The last time I wrote a column for GoPats.com, the 15-2 Patriots were preparing to go on the road to face the 16-1 Steelers in the AFC Championship game. The Patriots went on to win that game as well as Super Bowl XXXIX over the Eagles for their 2nd straight Lombardi and 3rd title in four years, yet I didn't write a column.
The following season the Patriots went 10-5, clinching the #3 seed in the AFC prior to playing what essentially was an exhibition game loss at home to the moribund Miami Dolphins to finish 10-6. The loss to the Dolphins was the famous Flutie "drop kick" game, which was followed by a 28-3 home playoff win over the Jaguars before the Patriots self destructed in Denver in their quest for a three-peat. No column addressing the questionable pass interference calls? No column following the uncharacteristic unforced fumbles? Nothing of the would-be touchback following Ben Watson's all out hustle play after Champ Bailey's 99-yard interception return? No mention on GoPats.com that the Patriots should have been hosting the AFC Championship game at home against the 6th seeded Steelers? Nope.
The following season saw the soap opera like departure of Deion Branch to the Seahawks in exchange for a 2007 1st round draft choice following a bitter contractual dispute. The Patriots finished 12-4, clinching their 4th straight AFC East title and 5th division crown in the past 6 seasons. Despite a pedestrian WR core, the Patriots won 6 of their final 7 games that season, including back to back road games in weeks 16 and 17 over the playoff contending Jaguars and Titans. Again the 3rd seed in the AFC, the Patriots dispatched the NY Jets at home 37-16 and traveled to the West Coast the following week to upset the heavily favored San Diego Chargers. The Patriots jumped out to a 21-3 lead in the AFC Title game in Indianapolis, only to lose in the final minute, 38-34. Anything to say on GoPats.com throughout this season? Nope.
The Patriots then moved on to the most celebrated offseason in franchise history. They acquired Randy Moss and Wes Welker in trades, and signed the marquee free agent on the open market in LB Adalius Thomas. Talk of 19-0 was buzzing back in April of 2007. No column. The Patriots began the season 8-0, outscoring their opponents 331-127. That's an average margin of victory of better than 41-16. This set up perhaps the biggest regular season game in NFL history with the Patriots visiting the 7-0 defending Champion Colts. I flew to Indy with my then 5-year old son for that game, buying tickets in the front row of the endzone off of stubhub.com. The Patriots emerged with a thrilling 24-20 come from behind victory in what was dubbed "Super Bowl 41.5," but still no column.
Now in mid November, the Patriots would have to win 7 straight games outdoors in the Northeastern climate to go undefeated in the regular season. I was in Buffalo for the first of those 7 games, and in the Meadowlands for the last. The Patriots had gone 16-0, the best regular season record NFL history. The Patriots offense had shattered the record books, and Tom Brady and Randy Moss had set NFL records tor touchdowns thrown and caught, respectively, with 50 and 23. Still no column.
Abuzz with the prospect of the first 19-0 team in league history, it had been written for weeks that the one team the Patriots didn't want to see was the Jacksonville Jaguars, and justifiably so. In beating the Jaguars 31-20, Tom Brady set an NFL postseason record in completing 26 of 28 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. Less we forget, his two incompletions were dropped balls. Laurence Maroney chipped in with 122 yards rushing on 22 carries and a rushing touchdown. The Patriots had dispatched the "one team that could beat them" in dramatic fashion.
The following week against the Chargers the defense held the Bolts to 12 points on 5 trips inside the red zone. The Patriots won 21-12 to go 18-0 with their defense proving that perhaps the offense didn't deserve all of the headlines. Scary. The Patriots went on to Super Bowl XLII as 12-point favorites over the Cinderella 5th seeded NY Giants. 18-0 and still no column? Nope.
The Patriots were now 18-0. I had been to 13 of the 18 games in person, and even my 5-year old son had been to 5, including the one road trip to Indy. How into football can a 5-year old be? He was one of 2 quarterbacks on the "undefeated" 10-0 Shrewsbury (MA) Colonial Tiny Mites. I rightfully put "undefeated" in quotes, because we aren't suppose to keep score in the Tiny Mite division. Yeah sure. I therefore spent a small fortune on 2 tickets to the Super Bowl, because as a former Fan of the Year and 23-year season ticket holder who hasn't missed a home game since 1991, I took my rightful place in line behind the club seat holders and corporate America when the face value seats were allotted.
The day after the AFC Championship game my son fractured his femur in a tuba-slide accident and had emergency surgery. A few dozen phone calls later and I had managed to exchange my tickets for wheelchair seating. There was no way a broken bone was going to stand in the way of one of the greatest father/son sports moments that a fan can have. I told my son that when he was in his 90's someday in a nursing home, he'd be telling his roommate "I was there." As Patriot Nation waited through the bye-week and "Ankle Gate," still no column.
For 18 and 59/60ths games of the 2007 season, the Patriots did the impossible. Football truly is a game of inches, yet even an inch seems an infinitesimal measure when compared to what today separates the 2007 Patriots from being the greatest team of all time from the yet-be-be-invented adjective for a team that has a devastating 18-1 season.
I am not here to discuss Brady's ankle injury. I am not here to question the offensive game plan, nor lament the in-game injuries to Randall Gay and Stephen Neal. I will not wonder aloud at the failure of the Patriots offensive line to pass protect for the first time all season. I don't see any relevance whatsoever in the failed 4th and 13 attempt early in the 3rd quarter, and less so in the 2nd quarter would-be fumble recovery by Pierre Woods on the Giants 30-yard line.
So what then is it that compels me at 2 a.m. on March 16, 2008, to sit down and write a column? Simply stated, Super Bowl XLII was the worst loss in the history of team sports. Why? After winning 18 straight games in taking a 14-10 lead with 2:49 to play in game 19, the Patriots were gift wrapped the perfect season on the Giants final drive and could not remove the bow.
For starters, let's talk about the officiating on that final drive. With 1:59 left following the 2-minute warning, the Giants faced 3rd and 10 at their own 28 yard line trailing 14-10. Manning completed a 9-yard pass to Amani Toomer and the officials stopped the clock at 1:40 to measure to determine if Toomer's catch was good for a 1st down. The chains were brought onto the field and the spot was a solid yard short of the 1st down. The officials signaled to wind the clock and 6 seconds ticked off before the Giants snapped the ball on 4th and 1 from their 37-yard line with 1:34 remaining.
The handoff went to Brandon Jacobs who upon a solid 2nd effort reached across the 38-yard line for a 1st down. The clock was stopped at 1:22 as the officials were unsure as to whether a 1st down had been gained. Not needing a measurement, referee Mike Carey signaled a 1st down 22 seconds after the clock had been stopped at 1:22. The game clock, however, was not restarted and prior to the next snap was even reset to 1:28.
Following the 1st down signal the Giants huddled behind the line of scrimmage, came up to the line, and snapped the ball. Manning dropped back to pass and was flushed to his right where he then scrambled for 5 yards, nearly fumbling the ball as he was brought down by Adalius Thomas. When the whistle blew after the play, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was out on the field feverishly signaling for a timeout which was granted at 1:20 on the game clock.
What this means is that only 2 seconds had elapsed from the game clock between the time that Mike Carey had signaled the 1st down following the prior play and Tom Coughlin calling timeout following the subsequent play. What on the game clock had taken 2 seconds in actuality was just over 40 seconds - 40 extra seconds given to the Giants.
On the 3rd down play to Toomer when the rules of proper clock stoppage and restart were followed after a measurement, 25 seconds elapsed off of the game clock. The next play, after which there was no measurement, 2 seconds elapsed from the game clock. The Giants were afforded, at a minimum, an extra 40 seconds of game clock on their final drive. The total elapsed time from the conclusion of the Jacobs run to the Coughlin timeout was 65 seconds. Note that the drive's final play, a 13-yard touchdown pass to take the lead, took place with 0:39 left on the clock with the Giants out of timeouts. The Patriots first play from scrimmage following the ensuing kickoff took place with 0:29 left on the clock.
Just two plays after the clock error, the Giants faced 3rd and 5 from their own 44 yard line with 1:15 left in the game. Manning dropped back to his 37-yard line where he found himself in the grasp of Patriots DE's Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green. Replays from behind the play clearly show Giants center Shaun O'Hara with his right hand inside of Seymour's facemask. When Manning finally escaped Seymour's grasp. Seymour's head had been pushed all the way back such that he was looking straight up toward the roof of University of Phoenix Stadium as the would-be sack slipped through his grasp. As if having his hand in the defenders face was not enough, O'Hara was behind Seymour, reaching around him with his right arm before Manning broke free. Likewise, Jarvis Green's defender was also squarely behind him pushing his back, not throwing a block between Manning and Green. Just to the right of the play, Adalius Thomas has a facemask full of white glove as well, as he had beaten his defender to the inside (the defenders left). Thomas subsequently got nowhere near Eli Manning. Had either of these penalties been called, the Giants are looking at anywhere between 3rd and 15 to 3rd and 20 with just over a minute to play in the game. I am not going to get into the miracle catch on the same play by David Tryee other than to give Tyree all of the credit in the world for making arguably the greatest catch in NFL postseason history.
Was the clock blunder an inexcusable gaffe from the officiating crew with just over a minute left in one of the most historic Super Bowls ever? Absolutely. Did the Giants offensive line commit penalties on the Tyree pass play that are called 19 time out of 20 outside of the final minute of the Super Bowl? Yes. Did either of these officiating errors cost the Patriots the game? That is impossible to say. Had the Giants instead been forced to use their 1st timeout following the Jacobs run, it would have been 1st and 10 at the Giants own 39-yard line with just over 1:20 to play with 2 timeouts remaining. The Giants would not have been as rushed to get the next play off, and who is to say what would have transpired after that? Manning could have thrown a 61-yard TD pass on the next play or the Patriots could have wrapped up the 1st 19-0 season in NFL history. We'll never know. Likewise had a penalty been called on the 32-yard pass to Tyree or had the pass simply gone incomplete - the argument of "what if's" is simply not fact based.
What would have ended the game? Without question had either Asante Samuel or Brandon Meriweather come up with a bit more than routine interceptions on the final drive, the game was over. Does the fact that neither player was able to end the game make Manning any less culpable for throwing the passes? The knock on Manning is that he throws the killer interception at the crucial time in the game - and he did it in the final drive of the Super Bowl - TWICE, and that count is independent of the jump ball/hail mary he threw into the middle of the field. Had Harrison rather than Tyree come down with that football, Manning's career in NY was over. How that man got MVP over David Tyree or the Giants D-Line is more suspect than an Iraqi election.
So if any of this sounds like sour grapes, well yes it is. I challenge you to find fans of any other team in the history of sports who were left at the altar in such fashion. After Brady's 4th and 20 pass went incomplete with 0:01 to play, I spun my son's wheelchair around like a top and we left the stadium as if it were on fire. There is a Tom Brady SBXLII jersey in my closet that I wore to the game. I can't even bare to look at it let alone ever wear it again. Dan Shaunessy of the Boston Globe wrote a piece stating that this loss does not even crack the top 10 of the most heartbreaking in Boston sports, let alone all of team sports. What Shaunessy fails to mention, however, is that's because he personally could care less that the Patriots were seconds away from global immortality and blew it. No Bucky Dent or Aaron Boone home run nor ball through Bill Buckner's legs ever cost a team that. The Patriots could win the next 5 Super Bowls in a row, all over the Giants, and that will not erase the sting of this loss. Nothing ever will.
Much like our beloved 2001 Patriots, the 2007 Giants were not the best team in the NFL yet won when it counted. They deserve all of the credit in the world, and my dribble above is in no way meant to steal their thunder.
Why then did I spend the wee hours of Sunday morning writing my 1st column in over three years? Because I had to, that's why. I just had to. Putting this into words is just one part of this lifelong Patriots fan's 12-step program to recovery.
Did I mention that the 2008 Patriots only play one team at home next season that finished 2007 with a winning record? Did I mention that if the Patriots can manage to win on the road next season In Indy, Seattle, and San Diego that they could…. Did I say above that nothing could erase the sting of this loss? I meant to say "almost" nothing.
There. You see. I feel better already. I hope you do too. Go Pats.
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