INDIANAPOLIS — This time, like last time, the New York Giants owned the New England Patriots in the stretch. But unlike last time, there was just too much funny business for Tom Brady and the gang to pull it out. And it showed in key plays as the Patriots lost 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium.
For starters, Ahmad Bradshaw’s 6-yard touchdown with 57 seconds left in the game was bizarre. Given the Giants’ lengthy drive, and the amount of timeouts the Patriots had remaining, Bill Belichick decided that it was time to play some situational football. What does that mean? That means that Bradshaw got an open lane for a touchdown on 2nd-and-goal at the Patriots’ 6-yard line. The Patriots’ defensive line just stood up while its linebackers watched as Bradshaw hunkered at the 1-yard line, unsure if he was supposed to take the easy touchdown. Turns out, Eli Manning was yelling at him to not score. Manning, also thinking situational football, wanted to kill some more clock before letting Brady have at the Giants defense.
The question is simple: Do you hold for the field goal or lay down and put the game on your offense? Belichick says there’s a 90 percent chance of making a field goal at that range. That would put the Patriots down 18-17 with as little as 10 seconds remaining.
As much as it seems logical to allow a touchdown, everything about it feels wrong. And that proved true as Bradshaw’s touchdown became the game-winning score.
Maybe it’s my junior football mind speaking, but I want that 10 percent chance for something to go wrong. I want the opportunity to load up and go for the block and win the game rather than allow the loss.
These are the kind of decisions that keep you up at night.
Outside of the allowed touchdown, Wes Welker’s drop was every bit as critical as the wide receiver proclaimed it to be in his emotional postgame press conference. It’s tough because Welker’s usually sure hands would normally make that catch, a deep throw that was a little bit behind but still in a spot for him to get his hands on the ball. A reception there would have put the Patriots in Giants territory with a little more than 4 minutes remaining. Surely the Patriots would’ve finished the drive with at least a field goal. Instead, another incomplete pass to Deion Branch forced a Patriots punt that led to the Giants’ game-winning drive.
It was uncharacteristic of the Patriots. Much like Brady’s safety on New England’s first possession, there were too many mental errors for the team to recover. And then there was too little time.
For the Patriots to win the Super Bowl, with the way they played, they needed some help. And unlike the AFC championship, they were the ones making mistakes. For a team known to be smart, that distinction is unfortunately up in the air.
INDIANAPOLIS — I feel like I’m playing linebacker on a football field, just keeping my head on a swivel. But instead of looking for blockers and opposing offensive players, I’m looking out for celebrities, hookers and NFL players.
Not necessarily in that order.
Super Bowl week has been a drain on my energy but I’m glad to say it’s coming to an end and we’ll all be game oriented by tomorrow morning. The visual distractions of people — both en masse and celebrity — can be a bit overwhelming. And right now, on this Saturday, the relentless stream of gawkers outside the media hotel are relentless. It’s getting to that uncomfortably weird stage in which everybody, celebrities included, want the game to just get here.
And while normally I would have my picks and predictions up on Thursday or Friday, I’m just getting to it now because of the relative quiet today surrounding the New England Patriots and New York Giants. There is no coach or player availability to the media.
So who do I got? I’ve been asked that quite a bit the past few days. More times actually than I have all season. I guess that’s what happens when people see you sitting at the Boston Globe booth. Admittedly though, I’ve been waffling on who I like. The Giants beat a strong 49ers team after a couple of special teams miscues, and the Patriots sort of backed into the big game after Billy Cundiff’s missed field goal with seconds remaining in the AFC Championship. Neither won outright, and that may be more of a reason why there’s such parity in the NFL than not. No one team has a lock on talent. But I do know one thing, the Patriots have a lock on discipline. And despite Brandon Spikes getting away with slugging a guy, the team is poised to play error free, much the way they’ve done the entire season.
The big question everyone wants to have answered is whether Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski is going to be good to go. He was listed as questionable for the game on Friday’s injury report. He practiced the final two practices, giving some assurance to Patriots fans that he’ll be available. I expect him to play and to play well. I think that bolsters the Patriots’ chances of winning this game tremendously. There’s no stopping him, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker.
The revenge factor here, which I think is blown out of proportion for some, is right on the money for Tom Brady. This is a game he doesn’t want to lose, not just because he hates losing and this is the Super Bowl, but because it was the Giants who last beat him and it was the Giants who last took away his glory in Super Bowl XLII. If vengeance has any bearing on any one player in this game, it’s the most dangerous player on the field in Tom Brady.
Again, I like the Giants. I like the fact that they only need four pass rushers to cause trouble. I love their receiving corps. I love how Eli Manning has been running this team. I’m not so much a fan of their running game, which I would have considered inconsistent up until about a month ago. I think their weakness is their offensive line, which lets Manning get banged up too much. But they’re a solid team and they play hard nosed. I just don’t think they have the gusto to make enough stops against this Patriots offense. Can you tell I’m hedging? Because I’m hedging. Who knows how this thing is going to turn out. After XLII, we all thought 19-0 was inevitable. But you remember what happened. I just think that the Patriots are better overall and more consistent in what they do. And what they do is almost entirely unstoppable.
Giants vs. Patriots
My pick: Patriots
Last week (conference championships): 1-1
Regular season: 135-83 (61.9 percent)
Before I get too busy, I wanted to stop and share some thoughts with those that frequent this site. I’m here in Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI, the rematch game between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. Who knew when I wrote on this very site five months ago that I was going to be taking a greater role in Patriots coverage that I would be here, that the Patriots would be here, and that I would have this opportunity. It really is a blessing.
Since I’ve come to the Globe, Boston sports teams have done extremely well. I took part in our coverage of the NBA Finals in 2010 as the Celtics and Lakers went toe to toe. I was on the ground in Vancouver when the Bruins throttled the Canucks in Game 7, and then Vancouverites throttled their city. And now I’m here in Indy as the Patriots try to cap a really serendipitous season.
In the words of Kevin Garnett, “Anything is possible.”
Are you shocked already? You should be. I’m going on a limb here, both because of a rookie quarterback, some new faith in Alex Smith and the New York Giants.
Make no mistake about it, this is a weekend in which a lot of faith is necessary. The 49ers will not have an easy go of it against the New Orleans Saints. There’s no team hotter in the NFL right now. What Drew Brees can do with a football makes my eyes light up like a little kid. But the same can be said of the 49ers’ defense. There’s no team like it in the NFL, and also in that sense, there’s no team like the 49ers that changes the offensive strategy of an opponent. Opposing teams literally have to give up their running game. With an eye on defense, and the unbelievable possibility that Alex Smith will surprise, I see the one of three big upsets occurring in the divisional playoffs. Yup, I went there.
Saints at 49ers — See above.
My pick: 49ers
Broncos at Patriots — I happen to think that the Patriots are a better team than the Steelers offensively in every fashion. So much better than the Steelers, and Broncos, that I believe Denver’s defense will find itself on its backside by midway through the second quarter. The onus will be on Tim Tebow to save his team by helping the Broncos put up more than 30 points, something they haven’t done since early December. The Patriots average 32.1 points per game, almost two touchdowns more than the Broncos (19.3). In the last go round, everything came down to turnovers. This time, everything will be much more offensively oriented. At least that’s my prediction. (Depending on how you look at it, that could mean defensively oriented.) The Patriots win that battle.
My pick: Patriots
Texans at Ravens — On the road against a rested and feisty Baltimore Ravens team, I envision the T.J. Yates led Texans beating the Ravens. Not because of the rookie though, but because of its phenomenal defense (amazing effort against the Bengals) and the lack of a passing game that has come to characterize the Ravens’s offense (No. 19 in the NFL) in the final weeks of the season. I don’t believe a weekend away from the gridiron can correct their problems. On the other hand, there’s game film on these two from Week 6, a 29-14 win for the Ravens, when Joe Flacco was still pitching like a top-flight quarterback and Matt Schaub was healthy. The difference now, it seems to me, is that one team is hot and the other is not. Any team that struggles with the Cleveland Browns and falls to the San Diego Chargers isn’t deserving of going forward from this point. But then I also said any team that loses three in a row to end the season is bound for a plane ticket home too.
My pick: Texans
Giants at Packers — It is my humble opinion that when an awesome defense faces an awesome offense, and a very good offense faces a mediocre-to-poor defense, the team with the awesome defense will win. What we saw in wild-card weekend was an awesome defense, fiery and dominant in every respect. The Packers are an amazing team, but even in their 38-35 win over the Giants in Week 13, they allowed an alarming amount of points. Imagine if the Giants can wipe at least one touchdown off the board? Don’t imagine it. It’s going to happen.
My pick: Giants
Last week: 2-2
Regular season: 135-83 (61.9 percent)
Why is it every time I feel the odds are stacked against Tim Tebow, particularly when I think there is NO WAY he can overcome them, he goes ahead and wins football games in the most stunning of fashions? Certainly I’m not the only one to feel this way. And I guess that’s what adds to the phenomena behind Timothy Richard Tebow. He simultaneously surprises, enthralls, inspires and enrages football fans. The way he wins, both awkward and unorthodox, late but timely, and marvelously highlight driven, is uncharacteristic in any regard. It’s spawned Tebow Time, and Tebow Magic, something no quarterback has ever done in comparison. It’s historic. It’s humbling. It galvanizes. It’s pure entertainment.
On the first play of overtime, Tebow found Demaryius Thomas over the middle of the field on a play-action pass for an 80-yard touchdown. Heads are still spinning. With Thomas’ quick stiff arm and 55-yard sprint, he left a wake of dropped jaws and speechless Twitter users. (How many times did you see just “Wow” in your Twitter stream?) Not to forget a felled Pittsburgh Steelers team that was destined to go in and challenge the juggernaut in New England. I can’t think of a play even as close to amazing as that one from the entire weekend.
But besides the Broncos shocking the world (there is truly a “world is against them” aura floating over there), there were three other games going on of high interest. Saints-Lions, Texans-Bengals and Giants-Falcons. Just a couple of thoughts on each.
- I swear the Lions would’ve won against the Saints if they could simply catch the gift-wrapped interceptions Drew Brees was floating to their defensive backs. A failure to capitalize on turnovers is just as much as a failure to score points in the playoffs. It was so egregious I was ready to suit up and sub for Aaron Berry (no relation) to get the job done. (C’mon dude, no one would ever know….)
- The Falcons are disappointing. Forget the fact that I picked against them in this game, but at least have the cajones to put some points on the board. Two points? 2? Dos? That’s irresponsible. Outrageous even. You can’t win unless you score some points, plain and simple. Credit to the New York Giants for shutting them down. Matt Ryan is not an elite quarterback.
- How many times was Andy Dalton going to go for the home run, rather than look for a single? Yes, let’s use a mixed sports analogy here in describing the quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals. Dalton’s three interception were inexcusable in the Bengals’ loss to the Houston Texans. Particularly his fourth quarter bomb to Houston’s Danieal Manning with seven minutes remaining. That’s what sealed the loss. Forget the pass to Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt, which was a freak of athletic nature. But his final two interceptions really were boneheaded picks, something only a rookie would do. On the flip side, I liked T.J. Yates’ game and Arian Foster. I can see the Texans doing well against the Baltimore Ravens. And on that note …
I’m going to follow up with my picks for the divisional playoffs later today. It’ll be the first time I pick for, or against, the Patriots. So there’s that. Check it out.
Dallas Cowboys - First and foremost, let’s get America’s Team and God’s Team, which by no coincidence happen to be the same team, into the playoffs. If Arizona can make it, and either San Diego or Denver can make it, I feel like the Cowboys deserve to make it. And I deserve it. I’ve been good this year. If they don’t beat the Eagles, at least they’ll have ripped my heart out early this year and I can enjoy the playoffs.
Detroit Lions - To lose. It’s more accurate to say I’m rooting for the Lions to lose than I am for the Packers to win. I want to see the first 0-16 team; I couldn’t care less how many wins the Packers finish with. After Detroit completes the worst possible season, I’d like them to be in the playoffs next year, cause man that sucks. I’d also like to demand a trade for Calvin Johnson. If he’s not going to say it, I will. He might have been my most reliable fantasy player, and I can only wonder what he might’ve done on a real team.
San Diego Chargers - I hate the idea of an 8-8 team winning their division and going to the playoffs. The winner of the AFC West should be irrelevant to the playoffs. But since somebody has to “win” it, I’m going with the Chargers. They’re more talented and could do more damage in the postseason, and they’ve had a few unlucky breaks along the way coughEdHochulicough. Denver, meanwhile, started 3-0 and should’ve clinched the division midway through the season. There’s no way it should’ve come down to a week 17 winner-take-all. Screw em. They don’t deserve it.
Miami Dolphins - Again, any team that wants to give their playoff ticket away as badly as the Jets do, I want to let them. Seeing Chad Pennington keep Brett Favre and the Jets out of the playoffs while leading his team in will just be icing on the cake.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - I just think it’s funny every time a coach that Al Davis fires (or trades I guess) comes back to beat him and the Raiders. I’m praying they let Tom Cable go and he wins the Super Bowl with the Lions next year.
Minnesota Vikings – I just hate the Giants. God I hate them so much.