Friday, May 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Commentary: Letting New York Giants score was a Super flop

Wait a minute. Let's rewind the Giants' last possession for the sake of debate. Let's suck Ahmad Bradshaw out of the end zone and return him to the backfield, put 1:04 on the clock, stick the ball on the 6 and correct the score so the Patriots still lead 17-15 with a single timeout dangling.

Let's suit you with a hoodie and headphones and send you to the Patriots' sideline.

Let's say you know about Win Probability (a simple estimate of who's going to win based on score and other variables), and that some geeks in the booth have been running numbers for you all game. You know that in this position, with barely a minute left, every second the Giants bleed off the clock before attempting a sure-thing field goal to go up by one point decreases your probability of winning.

But if you tell your defense to lie down, tell it even to help the Giants score, you suddenly have a better shot, percentages say, of getting your offense on the field, scoring and kissing the cheerleaders.

What do you do?

Take a dive, let the Giants score and hope your offense can go 80 in less than a minute?

Or tell your defense that it all comes down to the next few plays and you'd better not let them score, not by run or by kick, because the world is watching?

We know what Bill Belichick did. He confirmed it after his Patriots lost.

"Right," he said when asked if his team had let Bradshaw score.

Some loved the move. Headlines on Deadspin and Slate: The Ballsiest Call In Super Bowl History. But that's exactly backward.

Being ordered to let the other team score — even if the numbers suggest it's the right thing to do — goes against a player's every instinct, especially when it means letting the other team take the lead.

The riskier call would be to forget the percentages. The riskier call would be to let your defense do what it does: try to keep the Giants out of the end zone and pray you get a hand on the ball when they attempt a field goal.

Others felt like the call was a monumental shift in American football, a game that in its purest form has two chief pursuits: to score, and to stop the other team from scoring. Football has rarely been a game where it's better to go backward.

It wasn't the first time a defense has taken a dive. Who remembers The Gator Flop from 1971? That's when Florida's defensive players dove to their bellies on the field to let Miami score so Florida's John Reaves could set a passing record. In 1998, Green Bay allowed Denver to score from a yard out to get the ball back earlier, but Brett Favre couldn't score on the final chance.

But Sunday's call was an obvious relinquishing of those time-honored principles of unadulterated, belief-based football. And it was on the sport's main stage. If that's okay, to let the other team score, where does it end? If you buy into Win Probability, the smartest play would've been for the Patriots to have given up a touchdown earlier, even as early as the two-minute warning.

What worth is a defense if it lacks the faith that it can force a turnover, or block a kick? What were the chances Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff would miss a tying 32-yard kick, sending the Patriots to Super Bowl XLVI?

Belichick's call changes football. Expect to see more, for better or for worse.

Ben Montgomery played defensive back for Division II Arkansas Tech University, which was Gulf South Conference champion in 1999.

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