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Crazy Like a Foxboro: No, Bill Belichick Did Not Tank on Sunday for an Advantage in the Super Bowl

You may have read an article from in Tuesday morning's cheese curds. Now read further as one APC writer breaks down the absurdity of this article's premise.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

As we all know, the Patriots are a team run by super-mega geniuses who have been patiently lulling the entire NFL into a false sense of security by not winning a Super Bowl for a decade. They sit in a dark room in a Harvard secret society mansion built by Templars who defeated their enemies by making secret wax tube recordings of their plans. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who have been to as many Super Bowls as New England in that time frame (and unlike the Pats, actually managed to win two) are probably super over-confident at this point. The plan is working.

And why mess with a good plan? The Patriots cunning strategy of intentionally losing to potential Super Bowl rivals hit a crescendo on Sunday in the much-hyped battle with the Green Bay Packers, a game that the Patriots easily could have won, according to Eric Wilbur of The great Bill Belichick? He plays the long game. Why blow all of your best stuff in a meaningless game in late November when there is a 10% chance that you will face this team in the Super Bowl?

Sure, this loss gave the Pats the same record as the Broncos and brought several other teams into striking distance of home field, but it will all be worth it in the end when the Belichick calls the REAL plays in the Super Bowl.

It's funny. Most fanbases are at best skeptical and at worst openly loathe their head coach. In New England though, you get the creepy cult of Bill Belichick, which leads to columns like....

In Loss to the Packers, Bill Belichick Lulls Green Bay Into a False Sense of Security

Eric Wilbur, who wrote this after a clear overdose of Belichick Kool-Aid, is in bold. I am not.

Right where he wants them.

If your goal is to fool people by losing, then Marc Trestman is doing a much better job than Bill Belichick.


Again, the Patriots lost this game. And as I will show in a moment, it wasn't actually as close as New Englanders seem to think. It's been two months since the Patriots lost, so you can understand at least some of the angst that festered on Sunday night throughout New England. No worries.

The Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots will meet again, in Glendale, Ariz., on Feb 1, 2015. That matter became more of a likelihood than a proposition after Sunday.

The NFL playoffs are often a complete crapshoot. A one-and-done tournament in which even the best team will still have a less than 50/50 shot of making the Super Bowl. Saying that two teams are likely to face each other in the Super Bowl is simply ridiculous. Perhaps the Packers and Patriots are a more likely matchup than most other matchups, the odds of that specific matchup are quite low. (Per Football Outsiders, about 10.2%)

This time around, it was the Packers getting the best of New England, 26-21, a game in which the Patriots never led against the otherworldly Aaron Rodgers (24-of-38, 368 yards and two touchdowns) and unstoppable Green Bay offense, yet it felt like New England was one big play - or one big stop - from escaping from Lambeau Field with its 10th victory of the 2014 season.

I listened to the Bill Simmons podcast yesterday because I am apparently a masochist, but also to hear what an illogical Patriot fan had to say about the game. He was of a similar mind, that the Patriots were just a play away from winning and had the Packers right where they wanted them. He too thought that Belichick "kept the game plan vanilla" so as not to give too much away. I am a Packer fan and I'm certainly not immune to homerism in its basest form, and it is occasionally good to hear opposing spin.  In this case it was also hilarious.

It is, I suppose, literally true that the Patriots were a big play or two away from winning the game, but it is just as true (and I would argue more likely) that the Packers were a play or two away from turning this into a blowout. For every Rob Gronkwoski "drop", as Bill Simmons called it, there is a Davante Adams drop. And a Mason Crosby miss. And Aaron Rodgers just barely overshooting Adams. And Aaron Rodgers just missing Nelson. And Julian Edelman trucking his way to an ill-gotten pass interference penalty which turned a punt into a touchdown. The Packers got some breaks, but the Pats got as many, if not more.

Looking at specific plays that maybe could have gone another way in an alternate universe is silly anyway. If you want to know who was in control of the game consider that:

  1. The Packers outgained the Pats 478-320.
  2. The Packers' win probability was never below about 62% for the game.
  3. The Pats had 8 drives. They punted 4 times and missed a FG. The Packers had 9 drives. They scored on 6 of them, missed a FG on one, ran out the clock to end the game on one, and punted only once.

It was oh, so close.


Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady nearly hooked up with a diving Rob Gronkowski in the end zone on New England's final possession, but the ball came loose from the hulking tight end's hands at the last second.

On a nice play from Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. There are these guys who play defense in a football game...

Minutes later, the Pats' defense confined the Packers to third-and-four

Oh no! Not 3rd and short! The Packers never convert that!

at the Green Bay 43-yard line only to watch Rodgers and Randall Cobb hook up for seven yards.


Look at how he treats these two plays. Gronkowski is an absolute beast, but this was a 20-yard pass to a well-covered Gronkowski. Tom Brady isn't exactly a good deep passer and this wasn't exactly a high-percentage attempt. The pass to Cobb on the other hand, only needed to gain four yards. Randall Cobb is shifty and has great hands. He is built for short conversions like this. Between these two plays the Packers were much more likely to have a successful outcome.

"I think that sucked," Brady said in the aftermath of CBS cameras catching him pushing the PG-13 boundary just a bit further immediately following Cobb's catch.

I hope his tears don't destroy the suede on his Uggs.

The Patriots lost their third game of the season at Lambeau Field, where the Packers are now 6-0 this season, and are averaging 41 points per game. In all, losing by five points was a pretty damned good showing.

Fine. But then we get this...

Imagine what might have happened had Patriots head coach Bill Belichick not saved his game plan for the Super Bowl rematch.

That's right! The Pats have a SECRET PLAN that they're saving for the Super Bowl rematch. That plan looks like this:

Belichick rules all
Edelman is a decoy
Not too much passing
Gronkowski doesn't drink too much
Ha Ha now thinks he can handle Gronk
Aaron Rodgers is due to throw an interception
Zone except for Revis
Illuminati Belichikus Lucror

Is there any other reason why Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels elected to run the ball only 18 times against one of the NFL's worst rushing defenses on Sunday?

There are many, yes. First of all, the Packers led for the entire game, and when playing from behind you tend to pass more, especially when the clock is a factor. Second, the Patriots actually weren't that successful in running the ball. By my count only 8 of 17 runs were successful (meaning they made it more likely that the Pats would pick up a first down). Blount had memorable carries of 13, 13 and 12 yards, but he also was stuffed on a 3rd and 2, and had carries of 3, 2, 3, and 1 yards. Brandon Bolden had some nice early success, but he was also stuffed for -1 on the Patriots' final drive, putting them in a terrible position. Shane Vereen failed on all 3 of his carries. Part of the explanation is simply the situation, but part of it is that the Packers actually did a decent job stopping it.

How to explain Belichick not going for it on fourth down at a couple opportune moments in the first half, even knowing you risked giving the ball back to a quarterback in Rodgers who was doing donuts around the Patriots' secondary?

Because he took a calculated risk and gave the ball back to a quarterback who was doing donuts around the Patriots secondary?

Why else would Belichick decide to have Stephen Gostkowski try for a 47-yard field goal, down by five, instead of going for it on fourth-and-18 with 2:40 remaining, a decision that quickly became the 2014 edition of "4th and two" in the immediate aftermath of the loss?

Because converting a 4th and 18 when your quarterback is a lousy deep passer is a low-probability play, and if you make the field goal you only need a stop and another field goal to win the game. And also because the Patriots had had very little success throwing the ball that deep against the Packer secondary in this game.

He knows. It has to be that easy to explain.

It's pretty easy if you're not an idiot who thinks a coach was trying to lose a game.

Why unleash your arsenal for a November game against an NFC opponent you're likely to face exactly two months from Monday?

Sure, who cares about maintaining home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs? You can totally just piss games away in a 16-game season.

The most glaring evidence that the Patriots approached this game with something other than their "A" game, was the 35-to-18 pass-to-run ratio, even as LeGarrette Blount (58 yards on 10 carries), Brandon Bolden (17 yards on three carries and a touchdown), and yes, Jonas Gray (four yards on one attempt) provided some semblance of rhythm in the limited amount of times they were asked to do something.

See success rate above. They were OK, but pretty boom and bust, and the busts hurt.

There was little to dislike about the Patriots' running attack other than that there wasn't more of it against a team that came into the game ranked 30th in the NFL against the run.

The Packers are bad against the run, but it's partially because they don't care. They know they will put up a bunch of points and that you will need to pass to keep up, so they concentrate scheme and personnel on stopping the pass. The Pats are a good running team, but Brady's inability to throw the ball deep with any accuracy really hurt them against the Packers, as they could then keep most of the defense close to the line of scrimmage. It's easy to see a solid yards per carry average and assume the running game was effective, but that wasn't really the case in this game.

Clearly you can't give the Packers too much of a taste of what's waiting for them in Glendale.

Look, I've kind of glossed over this a bit so far, so I just want to say that holding back on a team because there's some small chance you will face them in the SUPER BOWL is asinine. Losing this game hurt their chances of actually reaching the Super Bowl FAR more than any small bit of strategic advantage it might provide in the unlikely event that they're even facing the Packers in the Super Bowl. They now have the same record as the Broncos and are just a game ahead of the Colts and Chargers. They play in San Diego next week and should they lose the Chargers would pass them.

In their own division, this loss kept Miami in striking distance which is of some concern as the Dolphins already own a win over the Patriots. It is incredible that this is an idea that is taken seriously by anyone. And by the way, if your coach isn't trying to win the game at hand, your coach isn't a genius, he's an idiot.

"We had our moments. We had some good runs, just like they did," Belichick said. "They had some good runs. They had some runs that weren't very good. We had a couple runs that weren't very productive."

See, this is what I was saying about success rate. Bill knows the deal.

Hello, Shane Vereen (six yards on three carries).

Vereen was awful, but Blount actually failed on 5 of his 10 carries too.

"I wouldn't say that's taking it away, but we could've run the ball better," Belichick said.

The Patriots averaged 4.7 yards per rushing play against the Packers. They averaged 4.5 yards per carry last weekend against the Lions. The Patriots also ran the ball 20 times against Detroit, which owns the best run defense in the NFL.

So, why run it fewer times against an inferior unit?

Yes, why indeed? Curious. The Patriots ran the ball more last week and won in a huge blowout. Running must cause blowouts! Eureka! I should call Mike and the Mad Dog and yell about this as loud as I can!

As it turns out, had this sportswriter actually bothered to watch the New England-Detroit game, he might have noticed that the Patriots built a huge 27-9 lead in the 4th quarter, and that 10 of their 20 runs came in the 4th quarter while trying to kill the clock. In fact, 8 of those runs took place on the Pats' final drive. There was nothing atypical about the Pats. They were winning, and like all teams with a late lead, they were running to shorten the game.

All in the plans, folks.

Sorry Detroit fans. Bill Belichick doesn't think you'll make the Super Bowl enough to tank against you. He's probably right.

There were factors, however, even beyond Belichick's Jedi-like control.

Remember when the Jedi were super cocky and incompetent and got outsmarted by the Emperor and were completely wiped out, and the galaxy fell under the boot of a terrible tyrant for decades? Yeah, me neither. God those movies sucked.

When Julian Edelman exited the game with a thigh injury, it was evident that Brady lost a bit of the rhythm he had discovered in the first half.

Maybe he hurt himself running directly into Tramon Williams while attempting to draw a penalty.

The third-down sack on the Patriots' final possession turned out to be a killer, but perhaps not as backbreaking as when Darrelle Revis was flat-out burned on a Rodgers pass to Jordy Nelson that went for a 45-yard touchdown and a 23-14 Packers lead at the half. It was the most staggering play in a heartbreaking work of genius.

Hey you wrote "staggering" so then you wrote "heartbreaking work of genius" to make everyone think you managed to actually read a Dave Eggers book. Nice. And by "heartbreaking work of genius" I assume you mean "losing on purpose."

"You know, I felt it was a push-off," Revis told reporters after the game.

Well that's a good excuse, even if there is absolutely no evidence on tape that Nelson pushed off at all and it's clear Revis simply got torched, if it were true no one could blame...

"But at the same time I'm not going to use that as an excuse.

You're almost as bad at not making excuses as you are at covering Jordy Nelson on a deep slant.

"He made a great play. There's two great teams playing. I have a lot of respect for Jordy, Aaron Rodgers and their whole wide-receiver group. He made a great play and scored at the end of the half."

And if, if only, Gronkowski could have held on in the end zone, would it have mattered? Or would Rodgers simply have marched down the field one more time and rip out the Pats' triumphant hearts one more time?

Given that the Packers only punted once all day, probably the latter.

The Broncos beat the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday night, 29-16, to pull even with the Patriots at 9-3. But New England still holds the tiebreaker over Denver, with San Diego (heart attack winners in Baltimore Sunday), and the triple dregs of the AFC East remaining in December. The Broncos have the Bills at home, and the Chargers and Bengals on the road before the season-ending win over the Raiders.

I think this is meant to show that the Broncos have a more difficult schedule, but the ⅔ of the "triple dregs of the AFC East" have winning records and one, the Dolphins, already has a win over the Pats.

But if you're Belichick, you take your chances with San Diego, and trust that there won't be another late-season hiccup against Miami, New York or Buffalo that could put that home-field advantage in jeopardy.

Sure you're only 3-3 on the road this year and you have to travel to the West Coast to face the 8-4 San Diego Chargers, and you have to play a Dolphin team that already beat you once, but it's probably safe to assume you never lose again.

Because if you're suddenly playing in Colorado in mid-January, then as far as moral victories go, Sunday's loss at Green Bay becomes a hell of a lot more hollow.

But in Bill we trust, and all that jazz.

You do really want to avoid going to Denver though. The New World Order lives under their airport.

"Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback. Coach McCarthy does a good job with their football team," Belichick said. "They are tough to beat. We had our chances, we just couldn't quite get enough plays there at the end or throughout the game. Again, I had to tip to hat off to the Packers, they did a good job. It's a good football team."

Rodgers was unstoppable this time, but next time it's going to be different. After Sunday, who wouldn't like the Patriots to keep up with the Packers on neutral turf, not to mention without Desmond Howard?

Sure you were hugely outgained and never really stopped the Packers from scoring, and really were just a few drops away from being blown out completely, but what's not to like?

"I just wish we would've won this one," Brady said. "I think we put a lot into this one. This was a great test for us."

Preliminary test. They don't put the hard questions on the practice exam, which, in the end, was all this entertaining showdown ended up being. A taste.

We're the New England Patriots. We don't waste time trying to win in the regular season, we save it for the playoffs which is why we never lose to Jake Plummer-led Broncos teams. It's why we've NEVER lost a playoff game to Peyton Manning's Colts OR Broncos. We're never ever at risk of missing the playoffs completely. Our hall of fame quarterback is never outdueled by inferior quarterbacks, and can overcome even the greatest defenses.

Maybe if the Packers followed this plan, they wouldn't have so much trouble with the Giants in the playoffs. Ever think of that? Huh?

And it was delicious.

Ah, the sweet taste of delusional failure.