In a game that saw more than 1,000 yards gained by both teams, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick signaled before the opening kickoff how little value he gave to his team’s defense by benching probably his best defensive back, Malcolm Butler. You remember Malcolm Butler, of course. He was a rookie defensive back who won the Super Bowl for New England three years ago by making an improbable interception on the stupidest play call in the history of professional football, a pass called by Seattle coach Pete Carroll when Seattle had a first and goal on the 1-yard line with less than a minute left to play.
With typical Belichick nonspeak, Coach Bill explained, “We did what we felt was best for the team.”
Even so, Philadelphia had to recover from several momentum changing gaffes to prevail.
Gaffe #1: Quarterback Nick Foles took the opening kickoff and drove his team down to a second and goal on New England’s 3-yard line. It was at this point that star tight end Zach Ertz was called for illegal motion. Philly couldn’t convert so was limited to a field goal.
Gaffe #2: After New England drove down and tied the score with its own field goal, Foles threw a perfect touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffrey. But Philly then missed the conversion.
So after playing a brilliant first quarter, Philly was only up by six points and it looked as if New England had momentum.
But these gaffes soon proved to be illusory as neither team played defense. Actually New England put a lot more pressure on Foles than Philly put on Brady. This resulted in Brady throwing for a Super Bowl record of more than 500 yards as Philly simply had no pass defense.
While New England’s defensive secondary was equally inept, the Patriots’ four-man rush often pressured Foles; certainly a lot more than Phillies four-man rush pressured Brady. There was only one sack in the entire game. Even so, Foles threw several pinpoint long passes eschewing the pressure.
What’s a Catch? This is a question that has been bugging the league for years and there was certainly no definitive solution by the officials in this game.
Catch #1: In the third quarter Foles threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Cory Clement. Clement caught the ball at the back of the end zone but the ball moved just as his foot hit the end line going out of bounds. During the regular season, this would’ve been called an incomplete pass 100 percent of the time. But, after a review, the officials upheld it. This raises the question of propriety of ignoring a rule just because it’s the Super Bowl.
Catch #2: With 2:21 left in the game and trailing by one point, Foles threw an 11-yard pass to Ertz who caught it with both hands on the 5-yard line, took three steps and dove into the end zone holding the ball out in front of him with two hands. When the ball hit the ground in the end zone, it popped up in the air and Ertz caught it. While this went into replay because it was a scoring play, TV announcers Chris Collinsworth and Al Michaels both indicated that they thought it was going to be an incomplete pass. That was absurd. Ertz caught the ball and took three steps before he dove into the end zone. He was clearly a runner stretching the ball over the goal line; it wasn’t even close. And that’s the way it was upheld.
But there is no doubt that under present NFL rules and the way they have been interpreted all year long, the touchdown by Clement should have been disallowed.
Combined with the trade two months ago of blossoming star quarterback Jimmy Garapollo, apparently in response to a Brady request and over Belichick’s strenuous objections, the benching and probable departure of their star defensive back makes the Patriots’ future less than rosy.
Tony Medley is the author of three books including “UCLA Basketball: The Real Story,” the first book written on UCLA basketball. Visit TonyMedley.com.