NE-64 plays vs NYG-60 plays (2008) Loss
NE-60 plays vs NYG-68 plays (2012) Loss
NE-71 plays vs PHI-71 plays (2018) Loss
NE-71 plays vs SEA-50 plays (2015) Win
NE-88 plays vs ATL-51 plays (2017) Win
NE-67 plays vs LAR-56 plays (2019) Win
As you can see, when New England has gotten a significant advantage in the number of plays run, they’ve won the Super Bowl. This is because the more plays you run on offense, the more you wear the opposing defense down later in the game. It’s also because the more plays your offense runs, the more time your defense has to rest, which is why Philadelphia’s D was still fresh late into the game, despite New England running 71 plays on them; their offense had also run 71 plays.
AND, Philadelphia won Time of Possession, another determinant of who wins the Patriots’ Super Bowl matchups:
NE-29:33 vs NYG-30:27 (2008) Loss
NE-22:55 vs NYG-37:05 (2012) Loss
NE-25:56 vs PHI-34:04 (2018) Loss
NE-33:46 vs SEA-26:14 (2015) Win
NE-40:31 vs ATL-23:27 (2017) Win
NE-33:10 vs LAR-26:50 (2019) Win
While controlling the clock and running more plays than your opponent is an old, common strategy, it is interesting to see such a strong set of data for these two stats. Perhaps, New England really prioritizes the clock and the number of plays they run when preparing for a Super Bowl?
On top of all of this, New England is also the most well conditioned team in the league, so they stay at the top of their game late, while the other team wears down and fades.
“Jerry Rice. They said he ran a 4.7 [40-yard dash] but he could run a 4.7 every play. A lot of people who run a 4.3, but in the fourth quarter they can’t run a 4.3. Conditioning is like the biggest thing in football. Everybody’s an athlete, but how many times can you get out and exert that same amount of effort? Every play? Same intensity? That hill helps that,” said former Patriots receiver Brian Tyms back in 2016 (via NBC Boston).
This is because the more plays you run on offense, the more you wear down a defense later in the game.— HP Football (@HPFootball3) February 17, 2019
On top of this, New England is the most well conditioned team in the league.
So they stay at the top of their game late, while the other team wears down and fades. pic.twitter.com/Zroouy6cfw
This reminds me of how boxer Floyd Mayweather always focused on going to the body in early rounds to tire out his opponent, so that he would be much faster and fresher than his opponent in later rounds. He was also known for being one of the most well conditioned boxers.
This reminds me of how boxer Floyd Mayweather always focused on going to the body in early rounds to tire out his opponent.— HP Football (@HPFootball3) February 17, 2019
He was also known for being one of the most well conditioned boxers pic.twitter.com/tbfbcj69ti
Like Super Bowl 51, Josh McDaniels wrote on the board in Super Bowl 53 that the Patriots had run 44 plays in the first half, and that that would eventually turn into some fatigue down the stretch (via NBC’s Peter King).
That’s one of the reasons McDaniels wasn’t concerned at halftime, when the Patriots stumbled to a 3-0 lead halfway through. In the locker room post-game, talk was that McDaniels went to the board to talk to his team and he drew the number “44.” That’s how many plays the Patriots ran in the first half—and how many plays the Rams D was on the field. “That’s got to count for something,” McDaniels told his players. “That’s gonna pay off in the second half.”
In addition to number of plays and time of possession, another common occurrence and possible strategy in New England’s Super Bowls is that the team often starts slow. The Patriots have also scored a grand total of three points in the first quarters of all the Brady-Belichick Super Bowls. Three points in nine Super Bowls! Now compare that to the 88 points they’ve scored in all of the fourth quarters of the Brady-Belichick Super Bowls.
They’ve had their share of bad starts and deficits to start the game, but they’ve never panicked. They do often pick it up in the third quarter, thanks to Belichick’s famous second half adjustments.
The Patriots have also scored a grand total of 3 pts in the 1st quarters of all the Brady-Belichick Super Bowls. They often start off slow, read their opponent, and then make their famous 2nd half adjustments.— HP Football (@HPFootball3) February 17, 2019
Despite how far they fall behind, they never panic. They stay patient pic.twitter.com/2Bq7NFp4Ne
Again, similarly, Mayweather is known for often losing the first few rounds in an attempt to gain information. He then also uses his smarts to adjust and pull out a victory at the end when his opponent is tired. Mayweather is also known for staying patient and not panicking, even when he is being beaten badly.
Similarly, Mayweather often loses the first few rounds in an attempt to read his opponent and then make adjustments later when his opponent is tired.— HP Football (@HPFootball3) February 17, 2019
Mayweather has also taken his share of defecits at the begnning of his matches, but rarely panics. pic.twitter.com/oy2pA2TUHr
Here are the three examples of the Patriots pulling out the victory in the the Super Bowls they’ve won in their past six attempts. Pay attention to and remember the opposing defense’s pass rush and cover guys’ speed in these clips.
In the 3 Super Bowls the Patriots have won in the last 6, they've led multiple clutch, 4 quarter drives to win the game against defenses that were fading from fatigue.— HP Football (@HPFootball3) February 17, 2019
They did it to Seattle in 2015, down 24-14 with 12:10 to go. pic.twitter.com/vdn77vqFIl
They did it to Atlana in 2017, down 28-12 with 8:24 to go. pic.twitter.com/fxXFgIEpD0— HP Football (@HPFootball3) February 17, 2019
The LA victory was not a comeback, but still, the Patriots’ 44 plays in the first half helped New England score a five-play touchdown drive in the fourth quarter and run the clock out late to seal the game. If you were like me and wondering how LA wasn’t stopping the run on the last drive, despite New England running it every play, it was probably because the Rams were tired.
And they did it to LA in 2019, tied 3-3 with 9:49 to go— HP Football (@HPFootball3) February 17, 2019
It wasn't a comeback but NE's conditioning and large # of plays advantage still showed, as they scored a TD and picked up 2 huge 1st downs on the ground, despite running the ball every play on the last drive to seal the game pic.twitter.com/MhVAbqv7FN
Compare those three tired defenses above to these three active, fresh defenses and pass rushes that were able to continue to get after Brady and cover up in the backend deep into the fourth quarter.
BUT, in the 3 Super Bowls NE has lost in the past 6, their opponents have stayed fresh, and that fresh pass rush has kept Brady from driving down the field to win the game.— HP Football (@HPFootball3) February 17, 2019
VS NY in 2008, they only had 29 secs, but still, NY's pass rush was still fresh and it kept NE from winning pic.twitter.com/6j1vRoJEpB
Vs NY in 2012, again, Brady was unable to put together a drive to beat the Giants, as the Giants' defense was not fatigued. Their pass rush was still active late in the 4th pic.twitter.com/FBHTbSPMsC— HP Football (@HPFootball3) February 17, 2019
More recently, in 2018, PHI was able to stop NE from driving down the field at the end of the game, with the help of their very active and fresh pass rush that pressured Brady on almost every play on the last drive. pic.twitter.com/0hf7VSdNEd— HP Football (@HPFootball3) February 17, 2019
As you can see, the pass rush was getting to Brady quicker in these three clips than the previous three. It stayed fresh enough to keep the quarterback from tying/winning the game late. So, it’s no surprise that New England didn’t get an advantage in number of plays or time of possession in either of these three games.
Similarly, Mayweather often walks his opponent down and gets more in the center of the ring to do more boxing in the final rounds, as his opponent is too tired to keep up with his speed.
Similarly, Mayweather has walked his opponents down and gotten more aggressive by boxing more in the center in the final rounds, as his opponents got too tired to keep up with Floyd's speed. pic.twitter.com/0wOUtqpJf8— HP Football (@HPFootball3) February 17, 2019
So the next time you see New England in the Super Bowl (hopefully), don’t get too frustrated, like me, at them taking it slow in the first half. There’s a reason behind it. Yes, scoring points is always good, especially in the Super Bowl, and being down 28-3 with 17 minutes left in the game is definitely not a good thing, but just remember that New England is very good at tiring out their opponent, being in better shape, making adjustments, and staying patient, no matter the deficit.
So if they get to the Super Bowl again, keep an eye on the number of plays run and the time of possession for New England and their opponent because it might be a clue to how the the game will go down in the fourth quarter.
One final, funny similarity I noticed is that both Belichick and Mayweather always want eyes on their opponent to look for clues. It’s something I’ve never really heard of before in professional sports, but it makes so much sense. The last clip is an interview of Andre Berto, the second to last boxer to fight Mayweather.