Let’s get greedy. You enjoyed those six Super Bowl parades, right? What if I told you there could have very, very, very easily have been four more.
Ten Lombardis from 2001 through 2018. Do you know how close the Patriots were to that? And I’m not even really talking about plays that arise easily when we get to lamenting — the helmet catch or Welker’s drop.
I’m talking about plays that were more hidden than those. Different dominoes in championship games which — if they wobbled and fell in a different direction — would have almost certainly led to Super Bowl wins.
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Plays that woulda, coulda, shoulda been made by Hall of Fame players. Legends. We’re not here to vilify them for those plays. The Patriots wouldn’t have been in these high-leverage spots in the first place if they didn’t have these guys.
But, still … with the benefit of hindsight it’s human nature to sometimes wonder, “What if?”
And what better way to spend your time quarantined during a pandemic than to wallow in opportunity lost.
Up first? What if Troy Brown worked to the outside in the 2006 AFC Championship Game against the Colts?
You know the story. The Patriots were bludgeoning Indy at halftime of that AFCCG until a Peyton Manning-led comeback against a gassed Patriots defense methodically closed the gap in the second half.
But the dirty detail of how Manning got to his first Super Bowl after nearly a decade of the entire NFL genuflecting at the altar of his supposed greatness is that it took a miscommunication by Brady and the great Troy Brown to clear the way for Manning.
The Patriots led 34-31 with 2:30 remaining. They had the ball at their own 46 and were facing third-and-4. Indy was down to one timeout. A first down would mean Indy would burn its final timeout before it got the ball back. If it got the ball back.
Brady was in shotgun. Brown was split wide to the right and motioned before the snap so that he was at the hip of Jabar Gaffney. At the snap, Gaffney pressed inside and Brown subtly pressed inside as well then stopped just past the sticks. He stopped his route there, turned and waited. Brady threw. Bob Sanders jumped the route and broke it up — nearly intercepting it.
As the ball hit the turf, Brady looked at Brown and jabbed a finger toward the sideline as if to say, “It was empty out there! You shouldn’t have sat down, you should have gone to the empty space!”
The camera then cut to Brady and Brown as they left the field. Brady’s exasperation was obvious. You can go to the 2:02:00 mark to see the play and aftermath.
The bigger aftermath? The Patriots punted, the Colts went on a penalty-aided (chintzy roughing the passer on Tully Banta-Cain), injury-aided (Eric Alexander in for Tedy Bruschi was burned for a 32-yard completion) drive that ended with a touchdown and sent Indy to the Super Bowl where they got by a boring-ass, Rex Grossman-led Bears team the Patriots destroyed in the regular season. Had the Patriots played Chicago on that rainy night in Miami? Undoubtedly, it would have been their fourth Super Bowl win in five seasons.
If they had won that year, would they have loaded up like they did prior to 2007 with Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Adalius Thomas? Hard to say. But since they did do that load-up, let’s look at the next lament. If you can.
The two most painful games in Boston sports history are the Red Sox 1978 one-game playoff loss to the Yankees and the Super Bowl 42 loss to the Giants. I think most would agree.
And while most of the focus on what might have been in SB42 is locked on either David Tyree’s catch or Asante Samuel’s would-be pick … just wait, THERE’S STILL MORE.
The first? Eschewing a 48-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal attempt late in the third quarter when the score was 7-3 and the Patriots faced fourth-and-13. The Patriots had already run 14 plays on the drive and saw it extended on an earlier third-and-13 completion by Brady and a Giants penalty on a punt. A Michael Strahan sack on third down when he blew past Nick Kaczur backed the Patriots from the Giants’ 25 out to the 31.
Gostkowski was 3 for 5 outside 40 yards in 2007 and was 8 for 8 on field goals in the postseason before SB42. The Patriots instead tried to run Gaffney on a double-move to the end zone. That was covered, Brady looked short to Kevin Faulk who came up lame near the sideline and Brady went back to Gaffney with a late throw that landed well out of bounds near the end zone. See 1:10:30 for that exchange.
The Giants' final drive was a cavalcade of what-ifs. On the first, with 1:59 left, an Eli Manning balloon could have been picked by Rodney Harrison.
The second? It was fourth-and-1 at the Giants 37. Manning turned and handed to Brandon Jacobs. Tedy Bruschi shot a gap and took on Jacobs’ lead blocker. Mike Vrabel, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour were at or near the point of attack. Junior Seau loomed at the second level. Vrabel and Warren crushed the right side of the Giants line. Wilfork had a great initial anchor but got turned out of the hole. Seau got walled off at the second level. Jacobs fell forward for a yard. First down.
The next four plays were insanity. First, Manning nearly got strip-sacked by Thomas. Then he threw it to the sideline and Samuel had his near pick, then came the helmet catch. That was followed by ANOTHER balloon to the sideline that could have been picked by Brandon Meriweather. That was as lamentable as the Samuel missed pick. And then, on third-and-11 with the Giants just trying to pick up a chunk, Meriweather got hung up on a rub and allowed Steve Smith to gain 11 yards. The next play was the Plaxico Burress touchdown which was really a formality.
I gotta stop with this game. I’m sorry. But rewatching Manning on that drive doesn’t cement his HOF candidacy for me. It kills it.
Let’s talk about more misery. Super Bowl 46.
Aside from the Welker drop (bad throw by Brady, missed connection, whatever you want to call it), the ball was rolling ALL OVER THE FIELD THAT DAY and the Patriots couldn’t come up with a damn fumble.
And when they did (like on a third-and-3 from their 11 when Brandon Spikes fell on a loose ball) it got wiped off the board by penalty (too many men on the field). And then came a touchdown.
Late in the third and early in the fourth, the Patriots forced fumbles. Both times, the Giants recovered. Both times they continued on to score.
And when the Patriots found themselves down 21-17 with one last shot? Drop by Deion Branch. Drop By Aaron Hernandez to start the final drive. Despite that, the Patriots still had a last Hail Mary which, if completed, the league would have been forced to shut down since there was nothing else that could ever top it.
And how close did it come to being caught? Inches. If Rob Gronkowski didn’t have a messed-up ankle and could have pushed off, he catches it instead of flopping to the ground a beat too late.
On to the last nut punch. Can you see my mood growing progressively worse and my interest in this exercise waning? Good. Because it is.
The 2015 AFCCG in Denver. Peyton Manning’s arm as useless as a third nipple. And what does Jamie Collins do TWICE?!!?!? Bites too hard on play-action, allowing tight end Owen Daniels to walk behind him and score touchdowns off of Manning flutter-balls.
That accounted for 14 of the Broncos' 20 points. The Patriots ended the day with 18. Why the weird number? You remember why.
Stephen Gostkowski missed his first PAT since 2006 at the start of the game so the Patriots were chasing points. And after they scored a touchdown on a miraculous Gronk-heavy drive to close the score to 20-18, Brady got picked on the extra point, choosing to throw to a well-covered Edelman rather than a (somehow) uncovered Gronk.
Google it yourself. It’s all on YouTube. Anyway, the Patriots win that, they go to the Super Bowl and undress Carolina, which was a paper tiger team that season anyway. There. Ten Super Bowls. Oh, and yeah. We already went over Malcolm Butler last week.
You’re welcome. Have a nice weekend.