Bernie Bytes: Spygate fallout lingers for Patriots
• BY BERNIE MIKLASZ, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist
Bernie Bytes: Spygate fallout lingers for Patriots : Stltoday
Extra Points from the AFC and NFC Championship Games …
The New England Patriots have won three Super Bowls with the heralded combination of coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. Rams fans don’t need to be reminded of their first triumph; the frustration of losing Super Bowl 36 to the Patriots is lodged in the memory banks.
Belichick and Brady are excellent at what they do. They’re certain Hall of Famers, at least in my opinion. But it’s interesting to note that New England hasn’t won a Super Bowl since Belichick got nabbed in the “Spygate” cheating scandal in 2007. (If you are new to the story and need a primer on Spygate, just Google it.)
A former Patriots employee accused the Patriots of videotaping the Rams’ walkthrough the day before Super Bowl 36, but the NFL dismissed the allegations after a quick investigation.
The Patriots won three Super Bowls in four seasons (2001, 2003 and 2004) and were viewed as the latest NFL dynasty. But since the Super Bowl victory over Philadelphia at the end of the ’04 season, the Patriots have gone 8-7 in the postseason and have lost two Super Bowls. The trend has worsened lately; the Patriots are 3-5 in their last eight postseason games, and three of the defeats occurred at home.
The Patriots, despite being the favorite in all of these postseason games, haven’t been able to finish things off and capture a fourth Lombardi Trophy.
That said, a point must be made here: it’s not as if the Patriots fell apart after losing the advantages provided by secretly videotaping opponents’ sideline hand signals during games. Belichick was fined $500,000. The franchise was fined $250,000 and stripped of its first-round pick in the 2008 draft.
The NFL shut down the taping early in the 2007 season. Since the start of the ’07 season, the Patriots are 76-20, which is easily the league’s best record over that time. Green Bay ranks second at 66-30.
And Brady’s career regular-season record as the Patriots starter is astonishingly good 136-39.
But the Patriots’ playoff failures certainly raise some curiosity. It isn’t easy to win postseason games. The NFC hasn’t had a team repeat as champion since Green Bay in 1996-1997.
The power has been more consolidated in the AFC. Until Baltimore smacked the Patriots into the offseason with a 28-13 win Sunday, the AFC had been under the control of the Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts since the 2003 season. Those three teams took turns winning AFC titles, with New England claiming four, Pittsburgh three and Indianapolis two since 2003.
Maybe this is karma. It’s easy to dislike the Patriots and be jealous of their success. But they have to live with the Spygate scandal, and it comes up every time the Patriots fall in the postseason.
After Baltimore clobbered the Patriots Sunday, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs popped off to the media, and needled the Patriots with insults. Suggs noted the Patriots failure to win a Super Bowl since Spygate and called it “funny” (as in suspicious).
Until and unless the Patriots can win another Super Bowl under Belichick and Brady, the fallout of Spygate will linger. It will be cited by those that are convinced that Belichick can’t win a Super Bowl unless he cheats. Is that fair? It doesn’t matter. That’s just the way it will be.
Let’s take a look at the four quarterbacks that performed on Sunday:
• Brady will be 36 by the start of next season. He’s won more postseason games (17) than any QB in NFL history. His regular-season play continues to set a standard of brilliance, but his postseason trend isn’t handsome. Since that last Super Bowl conquest Brady is 8-7 in the postseason, and has come up short with games on the line.
• In the seven losses, Brady has 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and a mediocre passer rating of 75.
• In the fourth quarter of the seven postseason defeats, Brady has completed 53 percent, with three TDs and five INTs and a terrible 61.6 passer rating.
• And then there’s Brady’s poor 58.2 passer rating in the fourth quarter of close games in the seven losses
• You have to wonder, just a little, if the window is closing on Brady and the Patriots.
Moving on …
• OK, everyone (please) hush with the nonsensical debate over Baltimore QB Joe Flacco. Is he an elite quarterback? Yes. No. Yes. No.
• Here’s the deal: Sunday’s win at New England was the 6th postseason road victory of Flacco’s career — and he’s played only five NFL seasons. The six postseason road wins are the most by a quarterback in NFL history.
• Has Flacco benefited from a strong Baltimore defense? Sure. Is he fortunate to be able to throw the ball to wideouts Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pita? Absolutely. The Ravens also have a strong offensive line, a very good running back (Ray Rice) and a proven winner for a coach. Flacco has a lot of built-in pluses, enough to make other QBs envious.
• But in the postseason, a QB’s role takes on added significance. He makes big plays, or he doesn’t make big plays. Flacco gets it done. And if you think this is happening because he has good teammates, then take a look at Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and ask why he’s gone 1-4 in the postseason. The Falcons aren’t short on talent.
• Flacco is 8-4 overall in the postseason.
• In his six road wins Flacco has a 95.0 passer rating with 9 TDs and 1 INT.
• In the fourth quarter of the six road wins his passer rating is 118.6.
• Three of the six road wins have been close in the fourth quarter, and in those three situations Flacco completed 8 of 14 passes with 2 touchdowns and a 132.4 passer rating.
• If that isn’t elite, pray tell: what is?
• Flacco didn’t play well in two of the Ravens’ six postseason road wins, but no one can hit him with that charge during the current postseason. Flacco played a major role in eliminating Indianapolis, Denver and New England — three teams that went a combined 36-12 during the regular season.
• Flacco played a major role in the three wins by outplaying Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Brady. In the three games Flacco had 8 touchdowns, no INTs and a passer rating of 114.7. Meanwhile, Luck, Manning and Brady combined to throw 4 TDs and 5 INTs and had a collective passer rating of 68.8.
• It was natural to expect Flacco to outplay Luck. The game was in Baltimore, and it was the first NFL postseason game for Luck, the acclaimed rookie.
• But to win the AFC championship, Flacco had to beat Manning in Denver and Brady in New England. Done. Flacco went on the road and won in Manning’s house, Brady’s house. In the two victories he completed 39 of 70 passes for 571 yards, with 6 TDs and no interceptions for a rating of 111.1. The combined Manning-Brady passer rating in those games was 73.8, and they were picked off four times.
• To update a stat from Friday’s Bytes: Flacco is now 6-4 in postseason road games. Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Brett Favre, Brady and Manning have a combined record of 13-29 in postseason road games.
• Elite? Please.
Moving On …
• Here’s the scary thing about San Francisco ***** quarterback Colin Kaepernick: you pick the style of game, try to play it on your terms, and he’ll still beat you. Well, at least that’s the lesson from the Niners’ postseason wins over Green Bay and Atlanta.
• When the ***** shredded the Packers 45-31, Kaepernick went full throttle. He was aggressive with his downfield throws, passing for 263 yards and two touchdowns. More than anything, Kaepernick ran the read option to perfection, rushing 16 times for 181 yards and two touchdowns. The Packers never adjusted, never seemed to know what to do with Kaepernick.
• Atlanta, however, had a plan: Kaepernick wouldn’t be allowed to run wild. The Falcons were on alert, cognizant of Kaepernick’s read-option capability. In San Francisco’s 28-24 win, Kaepernick rushed twice for 16 yards. For whatever reason, the *****’ wideouts weren’t able to get open downfield, so Kaepernick adjusted. The Falcons left the tight end uncovered, so Vernon Davis became Kaepernick’s favorite target. The Falcons were going to take away the deep ball, so Kaepernick had to be patient, and pick away. And that’s what he did in an impressively efficient performance, completing 16 of 21 for 233 yards and a TD (with no picks.) Kaepernick completed 7 of 9 passes during the *****’ second-half comeback.
• In toppling Green Bay, Kaeperick displayed the marvels of the moving-QB offense that’s trending in the NFL. But at Atlanta, Kaepernick had to play a more standard, customary game. He set up in the pocket and made smart decisions.
Moving On …
• Matt Ryan: he has started five postseason games, and his team has lost four of them. We can cite a number of reasons for this, most notably a defense that turned soft. But quarterbacks are judged in the postseason. The grading curve can be harsh. And Ryan is 1-4, and that includes a 1-2 mark at home. He’s done good things; the comeback drive to beat Seattle was special. But against the *****, when Ryan tried to bring the Falcons back at the end again, he made some puzzling decisions on where to go with the football once the offense moved into the red zone.
• In the four postseason losses Ryan has 6 touchdown passes and 5 interceptions, and that TD-INT ratio won’t cut it. Ryan was awful in the second half Sunday, helping the ***** get back in the game and in position to win after trailing 17-0 and then 24-14. Ryan’s second-half INT was an example of bad luck, because his receiver slipped. But there was no excuse for Ryan fumbling a snap in the shotgun formation and giving the ***** the football.
• The Niners didn’t convert the INT or the fumble into points, but the turnovers were damaging to Atlanta. The Falcons needed to reassert control, but kept messing up second-half drives to give the ***** a chance to steal the win. Not counting the final play of the game, Atlanta had only four possessions in the second half. One was a three-and-out drive. Two ended on turnovers. And the fourth, which ended at the SF’s 10-yard line, was terminated by questionable Ryan decisions.
• OK, one non-quarterback note. Atlanta had better re-examine its second-half strategies in the Seattle and San Francisco postseason games. The Falcons outscored the Seahawks and Niners 44-14 in the first half. But in the second half the Falcons were outscored 42-10 and gave up 511 yards. And both games were at home, in a very loud domed stadium where the visiting teams face a disadvantage.
Thanks for reading …