Monday, February 06, 2017
What a game!
Fatherhood and a greater interest in soccer combined long ago to make me only an very occasional viewer of the NFL. And so it was that I found myself watching Super Bowl LI yesterday -- at my wife's urging. I knew the Super Bowl was coming soon, but it wasn't until my wife asked me to pick up Super Bowl goodies from the store Thursday that I realized it was right on top of us. I expected the Patriots to win and, having lived in Boston, was rooting for them, but I fully expected them to put the game safely out of reach quickly enough for me to retire early. With the opposite apparently happening and not really having dogs in the hunt, I made the mistake of confusing Tom Brady for a mere mortal and went upstairs to get ready to move the kids to their beds.
When I returned, there was a football game on, the kind I'd never forgive myself for not watching. Like millions of others, I got to see Tom Brady and Bill Belichick make Super Bowl history against a fearsome opponent. I am happy to pay for that spectacle with the small price of feeling tired this morning. Seeing someone overcome what he did early in the season and for much of the game is something I needed, and it will be good to remember. Brady was on fire. There was a look in his eye that told me he would win or put up a valiant fight. He wasn't there just because he is a professional.
But football is just as much a mental game as it is a physical one, and it is worth reading about how the coaches and players engineered this comeback:
Undeterred by Jones' brilliant grab, Belichick settled on the double-Julio Jones strategy. And then the Patriots started getting pressure on Ryan, coming up with two huge sacks in the fourth quarter. The first a strip sack that changed the game. The second sack pushed the Falcons out of field goal range.I recall hearing at one point in the first half that Belichick had said that a coach who waits until halftime to make changes is too late. This game proves it, although the payoff didn't become apparent until late in the game, after it seemed to me to be a lost cause.
All of Belichick's tinkering had finally paid off. After scoring 28 points over the first 36 minutes of the game, the Falcons were shut out the rest of the way.
We've praised Belichick (and rightfully so? [sic] but give credit to both Matt Patricia, who's established himself quite the reputation as a defensive coordinator and should be getting a head job very soon, and the Patriots secondary for playing their part in the turnaround.
"We made some adjustments," Patricia said. "[Our defensive backs] do a good job of coming back and giving us feedback. I think those guys understand the game to a level that I don't think anybody really comprehends. They'll come back and say 'Hey, we see this, we think we can do this, maybe let's make this adjustment,' and that's what they did." [bold added]
Ignore the complaints about the NFL's tie-breaking procedure (which I admit is flawed) or the idea that the Falcons "choked." They were a worthy opponent, whom it took a coaching genius and one of the game's greatest players to defeat. They are young and, if they are as good as I think they are, this loss will galvanize them in much the same way Deflategate did the Patriots this year. They will have something to prove, and if they persist, I think they will prove it.