and over.

But you’d have to mix in some self-inflicted wounds from Atlanta, too -- a costly turnover, very bad clock management (multiple fourth-quarter snaps with 15-20 seconds on the play clock), and blowing through what turned out to be needed timeouts spring to mind.

Some questionable play calls in key spots do as well, most glaringly when up 28-20 with just under four minutes left and looking at a second-and-11 on the Pat’s 23-yard line. Atlanta went high-risk with a pass play, got sacked, then after another pass play ended with a holding penalty they were out of FG range, having to punt to New England (who still had their two timeouts) with three-and-a-half minutes to go.

There’s no denying New England couldn’t have climbed back out of such a historically deep hole without some help from Atlanta. Nor could they do it without the “cards” falling their way, too. Before overtime began, someone at the party correctly predicted New England would win the coin toss and march down the field for a winning TD, and indeed, things bounced the Pats way again and he was proven correct.

That said, the Pats were relentless from the midpoint of the third quarter onward -- like an almost flawless, “optimal” poker player who never seems to choose incorrectly. And when he does perhaps do something uncharacteristically risky (e.g., the pass into double coverage resulting in Edelman’s spectacular grab), it still works out for him.

Am seeing this morning a best-to-worst ranking of the 51 Super Bowls already putting last night’s at the top of the list. I’d charge recency bias, but sheesh... a 25-point comeback? A team down 19 to start the fourth somehow pulling it out? That stands out.

I’m still no fan of the Patriots. And I’ll still root against them. But I’m not picking against them any time soon.

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