Super Bowl LI Immediate Reaction (02/05/17)

By Rob Pizzola @robpizzola

Almost all of the pieces that I write nowadays are analytical. Due to my nature, my profession, and my long-term goals as a sports bettor, nearly everything I do, including written content, is data driven or revolves around numbers. This won't be one of those pieces. It's been a long-time since I wrote anything outside of that realm, but I sit here at my computer, at 10:57 pm ET following arguably the most epic Super Bowl of all-time, and it's impossible for me not to share my thoughts.

Wow. I mean, just wow. What a game. I would like to say that I'm in shock, but that's not true. When the Patriots got the ball back down 28-12, there was this overwhelming feeling that this could go down. As someone who has bet against the Patriots plenty of times over the course of the past few seasons, I'm more than aware of their capabilities when they are trailing. As someone who lives in a world of probabilities, you'll rarely see me declare a game as “being over”, unless I'm trying to pull one of my famous #ReverseMush tactics on Twitter.

I watched Super Bowl LI with my wife and one of my best friends. It was probably the saddest Super Bowl “party” that you'll ever see, but I've been under the weather for the better half of a couple weeks and have some other personal issues going on as well, so I wasn't really in the mood to go all out this year. In full disclosure, I was rooting for the Falcons and the under; the under because I had wagered on both the first half under and the full game under for about 2% of my bankroll, and the Falcons simply because I didn't want to see the Patriots win again. Dynasties in sport aren't fun—at least not from my point of view—and while I can respect everything that the Patriots have accomplished, I really wanted to see another team win for a change. One day, I'll tell my grandkids how good this Patriots dynasty was, and just how much I couldn't stand that team.

Atlanta started out hot, and their defense surprisingly held up for the majority of the first half. As someone who had wagered on the under, a scoreless first quarter was more than I could have asked for. Everything was looking great in the early going. I really didn't expect this to continue though, especially since the Patriots' coaching staff is so good. At the end of the day, I'm fully aware of what the Falcons' defense is, and it's not a unit that is particularly strong. The manner in which Atlanta's defense fell apart in the second half had just as much to do with New England's offense just being that good, and a lot to do with the adjustments that were made by the league's best coaching staff.

And that's what will stand out to me from Super Bowl LI. The manner in which Atlanta's coaching staff blew this game for them. I don't want to make it sound like the Patriots did nothing to deserve this win because that's not true at all, but at one point in this game, Atlanta would have been expected to emerge victorious 49 out of every 50 times. The probability was overwhelmingly in their favor, and they simply blew it.
I did several radio hits across U.S. markets this week, and in many of them, I was asked about keys to success for the Falcons. I always made sure I brought up coaching as a talking point. Frankly, Bill Belichick massacred the Steelers' coaching staff in the AFC Championship game, and it didn't help that Mike Tomlin opted to punt the ball from the Patriots 40-yard-line when trailing in that game either. Dan Quinn and company couldn't afford to make any mistakes against Belichick this week, and unfortunately for the Falcons, their decision making was abysmal in the second half.

The obvious decision that stands out was Kyle Shanahan's choice to throw the ball when the Falcons were in field goal range late in the game. Atlanta was still up eight points at the time, and could have opted to run three straight times, setting up a potential 40ish yard field goal for Matt Bryant to put the Falcons up 11.

1st-and-ten at the Pats 22 and the Falcons run a toss play to Devonta Freeman, in which he loses a yard. Ok, not the best outcome, but at least the clock is still ticking. I figured that the Falcons would continue to keep the ball on the ground, but on second down, Matt Ryan drops back to pass and takes a 12-yard sack. Now, should Ryan be absolved from all blame for taking a sack in that situation? Absolutely not. Ryan has to know that he cannot hold that ball and has to unload it no matter what. Plain and simple. There's no excuse for that. But Ryan also never has to make that decision if Shanahan calls a running play, as he absolutely should have. So yes, while I fault Ryan, I just cannot comprehend how he was even put in that position in the first place.

Often times, I can be critical of coaches for getting too conservative late in a game, but when you can potentially take the clock down to just over two minutes and attempt a 40ish-yard field goal indoors with one of the better kickers in the league, I think you have to go for that. Shanahan got too cute. I'm not sure what the media reaction will be in the morning (I'm trying to avoid as much media coverage as possible as I write this), but in my opinion, Shanahan should be crucified just as badly as Pete Carroll was crucified when he opted to throw the ball from the goal line two years ago.

Shanahan's decision set the wheels in motion. Atlanta wasn't able to get back into field goal range, and the rest is history. Does Tom Brady deserve credit? Absolutely. Atlanta was still a strong favorite to win the game even after the Falcons gave the ball back to the Pats. Brady still had to engineer another touchdown drive, and the Patriots would have to convert a two-point conversion. And even if all of that happened, the game would have still been tied, and they would have had to score more points to pull out the victory. So yes, absolutely, Brady deserves a ton of credit and I don't ever want to hear another argument about #12 not being the greatest quarterback of all-time, but he was gifted an opportunity for this to happen by Shanahan's incompetence. He also had two potential interceptions dropped on the game-tying drive, one of which wound up in the hands of Julian Edelman on a miraculous catch.

Admittedly, watching Edelman grab that ball in real time, I would have bet my life that it hit the ground. It just seemed impossible that that ball didn't hit the ground. There have been some great catches in Super Bowl history, but that probably has to vault to the top of the list. And that occurred a drive after Julio Jones made one of the most ridiculous catches I have seen in my lifetime as well. Unreal stuff.

Anyways, I think I've encompassed everything that was still stuck in my head, except for these few random thoughts that are completely irrelevant but I felt the need to include anyways:
  • As someone who grew up listening to alternative rock and grunge, and then eventually graduated to some harder metal, it's impossible for me to grade these halftime shows. I've at least heard a few Lady Gaga songs before, but I have no idea whether or not that was a good performance. Truth be told, I would have walked out on that within five minutes, but that's just because that's not my style of music, nor do I care for the entertainment aspect. Put a band out there and let me watch them play. That's just me.
  • As much as I didn't want the Pats to win, I took some seriously sick pleasure in watching Roger Goodell have to hand over that trophy to them.
  • That Cam Newton Buick commercial was gold. The rest of the commercials, not so much. That Bud Light commercial where the dog couldn't open up the beer can because he didn't have thumbs, but then he was holding a beer can later on without any issue… That legitimately rattled me and I cannot explain why.