I want to make this brief for all who claim the NFL is a pass-until-you-shred-your-rotator-cuff game.
Much like Super Bowl XLIX two years ago, when the Patriots edged Seattle 28-24, yesterday’s New England title came about because an offensive coordinator goofed and tried to outfox Bill Belichick instead of simply running the ball.
You might recall the Seahawks were about a yard away from victory on the final play of the game that year and instead of having an angry and lethal Marshawn Lynch seal the win by smashing into the end zone, Seattle elected to pass. Russell Wilson’s ill-advised lob was intercepted in the end zone and millions of people were in shock.
The Atlanta Falcons stormed out to their massive lead in Super Bowl LI yesterday due to the running game and damn sure lost it with the pass. How do I know? Davonta Freeman averaged more than six yards per carry, primarily with runs off-tackle to lessen the burden on center Alex Mack, who was playing the game with a broken fibula. Moreover, the team averaged 5.8 yards per carry.
This, in turn, forced the Patriots to respect the run and opened up the passing game. In other words, a traditional football game plan instead of this stupid Madden video game throw-deep every play mindset.
The Falcons wound up losing that 25-point advantage, in part, with a fourth-quarter fumble by quarterback Matt Ryan who had no business passing in the first place. It’s the fourth quarter and they still led by 16 points. That turnover in Falcons territory led to a swift New England TD. Had the Falcons ran and failed to pick up the first down, the clock would have kept ticking and the resulting punt would have forced the Patriots to mount a much longer scoring drive.
Later, with the Falcons still clinging to an eight-point lead, Julio Jones nabbed an iconic reception that — had Atlanta held on — would have replaced Dwight Clark’s touchdown decades ago as “The Catch.” That play set up the Falcons at the New England 22. Run the ball three times. Kick a field goal for an 11-point lead. Game over.
Only the Falcons channeled their inner Seahawk. Somewhere Pete Carroll was grimacing at what he watched.
This is not to suggest that Ryan or Jones should be jettisoned and outgoing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan should be replaced with a high-school coach who loves the double-wing.
This is to insist that the reputation of Mssrs. Belichick and Brady — their aura — makes people forget their damn common sense when you need it the most.
Common sense dictates you run the ball. It worked in the first half because it kept the Patriots on their toes. It would have worked in the second because it would have killed off most of the clock.
Run to set up the pass. Run to protect your quarterback. Run to protect the guy playing with a broken leg and for the love of the Lombardi Trophy, run to protect the lead.
Here ends the lesson. You should have learned it back in 2015.