Thursday, February 9, 2017

Why the Patriots Won

Almost immediately after the Patriots miraculous comeback on Sunday night I received an e-mail from my buddy from New York who is still angry at Bill Belichick for not taking the offered Jet job and deciding to coach the Patriots instead.  His e-mail declared that the reason the Patriots won was because Atlanta choked.  He went on to list the various foolish things the Falcons did to lose--as opposed to acknowledge why the Patriots were victorious.

Gary is as fervid a Jets fan as there is. The Jets have not been in the super bowl since 1969, and Gary is understandably frustrated. Besides he is a good guy, so I cut him some slack.  However, the fact is that the Patriots won because the Patriots were the better team.

Here is why the Patriots won.

Understanding Talent
The team understands that the key to victory is not necessarily the skill level of individual players, but the willingness of players to adhere to a system that is likely to result in wins.  Sure, you need to be skillful and strong, but you don't have to be the most skillful or strongest; you need to be the most committed and smartest.  The best receiver on the field on Sunday was an Atlanta Falcon: Julio Jones.  While Edelman's catch was an optical illusion and brilliant--Jones's catch earlier was even better.

The best receivers for the Patriots are (1) a former college quarterback who never played receiver until he came to the Patriots--Julian Edelman (2) a former lacrosse player for Penn State who played only one year of college football at Monmouth University in Division I-AA--Chris Hogan (3) an undrafted free agent--Danny Amendola (4) a running back who two years ago when the Patriots went to the superbowl was not even good enough to be active for the contest--James White (5) a rookie from Georgia-- Malcolm Mitchell and (6) a tight end--Martellus Bennett.  I heard a pundit after the game opine that he would be stumped if he was a defensive coordinator trying to game plan against the Patriots NOT because the receivers are so good, but because none of them are really good--so he could not pick out who to focus on.

Tom Brady was drafted in the 6th round. His best asset is his brain, not his arm.  His second best asset is that he seems to have no need to demonstrate that he is the greatest.  He really does not seem to care that he didn't throw the winning touchdown pass--and that it was rather run in by James White.

Malcolm Butler was undrafted and two years ago literally stole the super bowl by intercepting a pass. This year he blanketed very talented Falcon receivers for nearly the entire game. He got beat badly on one play but for the most part was all over the Falcons.

So, the Patriots won because they had the talent--talent defined as players who are smart and industrious.

I watched 95% of all the plays the Patriots ran this entire season.  And I saw plays on Sunday that I had not seen all year.  Both two point conversions were brilliant.  The first I had seen before--in the 2004 superbowl game with Kevin Faulk--but I do not think the Patriots have run it all year.  The second two point conversion was also well conceived; again I do not believe the Patriots used it all year. Similarly the pass to James White that set up the overtime winning run, was new and very cleverly designed.    The fake kneel down at the end of regulation has, I will bet, never been used by any team ever.  Defensively the play that led to the strip sack during the comeback was brilliant. The guy who was supposed to pick up the blitzer was so confused, he barely saw Hightower rushing past him.  The Patriots were better prepared and always seem to be.

Atlanta made some decisions that in hindsight were not the greatest, but in the first half they made enough good decisions to go up by 25 points.  What happened though was when they did falter, the Patriots took advantage of the errors.   Sure it was not the most brilliant move in the world to try and pass when a field goal would have nearly clinched the game, but when forced to punt they pinned the Patriots inside their own ten.  Down 28-20, the Patriots mounted a 90 yard drive--including a 3rd and 11 first down--not to mention Edelman's circus catch.

Belichick never throws his team under the bus.  When they lose, he takes as much heat as everybody. He praises his opponents and does so, it appears, genuinely. Even when an opponent has been hurling snide remarks his way, publicly at least Belichick does not disparage the player often saying he has a great deal of respect for the other.  As a coach you have to be able to deflect praise to create a culture that is conducive to winning.

In December 1981 I remember screaming my head off because the team I was rooting for then, the New York Giants, had finally gotten into the playoffs on the last day of the season. For many franchises just getting into the playoffs is a big deal.  Since 2001 the Patriots have missed the playoffs two times. They have appeared in 7 of the 16 superbowls. That is amazing. And they have won 5 of those 7.

It's not luck. It's not because their opponents choke.  It's because they recognize that if a lacrosse player can catch a ball and understand the pass plays, then he is worth a shot.  And that an afterthought like James White might be your go-to guy, simply because he works harder than the next player.

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