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Super Bowl 52: Very Happy to Be Very Wrong

February 4th, 2018 · No Comments · Football, NFL

I missed it. I have no trouble saying it. I was sure the New England Patriots would defeat the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 52. And I first wrote that nearly three weeks ago, ahead of the conference championship games.

Not so sure, however, that I did not watch Super Bowl 52. Not so sure that I shut off the TV, in France, when the Patriots finally moved ahead, at about 4 a.m. local time.

My sense of the inevitability of a Patriots victory was fully engaged when Tom Brady and the Patriots got the ball, trailing 38-33, with more than two minutes to play.

How many times had we seen Brady push the Patriots down the field to win in the waning seconds? This was going to another example of that. The Eagles defense was in tatters, and I thought their offense had erred by scoring too soon; they should have tried to get a first down at the New England 4, so they could burn the clock down to a few seconds before kicking a winning field goal.

I was unhappy. Because when it comes to the Patriots, I would rather be wrong about them winning.

But I had outlined the inevitability of their victory and had (mostly) resigned myself to it — with the stipulation that I would under no circumstances stay up long enough to see Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick and Brady passing around another Lombardi Trophy.

Then came the play that never happens to the nearly perfect Patriots.

Tom Brady lost the ball.

A Philly lineman named Brandon Graham got past an O-lineman, and reached toward Brady as the latter was preparing to cock his arm and let the ball fly.

Brady seemed not to notice Graham was there, but the rusher reached out and whacked the ball out of Brady’s hand, and before I could shout “strip sack!” and wake up people all over my little town … a Graham teammate seized the loose ball.

And like that, New England hegemony was tottering. In my enthusiasm, my first thought was, “it’s over”, but the Eagles, in a spasm of overly cautious play-calling (rare, in this game), ran the ball only once, kicked the field goal that gave them an eight-point lead with about a minute left, but that seemed time enough for Brady and the Patriots to score, convert a two-pointer, and then into the overtime the Pats certainly would win …

As Cris Collinsworth said on NBC, “I’ve seen this movie too many times to think that it’s over.”

The Patriots used up all but nine seconds of the clock to get to midfield, and on the last play of the game Brady was forced to sidle away from pressure, as the clock went :06, :05, :04 before chucking the ball in the end zone, where the 6-foot-6 Rob Gronkowski was waiting — along with about half a dozen others, most of them Eagles.

The ball banged around, and hit more than one hand before I espied the ball on the ground and saw the 00:00 on the NBC info bar — and seemed to know a full count ahead of broadcaster Al Michaels that the game was over.

I was happy it ended as it did. Even if I used up some of my tiny pool of credibility.

The genius Bill Belichick had been out-coached by a guy (Doug Pederson) who a decade before (when I covered the New York Giants’ helmet-catch shock victory over the 18-0 Pats) was coaching high school football. No. Really. Preps. In Texas.

Pederson knew his offense needed to stay on the field to keep Brady off it, and the Eagles were 2-for-2 on fourth downs, both of them leading to touchdowns — the “Philly Special” TD pass to quarterback Nick Foles and a short throw to gain a first down on the decisive, fourth-quarter drive.

Some fans (most?) believe in a concept known as “reverse jinxing”. That is the phenomena of overpraising the team you not-so-secretly hope loses and, in many cases, citing individuals from those teams for their superiority and talent. (Naming names seems to heighten the presumed effectiveness of the reverse jinx.)

Was I doing that in those previous posts?

No, in that I honestly believed the Patriots were better.

Yes, in that if the reverse jinx has any power … I was ladling it out pretty good.

It was a fine game.

To see Nick Foles play as if he had been winning big games throughout his career.

To see vindicated a coach with a modest NFL playing career work his way up the ladder and bring with him some truly imaginative sets and plays.

To see the detail-oriented Brady for one instant forget about “ball security”.

And to have the game go down to a final drive, and a final ball falling to the ground on the final play …

With the right team winning (in the cosmic sense) and the wrong team losing (in my pre-game analyses) …

I don’t mind being wrong in situations like that … forever.


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