Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Patriots-Chargers - The Last Word

A couple more thoughts before we leave the Patriots-Chargers divisional play-off game behind...

  • As I wandered through the media analysis yesterday, there was a theme repeated frequently, one that I think is not right and needs to be addressed. It was the perception, in many corners, that the Chargers marched up and down the field at will, that they dominated the Patriots, and only extreme luck, and help from the officials(!) allowed New England to march out with the victory.


    I've already said that, unlike their previous play-off games, I didn't necessarily think that New England was the better team on Sunday. That said, that doesn't mean that they were worse, either. Those were two excellent teams, one of which (San Diego) was at home with an extra week's rest, and the other of which (New England) played smarter football. That's why it was a 3-point game.

    But, back to the San-Diego-physically-dominated-the-game meme. It is true that, from the beginning of the game, the Chargers were a better team. When Michael Turner scored on a 6-yard run with 2 minutes left in the first half, the Chargers had run 38 plays for 218 yards, a 5.74 yards/play average. New England, on the other hand, had run 21 plays for 62 yards, 2.95 yards/play. Domination, San Diego. No doubt. And that's why they were up 14-3.

    From that point to the end of the game, it was nowhere near as unbalanced. After the Turner touchdown, the Chargers ran 29 plays for 154 yards (5.31), while the Patriots ran 53 plays for 262 yards (4.94). That's not domination.

    And, if I may be allowed to cherry-pick a little bit more, that's not actually representative, yet, of what actually happened. After the 49-yard completion to Caldwell, the Patriots ran 4 plays, 3 to run time off the clock and center the ball, and 1 to take a knee. The Patriots defense allowed San Diego to complete mid-level passes in the middle of the field to keep the clock running. When both teams were trying to both move the ball and prevent the ball from moving, from the Turner touchdown to the Caldwell reception, and not counting the last play of the first half, where San Diego took a knee, the Chargers ran 25 plays for 116 yards (4.64) and the Patriots ran 49 for 259 (5.29). Advantage, New England.

    For the game, the Chargers did have total yardage and time-of-possession advantages. But they weren't great, and they were accumulated early. New England outplayed them after the two-minute warning of the first half, and outscored them 21-7.

  • Another way to look at it. San Diego had 3 touchdown drives. Those averaged 7.3 plays and 69.3 yards. They had 10 more drives, and those averaged 4.6 plays and 13.6 yards. The idea that "New England couldn't stop them," which I heard more than once yesterday, is diametrically opposed to what actually happened on the field. The Patriots stopped them most of the time.

  • Another point. New England forced San Diego to punt 7 times, and stopped them on downs once (which went into the books as a fumble, but even if Rivers hadn't fumbled, it would have been New England's ball at the same spot.) San Diego forced New England to punt 6 times.

  • 5 of New England's drives resulted in points. 3 of San Diego's did.

  • Brady threw an interception that left San Diego in field-goal range in the 3rd quarter. On 7 plays, the Chargers lost 6 yards, and had to punt.

  • "New England couldn't stop Tomlinson, and the Chargers wouldn't give him the ball." Tomlinson carried the ball 10 times, and had it thrown to him once, out of the Chargers 22 second-half plays. (Not counting punts, field goal attempts, and the last drive with no timeouts trying to get into field-goal range). On those 10 carries, he ran for 44 yards, 4.4 per carry. 6 of those carries were for 3 yards or less. 2 of those carries yielded a total of 22 yards. So did the other 8.

  • I've heard it said, several times, that the Chargers had that game won if Marlon Mcree had just knocked the ball down, or fallen to the ground after intercepting it. It's ridiculous. Let's assume that San Diego had gotten the ball right there. They did, only a couple minutes later. The Patriots forced a 3-and-out. Had San Diego kept the ball and the Patriots gotten a 3-and-out, the Patriots would have gotten the ball back, much as they did just a couple of minutes later. The Patriots drove to the San Diego 15, and ran as much clock setting up the winning field goal as they could. Had they been down 8 at that point, there's no reason whatsoever to suppose that they couldn't have scored the touchdown and 2-point conversion, as they had following the interception. In other words, while the fumbled interception certainly made it easier for New England to win the game, Mcree holding onto to the ball wouldn't, by any stretch of the imagination, have sealed the game. And it's silly to say that it would have.

  • Likewise, the officiating complaints seem to center on the fact that Graham didn't get an offsetting penalty when he shoved Florence away on the headbutt. Nope. Not buying it. Graham didn't hit him, he pushed him away. Significant difference between headbutting and pushing the headbutter away.

  • The Colvin interception, on the other hand, featured a blatant facemask penalty that, for some reason, got waved off. I don't care whether LT bent his fingers and "grasped" the mask or not - he clearly put his hand on the bar of the helmet, left it there, and bent Colvin's head backwards using leverage on that part of the facemask. There's no way that shouldn't have been another 15 yards for the Patriots.

Bottom line - the team that played a better, smarter game is going to the AFC Championship game. The Chargers are an excellent team, but so are the Patriots, and they've got nothing to apologize for...



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