Patriots Almost "Prevent" Themselves from Winning

In a very entertaining, yet very disappointing Super Bowl, the New England Patriots emerged victorious in game that I believe they deserved to lose. Having said that, congratulations to the Bills? AFC East partner Patriots is in order. Yet, this game was clearly not demonstrative of Bill Belichick football to be sure.

It was the Panthers who never gave up against the league?s top ranked scoring defense playing as if it were amongst the bottom half teams in the league. Carolina?s mediocre 15th ranked scoring offense kept this game close largely on the merits of four single big plays that accounted for almost 50% of the Panthers? total net yardage. Three of those big plays resulted in touchdowns averaging 52 yards per touchdown producing play. The Panthers netted only 59 rushing yards and 140 passing yards for fewer than 200 total net yards on the other 49 plays of the game, an average of barely over four yards per play otherwise. So it would seem that the Patriots apparent goal of "not giving up the big play" did exactly that following deployment of the defense that was supposed to "prevent" that from occurring.

Throughout the entire second half New England had begun to play its version of a prevent defense setting the table for Carolina?s passing game to dominate the Patriot pass defense throughout the second half, particularly on deep throws. The passing offense has not exactly been the Panther hallmark of offensive success this season to say the least. As well, the Patriot passing defense was amongst the best in the league in terms of interceptions and sacks coming into this game. Yesterday however, they were masquerading as pretenders throughout the second half.

To demonstrate how poorly the New England defense played in the second half, consider that in the second half the Panthers generated 49 yards of rushing on a per carry average of 9.9, added 11 of 18 passing yielding 232 yards allowing only 1 sack for 3 yards from a first year starting QB, and generated 19 4th quarter points largely as a result of big plays. All of this came against a team which during the regular season had allowed an average of only 44.8 rushing yards per half, 202 passing yards per game, and only 14.9 points per game. This happened vs. a very average offense, not those the likes of the Colts or Titans.

Clearly the Patriots entered the second half with their strategy being "not to lose" vice winning as decisively as they could have. I am convinced that had they continued to pressure Delhomme as they did through most of the first half, yielding minus one-yard per drive in the first 6 Carolina drives of the game, then they would have won this game at some point in the third quarter. I am convinced that the second half would have looked a lot more like the first one for the Panthers. Given that however, I believe that Carolina played with more heart and from an emotional standpoint, probably deserved to win the game on that basis.

On the flip side, the heralded Carolina defense produced little pressure all game long and other than a poorly kicked gimme field goal and a low kicked blocked field goal attempt, the Patriots otherwise would have put up 38 points vs. a highly rated defense. The Panther D produced no sacks and only one interception more a result of a poorly thrown ball than good coverage. This clearly can be filed in the "unimpressive" category from a standpoint of Panther defense.

As to the MVP, I believe that Jake Delhomme was far more pivotal than Brady was in keeping this game close. His second half was better than anything that Brady had done all game. His game rating was significantly higher. He had faced a superior defense. Given the fact that he entered this game as a first year starter, he certainly demonstrated that he belongs in this league. While the MVP goes to a member of the winning team, I believe that Delhomme played as well as Brady if not better. In fact, my choice for MVP would have been Deion Branch who collected 10 grabs for 143 yards and 1 touchdown and was pivotal to Brady?s success in this game with several spectacular grabs.

As well, DeShaun Foster, clearly the more agile and quicker back between he and Stephen Davis, should easily be the favorite to start next season. It was a real headscratcher that Carolina did not employ Foster sooner in the game to provide them with another very important dimension. Davis simply does not possess the elusiveness that Foster does. Had they done that much earlier on, as well as deploying some two-back sets, I believe they may have won this game. Then again, perhaps the Patriots pathetic defensive collapse in the second half may never have come about had the game been much closer throughout.

The lame brained personal play of the game was Tom Brady?s very "Bledsoe-like" here-you-take-it throwing up for grabs a very poorly thrown ball off of his back foot as the pressure was coming and resulting in a key interception negating a gimme field goal. The play came midway through the 4th quarter on a 3rd-and-goal at the Panther 9-yard line and negated what would have been an 8-point lead to essentially seal the game and instead reversed the momentum that New England had built up to that point in the game. That single play not only turned the tide of momentum but gave Carolina the onfield emotional "boost" that they needed to threaten down the stretch.

The wagering game total of 38 for this game was shattered with 61, a full 23 points beyond with two missed Vinatieri field goals which would have pushed the total close to double its wagering point. Few called this game correctly as an anticipated defensive matchup turned into an offensive clinic with the league?s 9th and 18th ranked passing offenses coupled with the 7th and 27th ranked rushing offenses going up against the 1st and 10th ranked scoring defenses. It was a shameful display for both defenses. It was certainly the very opposite of what most fans and viewers had expected. I was originally rooting for the Patriots, however, their half-hearted, or no hearted effort on defense and the resulting defensive collapse in the second half in clear efforts "not to lose" the game vice attempting to play Patriot football characterized by tough defense, left me feeling a bit betrayed and empty. In the 4th quarter, simply due to the fact that the Panthers exhibited more heart in the 4th quarter alone than the vaslty more experienced Patriots had all game long, I found myself pulling for the Panthers.

The game itself was very entertaining even in the first quarter where the Pat defense was suffocating to say the least. The game was on the line right down to the very last seconds. As far as football goes, purists have reason to be disappointed, yet the masses should have been perfectly entertained. The Patriots can revel in their win although they may gasp briefly when looking back on this game. Nevertheless, as the modern day dynasty goes, the Patriots seem to have defined it. Given their plethora of early draft picks in this year?s draft, fellow AFC East teams definitely have reason to worry.


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