How the Patriots Went Full Anti-Patriots on 10 Occasions in the First Half
Many people are wondering what in the world happened with Bill Belichick and Malcolm Butler after the cornerback did not play a single defensive snap in the Patriots’ super bowl loss. It seemed that Bill Belichick, the man that always puts his team in the best position to win, did the most anti-Belichick, anti-Patriots move ever; purposely subverting his team’s own chances (for a reason that might forever be unknown). However, anybody that has followed the Patriots under Belichick is more than aware this is standard operating procedure for the head coach. He has done stuff like this multiple times, most notably benching Wes Welker for the first series of a playoff game (that the Patriots went on to lose) against the Jets. However, while the benching was pure Belichick (and I am inclined to believe the missed curfew rumor for the reason), it kicked off a Super Bowl, and in particular, a first half, where almost everything we saw was complete anti-Patriots. The Patriots are known for being the smartest, most prepared, and best-coached team on the field. The first half was the antithesis of that. Here are the 10 most anti-Patriots plays of the first half (in order that they happened).
1st Anti-Patriots Play of the Day: Kickoff
From the get-go, there should have been a warning signal going off in Patriots fans heads that this was going to be another one of those super bowls. Stephen Gostkowski, Probably the best kicker in the NFL at the plop shot to the 1-yard line, hits a knuckling line drive right to the goal line. Eagles return it to the 26, but the Patriots miss two tackles on the return on what was probably the ugliest looking kick of the season (the ensuing kickoff was perfect, but literally kicking off the game with your worst performance of the season is not a good harbinger).
2nd Anti-Patriots Play of the Day: LaGarrette Blount’s First Big Run
Eagles Ball. 3-3 score, 3:30 to go in the first quarter on 2nd and 3. Devin McCourty (who will, unfortunately, show up a decent amount on this list) chooses the wrong hole to attack and ends up being entirely useless on the play (with the option run it looks like his assignment was Foles, but this is still some bad recognition on the run).
Malcolm Brown does a good job of eating up his lineman, but Blount runs through the tackle and bounces it outside…
Where Patrick Chung (another defensive back who was roasted this game) blows contain and lets Blount pick up massive yardage to the outside.
You have three of the Patriots better players against the run… combining forces to blow almost every conceivable assignment. That is a rarity… but not during this Super Bowl (the next play was the Alshon Jeffery touchdown–Buckle up Pats fans).
3rd Anti-Patriots Play of the Day: Brandin Cooks Goes Semi-Stupid on Jet Sweep
Patriots now down 9-3, first play of the 2nd quarter. After the Eagles save a touchdown by applying just enough pressure to make Brady hit Danny Amendola late instead of in stride, the Patriots are in business at the nine-yard line, facing a 3rd and 1 and a half. Brandon Bolden in the game at running back, which should immediately tell you something funky is happening and the play call is a pretty decent one; Jet Sweep to Brandin Cooks. However, the execution from the wideout is less than stellar.
Cooks gets around the defensive end and has literally ten yards of upfield open space to maneuver and about 20 lateral yards with just one man to beat.
Instead of using ANY of the open field aand utilizing the fact he is one of the fastest players on the field, he tries to hurdle. The amount of stupidity that goes into making that decision is hard to fathom. Hurdling is usually done by a bigger player when he thinks the defender will go low so as to not get trucked. Cooks is a great wide receiver, but running over players is not something he is known for. Worse, hurdling slows you down. It was almost as if he had so many options he panicked and chose the worst (and not for the last time on the night). Instead of an almost assured first down and more than likely touchdown (great upfield blocking), it becomes 4th and half-a-yard. Patriots opt for the field goal…
4th Anti-Patriots Play of the Day: Patriots Botched Field Goal
And miss it. After the Eagles missed the extra point it made the score 9-3. That probably helped the Eagles out in this scenario. More times than not, Belichick is going to go for it with a half-yard to go, down seven that is an easier decision to make. However, down six, a field goal here and it is a one field goal game. That compels Belichick to send out the kicking unit. Joe Cardona’s snap is a little low and into the body of punter and holder Ryan Allen, he misses the snap, somehow gets the ball down, but Gostkowski (not exactly a stud in the Super Bowls) is all out of rhythm and hooks a spinner that almost slices back in. Off the upright. To make matters worse, the gain by Cooks was the worst of all scenarios; if Cooks gains no yardage on his stupid hurdle, that ball is going to clear the upright and sneak in for the three points… That hurdle… so… so stupid… and cost the Pats three, if not seven, points.
5th Anti-Patriots Play of the Day: Brandin Cooks Goes Full Stupid
After the Patriots force a three-and-out after the missed field goal (on back-to-back pressures by Trey Flowers and James Harrison, as well as a great coverage job by McCourty on Zach Ertz), the Patriots begin their drive at their own 37 and dial up a great first play. Counter play-action deep out to Cooks. Brady drills Cooks while getting drilled (his throw was otherwordly good). Cooks catches it at the 40 and immediately spins away from the defender (no problem there because his route was taking him in that direction).
He then retreats a full four yards. Never go backward, especially in the Super Bowl. However, he has five-and-a-half yards of separation now.
Use your speed. Turn upfield and one broken tackle might be a touchdown. Nope. Instead, one lateral move, head definitely not on a swivel, and Mr. Cooks’ night is over.
These are just not smart plays. The Patriots are usually the smartest team on the field and never make mistakes. Cooks touched the ball twice on back-to-back plays from scrimmage and made two mistakes. That is about as anti-Patriots as a player gets at any point of the season.
6th Anti-Patriots Play of the Day: Patriots Get Tricky with Tom
Your quarterback has an iffy hand that is more than likely sutured and glued shut. Call a pass play TO HIM on 3rd and 5 from the 35 down 9-3. Instead of putting the ball in the hands of the greatest quarterback ever (and having him THROW IT AS OPPOSED TO CATCH IT), you let Danny Amendola throw it to Brady. While the play was almost perfectly executed, it is still a stupid play call. Yes, Brady is open. Yes, it should have been a catch and a first down, but this is still not smart.
What is the best you could hope for in that scenario? A chunk play, but not a touchdown right? There is NO WAY Brady with his speed could be expected to gallop all the way to the end zone even if he makes that catch right? So you are dialing up a trick play, in the second quarter, down six, from the 35-yard line… to convert five yards?
Amendola probably should have waited and just lobbed to ensure the first down. He does not need to lead Brady at all in that scenario because even if Brady makes the catch with tons of yardage ahead of him, do you think he is going to try to juke a man and take it to the house? That is why it is a stupid call. If you let your quarterback do the quarterbacking, he knows this. But instead, it is Amendola who throws a wrong foot spiral that glances off of Brady’s hands (again, it was well executed and a damn good throw, but the play call, to begin with, is the issue). Making matters worse is that the Patriots then went for it on 4th and ran a fade to Gronk that fell incomplete. If you know you are going for it on 4th, why not run it on 3rd and then come back to the trick play that you feel so confident in? Just an odd time for that call.
7th Anti-Patriots Play of the Day: LaGarrette Blount’s Second Big Run
While the Patriots kept making mistakes, the Eagles settled in. On 1st and 10 from the 21 of the Patriots, the Eagles go off-tackle left to Blount.
James Harrison tries to blow up the edge and gets a yard upfield forcing Blount to jab to the left an extra step, but Harrison ends up getting sucked in, and worse, takes out Trey Flowers on the play.
Then Patrick Chung (who had been playing hurt for almost the entire year and had one of the worst games of the season after another stellar campaign) gets owned by Brent Celek, setting up the alley
and once Blount starts rumbling, there is almost no stopping him. Especially if Elandon Roberts blows his inside-out force. Eagles go for two like idiots and run a fade, even dumber, and Rowe continues his up-and-down game by defending the pass to Jeffery quite well.
8th Anti-Patriots Play of the Day: Great, Bad, Stupid Screens
Josh McDaniels dials up a screen on the first play of the next drive. It is a wonderful screen. Rex Burkhead is wide open, all the linemen have hat on hat. Burkhead gallops all the way to the Eagles 29-yard line before he is tackled from behind. Burkhead, battling a knee injury the last two months, cannot access another gear. A healthy Burkhead probably pulls away for the touchdown, instead, 1st and 10 for the Pats at the 29. Not bad.
However, McDaniels goes back to being cute. 1st down play is fine. Incompletion because the Eagles hurry Brady. McDaniels, more than likely trying to slow down the pass rush, goes wide receiver screen to Amendola for two yards. Your lineman just ran 50 yards downfield less than a minute ago, and now you want them to sprint out again. Ok, it kind of makes sense because of the Eagles pass rush, but probably best to let them rest just a bit, instead, more sprinting and the lineman did look kind of gassed. Only Nate Solder made a good block.
Now it is 3rd down and 8. AND HE CALLS HIS THIRD SCREEN IN FOUR PLAYS. This time trying to suck in Kyle Long. The guy that spent all of last season practicing every day against Brady and the offense. Your receivers have been getting open all game long. You got great field position thanks to the first screen, but then you call two more screens in the next three plays, with tired linemen, the third against a guy who might know the offense better than any other defender on the Eagles.
The old saying is he went too many times to the well. Well, the well was full of water on screen one, was empty on screen two, and came up with sand on the third one. McDaniels is a great offensive coordinator, the Patriots have been unbelievably lucky to have him (twice), but he has this tendency to get unbelievably cute when there is no reason for it, more so early in games. Worse, he tends to do it in the biggest games, and almost exclusively in the first half. It is almost as if he is as nervous as the players at the beginning of games (and the video of him fidgeting before the National Anthem might prove that point) and then he calms down and turns into a cyborg with his play-calling in the second half. It is maddening specifically because he is that good.
9th Anti-Patriots Play of the Day: Jay Ajayi’s Big Run
After Gostkowski hit a field goal to make it 15-6, the Patriots defense needs to stop a 3rd and 4 from the Eagles 31 yard-line. The Eagles hand if off to Ajayi… and he bludgeons them. The Patriots appear to have Ajayi bottled up, but he explodes through the hole.
McCourty is once again extremely tentative. There is nowhere for Ajayi to go. Harrison is trying to crash down the line, but McCourty does almost literally nothing except dive slow and late and take out a Patriot lineman.
If you want to know where the Patriots REALLY got burnt with the absence of Butler, it was in missing the cornerback’s tackling. McCourty was playing a hybrid strong-safety linebacker role in the Super Bowl and put together one of his worst tackling games ever. (This run does not actually come back to hurt the Patriots as the drive ends with the Duron Harmon’s tip-drill interception, but it is emblematic of the Patriots just having an Anti-Patriots day from some of the guys that are the most Patriot players on the roster).
10th Anti-Patriots Play of the Day: Jordan Richards Gambles and Loses
After the Patriots do the most Patriot thing of the game thus far (turn the interception into a touchdown and have Gostkowski miss the extra point–what is it with him and extra points in big games?) they force the Eagles into a 3rd and three from their own 36 yard-line with 1:46 to go in the half. The Patriots normally OWN the final two minutes.
Jordan Richards has Corey Clement in man. The running back for the Eagles is set up to the right of Nick Foles. For some reason, Richards presses to engage Clement behind the line of scrimmage.
If this is a swing pass (the read from Richards), he wants to stop him dead behind the line of scrimmage. But the only way this works is if the four-man rush gets to Foles fast enough to force the quick throw to the checkdown. To press in that scenario usually means two things: (1) the Patriots are blitzing (they were not) and (2) a pick play is coming (it was not).
Moreover, only bad things can happen if you press and get beat. If you avoid the wash and the Eagles convert the first down, it is at most a five-yard gain for the Eagles. Instead of a five-yard gain and forcing the Eagles to execute a two-minute drill, it turns into a 60+ yarder and the Eagles can take their time, which is exactly what happens.
The Eagles then punch the Patriots heart by converting the 4th and goal with their own version of the quarterback throwback pass, this one making more sense because it only requires Foles to catch the pass and do nothing else.
The Patriots did so many things wrong in this game, and in particular the first half. Yet, they still were down by five with the ball and a chance to win the game. That is the greatness of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. You have to play an almost perfect game to beat them, and you have to hope the Patriots play uncharacteristically bad. The Eagles got that from the Patriots. But while the Patriots most certainly did not play their greatest game, the Eagles forced them into many of the mistakes and deserved to beat the Patriots for bringing their A-Game while the Patriots did not make the grade.