Friday, August 16, 2019

#FootballGenie Scores

You have 3 wishes. Pick any 3 plays in NFL history that you'd like the genie to change, including what the results would be. The genie will score each wish from 1-10 based on likelihood of result and plausibility. And oh yeah... be careful what you wish for... #FootballGenie

(In order of popularity)

1. THE HELMET CATCH (17.3% of votes)
Super Bowl XLII
Game Reset: 14-10 Pats, 1:15 left, 3rd and 5 at the Giants' 44. Giants have 2 timeouts

Many things had to happen for this pass to be completed:
-Two men had Manning by the jersey and he somehow escaped

-Three men were around Tyree. Rodney Harrison was right at his back trying to knock the ball free, Tryre gripped it somewhat precariously against his helmet.

Run that play 10 times. How many times is Eli sacked? How many times does Harrison knock it out? How many times does Tyree drop it? I'm thinking that play is successful 3 times out of 10, max.

Now, remember, if that play is unsuccessful, it's 4th and 5, and the Giants still would have had one more chance. Pats had allowed two 4th-and-1s late in Super Bowls to that point, including one in that game, but this was a passing down. Eli was 19-for-34 overall, 7/15 throwing on 3rd down, 3/5 throwing on 3rd down in the 4th qtr. Give him a 50/50 shot to convert on 4th and 5 (or longer if he gets sacked on the play).

BOTTOM LINE: Tyree makes the catch, the G-Men win. He DOESN'T make the catch, we're looking at a toss up on 4th down. And even if the Giants convert on 4th down, we shouldn't assume they still win the game. The Tyree pass went for 32 yards; if that's off the table, the Giants would need to go 56 yards in a little over a minute--and that's IF they convert on 4th down.

That 4th down would have been their last chance. If the Pats get the ball back, Brady kneels three times, and they are punting it back with about 20 seconds left, whereupon Eli needs to go 70 yards in 2-3 plays. That's ball game.

GENIE SAYS: Reversing the helmet catch puts this win in doubt for the Giants. 7 out of 10

2. THE ASANTE SAMUEL DROP  (15.5% of votes)
Super Bowl XLII
Game Reset: 14-10 Pats, 1:20 left, 2nd and 5 at the Giants' 44. Giants have 2 timeouts
(one play before the helmet catch)

Manning throws a horrible pass right at Samuel. It hits him on both hands, and he appears to land in bounds. 

Samuel was an INT machine. Five interceptions in 11 playoff starts. How many times out of 10 does he make that pick? Seven? Eight?

Samuel holds that ball, New England is at their own 37 with 1:15 left in the game, and again Eli is chucking up a prayer at the end.

GENIE SAYS: A very makeable pick for a player who made them often. Samuel comes down with this one, it's game over. 9 out of 10

3. THE WELKER DROP (14.2% of votes)
Super Bowl XLVI
Game Reset: 17-15 Patriots, 4:06 remaining, 2nd and 11 at the NYG 44, Giants have 1 timeout

We all know this one: Welker is wide open, Brady hits him on the hands, and he drops it at the 20. That's a catch Welker has made 100 times. 

Welker makes that catch, he runs for at least 5 yards, and the Pats are at the 15 with a first and 10 and the clock presumably running. Figure they don't snap again until 3:20.

At this point, best-case scenario is the Patriots are kicking a FG with about 2:00 left, even if the Giants use their timeout. That's 1:46 later than when they actually DID get the ball in SB 46. Now the Giants need to drive the length of the field with no ability to stop the clock, and that would've been cutting it very close given the way New York's offense had moved that night.

Obviously, after the Giants burned their last timeout, any Patriot first down would be deadly, and the Patriots were 6 of 12 on third down that game. And needless to say, a TD is game over too.

GENIE SAYS: This was an extremely makeable catch by a reliable receiver. If he made it, the game wouldn't have been over, but momentum (and time) would've been in New England's favor. If the Giants managed to keep the Patriots out of the end zone, kept them from moving the chains, and used their timeout wisely, they would have been able to get the ball back in time to score. Advantage New England, but it would've been an exciting finish. 7 of 10

 (10.2% of votes)
Super Bowl LII
Game Reset: 38-33 Eagles, 2:16 left, 2nd and 2 at the Patriot 33

Brady drops back to throw and is strip-sacked by Brandon Graham. Philly ball, game over.

The defender beat the block and Brady didn't see him until it was too late. For any Pats fan, it sure would be nice if that play didn't happen, but this genie wants justification. He wants to know *why* he should reverse the play--and "I want it that way" isn't enough. Patriots fans want the play erased; Eagles fans want it to stay just the way it is. Why should one side take priority over the other? Now, if there were some extenuating circumstance, you'd have something--but there is little here in that regard.

GENIE SAYS: Graham made a hell of a play and created a turnover for his team in a crucial spot. The Patriots had 11 men on the field just like Philly did, and sadly for them, they got beaten on this key play. 0 out of 10


Super Bowl XLVI
Game Reset: 17-15 Patriots, 3:39 remaining, 1st and 10 at the NYG 12, Giants have 1 timeout

Manning goes deep to Manningham, who makes a sideline catch near midfield.

This one comes up all the time, and is often mentioned in connection with the helmet catch. But other than the fact that they were both thrown by Eli Manning in Super Bowls, the two plays have little in common. This was a deep pass and a sideline catch, and while impressive, it's a play we see all the time. We probably won't see another helmet catch for 20 years.

It was the very first play on what would be an 88-yard go-ahead TD drive by the Giants, and the catch put New York at midfield. One could argue that it was the key play of the drive, but Manning would go 3-for-4 for 32 yards after that play, and Bradshaw would carry 3 times for 14 yards, including a 6-yard TD run. I'll never understand why so much emphasis is put on that play, when the Giants basically walked into the end zone with very little resistance well after the play happened. 

Does anyone actually think that anything changes without this catch? The Patriots didn't even force a 3rd down in the entire nine-play drive! It doesn't get much easier for an offense.

GENIE SAYS: The Giants offense was on fire for that entire drive, and the NE defense had no answer. With or without that catch, the Patriots were screwed. 1 out of 10

Saints vs. Rams, 2018 NFCCG, 1/19/2019 (1.3% of votes)
Game Reset: 20-20, 1:45 remaining, 3rd and 10 at the Rams 13, Rams have 1 timeout

Brees looks for Tommylee Lewis at the sticks, and Robey-Coleman hits him before the ball gets there. Textbook defensive pass interference.

After the game, the NFL commissioner himself admitted that the official got it wrong. With a Super Bowl berth on the line.

The genie loves wishes like this. There was absolutely no excuse from anyone, no explanation of how the officials got it wrong, no difference of opinion, no controversial interpretation of a rule. Just a flat-out mistake. Run this play 10 times, and the officials probably catch the DPI in nine of them. 

If the Saints get that call, they kneel down three times, and LA can only stop the clock once. Now, we're looking at a chip-shot FG with 10 seconds left in the game, and the Rams basically have one play to come back. Game over.

GENIE SAYS: Easiest wish ever. Nothing controversial about the play. Nothing controversial about the rule. We don't have to change anything that happened on the field. All we have to do is get the official's head out of his ass, and the result changes. The biggest no-brainer of them all. 10 out of 10

2001 AFC Divisional Round, 1/19/2002
Game Reset: 13-10 Oakland, 1:50 remaining, 1st and 10 at the OAK 42

Brady is hit by Carles Woodson, the ball pops out and is recovered by Oakland. It is initially ruled a fumble, but after further review, referee Walt Coleman correctly ruled that Brady's arm was moving forward, which at the time automatically made it an incomplete pass.

The NFL's VP of officiating, Mike Pereira, affirmed after the game that Coleman's interpretation was correct, and I have yet to see any logic-based argument saying that it was incorrect. The rule had been on the books for two years prior to the game and remained on the books for 11 seasons after.

The #FootballGenie rates wishes based on plausibility and likelihood of outcome, and the only way this call would have been changed is if Coleman made an error. For such a clearly-stated rule, that's not plausible.

THE GENIE SAYS: The rule was overwhelmingly approved by the NFL several years prior to the game, was interpreted correctly at the game, and remained in force for 11 seasons afterwards. The outcome of this play followed the rule exactly, and no other outcome is remotely possible. 0 out of 10 be continued...

Friday, July 26, 2019

Aaron Rodgers and the Relentless Pursuit of Mojo

It’s not easy being a nerd.

Nerddom, you see, is not a job that you apply for, or a hobby that you pursue. It is a calling, a set of personality traits that are thrust onto you, and which you own for life, whether you want them or not.

A nerd is obsessed with gathering data and facts in a relentless quest for the truth, the actual, provable truth, and we must see this truth with our own eyes and no one else’s. The truth is the only goal, and we need to know it, no matter how inconvenient or painful it may be.

Which brings me to Aaron Rodgers.

I genuinely like the guy. He’s intelligent and articulate. I laugh, actually laugh at his Discount Double-check commercials. I admire his unflappable demeanor on the field. I also admire his productivity as a quarterback—by any measure, he’s one of the best who’s ever played—but I’ve delved deeply into the numbers, and those numbers tell a story that isn’t pretty. The bitter truth is that, when it’s time to take over a game and put your team in a position to win, Aaron Rodgers is not the guy you want under center.

In the 2009 Wild Card game between Green Bay and Arizona, Rodgers had one of the most magnificent playoff performances I’ve ever seen from a quarterback—for exactly 60 minutes.

Problem is, the game went to overtime.

Rodgers was down by 17 before his offense scored a point, and then fell behind even further. The score was 31-10 at the beginning of the 2nd half, and all seemed lost. But Rodgers and his offense scored on seven straight drives, including 5 straight touchdowns, the final one coming on an 11-yard TD pass with less than 2:00 remaining, which tied the game at 45. Yes, 45-45.

I don’t believe in luck, but I do believe that if you keep yourself in the game, you’ll get your chances to win—and that’s exactly what happened that day.

Arizona kicker Neil Rackers missed a 34-yard chip shot with 9 seconds left, and then the Packers won the toss, giving Rodgers the ball at his own 20 with the game in his hands. This was 2009, remember, back when we had true sudden death overtime, not this field-goal-and-we-keep-playing stuff, so Rodgers was 3 points away from moving on. Three points, against the exhausted, clueless Arizona defense, who had kept Rodgers out of the end zone exactly once in the previous 7 drives—and by the way, that drive stalled at the 2-yard line and ended in a field goal—and this time, any score would have won the game.

After that, the sequence went:
-14-yard pass play nullified by offensive holding
-Another 14-yard pass play on 2nd and 20
-Strip sack returned for a 17-yard TD

One might be tempted to give Rodgers a pass on this. Obviously, he didn’t tell his lineman to commit offensive holding, and he did throw two 14-yard passes in a row, though one of them was called back on a penalty. A punt wouldn’t necessarily have been the end of the world; the only thing he couldn’t do is turn it over. And guess what he did?

Whenever I bring this up, Rodgers supporters (and there are a lot of them) typically respond with, “It was just one game/one drive/one play”, and if the article ended here, they might have a point. But it doesn’t, so they don’t.

The Curious Case of Aaron Rodgers’ GAP
I’ll be rolling out my new stat, Go-ahead Percentage (GAP) in a future article. For now, I’ll simply tell you that it’s a clutchness metric that measures the performance of quarterbacks in the 4th quarter and OT, when they have the ball with a chance to take the lead. It’s calculated like a batting average:

# of times QB successfully took the lead / Total number of go-ahead opportunities

In the regular season, Rodgers is lights out when he’s got a chance to take the lead. His GAP is .406 (26/64), and he’s one of only nine QBs over .400 (with a minimum of 50 opportunities). In the playoffs, he’s even better--.429 (3/7). So what’s the problem?

First of all, seven QBs have a playoff GAP of over .500. In fact, Kurt Warner is #1 all time with a .714 (5/7), and Tom Brady’s not far behind with .692 (18/26).

By the way, yes, you read right, Brady has led 18 go-ahead drives in the 4th quarter and OT in the playoffs. FACT: No other QB has more than nine.

In Rodgers’ case, I noticed something strange. In five of those seven playoff opportunities, he’s been down by either 3 or 7 points, and in all five cases—every single one—he’s tied the game up (3 TDs and 2 FGs). When he’s needed a field goal to tie, he’s gotten one, and when he’s needed a TD to tie, he’s done that, too, no matter what it took—even when it took a Hail Mary, as it did in the 2015 divisional round vs. Arizona.

But when it’s time to take the lead, the mojo seems to escape him. While his overall number of .429 is good, we see on closer inspection that two of the three successful drives were field goals in the same game, the 2016 divisional round at Dallas. His only go-ahead TD in the postseason was also vs. Dallas in a divisional playoff, this time in 2014.

In other words, Rodgers has only led three go-ahead drives in seven opportunities in the 4th quarter and OT in the playoffs, all three of them against the Cowboys, and just one of the three scores was a touchdown. And yet, strangely, he’s had three 4th quarter game-tying TDs in as many chances. You can scream “Sample size!” all you want, but to me, he’s a tie-er, not a winner:

Aaron Rodgers - Potential Game-tying Drives

Aaron Rodgers - Potential Go-ahead Drives

“What’s the big deal?” you ask. “He tied the game in four out of the seven drives! His defense gave up game-winning scores in most of those games, and in two of them, he didn’t even get a chance to possess the ball in overtime! He was screwed by his defense! He was screwed by the OT coin flip!”

Ah yes, screwed-by-the-defense and screwed-by-the-coin-flip, the “Hey Jude” and “Let It Be” of Aaron Rodgers excuses.

Rodgers is supposed to be an otherworldly talent, a machine who can’t be stopped. Yet he lost 23-20 to San Francisco, 26-20 to Arizona, and 28-22 to Seattle. If you can’t muster more than 22 points in three different games, don’t look at the defense—look at yourself.

And tell me you don’t wonder what would have happened in that 2014 NFCCG vs. Seattle, when Rodgers ended up with a field goal instead of a touchdown, settling for a tie instead of a win, and never seeing the ball again. Rodgers fans love to blame the coin flip, which is another way of saying that Rodgers totally would have beaten Seattle if he had another chance to possess the ball. But what about the chance he had, at the end of regulation?! Rodgers had a 1st-and-10 at his own 22 with 1:19 left and all 3 timeouts, yet only used one of them in the entire drive as precious seconds ticked away.

The 51-45 instant classic vs. Arizona that I mentioned earlier was Rodgers’ first playoff game. Call it “beginner’s luck”, or “the audacity of youth” or whatever you like, but Rodgers hasn’t had a game close to it since.

In fact, when we look at Rodgers’ other six playoff losses, we see a clear pattern, and the tying-instead-of-winning is only the beginning. Specifically, Rodgers led his offense to exactly one TD in the 4th quarter of these six games when down by two scores or less. One touchdown, in six 4th quarter drives, each with the game hanging in the balance and the entire season on the line. 

Aaron Rodgers – 4th Qtr Drives When Trailing By Two Scores or Less


I’ll let him off the hook for the fumble against the Giants in 2012, since a running back, Ryan Grant, fumbled the ball, and we can’t rightly hold Rodgers responsible for that. Which leaves him with one touchdown in five drives.

Again, now, with the “sample size” argument. “Five drives isn’t enough to judge a man’s value as a QB,” you say.

I say five drives is more than enough. In fact, I say two drives is enough.

How much would everyone be talking about Joe Montana without “The Catch” in the NFC Championship Game vs. Dallas in 1982, and without the game-winning TD at the end of Super Bowl XXIII? Without those two drives, Montana has two Super Bowl wins, and Terry Bradshaw (4 rings) and Troy Aikman (3 rings) would have been duking it out for GOAT status before Brady came along. Those Montana drives altered NFL history—and there were only two of them.

Look at the chart again. Forget the scarcity of touchdowns. Rodgers only made it into the red zone once in those five drives, and his lone TD was on a Hail Mary, which, while impressive, clearly wasn’t Plan A—and it was only necessary in the first place because he had gone 45 yards in a little under two minutes, somehow managing to burn 1:14 off the clock in two plays, even though they were supposedly in a hurry-up offense. FACT: Kneeling down and intentionally running the play clock to 0 twice takes about 1:30 off the clock.

Oh, and lest we forget, Rodgers got the ball not once, but twice, deep in Seattle territory in the first quarter of that game—once at the 23 and once at the 19—and managed only two field goals. Change either of those two drives, or the one at the end of regulation, to a TD, and Green Bay wins, and overtime isn’t in the discussion.

But tell me more about coin flips.

Still on the Rodgers train? Let’s turn this around for a moment. What was that game for Rodgers, that time that he put the team on his back and helped win a game they had no business being in? Montana came back from 28 points down to win against New Orleans. Peyton erased a 21-point deficit in four minutes vs. Tampa Bay on a Monday night, and came back from a 21-3 deficit to win in the playoffs vs. New England. Brady came back from 10 down to win Super Bowl 49, then came back from 25 down to win Super Bowl 51. What’s Rodgers’ signature game?

The 2009 Wild Card vs. Arizona? You mean a game he lost is the one he’s most famous for? A game where he was strip-sacked in OT, giving up the losing TD? How about a game he won?

Yeah, didn’t think so.

It’s a well-known canard that Rodgers is something like 1-40 in the regular season when trailing by more than 1 point in the 4th quarter against teams that finished the season with a winning record. With that in mind, it’s probably no surprise that Rodgers is also 0-7 in the playoffs after trailing by more than one point in the 4th quarter.

Need I even say it: Aaron Rodgers is one of the most accurate, productive passers you’ll ever see. But when it comes to late-game clutch performances, his résumé is nearly empty. If you’re looking for the GOAT, look elsewhere.

Monday, February 18, 2019 you still think Joe Montana is the GOAT?

When Tom Brady took the field for Super Bowl 53, he already had more NFL titles than any quarterback in history. He’s had that distinction for two years; what he did this past February 3rd simply added to his legacy. He’s won six, and no other QB has even played in that many.

Only two other quarterbacks in the history of the league, Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman, have won three Super Bowls in five seasons or fewer. Brady’s done it twice. Draw a line down the middle of Brady’s 17 NFL seasons, and he’d have two Hall of Fame careers, complete with three championships in each. His win in Super Bowl 53 eliminated what little doubt was left as to who is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. He’s lapped the field. The debate is over.

But not for all of you.

More specifically, it ended the debate for everyone except those in the Joe Montana camp. Brady has put so much distance between himself and the rest of the league that it’s no longer feasible to toss out Peyton Manning (2-2 in Super bowls), John Elway (2-3), Aaron Rodgers (1-0), Dan Marino (0-1), or even Aikman (3-0). And although Bradshaw has four rings, and won them in the space of just six seasons, faster than Montana or Brady, his name is almost never mentioned with the all-time greats, because the Steeler teams of the 70s were known for their defense. Bradshaw threw for just 96 yards in his first Super Bowl, and completed fewer than 10 passes in each of his first two. During the Super Bowl 51 postgame show, Bradshaw himself referred to Brady as “The greatest quarterback”. This leaves Montana alone to contend with Brady for GOAT status.

Unlike Bradshaw, Montana overwhelmed his opponents with offense. He perfected the art of the comeback, and seemed to thrive in pressure-packed situations. What’s more, he too was a perfect 4-0 in Super Bowls.

That Joe Montana never lost a Super Bowl might just be the most-repeated fact in the QB GOAT debate. And there’s a good reason for that, too—it’s the only leg you have left to stand on.

If you’re one of the people still insisting that Montana was better than Brady, you’re not basing that on stats, and that much isn’t up for debate.


Statistically, Brady destroys Montana. He’s got 30,000 more yards, 240 more TDs (almost double Montana’s total), 80 more wins, and his win percentage is 100 points higher. And while it is true that Montana’s passer rating was five points higher in the playoffs, it’s also true that the Patriots average 27.3 points per game in the playoffs with Brady at QB, vs. only 21.3 for Montana’s offenses.

“No fair,” you say. “Brady has played in almost twice as many playoff games as Montana. Of course his stats will be better.”

Do you think it’s just dumb luck that Brady has had such a long career? Have you ever read up on the insanely strict diet he maintains? His year-round training? And not just any old training, by the way, but training that’s specially designed to protect him against the extreme physical toll that football takes on the body? Tom Brady has gone above and beyond to keep himself in peak physical condition long past the age when most quarterbacks, including Joe Montana, have lost their effectiveness and retired. Why doesn’t he deserve credit for that?

This is a landslide. Brady’s numbers are off the charts, especially in the postseason. Montana doesn’t come close, nor does any other quarterback in the history of the league.



If you’re taking Montana over Brady, your argument begins and ends with his undefeated record in Super Bowls, and even that holds no water.
Try this thought experiment:

Texans QB DeShaun Watson was one-and-done in the playoffs this year. He lost a Wild Card game to the Colts, managing a total of 7 points for the entire game. Rams QB Jared Goff, on the other hand, won the Divisional Round and the Conference Championship before losing in the Super Bowl. Who had the better postseason?

Go and ask your friends. Ask 1,000 people if you want. Find me one person who can build a logical argument that Watson had a better playoff year than Goff. It’s not possible. Yet this is exactly the type of argument you make when you tell me that Montana is better than Brady.

What if Goff wins the Super Bowl next year, and Watson wins it the year after that? Would Watson have the advantage because he “never lost the big one”, even though he got crushed in an early round two seasons before, and Goff didn’t? Do you really believe that losing earlier is better than losing later?

The entire pro-Montana logic rests on the concept that he played best when the games mattered most, as evidenced by his 4-0 record in Super Bowls. But it’s a funny thing about Super Bowls: You have to win a Conference Championship to play in one—and Montana is only 4-3 in Conference Championships. And the losses weren’t pretty.

In the 1983 NFC Championship against Washington, Montana led the Niners back from a 21-0 deficit to tie the game. But then, after a late Redskins field goal, Montana inexplicably ran the ball 15 yards up the gut on 1st down, with 36 seconds left and no timeouts—a massive mistake. That play, and the subsequent throw-away to stop the clock (QBs didn't spike in those days), cost him 22 seconds and effectively ended the game.

In his last two Conference Championship games, both of which he lost, Montana’s offense failed to reach 14 points either time, and he threw only one TD pass over the two games. In the latter of the two, a 30-13 loss at Buffalo, he completed a grand total of nine passes for 125 yards.

There was a Super Bowl berth on the line in all three of these games. Why the poor performances? I thought he was unbeatable when the games mattered! Exactly what are we saying here—that the Super Bowl is important, but the game you have to win to get to the Super Bowl isn’t? This logic doesn’t pass the smell test.

Incidentally, Brady is 9-4 in Conference Championship games, meaning that he’s only lost one more than Montana, despite playing in almost twice as many.

While 4-0 might beat 6-3 when it comes to baseball games in April, we’re talking playoff football here. The mere fact that Brady played in nine Super Bowls means he won more than twice as many big games as Montana did. Failing to get to the Super Bowl isn't better than getting there and losing. In this context, 6-3 beats 4-0 the same way that 6 gold medals and 3 silver beats 4 gold and no silver.



If you support Montana as the GOAT, I need you to explain something to me.

How is it that, in three straight playoff games between 1985 and 1987, Mr. Clutch had three one-and-done losses, and was held to zero touchdowns (not just zero TD passes, but zero offensive touchdowns), while being outscored 65-9?

Of course, to be fair, the three games only covered eight quarters for Montana. He left the 1986 Divisional Round game, a 49-3 loss to the Giants, with an injury around halftime. The following year, in the third quarter of the Divisional Round vs. Minnesota, trailing 20-3, Montana suffered the ultimate humiliation—being BENCHED for his backup, Steve Young, who promptly led the 49ers to three touchdowns.

“Brady had three straight playoff losses as well, from 2007 to 2010,” you say. Yes, true. But of course, the first of the three was a Super Bowl (SB 42), so we aren’t talking about three one-and-dones like we are with Montana. And while Brady was, naturally, outscored, it was by a count of 78-49, which, while not stellar, is a damn sight better than 65-9. Brady’s games were competitive, hard-fought losses; Montana was utterly destroyed three times in a row—in the prime of his career.

And of course, Brady was never benched for anyone.

I never hear Montana fans mention The Streak. They never talk about it at all. It’s as if the only playoff games that matter for Montana are Super Bowls; no other games are discussed, and all subpar performances, no matter how inept, are completely dismissed.

Explain to me how a man you say is the greatest ever to play his position gets manhandled this way in three consecutive postseasons. I’ll wait.

Brady’s never had a playoff collapse anywhere close to the one Montana had from ‘85 to ‘87.



Montana’s pristine Super Bowl record doesn’t just apply to wins—he’s also never thrown a pick in a Super Bowl—and Montana fans aren’t shy about reminding us.

Here’s the thing, though: Montana only attempted a total of 122 passes in his four Super Bowls, whereas Brady has attempted over three times that many, and more than half that number in one game alone (SB 51). But sometimes, a chart is worth a thousand words:

Wow. Looks like Montana has Brady beat by a whole two passing attempts! That definitely offsets Brady’s two extra Lombardis!

Oh, and by the way, that “no interceptions” thing ought to have an asterisk, after this play…

Despite the above, Brady has thrown a total of six INTs in nine Super Bowls, which is on pace for 11 in a 16-game season. While this stat isn’t nearly as much of a revelation as people pretend it is, I can’t rightly give Brady the edge on this one when Montana never threw a pick.



As I always say, quarterbacks don’t play against other quarterbacks; they play against defenses. This is why I’ve always hated the Quarterback-A-outdueled-Quarterback-B hot takes that people throw around. But still, it’s a lot easier to win a Super Bowl when the opposing quarterback can’t get out of his own way.

Quarterbacks had a really bad habit of stinking up the place when they played against the 49ers in Montana’s day. Exactly one QB, Ken Anderson, had a decent game (95.2 passer rating) vs. Montana’s 49ers in a Super Bowl, and even he was down 20-0 before he scored a point, and threw an interception on his own side of the field with a little over 5:00 remaining, handing the 49ers a field goal which put his team down by two scores and effectively ended the game.

The quarterbacks got worse from there.

In Super Bowl 19, Dan Marino’s Dolphins actually led the 49ers, 10-7, in the first quarter. The lead lasted exactly 4 minutes and 11 seconds. Marino’s offense had 9 drives after that, which included:
-1 field goal;
-6 punts (5 of these drives were 3-and-out, and 3 totaled negative yardage);
-2 interceptions.

Miami also kicked a field goal with 4 seconds left in the first half, but it came immediately after a San Francisco fumble, and Marino’s offense didn’t even take the field beforehand.
Yes, Marino would go on to a Hall of Fame career, but he didn’t earn it that day. His passer rating was a 66.9, which, while abysmal, was the second best ever for an opposing QB in a Montana Super Bowl.

Super Bowl 23 was the one and only game in which Montana actually had to mount a comeback. He threw a TD pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left, which at the time was an unimaginable thing—that is, before Tom Brady made it as routine as the National Anthem.

Luckily for Montana, Boomer Esiason, the Bengals’ quarterback that day, put on one of the most putrid Super Bowl performances in history, completing 11 of 25 passes for 144 yards, 0 TDs and an INT, good for a 46.1 passer rating (for reference purposes, if every pass thrown is incomplete, the quarterback’s passer rating would be a 39.6). The Bengals’ one touchdown that day came on a kickoff return; beyond that, Esiason’s offense managed 3 field goals for the entire game, and Montana still needed a last-ditch drive to win it.

At this point, you’re probably reminding me about Super Bowl 53, in which the Rams were held to 3 points for the entire game, and Brady too needed a late touchdown to win. But the comparison fails for a number of reasons. First, the Patriots’ touchdown came with 7:00 remaining in the game, and the Patriots would add another field goal on the next drive to put the game away. Second, unlike Super Bowl 23, the Patriots never trailed at all, let alone in the last minute of the game. Third, Stephen Gostkowski missed a very makeable 46-yard field goal in the first quarter, which, as we found out, would’ve been the game-winning points, even had there been no 4th quarter scores.

And lastly, it says a lot that Tom Brady had to play in nine Super Bowls before you found one that even vaguely matched Montana’s fourth.

Which brings us to the granddaddy of them all, the Super Bowl performance so foul that those in attendance should’ve demanded their money back—even the 49er fans: John Elway in Super Bowl 24.

Elway’s totals: 10 completions, 108 yards, 0 TD, 2 INTs. One drive of more than six plays. Ten of 13 drives ended in a punt or a turnover, and Elway lost the time of possession battle by 19 minutes.
And this might be my favorite stat of them all: a 19.4 passer rating. A man has to work to be that bad. They should’ve replaced Elway with the winner of the 10th grade punt, pass and kick competition!

Yes, Montana hung 55 points on Denver that day, but there aren’t many quarterbacks who would’ve lost that game.

All told, Montana’s competition was mainly nonexistent during his Super Bowl runs, whereas Brady faced top-notch talent nearly every time out:

Clearly, Brady was playing against professionals; Montana wasn’t.



I’ve developed a new stat called Go-ahead Percentage (GAP), which I’ll be rolling out in an article after this one (why is it that, now that the season has ended, I’ve turned into a one-man Football Weekly?) GAP measures QB performance in potential go-ahead drives in the 4th quarter and OT, and is calculated like a batting average (# of times successfully taking the lead / total opportunities). It’s expressed in three decimal places (.xxx).

Joe Montana had a total of nine such go-ahead opportunities in the playoffs, and converted five of them, for an incredible .556 average (interestingly, both Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson both have an identical 5-for-9 playoff figure). Exactly one of Montana’s go-ahead playoff scores was in the Super Bowl. The only QBs other than Brady who have topped Montana’s 5 are Eli Manning (6) and Drew Brees (8).

Brady’s got 8 in Super Bowls alone.

That’s 8 out of 10, by the way, for an insane .800 Super Bowl GAP. I suppose you could argue that Montana’s 1-for-1 amounts to a 1.000 average, and that he’s therefore better, but that would kind of be like your wide receiver throwing one pass for a TD, then bragging about his 158.3 passer rating. Do better.

In the playoffs overall, Brady is 18-for-26 in GAP opportunities, for a ridiculous .692 average, over 130 points ahead of Montana. 

Montana is well-known for his late-game heroics, but the numbers are clear: Brady’s had far more clutch opportunities, and he’s converted them at a far better rate than Montana. It’s not close.



In the Brady vs. Montana battle, one man benefitted greatly from a dominant defense. But it wasn’t the one you think.

It’s a common gripe for Patriot haters to say, “Brady only wins because of his defense”. They know that Belichick has a reputation as a defensive mastermind, and, well, they just assume that that’s why the Patriots win. But they’re wrong.

Yet again, the conventional wisdom is way off base. The truth is the exact opposite of what you’ve been saying. Prepare to have your mind blown:

Yeah, you read right. The 49er Super Bowl defense allowed fewer points than Mean Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, and the rest of those guys who, oh, I don’t know, might be the greatest defense in the history of the National Football League or something.

And the Patriots? Why, even when we average in their stellar, three-point performance from Super Bowl 53, they still allow almost seven more points per game than the 49ers did.

As if the 22+ points per game wasn’t enough, the Patriot defense also has a nasty habit of allowing late scores in Super Bowls. Have you ever wondered why Brady has needed so many Super Bowl comebacks in the first place? Perhaps this will clear it up:

Yes, Montana was a great quarterback, and maybe he would have won some or all of those Super Bowls without that dominant defense. The point is, Brady won more Super Bowls than Montana, even as the Patriot defense allowed one gut-wrenching 4th quarter TD after another, including in every one of the three Super Bowls that Brady lost.

Notice that those 4th quarter scores were all touchdowns, too—not a field goal in the bunch. When the Patriots cave, they cave big.

The evidence is clear. Montana was carried by a lights-out defense; Brady wasn’t.



You can learn a lot from studying people’s word choices.

Read the angry tweets after Tom Brady hoists a Lombardi Trophy. Inevitably, it’s referred to as a “Patriot win”. But let the Patriots lose one, and it’s a “Tom Brady loss”. It doesn’t matter how it happened. Brady could throw for 800 yards and 12 touchdowns, and lose 105-104, and all the blame would be heaped on him. Similarly, when Brady’s offense came storming back from 25 points down against Atlanta in SB 51, in one of the biggest comebacks, not just in Super Bowl history, but in NFL history overall, yep, you guessed it: Another “Patriot win”.

Let’s look at these “Brady losses” that some people say prove that he’s inferior to Joe Montana:

Super Bowl 42:
Brady was under duress for the entire game, as the Giants defensive line was able to get home rushing 4, allowing them to drop 7 men into coverage. Brady said it was like throwing into a forest.

Despite the relentless pressure, Brady hit Moss for a touchdown with 2:42 left in the game, then turned to his defense for a stop, ONE stop, to preserve an undefeated season. Instead, they allowed a go-ahead touchdown with :35 seconds left to play, leaving Brady with insufficient time to answer.

Super Bowl 46:
Another Giants game, and almost a carbon copy of the one four seasons before. Again, Brady’s offense found a way to carve out a lead, and needed one stop from the defense. And once again, they allowed a go-ahead TD pass with under a minute to play.

Super Bowl 52:
Despite breaking his own Super Bowl record, throwing for over 500 yards, and racking up 33 points, the Patriot defense allowed score after score, leaving Brady struggling to catch up. The Patriots did not make one single stop in the 2nd half, allowing five straight scoring drives stretching back to the second quarter. In fact, the Eagles scored on eight of ten drives overall for the game, amassing 41 points.

Despite the onslaught, Brady actually took a 33-32 lead before, you guessed it, the defense allowed a go-ahead TD with 2:21 left in the game, and Brady was strip-sacked on the ensuing drive while in the act of throwing. Not surprisingly, the strip-sack became a rallying point for every Brady hater with a smartphone and a Twitter account. The 500 passing yards didn’t count. The Foxboro High School-level defense didn’t count. It was a Brady Loss. Except it wasn’t.


It’s time for you to accept the truth: Tom Brady is the GOAT. The fact that you root for another team, or that Brady looks like the guy who gave you atomic wedgies in gym class, or that your girlfriend won’t stop commenting about how handsome he is, has no bearing on the facts. It’s over.

You really need to learn to live with this, because we’ll probably be having this conversation again.

Just about a year from now.

Monday, January 29, 2018

SOURCE: Brady, Belichick conspired to rig games

A well-placed source within the New England Patriots organization has revealed a plot in which Tom Brady and Bill Belichick conspired to rig the outcomes of games in which the Patriots participated.

The source described a complex scheme in which Brady and Belichick designed plays that they felt their opponents would be unable to defend effectively, in an effort to maximize their scoring chances. They also reportedly used numerous forms of misdirection and disruption to minimize the number of points their opponents could score.

In some cases, the Patriots' offense ran so-called "trick plays", in which they intentionally caused their opponents to expect a certain type of play, only to switch to a completely different type at the very last moment. Several on-air personalities from a local Boston sports radio station conducted an informal analysis of last Sunday's narrow Patriot victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the results seem to bear this out.

On numerous plays, Brady would take the snap and imply that it was a running play, in some cases going so far as to pantomime a handoff to his running back. The defense, taking note of this "handoff", immediately pursued the "ball carrier" with the intention of tackling him, not realizing that Brady had never actually let go of the ball. Having thoroughly hoodwinked the defense, Brady was then able to complete forward passes to open receivers, sometimes for a touchdown - and six points.

A Patriots media spokesman contacted for this story angrily insisted that this type of play is "100% legal" and trotted out the tired excuse that "every team does it!"

We contacted NFL headquarters in New York City, and were told that "play action passes" are in fact legal, and have been around for about 55 years or so, since the early days of the AFL - but this only ratcheted up the suspicion for some.

"Of COURSE the league is going to say that," said John, a sportswriter who refused to give his last name. "The NFL is in cahoots with the Patriots. The entire system is rigged to help New England win Super Bowls! Did you think they were just going to fess up to the whole thing? Duh!"

John's friend Ron, who was standing next to him at the Golden Corral all-you-can-eat crab leg bar, agreed. "It's so obvious," he said. "The Patriots do illegal things - okay, fine, they're technically legal, but deceptive - same exact thing. The point is, it's clear what the intention is. Go back and look at the stats over the last 15 years! Look how much they've outscored their opponents over that time! You think that's just a coincidence?"

Sure enough, it turns out that the Patriots have outscored their opponents by well over 1,000 points since Belichick and Brady arrived in town. For a growing number of gridiron experts, this is more than a little fishy. Some in the Boston sports journalism community were shocked to see the numbers.

"The possibilty that the Patriots would outscore their opponents this much simply by chance is, like, 18 kajillion to 1," says Michael, a local broadcaster. "Clearly this is by design! Although I'm sure the cowardly NFL won't do anything about it. The Patriots are the NFL's cash cow, and the league won't bite the hand that feeds them. That's why the Patriots never get investigated for anything!"

Indeed it is strange that the NFL, which is so singularly concerned with parity and fairness, would not launch a multi-million-dollar, six-month-long probe into the affair, and have their marketing arm concoct a catchy *-gate* nickname for it.

Scoring hits right at the very heart of football, and the Patriots willfully trying to score points raises all sorts of ethical questions, especially since they're trying to keep the other team from doing the same.

"It's just totally unfair," says Gary, another broadcaster. "We all know exactly what they're trying to do, and it makes me want to puke. I mean literally lean out my window and heave up $9 worth of potato skins!

"Look, I know the homers aren't gonna want to hear this, but rules are rules. And whether or not this is actually *against* the rules is totally not the point."

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Drew Magary is a little bitch

Does it hurt, Drew?

Does it feel like you’re chewing on broken glass every time you turn on the TV and see the Edelman Catch? Or White’s OT touchdown? The victorious Patriot players storming the field, again? Another champagne-soaked locker room celebration? Another glorious duck boat parade, attended by a MILLION delirious fans? Another 365 days of reminders that this is, by far, the greatest dynasty the NFL has ever seen? Does it seem like your torture will never end? Does it hurt so bad that it makes you want to cry?

Go ahead, buddy. Have a good sobbing session. Let it all out, because, for all of your cursing, insults, and tough talk, it’s clearer than ever that you’re nothing but a little BITCH who can’t cope.

It’s a game. A GAME, Drew, and you’re so incapable of controlling your impulses that you published, for the world to see, a 750-word temper tantrum, and not just a regular one, but a throw-yourself-on-the floor-of-Toys-R-US, flail-like-an-epileptic-for-17-minutes-straight tantrum, complete with Tourette-like cursing binges and third grade “everybody hates you” insults—and all because… wait for it…

…your team didn’t win the game.

And let’s be honest: The Falcons aren’t even your team. You would’ve rooted for Idi Amin and Pol Pot if they were playing against Belichick and Brady. Basically, you exploded into a major hissy fit because you didn’t get to see the Patriots suffer.

And we’re the ones with the problem. Got it.

This almost goes without saying, but we’re not “sore winners”. Nor are we “greedy”, “insufferable”, or “bandwagon fans”. Did these judgments arise from some sort of deep statistical analysis? Social media research? Several thousand fan interviews? Or did you just spit out the meanest thing you could think of at the height of your vein-popping rage? Yeah, thought so.

You want to do some research? Go to Boston the next time one of our teams wins a title. Look at the mix of ages and backgrounds. Drink in the camaraderie, the euphoria, the pure joy, that seems to get bigger, not smaller, with each successive trip to the mountaintop. We’re the exact opposite of sore winners. But you already knew that.

I’m not angered by your venomous diatribe. I pity you. You’re a sad, angry man. In all seriousness, Drew, you should try to accept the things you can’t change and make your peace with them. You can’t erase Brady and Belichick’s historic dominance over the league. You can’t take away the mountain of hardware this team has won. You’ll never detract from their monumental accomplishments, so why try to?

Nothing you do or say is going to change what’s happened in the NFL since 2001, or anything that’s going to happen in the future. Believe me when I tell you, you’ve also failed miserably in your quest to somehow piss on our (fifth) parade. We’re on cloud nine up here in New England, and things don’t look likely to change any time soon.
Bottom line: Whether you were rooting for the Patriots or against them, you saw something historic last week. You make your living writing about a sport that people enjoy and have a great passion for. Be proud of that!

But you’re still a little bitch.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Thriller in the Blizzard

At Foxboro Stadium in the winter, Patriot fans didn't even consider sitting down during a game.

Instead, we stood resolute, pelted by the frigid winds, our faces frozen, our knees creaking in protest, losing sensation in our fingers and toes. The only thing more tortuous, in fact, would have been to take our seats.

They weren't "seats" at all, really--just long aluminum benches with numbers stamped on them every couple of feet--and when you left to use the restroom, you returned to find that the other bodies in your row had somehow expanded, swallowing up your little chunk of cold metal real estate, and leaving you to shoehorn your way back into place, as you vowed never to urinate at a football game again.

Those benches couldn't possibly have been any colder. I'm convinced they were designed for maximum pain by some sadistic nerd who lost his girlfriend to the high school quarterback, and then, bent on vengeance, swore that he would make football as agonizing for everyone else as it was for him. We might as well have been sitting on cast-iron commodes.

Somehow, it didn't help at all that the following season would bring us a brand new stadium right next to this one, and that, as soon as the final game was over, Foxboro Stadium would be torn down with all the violence it deserved. The fans weren't going to miss this old relic after it was gone; it would have been like feeling nostalgic for your toenail clippings. We were eager to leave this place behind and move on to our new home. But there was an important game to play first.

So it was for my brother and me as we passed through the gates of Foxboro Stadium on January 19, 2002, when the New England Patriots took on the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Divisional Playoff, in what has come to be known as The Snow Bowl.

The storm that Sunday was the only major snowfall of the season, starting a few hours before kickoff and ending a few hours after the final play. I always picture the game having taken place inside a snow globe, a perfectly encapsulated, snowy moment in an otherwise mild winter.

I couldn't help but lick my chops at the prospect of playing a warm-weather team, from clear across the country, right here in our New England backyard. Surely those California dudes would be no match for us as they flopped around on our frozen mess of a field. I figured we'd get a win, extending our improbable season for another week before coming back down to Earth. But that was the most I could ask for.

Fans all over the stadium were holding up "Back to the Bayou" signs (the Super Bowl would be held in New Orleans that year). All I could do was laugh. The Super Bowl was for powerhouses, strong teams with wily veterans who knew how to win big games--not for a bunch of scrappy young kids like the Patriots. We'd never make it that far. Why did people insist on setting themselves up for heartbreak?

We would never win a Super Bowl up here in Massachusetts. It just seemed wrong. Our team's home was a geographical region, as if our city and state were too small and insignificant to qualify on their own. Yes, we'd made it to the big game a couple of times before, first getting massacred by the Chicago Bears in the Foregone Conclusion Bowl of 1986, a game in which the Bears could've started kneeling down at the end of the first quarter and still won by 27, and then dropping another championship game 11 years later, a 35-21 loss to Brett Favre and the Packers. And it seemed that this 2001 team wouldn't even make it that far.

I had always thought that if the Pats had a chance, it was with Drew Bledsoe. Yes, they had gone a dismal 5-11 under Bledsoe the season before, and then lost the first two games of 2001 before Moe Lewis clobbered Bledsoe (and, as it turns out, nearly killed him) with a vicious sideline hit in week 2. By the time Bledsoe recovered and was cleared to play, Brady had carpe diem'd his way to the top QB spot in New England, a role he maintains to this very day, over 14 years later.

But of course, this was 2001, and no one yet had any idea of the historic future that lay before him. He was just some untested whodat from the University of Michigan, barely old enough to buy a beer. How could this kid handle playoff pressure? Yes, I felt Brady was the guy for the job, but he hadn't even played a full season yet. He wasn't ready! Alas, at least we had this game against the Raiders, and this game was a sure win.

No, it wasn't.

On their first possession, the Patriots gained 49 yards before the drive stalled; it took almost the rest of the first half for them to gain another 49. And forget about scoring--the Patriots only picked up two first downs in the half after their initial drive. Meanwhile, the Raiders managed to eke out a TD in the second quarter, and had a 7-0 lead at the break.

I don't know what Coach Belichick said to his troops at halftime, but whatever it was, it worked. The Pats took the second half kickoff and charged down the field, all the way to the Raider 5 yard line. But the drive stalled, and the Patriots were forced to settle for a 23-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal.

No, it wasn't a touchdown. But it finally, mercifully, erased that ugly "0" from the Patriots' side of the scoreboard.

Field goals aren't the worst thing in the world; all you have to do is follow them with a strong defensive stand, and you have a chance to build on your momentum. The one thing you don't want to do is allow points in return.

Sadly, that's exactly what they did.

On the ensuing possession, Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 38-yard field goal, and after a quick New England three-and-out, he added a 45-yarder.

13-3, Oakland.

Under normal conditions, a 10-point lead is nothing in the NFL. But these were far from normal conditions. Men with leafblowers cleared the yard markers at every stoppage of play, but their work was getting more impossible by the minute. Players slipped and fell. Passes were dropped. Every tackle kicked up a plume of snow. They may as well have been playing on Mount Wachusett.

It was the fourth quarter now, and given the field conditions, and the short time remaining, field goals alone would not do. New England needed a touchdown.

What happened next is the stuff of Patriot Legend.

They began the drive at their own 33. On first down, Brady hit David Patten for 14 yards. Then Kevin Faulk for 7. Then Jermaine Wiggins for 3. Then Troy Brown for 8.

Wiggins for 4.

Patten for 11.

Wiggins for 4.

Patten for 6.

Wiggins for 4.

It was a prizefight now. The Patriots were Muhammed Ali and the Raiders were Joe Frazier. Wiggins was the jab and Patten was the right hook, and, like Frazier, Oakland had no answer.

Second and goal, Patriots, on the Oakland 6. See the results for yourself.

Brady was a perfect 9-for-9 on the drive, for 61 yards, and capped it off with the first rushing touchdown of his career.

There was 7:52 left in the game, and the Patriots owned the momentum. The whole stadium knew it. The whole planet knew it!

I wasn't cold anymore. I didn't care that I had been standing up for hours. It no longer mattered that my gloves had soaked through, or that every stitch of clothing on my body was saturated with melted snow, as if I had been dunked into an icy swimming pool. We were going to win the game after all! 

It took eight plays, and four minutes, but the defense held, and Oakland punted. The Patriots started on their own 20. First down: 12 yards to Wiggins. Here we go again! Paydirt, here we come!

...and then, three straight incompletions and a punt. 

But how? Brady was on fire just a few minutes ago! 

And, just like that, a tiny bit of dread began to creep in.

2:41 left. Now, the clock game. Three runs up the middle by Oakland, three timeouts by New England, and then a punt. 

2:06 left. The Patriots were out of timeouts. There wouldn't be time for another drive after this one. This was it.

New England started on their own 46. After a 7-yard pass to Faulk, and a 5-yard run by Brady, I witnessed something that will live in Patriots lore forever: The Tuck Rule Play.

Brady went back to throw, and was hit on his blindside by Charles Woodson. The ball popped out, and was recovered by Oakland. Game over.

How could this happen? Tom Brady was supposed to lead the Patriots to victory! It couldn't be. It just couldn't! And yet, the fans were heading dejectedly for the exits.

Suddenly, the full force of the cold hit me again, the howling wind, the furiously-falling snow, and the prospect of a long, frigid walk back to our car, followed by miles of gridlock on the drive home.

But then, a glimmer of hope.

I had brought a radio with me to the game that day. Gino Cappeletti announced that the play was under booth review, and then, ominously, that Brady's arm appeared to have been going forward when the ball came out. 

"Guys, guys!" I shouted to the fans around me. "They're saying his arm was going forward!"

And then this... 

As it turns out, Woodson hit Brady in the head on that play, which should've been a roughing the passer penalty, but it wasn't called. I wrote an article about it, in case you're interested. 

Feel free to share my article with anyone who says the Patriots "got lucky". Funny--seems to me that if you rough the passer and get away with it, you're the lucky one. But I digress.

Infused with new life, Brady immediately hit David Patten for 13 yards. Two incompletions followed, and then a field goal attempt from 45 yards out to tie it. 

It was a line drive kick, barely visible through the falling snow. It wasn't nearly high enough. Was it?

Yes! 13-13, and we were headed to overtime.

The Patriots won the toss and elected to receive, taking over on their own 34. And the heavyweight bout started again:

Brady to J.R. Redmond for 1.

Redmond for 20.

Wiggins for 2.

Redmond for 3. 

Wiggins for 6.

Wiggins for 4.

And then, for some odd reason, the Patriots attempted a run up the middle and lost a yard. On 3rd-and-7, Brady hit Troy Brown. For 3 yards.

Yep, 4th-and-3 from the Oakland 28. It would have been a 46-yard field goal, into the wind. Much too far. The Patriots had to go for it.

Brady to Patten for 6. First down!

Yet again, Brady was perfect on the drive, going 8-for-8 for 45 yards. But they weren't done yet.

Time for some body blows.

Antowain Smith up the middle for 4 yards.

Smith up the middle for 1.

Smith off right tackle for 8.

Smith up the middle for 2.

That put the Patriots inside the Raider 10, well within Vinatieri's range.

I believe you know the rest...

...and, I Believe You Know The Rest.