Sports

A Final Review of Super Bowl XLVI: New York Giants vs. New England Patriots

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Many people are pointing out the similarity between last night's final touchdown and the situation in Super Bowl 32 between the Packers and Broncos. I’ve previously written about that game, and I agree that the right thing to do was to allow Denver to score. With about 1:47 to play and the score tied at 24, the Packers allowed Tyrell Davis to walk into the end zone for the go-ahead score. The Packers got back possession but were unable to move the ball on their first series of the drive. The Broncos went on to win.

So why should Belichick’s decision to allow the touchdown be considered gutsier than Holmgren’s? The primary reason is that in Belichick’s case, his team had the lead. The Patriots strategically forfeited a Super Bowl lead. Had they forced a field goal attempt and it was missed or blocked, the Patriots would have won the game. In Holmgren’s case, the best case scenario for the Packers was a tie. Had they held the Broncos scoreless at that point, they still would have likely needed overtime to win.

Although the ultimate effect was the same in the two situations, the notion of intentionally forfeiting a lead is qualitatively distinct from allowing a team to break a tie. It’s instinctively more difficult, and therefore I believe required ‘more guts.’ (Or in Deadspin parlance, it was "ballsiest".)

The second reason was the game situation. The Broncos had a second and goal at the 1 with about 1:47 left on the clock, and a touchdown was a very likely outcome anyway. In the Patriots’ case, a Giants touchdown was far less assured. Belichick’s decision also relied on the faith that the Giants would not take a knee at the one as they should have. From the 1, there was no risk that the Broncos could get any closer, making the FG any shorter.

Was the Giants’ 12th man penalty intentional?
That's hard to believe. If so, I’m not sure it was smart. If the Giants were able to intercept the ball to end the game, it would have been called back. Interceptions are not uncommon in desperation end-game drives. Perhaps the smartest thing for Brady to do was spike the ball as quickly as possible. I’d suspect that if he did see the flag fly on the snap, he was thinking it was an offside call. In any event, most people would consider an intentional violation of the rules unsportsmanlike. It turns out Coughlin wasn’t even aware that taking a knee at the one would have been the smart thing to do. He nearly cost his team a Super Bowl win by bungling that, so I doubt the Giants sideline was outthinking the world enough to gamble by putting an extra man on the field.

On the Giants’ 2-point conversion

It was smart. There was only time for a maximum of one more score. A last-second Patriots TD wins the game either way with a 4, 5, or 6 point lead—except in one case. With a 6-point lead and a Patriots TD, the game would be tied in the tiny likelihood NE misses the extra point. I've read some debate about what if the Patriots return the kickoff for a TD. If the 2-pt conversion fails and the Patriots go up by 3, now a NYG FG only ties it. True, but the Patriots would be smart to just accept the touchback because no time would come off the clock.

On the Giants' timeout

In a close game, timeouts are priceless. I've done some unpublished research on this topic and in most cases taking a 5-yd penalty for delay of game is preferable in the second half of close games. In some situations on the periphery of field goal attempt range, or when a 3rd and 1 might turn into a 3rd and 6, it may make sense to use the timeout, otherwise save it.

My favorite radio guy, Steve Czaban, made the point eloquently this morning: When used properly, timeouts should be treated like coupons redeemable for 40 seconds of game time. If you’re down by a score, think about the difference between the win probability at zero seconds remaining (which is zero) and with 40 seconds remaining (which is much better than zero in almost all circumstances. That's what a timeout might be worth in terms of WP. There are additional benefits to preserving at least one timeout, including preserving the option of challenging a play and keeping the middle of the field tactically available in a final drive.

Get more great NFL analysis over at Advanced NFL Stats.