Is your head still spinning from the Patriots comeback on Sunday? Are you dealing with the constant fear that you might have slipped into a coma at halftime and the Patriots actually didn’t win the Super Bowl? If you feel this way, you’re not alone. The Patriots comeback victory was unlike anything that’s ever happened before, especially in a championship game. I’m just here to try to help you understand what the Patriots actually did by the numbers.
We’ve all heard the famous ESPN win percentage number that gave the Falcons a 99.8% chance of winning at one point, but maybe that was too low. For one thing, the biggest comeback in a Super Bowl was 10 points, a touchdown and a field goal, just 2 possessions. The Patriots were down 4 possessions! FOUR! Like I said 10 points is just a touchdown, and a field goal, 25 points is a touchdown, another touchdown, another touchdown, a 2 point conversion, and a field goal, and oh by the way, the Patriots missed the XP on the first touchdown they scored, making it two 2 point conversions to comeback. For another thing, you had to allow 0 points to the best offense in the league, and statistically one of the best offenses of all time. If I told you that it was possible for that to actually happen with any other team you would have called me insane, but because we were fans of that Patriots, we somehow believed that maybe it could happen.
On top of that, a comeback of that magnitude was not only never done in the Super Bowl, but it had never been done in the playoffs. Teams leading by 17 or more in the playoffs were 174-0. Keep in mind that 17 points is a 3 possession game, and we've already established that this was a 4 possession game pretty well. Rope in the regular season, which includes games against the dregs of the league, and the record for teams leading by 25 or more since 1991 is 1057-4. That’s a 99.6% winning percentage. Similar to what ESPN’s magical win probability was, but those weren’t in the playoffs. Think about that for a second… if you round up the numbers 99.8 and 99.6, it’s 100. 100%. The win probability might as well have been 100% and the Patriots still won. I just don’t know how to fathom that.
The reality is that the reason the Patriots won, was because every single play they needed to make, was made. Every single thing they needed to do, they did. Every single break they needed to get, they got. There were maybe 10 or 20 plays made in the last two quarters that needed to be made. If just one of those plays goes the other way, the Patriots lose. The Patriots were 4 for 6 on 3rd down in their final 6 drives. You may look at that number and think the Patriots didn’t make every play they needed to make because they missed two 3rd down opportunities, but that’s still not the case. After one of those missed 3rd downs, the Patriots went for it on 4th, and got it. The other lead to a Gostkowski field goal, which was still an important score in the comeback effort.
The Patriots were just 1 for 1 on 4th down during the game, but really they were 3 for 3 in those situations, because those 2 point conversions are pretty much the equivalent of a 4th down on the goalline. Those were do or die situations and they got them both. Think back to the AFC Championship game last season, and that 2 point conversion. I think people forget how hard it is to convert those, but it’s a little easier to remember when you think back to that. Think about the next time the Patriots found themselves on the 2 yard line. It’s a scary thought when you think about the fact that they threw a fade to Martellus Bennett. It makes me shudder to think that that could’ve been a 2 point conversion play call. There were some plays that were pretty damn close that I haven’t even specified. That Danny Amendola 2 point conversion was as close as it gets. The James White game winning touchdown was equally close, both barely got in. How about the direct snap to James White? If you told me that I would have to trust David Andrews to correctly execute that play if I wanted to win the Super Bowl I would have passed out.
So we’ve established that all the conversions the Patriots needed were made, but there was even more things that went the Patriots way. The Patriots needed the Falcons to lose 20+ yards on one set of downs to win. They needed the refs to call that penalty on Jake Matthews, while simultaneously not calling a facemask on Logan Ryan on the same play. They got a PI call that put them on the 2 in overtime, and lead to a game winning touchdown. They needed a turnover to set them up in great field position, and I feel like that was the most important play of them all.
The one thing I was focused on all game, was the turnover differential. I follow The Ringer on twitter, and all week I saw Danny Kelly’s column popping up in my feed, Why One Turnover Could Decide The Super Bowl, and I knew he was right. I knew that we needed a turnover at some point, it’s just the way that Super Bowl’s go. Malcolm Butler’s pick, Tracy Porter’s pick, Cam Newton’s fumble, the ball being snapped over Peyton Manning’s head, it seems like in every Super Bowl a turnover turns the game. I knew we weren’t winning the game with a -2 turnover differential, and I should’ve known it would be the king of the defense, Dont’a Hightower. As a side note, the Patriots better pay this man, because that’s 2 Super Bowls he’s saved for them now (see: Tackle of Lynch on the 1)
Lastly we go from the miraculous, to the bizarre. Remember that catch Martellus Bennett made on that ball popped 20 feet in the air? When the ball was in the air, all I thought of was Peyton Manning’s ball that was popped in the air and pick 6’d by Malcolm Smith. Somehow, Bennett caught it, and that was utterly stupid. The game is over if he doesn't catch that ball, because it is almost definitely picked off. Then of course, the Edelman catch. Before the Super Bowl I predicted Edelman would win Super Bowl MVP, and I may have been wrong, but I’d say that making one of the biggest and best catches in NFL history is a pretty good consolation prize for the best wide receiver in Patriots history.
The Patriots winning this game was just down right absurd. When I saw the Patriots kissing the trophy as it was carried to the stage, I couldn’t believe what I was watching. I wasn’t ready for the Patriots to be celebrating, because of the fact that my mind had already established that it would be the Falcons kissing that trophy. Despite what I thought, I still had some semblance of hope.
Down 18 at the half, I still went through my Super Bowl halftime tradition, and I still sat there, counting down the lead as the Patriots finally started putting up points. When everyone in the room was upset at Gostkowski coming out to kick the field goal, I stood by it. When I explained to my dad it made it a two possession game, he couldn’t do anything but laugh. “Two possessions? Yeah with two 2 point conversions. That’s not two possessions”. The point he was making was right, it was unlikely they’d get two 2 point conversions, but I think Belichick knew to win this game he would need a miracle, you might as well plan for one. And well, what happened Sunday night was definitely a miracle.
Photo: (SM 101)