The first thing that I want to get off of my chest is the overtime heroics were unnecessary. When Talib intercepted Manning in the fourth quarter, that should have been the game. Talib in no way impeded the receiver from catching the pass. In fact, the receiver had no idea where Manning's massively under-thrown pass was. From his position and route, the pass was uncatchable. Not that the refs have ever used that excuse before. Now I'm not going to say that Manning had the refs in his back pocket, because as the GIF shows, NFL pants have no back pockets. That would just be silly.
On to the decision to give Manning the ball in overtime. When Belichick announced the decision to his captains, there was more than a little confusion.
"We all looked at each other like he was crazy — then we all asked again and again and again," Mankins told Comcast SportsNet's Postgame Live. "And we just wanted to make sure we were doing exactly what he wanted."
"Bill’s a genius," McCourty said. "Even the captains were like, ‘Really? Defer?’ He wanted to take the wind. Obviously that was the best call."
Still it is a credit to the Patriots organization that the players didn't do what they THOUGHT he wanted them to do. Instead, they went back for clarification and followed the coaches orders to the letter; even if they didn't necessarily agree with them. That is the sign of a healthy team with a healthy command structure. Sometimes you just have to say, "Yes Sir!", and hope for the best.
Rob Gronkowski was happy with the decision.
"Great decision," Gronkowski beamed. "He is our coach [and] we’re behind him with everything, especially Coach Belichick. Whatever he has, we’re behind him. So it was a great call because we won."
Had the Patriots NOT won, Belichick would have been tarred and feathered by the NFL media. Just like with a certain 4th and 2 call, which BTW, Kevin Faulk actually did convert. No conspiracy theory, but cue this GIF again:
On that certain 4th and 2 call, in the dome, Belichick did everything he could to keep Sir Peyton of Manningham off of the field. In the blustery cold of Gillette? Not so much:
"It was a strong wind," Belichick said. "We just had to keep it out of the end zone, obviously. I just felt like the wind would be an advantage if we could keep them out of the end zone on that first drive. We were able to do that. The wind was significant in the game; it was definitely significant."
Belichick felt that the wind alone was worth about 20 yards of field position, or more importantly, field goal position. Second possession in overtime can win on a field goal.
ESPN NFL analyst Trent Dilfer noticed the wind seemed to affect Manning more than Brady. Manning was just 9-of-18 for 75 yards, one touchdown and one interception in throws into the wind, while Brady was 17-of-23 for 201 yards and two touchdowns. You might know Trent Dilfer as the quarterback that has just as many rings as Peyton Manning.
"The wind played a huge factor in the game," cornerback Aqib Talib said. "A lot of deep balls hung up in the air going toward the lighthouse. It changed what you did as a quarterback. That’s why we gave them the ball and gave them the wind too."
Apparently Manning had some "hang ups" over the wind. In any case, Belichick was more than happy to put the ball game in Peyton's hands this time around. A complete change from 4 years ago in a dome far, far away.
One more difference here is that Hoodie chose his offense as the weapon of choice to keep Manning off the field on that 4th and 2 call. As a defensive player, Tedy Bruschi thought it was an insult to the defense. Hoodie was saying they just weren't good enough. In the end, they weren't, but Tedy felt they didn't get a fair shake that a longer field due to a punt would have given them.
This time around? Hoodie was in essence saying, "We're giving them the ball. Defense go win us a football game." I'm sure that put some spring in the steps of the defensive players who absolutely stepped up late in the game and stopped Manning - multiple times. They showed their coach that his trust was well placed.
"That's how I see it and that's how championship defenses should see it."
Championship defense ... I like the sound of that.
Overall, the offense dug a huge hole at the beginning of the game, but the defense was generally strong throughout. They stayed in nickle and allowed a bunch of yards on the ground, but they stopped the Broncos time and time again. Eventually, the offense clicked, and was able to dig us out of that hole under the guidance of Sir Thomas of Brady. The defense got what should have been the game winning pick in the fourth, but then stepped up again in overtime and shut down Manning and the Broncos. Zero points against the wind.
In the end, we saw why Belichick emphasizes THREE phases of the game as Nate Ebner (ST stud) made the game changing play on special teams to put the team in possession within field goal range; field goals also being a special team function. Gostkowski was absolutely clutch and unfreezable, and ended the perfect team win with one powerful kick right down the middle. Three phases, next man up, 60 minutes plus
an unnecessary overtime, do your job, just win, baby. I don't know how far this team can go, but I like the way they are headed. With a head coach that at times throws caution to the wind, all things are possible.