aNewDomain — The latest scandal to rock the reputation of the New England Patriots, the Playoff Game That May Live in Infamy, is hanging like a black cloud over us. It involves partially deflated footballs, as I’m sure you know. I’ll get to my theories — my conspiracy theories — on what really happened or may have happened with those footballs in a moment. But first, let’s talk about the deflation that really matters. That’s the deflation of the Green Bay Packers.
The defending NFL champion Seattle Seahawks are returning to the Super Bowl for the second straight year. The Seahawks and their fans should be not only celebratory but immensely grateful, too. They owe gratitude to a Green Bay Packers team that apparently decided: “Aw, you guys can go back to the Super Bowl if you would like. Here ya go, Seahawks, have a ball on us.”
What happened? The Pack defense manhandled Seattle QB Russell Wilson all day long — until the final eight minutes of the game, including the short-lived overtime period. Wilson had a dreadful game in which he was sacked five times, threw four interceptions, and was not threatening with his usually fleet legs. Vaunted RB Marshawn Lynch had a big day — 157 yards, averaging over 6 per carry and scoring a touchdown — but he gained the great majority of those yards on zone-read rushes in the fourth quarter after the Packers defense had decided it didn’t want to play any longer.
Oh, and Seattle took penalty after penalty on both sides of the ball, too, indicating that the team was having serious problems keeping up with the Pack.
Over on the offensive side of the ball for Green Bay, an injured Aaron Rodgers spent the game showing why he is, even while hobbled, The Best Offensive Player In The NFL.
Being unable to run as usual because of his left calf strain — he only ran one time, for 12 yards — he still took the Pack down the field with relative calm and ease against the superstar Seahawks defense. He was sacked only once all game. Rodgers did throw two interceptions in the game, something that’s almost unheard of. For sure, it demonstrates how awesome the Seattle D really is but, even so, he threw the ball and moved the team well enough to beat down a defense that came in averaging a miserly and mind-blowing eight points allowed per game over its previous seven games.
Rodgers is a winner and, injured though he was, he turned in a winner’s performance.
If only his coach and special teams had decided to join him. If only his receivers and defensive secondary had always kept their head in the game as Rodgers did. But, no.
The Pack’s coaching began handing the victory to the Seahawks in the first quarter. Twice, the Packers were stuffed at the goal line on 3rd down. Twice, Mike McCarthy decided to play it safe and, rather than attempt to ram the ball in for a TD — pinning Seattle inside their own 1 yard line if it failed — and kick a field goal. What could quite realistically have been 7, 14, even 21 points became 6. The Seahawks D did not get psyched out. Offensively struggling, Seattle was not buried.
As the 1st quarter came to a close, Rodgers threw what would be his only TD pass of the game. Now it was 13-0 and at half time it would be 16-0 when: a) it could realistically have been 24-0 or even 31-0 and b) with the way the Seattle offense was getting beat down, 16 points could realistically have won the game, anyway.
So, in the third quarter, both offenses were getting beaten, but Seattle then did something that the Pack’s special teams and coaching staff ought to have been anticipating — because I know I was.
With just 4:44 to play in the third quarter and being shut out, Seattle did a trick play and faked a field goal after the Packers D stopped their drive. This resulted in the Seattle kicker, Jon Ryan, becoming the first kicker and the second Canadian ever to throw a TD pass in an NFL playoff game. By the way, Ryan used to play for the Packers.
Why the Packers did not anticipate that play at that juncture of the game shall remain an eternal mystery. And, sadly for the Pack, that play broke the ice for Seattle. The Seahawks were in hunt for victory now. Nevertheless, the Pack would answer with 10:53 left in the game to go up 19-7. And Seattle’s offense, except for Lynch, was still getting beaten down after that. Green Bay fully controlled the game.
Which brings us to …
Anatomy of A Packers Meltdown
When things started to melt down. The downturn started when Packers strong safety Morgan Burnett gave Wilson his fourth interception of the day off of a deflection to give Rodgers the ball back with 5:04 remaining in the game. Which seems like a good thing, except…
Burnett just went to the turf instead of trying to run the ball back. He had lots of open space, mind you, he was not surrounded. Of course, he was trying to play it safe (yes, pun intended) and not fumble or have the ball stripped on his way back up the field.
There’s that “playing it safe” theme again for the Packers. And, tragically, this counterproductive approach to the game was going to go on, in accordance with the definition of insanity.
As they had just done on their previous possession starting at 6:53 remaining, the Packers coaching staff removed the ball from Rodgers’ brilliant hands and tried to run the ball. This was to prevent an interception and also to try to run out the clock. This was stupid, because everybody on Seattle knew that this was what was coming and simply stuffed RB Eddie Lacy every time. It was also stupid because Richard Sherman was hurt.
On this critical post-interception possession, the Packers lost four yards and went three-and-out.
And so, Seattle got the ball back. Again. 3:52 left in the game.
No matter how badly you’re beating down Wilson and the Seahawks offense, you have to play the full 60 minutes of the game. Because Seattle is a team that never quits. Unlike, say, the Green Bay defense.
Seattle scored a TD, of course, thanks to Wilson’s two biggest regulation-time passing plays of the game.
But the best was yet to come.
Everyone knew that an onside kick was coming. It had to be. And the onside kickoff took a terrible bounce for the Seahawks, as these kicks so often do for the kicking team. In fact, the ball bounced right into the hands of Packers tight end Brandon Bostick.
Except, of course, it didn’t. Because Bostick missed that ball like a hot…yeah, you know.
Of course, the Seahawks got the ball back right at midfield and did the read-zone thing that the Packers can’t figure out how to stop and Lynch had a 32-yard run and they scored a TD and then they made a 2-point conversion on totally blown coverage by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (yeah, really, that’s his name) who had two interceptions and nearly a third one on the day, meaning that now the Seahawks were unable to be beaten in regulation with a field goal because they had a three point lead.
So the Packers got the ball back with 1:19 remaining in the game. This time, having no other viable choice, McCarthy put the ball under the control of Aaron Rodgers. He got the Packers within field goal range with time running out and Mason Crosby delivered for the fifth time out of five chances. (Wonder what would have happened on the Packers’ previous drive had they given ball control over to Rodgers … )
Miraculously, Green Bay special teams didn’t allow Seattle to score in the final 14 seconds of regulation.
So, into overtime we went. Seattle won the toss and got the ball. Six plays later, in spite of Lynch being controlled and Wilson getting sacked, and oh yeah, Seattle starting from its own 13 yard line, Seattle won the game. How? On a long (35 yard) endzone pass to Jermaine Kearse — the same guy that Wilson tried to pass to four times and got intercepted!
The Moral of The Story
And here’s the moral of the story. You don’t win championships with a mindset of fear. You just don’t. In spite of dominating for nearly all of the game, the Green Bay Packers, as a team, played afraid. They were coached to be afraid, too. The Seahawks were in their heads.
I mean, if all else remained the same except that the Pack scored just one TD in place of one of those two 1st quarter field goals, then Seahawks lost 23-22 (or 26-22 if Crosby still went ahead with that final 48-yard FG).
But the Pack handed the NFC championship back to the Seahawks. The other team got in the Packers’ heads. They coached and played afraid. They got deflated.
Which takes us to …
Conspiracy Theories And Deflated Balls
I won’t bother with the Colts vs. Patriots game. 45-7 isn’t worth recounting, and you know all about it anyway. Everyone knows about it because up at Foxborough some team got into someone’s head and they were afraid and most (or all) of the Patriots’ game balls got deflated on an inclement, wet night when the balls would have been more slippery than when dry.
Now we have conspiracy theory flags flying and accusations of the Patriots cheating to win the game. For those of you who don’t know, a slightly deflated football is easier to grip and catch, especially when rain or snow is making the ball extra slippery.
But there are problems with this conspiracy theory. The biggest problem is that even if Brady and Belichick knew all about the deflated balls, they don’t explain the Colts getting massacred.
Then of course there’s the fact that the officials inspected the balls before the game, as they always do, and then again at halftime and then again after the game. Eleven or 12 of the Patriots’ 12 game balls were under the officially required range of 12.5 to 13.5 PSI at halftime, but before the game they were all fine. When they were found to be deflated at halftime, the balls were reinflated to the proper PSI. The Patriots then had their biggest scoring quarter in the 3rd.
The balls were all fine after the game, too. We know that the cold weather that night in Foxborough did not cause the balls to lose pressure because the Colts’ game balls were never deflated at any time. Someone tampered with the New England footballs. Yet, we don’t know who or exactly when.
Then there’s the fact that the Colts guy himself insists that he and his team knew nothing of deflated balls and their defenders didn’t feel any deflation when they gripped the footballs. The Colts aren’t pressing this issue at all at the time of this writing.
The Patriots, of course, have been found guilty of cheating before. But then, as now, there’s not a shred of evidence, or common sense, that suggests that the naughty behavior really did anything to make the Patriots win.
Lying, Spying And A Lack of Evidence
We have no evidence whatsoever that Belichick or Brady or the Patriots organization have ever needed to circumvent the rules in order to win football games and championships. Yet, people who don’t like the Patriots or who have never forgiven them for spying one time are already shouting that Brady and Belichick are liars who must be assumed guilty until proven innocent of dirty deeds.
Why would Brady or Belichick risk their reputations, their careers, their legacies, lots of money, and even the possibility of having their team’s 2015 AFC Championship disqualified when they were quite prepared and talented enough, by any measure, to crush a good Colts team? The pair want a fourth Patriots Super Bowl victory together, not lifetime humiliation. It all doesn’t add up for me.
What we do know is that some human being(s) did deflate the footballs used by New England’s offense, so I’m going to introduce a couple of conspiracy theories of my own.
Some Alternative Conspiracy Theories
Rogue referees did it. Bet you didn’t see that one coming. But think. What if there were referees officiating that game who have something personal against New England, for whatever reasons? The refs inspected those footballs. Patriots players and coaching staff didn’t.
Compromised refs lacking integrity did it for money. Think about this: What if someone, some shady multi-millionaire, paid some of the refs big sums of money to try to cast doubt on the legitimacy of any Patriots win? What, you think all refs are unquestionably above hearing the money talk? Refs are people, too. They can make bad calls in more than one way.
Rogue Colts staffers did it. The Colts don’t want to talk about this conspiracy at all. Nobody over on their side is blaming their crushing defeat on deflated New England footballs, and they’re taking the high road about the whole fiasco. What if it was, say, trainers or assistant coaches on the Colts staff who had the fear, who had the Patriots in their heads, and who wanted to try to get New England disqualified should they get out to a big lead? Letting the team (or advising the team) to play down this whole thing would be flawless deflection.
In any event, it’s Seattle vs. New England in Super Bowl 2015 — that is, Super Bowl XLIX.
Fear not. Watch. And savor.
Brant David McLaughlin — aka Brant David — is a Milford, NJ-based senior writer for us here at aNewDomain. Follow him at his +BrantDavid Google+ page. Email him at Brant@aNewDomain.net.