Super Bowl 2012: Who Gets the Blame for the Patriots' Loss to the Giants?
Under the black cloud of a Super Bowl loss, overreaction reigns supreme. The New England Patriots are the current victims of "the sky is falling" mentality, and though some of it is hyperbole, parts of it are warranted.
After all, the team lost the game for a reason.
Of course, that blame can get a little too overblown, especially in light of the grand stage of the Super Bowl. Boston.com writer Eric Wilbur learned that in an interesting fashion, as his article was the subject of much scrutiny in the New England area on Monday morning.
"What an embarrassment for the Patriots organization and Bob Kraft," writes Wilbur. "So now the Giants have taken Lombardi from you twice, and you haven't looked this bad in a playoff game since...well, two weeks ago against the Ravens. Maybe that moment will actually hit you as you're whittling down water slides in South America looking like Prince Valiant this spring. The Patriots haven't won a title in seven years, but even worse, they're now turning into the Buffalo Bills, with the Giants being their Cowboy daddy. That's not easy to swallow in a region where New York is regarded as highly as the menu at Beacon Hill Pub."
I assure you, this article will not be as ludicrous as the one I just quoted.
Which players are most deserving of blame?
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Tom Terrific completed 16 straight passes, setting a Super Bowl record and throwing two touchdowns in the process. Yet the Patriots still lost. Why? Besides a ton of pressure (more on that later), Brady went 11-for-25 on his passes outside of that 16-completion streak.
Does Brady get all the blame? Not at all. No matter what other columnists might say. Should he shoulder some? Of course. He's not perfect, but he's supposed to be better than that. Big-game situations are supposed to be his forte, and he went 6-for-15 with an interception in the fourth quarter.
Whether it was receivers dropping passes or the offensive line's failure to protect, he wasn't the only one to blame by a long shot.
The Offensive Line
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The Patriots' offensive line continued their trend of giving up a great deal of pressure on Brady in the biggest game of the year. According to Pro Football Focus, the Patriots gave up pressure on 20 of Brady's 43 total dropbacks, including two sacks.
PFF suggests that the tape won't be kind to guard Logan Mankins, who gave up a sack and three pressures on Brady. That should be a concern since the Patriots just extended him for seven years in the 2011 offseason. This has been a tough year for him overall, having given up 5.5 sacks on the season according to STATS.com, a career-high. This wasn't all on Mankins; the tackles gave up their share of pressure, as well.
Brady was 20-for-25 until he was brought down by Justin Tuck and landed on his left shoulder. After that hit, he was 7-for-16 and threw a pick.
If the offensive line could have given Brady more time in the pocket, this game may have turned out differently. Unfortunately for them, they are the major talking point of yet another Super Bowl loss.
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It wasn't all on the players; the coaching staff made some questionable decisions throughout the game.
- The Patriots ran just nine plays in the no-huddle on a possible 63 offensive plays. The no-huddle was considered a weakness of the Giants defense, and the Patriots missed a big opportunity to exploit it.
- Bill Belichick's late challenge of the Mario Manningham sideline catch was egregious for many reasons, not the least of which being that both he and the official were right in front of it, and Belichick wasn't sure enough of himself until the replay to make the challenge.
- Allowing the Giants to score the touchdown was the right call, but the decision was made far too late. Let them score earlier, and give the offense a chance to win. Don't let the clock wind down there.
- Calling 43 passing plays and just 19 running plays. You can't win with that kind of balance.
Bill Belichick hinted that there were some decisions he would have changed if given a chance, but as he said not too long ago, "If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas."
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The question mark is there for a reason. Does the defense deserve any blame?
They did an admirable job, much better than many expected them to do against an explosive offense, but after further review, it's hard to say they don't deserve any blame. Still, this portion of the pie is pretty small.
The defense, for the most part, did their job on Sunday. They kept the Giants out of the end zone, holding them to just 2-for-4 inside the 25-yard line.
But there were enough missed opportunities and mistakes that the defense absolutely must be held accountable.
Rob Ninkovich jumping offsides early in the fourth quarter turned a 3rd-and-7 from the 11-yard line into a 3rd-and-2 from the 16. The Giants converted, and kept the ball moving. An early penalty for 12 men on the field kept a drive alive on third down and the Giants eventually went in for a touchdown on a Victor Cruz reception.
In the end, the Patriots allowed just 19 points on defense, but without some key mistakes, it could have been even fewer.
Unfair as it may be, the late drops by the receivers will forever be linked to the loss.
What if Wes Welker comes down with that extremely tough catch on 2nd-and-11? The Patriots have the ball inside Giants territory, an opportunity to milk some clock and still come away with a field goal at worst. If he had come down with the catch, it would have been regarded as a circus catch by Welker. The fact that it hit him in the hands, though, is enough to make you wonder if he should have had it.
There were other receivers that dropped passes, namely Aaron Hernandez. But in the end, these drops really just accentuated the problems across the board on offense that started up front, trickled over into the quarterback and spilled over to the receivers as well.
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Forget a "Patriot killer," Bernard Pollard is a dream killer.
Rob Gronkowski was held to just two receptions for 26 yards, and was targeted just three times. Gronk was the Patriots' second leading receiver, and the NFL's record holder for touchdown receptions by a tight end.
Yet there he was, almost completely ineffective, even if he wouldn't admit that he was hurt in the game.
If you're a Patriots fan running out of people to blame, Pollard is a good standby.
Enough to Go Around for Everyone
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A cliché ending to the slideshow? Maybe. But accurate no less.
The point of this slideshow is to illustrate that the loss doesn't fall on one person. It was a collaborate effort of missed opportunities: A misfired pass here, a bad angle in coverage there, a couple of late drops, a couple of missed opportunities for a defensive stop or a turnover, and certainly other plays that will be dissected from now until September all had their impact on the outcome of the game.
If any one of those plays goes differently, the whole ball game could have been different. It was truly that close throughout.
And with Eli Manning, a record-setting fourth quarter quarterback on their side, the Giants wouldn't be denied, especially with so many missed opportunities for the Patriots.