PATS REPORTER

Perry: Why Pats' final play was the right call - and why it didn't work

PATS REPORTER

There's a reason the Patriots went with the play they did. 

Cam Newton had already scored twice on the play earlier in the game. Running the same play in Week 1, out of the same personnel package, he converted a first down in short-yardage near the goal line and later salted away the clock against the Dolphins.

Factor in that Newton had an 80 percent success rate (16-for-20) when rushing from the one yard line, per ESPN? Then yeah, it made sense that the Patriots would put the ball in their 6-foot-5, 250-pound quarterback's massive hands with three seconds remaining, one yard to go and a chance to win Sunday night.

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That it didn't work out? That Newton was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage and the clock ran out to give Seattle a 35-30 win?

Newton took the blame.

"I'd say we probably went to the well too many times," Newton said after the game. "But at the end of the day, I'd say we felt confident about it. We just gotta execute. 

"I could've bounced it, looking at the clip. I just gotta be better. Just gotta be better here at the end. We put ourselves in a position to win. When you do that, you gotta finish."

Can the final play of a game also be our Turning Point? It can. It was. 

The moment when Newton had a window to take his rushing attempt to the outside is our choice for the moment to revisit from Week 2. But there were plenty that made an impact on the final outcome of this game. 

 

There was the 33-yard completion to Julian Edelman that set up a touchdown with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter to make it a one-score game.

There was Nick Folk's missed 51-yard field goal in the second quarter. 

There was Seattle's decision to throw the football on a third-and-1 play with just under two minutes left. It went incomplete, stopped the clock, and saved the Patriots time for their final drive.

There was a pass off Edelman's hands at the goal line with 12 seconds left -- a pass that forced Edelman to leave his feet and try to high-point Newton's attempt. 

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They're all worthy of further dissection, but Newton lingered on the final play after the game. It was one of a handful -- including his interception in the third quarter and his high pass to Edelman for what would've been the game-winning score -- that he wanted back. 

"I just didn't make everybody right," he said. "That's the only thing I regret. In that type of situation, it's humbling to be able to have the respect of a team, to have the ball in my hands. I just gotta deliver. 

"I saw a clip of it. I could've made it right by just bouncing it. I was just trying to be patient. Just thinking too much, man. Or even just diving over the top. There were just so many things that flashed over me and playing a fast defense like that, as soon as you guess, you're wrong. 

"I'll definitely learn from this. The play was there. The play's been there all game. Moving forward we just gotta scheme up things and being put in that situation again, hopefully we can have a better outcome."

The play was there just minutes earlier. Using their 14-personnel package -- with a fullback, two tight ends and two extra offensive linemen -- Newton followed fullback Jakob Johnson, waited for right guard Shaq Mason to pull to the left and waltzed in for a touchdown. 

The play was there earlier in the night, too. In the second quarter, Newton followed Johnson -- who came from his right and across his body to the left, instead of leading from the left -- and Mason into the end zone for his first score of the night. 

The play even helped set up Newton for his first touchdown pass as a member of the Patriots. It featured 14 personnel once again. The defense -- which had seen that package on tape from Week 1 used in running situations -- bit hard. Johnson side-stepped safety Jamal Adams and slid into the end zone unimpeded for a wide-open grab.

Three plays. One personnel package. Three success stories. Pair those with the success the Patriots found with the same grouping the week prior, and it's no wonder Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick liked the call. Even if it was predictable.

 

Excluding the pass to Johnson, Newton's earlier touchdown runs were about as predictable as it gets. Everyone in the stadium knew the Patriots would run it. They ran it. And it worked.

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With only time for one play at the end of the game and with an all-time goal-line weapon at their disposal, it seemed logical to roll with it one more time.

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62

"We had one play to score," Belichick said when asked about his thought process leading up to the play. "We tried to go with what we thought would be our best play. What else is there to think about?"

So, what happened? The Seahawks played the play differently.

Defensive back Delano Hill, instead of just setting an edge, aggressively tried to go through Johnson's legs and succeeded to upend Newton. 

Linebacker Bobby Wagner, instead of scraping over the top of the mass of humanity along the line of scrimmage -- which he did when he was late to the party on Newton's previous touchdown run -- sliced through the line, knowing Mason would be pulling. Wagner caught up to Mason, cut him off, and prevented him from clearing space for Newton.

Wagner, it turns out, had an entirely different tactic in mind when he saw 14 personnel on the field with the game on the line. He wasn't about to let his defense get run over doing the exact same thing it had done a few minutes earlier when it was trampled.

Instead of trying to take his blocker, rookie guard Michael Onwenu, and turn him in toward the middle of the formation, Seattle defensive lineman LJ Collier threw his left shoulder into Onwenu to stay square to the line of scrimmage on the final play. As a result, Newton didn't get around Collier, and Collier was there with Hill to make the stop. 

Wagner gets an assist of sorts on two fronts: Not only was it his idea to create some different movement up front at the snap, but he also stopped Mason from getting to Collier and wiping him out on his way to the goal line. Had Mason gotten to Collier sooner, Newton's path to the goal line might've been a little clearer. The outcome might've been different. 

Could the Patriots have trotted out a different package of players onto the field for that do-or-die moment? Maybe. Could they have called for a pass from that heavy set the way they did earlier in the game? Sure. 

But the reality of the situation is that the Patriots had one-man goal-line wrecking crew at quarterback. They had a play that hadn't yet failed. But they were out-executed at the moment of truth. 

"I thought," Belichick said, "Seattle made a good play."