The Good, The Bad and The Future
A View From The Perch
February 7th, 2017
This is a weekly column from Brian Paratore that reflects on the highs and lows around sports and what to watch for in the days to come.
This column is supposed to review the highs and lows of the past week in sports, but considering what just happened in Super Bowl 51 the inaugural edition will be fully dedicated to the game we'll never forget. I had all types of impressive anecdotes about how my Wizards are taking the NBA by storm, especially at home. Instead I'll just leave you with this: Washington's 5-man lineup of Wall-Beal-Oubre-Porter-Gortat (+26.5 Net Rating) is turning into one of the most lethal units in all the land. I would tell you how that's better than any lineup Golden State has produced this year, but I'm gonna keep this modest. Have I mentioned they won 17 in a row at home and 14 of 16 overall? I could write another separate piece entirely about last night's NBA Game of the Year - a Wizards 140-135 OT loss at home to LeKing, a definitely staying in Cleveland now Kevin Love, Kyrie "I love the right elbow 3 with the game on the line" Irving and the rest of the defending champ Cavs. Well, about that football game. . .
To not list Captain America right off the bat would be a level of disrespect that only Roger Goodell could truly appreciate. When your team is losing 28-3 late in the 3rd quarter and you proceed to score on 5 straight possessions - including 4 touchdowns - to outscore a conference champion and 8th highest scoring offense in NFL history 31-0 the rest of the way to bring home your NFL QB record-setting 5th Super Bowl ring it means you really want to be first. In columns like these. In the Greatest Of All-Time debate (no longer a debate). And in life.
Brady struggled for the majority of Super Bowl 51. Matt Ryan was seemingly showing why he deserved the NFL MVP that was announced the night before. The Patriots had yet to reach the end zone deep into the game. People were starting to trickle out of Super Bowl parties across the country. Was this one of the worst Super Bowls ever?
And then it happened. There were at least two dozen Super Bowl records broken in this game. The 25-point comeback win makes us wonder how in 50 previous Super Bowls no team had ever managed to conquer more than a 10-point deficit. I have to admit, though. Had Brady not had the burning desire to receive hardware from a particular individual, fueled by a particular controversy, to conclude this particular season - would he have found the level of grit required to make the impossible possible? Or would a New England comeback attempt have fallen short in a 4th quarter that would be remembered for when the Patriots simply made the final score respectable? We'll never know for sure, but considering how clear it was that this was more than just another Super Bowl for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots organization - I'd say it was just what they needed.
The New England passing down back was sensational. He caught a Super Bowl record 14 passes. He had 139 yards of total offense. He scored 3 total touchdowns and a 2-point conversion. His 20 points scored was another Super Bowl record. He scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime. Tom Brady (and many others) said he was the real MVP of the Super Bowl. It may very well be the most productive game of his NFL career. Was he really more valuable than Brady? Probably not, but I can't see the Patriots winning that game without him.
Julian Edelman's Catch
The Patriots' number one wide receiver had a respectable 5 grabs for 87 yards. But his miraculous 23-yard haul with 2 minutes left at the Atlanta 41-yard line would provide one of the truly epic moments in Super Bowl history. The Brady pass ricocheted off the hands of a Falcons defender and into the air. Edelman and three Atlanta defenders were all falling to the ground where the ball was descending upon. The ball hit an Atlanta player's leg and into Edelman's fingertips a half an inch off the Houston turf. The play would be challenged by Dan Quinn, but replay confirmed the jaw-dropping completion.
New England has seen its fair share of miracle receptions by opponents on Super Bowl final drives. The New York Giants needed one in each of their two Super Bowl victories over the Patriots - one by Mario Manningham and another from David Tyree. The Seahawks received similar fortune from Jermaine Kearse before Malcolm Butler put his stamp on NFL history. It must feel great for New England to finally be on the other side of this really, really, really, really bizarre Patriots Super Bowl trend.
Julio Jones's Catch
With 4:47 left in the 4th quarter, Matt Ryan somehow delivered an astonishing 27-yard pass over a perfectly positioned defender to his All-World WR. What was even better was the catch and toe-tapping inbounds along the side that Julio Jones then managed to execute. It could have gone down as one of the most clutch receptions in Super Bowl history, but we'll talk about what happened right after a little further below. . .
Matty Ice was dealing (when it wasn't 3rd down). He finished the game 17-23 passing for 284 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs. His 12.4 yards per pass attempt and 144.1 QB Rating in the game would have assured him Super Bowl MVP honors. If only. . .
The second year defensive lineman out of Arkansas had 2.5 sacks, including a 12 yard sack of Matt Ryan when the Falcons were getting ready to set up a game-sealing FG following the amazing catch from Julio Jones. The well-timed takedown put Atlanta on the outer edge of field goal range and a Falcons holding penalty on the next play forced a punt on 4th down that would give New England just enough life to find a way.
Very rarely does a defensive tackle manage 3 sacks in a game. But the Atlanta wrecking ball from Clemson did just that on the biggest stage. Had the Falcons held on, people would be singing his praises for a very long time.
The New England linebacker made his mark on this historic win when he darted past Devonta Freeman in the 4th quarter to deliver a crushing shot to Matt Ryan, forcing the ball out of Ryan's hand just as he was about to bring his arm forward to pass. The Patriots recovered in great field position and scored quickly thereafter to make the score 28-20.
Yes, the missed pass protection I just referred to was a monumental mistake that would otherwise have landed him in the lower part of this column. But Freeman did manage 121 total yards and a TD on only 13 touches. He had a 37-yard run and a 39-yard reception that were the two longest plays from scrimmage in this Super Bowl.
Atlanta's Inability To Ice The Game
When Julio Jones made that spectacular 27-yard grab with 4:47 left in the 4th at the New England 22-yard line it felt like the knife in the coffin for Brady's revenge tour. With the Falcons up by 8, many were expecting something logical such as this: Eat clock or force NE to burn timeouts by running on 1st, 2nd and 3rd downs to set up an approximately 40-yard field goal or less by a Pro Bowl kicker in a controlled indoor environment to make it a two-score game with only a few minutes left. This is what I would refer to as an ideal situation.
However, after losing a mere 1 yard on a first down run the Falcons decided to drop back for a pass on 2nd down. Big mistake. Like, an all-time epic play calling mistake. The usually situationally aware Matt Ryan took a 12-yard sack from Trey Flowers that pushed Atlanta all the way back to the 35-yard line. Now on the very outer edge of FG range (that they would actually be willing to try) they decided to pass again on 3rd down. This time a holding penalty on Jake Matthews pushed them back to the 45. An incompletion led to a Falcons punt, giving Tom Brady a final crack at a 91-yard drive and 2-point conversion attempt to complete the most epic comeback in Super Bowl and possibly sports history.
The Patriots Offensive Line In The First Half
The New England line managed to find their stride late in the game, but it was ugly early. According to Pro Football Focus, the Patriots gave up 16 pressures on Brady's 32 first half dropbacks. This was the biggest reason New England only managed 3 first half points.
New England's bruising back was never able to get anything going. He finished the game with 31 yards rushing on 11 carries (2.8 average) with 0 catches (per usual - not his role). His first half fumble at the Atlanta 29-yard line took away a Patriots scoring chance and led to the first touchdown of the game for the Falcons.
Atlanta's 3rd Down Offense
Ultimately, this is where the Falcons lost the game. They converted just 1 of 8 third down attempts over the course of the game. Considering the success they had on early downs, this figure is quite surprising. There should be a lot of credit given to the Patriots defense for being their normal stellar selves in defensive situational football, but only 1 third down conversion for an entire game with the offense Atlanta has is just unacceptable.
This was a huge component to New England controlling the time of possession for 17 minutes longer than Atlanta and running twice the number of plays (93 to 46). The Falcons defense was so gassed by the end of regulation that when the Patriots won the overtime coin toss to take the ball first, the game was really over right then and there.
Clippers at Knicks | Wednesday, February 8th
There is a ton of buzz going around about Carmelo Anthony and whether the Knicks will find a trading partner with a fair offer that Melo also approves since he has a no-trade clause in his contract. As much as Carmelo (and the Knicks) want it to be to Cleveland for Kevin Love, I just don't see that happening. Especially after that special K-Love performance last night.
The team that would make the most sense who also has been linked to Melo is the LA Clippers. They fit the type of market that Melo and his wife, La La, might be comfortable adjusting to and are a championship contender when healthy. The Clippers are in New York Wednesday and it would be hard to believe they won't be discussing business.
8 North Carolina at 18 Duke | Thursday, February 9th
College Basketball's finest rivalry returns Thursday night at 8pm ET on ESPN. UNC is currently sitting at the top of the ACC standings and Duke has Coach K back on the sidelines after an extended absence following back surgery. The Blue Devils have as talented a roster as anyone, but are searching for a steady point guard. The atmosphere inside Cameron Indoor should be electric, as always.
Cavs at Thunder | Thursday, February 9th
Any time LeBron James and Russell Westbrook are on the same court as each other it would be wise to check in. Their talents will be on display at 8pm ET on TNT.
5 Oregon at 10 UCLA | Thursday, February 9th
This Pac-12 showdown promises to deliver after an epic matchup between these teams in Eugene back on Dec. 28. That day, it was Oregon's Dillon Brooks draining a 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds left to give the Ducks a huge 89-87 win over Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf and a very fun to watch Bruins squad. This game will follow UNC-Duke on ESPN at 10pm ET.
Warriors at Thunder | Saturday, February 11th
Kevin Durant returns to OKC for the first time since signing with Golden State over the summer. If that isn't reason enough to tune in then nothing I type after this will do it either. This is simply one of the absolute must-watch games of the regular season.
8:30pm ET on ABC. Don't say I didn't warn you.
1 Gonzaga at 20 Saint Mary's | Saturday, February 11th
For those of you familiar with West Coast Conference basketball you know that this is the matchup of the year. Top-ranked Gonzaga is an undefeated 24-0 and 12-0 in conference. Saint Mary's is 11-1 in conference (21-2 overall). The winner of this game at 8:15pm ET on ESPN will have the inside track to a regular season WCC title.