Many football fans, when commiserating, one might even say whining, about a particularly painful loss by their team will talk about bad breaks, lucky plays by the opponents, fortune or even the alignment of the stars that took the game away from their beloved home team. You'll never hear me say that about a Giants loss (well almost never) and you will especially not hear me say that about this past week's game against the Eagles. Before we summarily dismiss that statement about luck, however it is worthwhile to spend a few minutes to define what we mean by luck in a football game. Sometimes it would be a fortuitous bounce of the ball, a blown call by an official, a remarkable play by a player who has never been known to make such a play in the past, or a play that has almost never been known to happen, is extremely rare and happens at the exact right moment in the game. One example from this current NFL season that nobody could argue with calling it lucky, might be the end of the Jaguars game a few weeks ago. The score was tied and only seconds were left in the game. The Jaguars had the ball out near midfield and decided to take one last shot into the end zone, what has become known as a Hail Mary and tossed a long ball that barely reached the goal line. The defender on the play was in perfect position, jumped and instead of trying to intercept the ball, batted it down with a strong forward motion of his arms so it would fall incomplete and send the game into overtime. Incredibly, the ball did not hit the ground, but it went directly into the arms of a Jaguar player, who caught the ball and walked into the end zone for the winning TD. Was this luck or skill? Obviously, the QB had to throw the ball a great distance to reach the end zone and the WR had to make an unbelievable catch to hold on to the batted ball. But there is no arguing that this was a lucky bounce of the ball and it occurred at a crucial moment of the game. This play had a remarkably low chance of success, say 1 in 100, and it happened. That is luck. Looking back at the Giants 2007 Super Bowl, we can say that the David Tyree helmet catch, in this context, should be considered a lucky play. Eli is not known for his scrambling and managed to elude a near sack with Patriots players getting their hands on him and Tyree was not known as a great WR, yet made a great catch on the play. Once again, the idea here is that the play had a very low probability of success, for argument sake, let's say 1 in 100, but it worked nonetheless. Being a student of probability and statistics, I assert that one could definitely argue that a similar result, despite extremely low probability of success worked for the Eagles on Sunday. There were 5 or 6 plays that all had low probability of success for the Eagles on Sunday in the 4th quarter, and every one of them, consecutively, worked. The fumble by Manningham, where no defensive player stripped him, he dropped the ball near the sideline and the ball which could just as easily have rolled out of bounds was recovered by the Eagles; the scramble by Vick, where Grant had him sacked and he ducked under his tackle to run for 30 yards; the scramble by Vick on 3rd and 10 from the 12 yard line, where he ran for 35 yards; the 65 yard pass play to Celek where Phillips went for the ball instead of the tackle; the punt return by Jackson where he dropped the ball, then picked it up and ran for a TD to end the game. All five of these plays were a result of great skill and tenacity by the Eagles, but all of them also had a relatively low probability of success. For argument's sake, if we assume a probability of success of each one of 25%, then the overall probability of all five of them succeeding is 1 in 1024. Enough probability.... my point is that the Eagles took the game from the Giants; it was skill, not luck. But they did need some good fortune to have all these somewhat unlikely events to occur, and they needed every one of them to fall into place in order to win.
The flow of the game and the foregoing analysis might even be considered to be a little misleading, because the Giants and Eagles are two teams that are built differently. the Giants are constructed more like an old school team. Classic drop back passer, power running game and an offensive philosophy that believes in balance between the pass and run, rather than relying on big plays. The Eagles, on the other hand, definitely are not your grandfather's football team. They have an offense that is completely predicated on speed, a running QB and making big plays. With that kind of team, they are not going to slowly and methodically move down the field and gradually build a big lead. Rather, they are all about the big play and are more likely to have games like they did Sunday - where they look weak at times on offense, because their speed players can't overcome the power of the defense. But then they find a little crack in the defense, a mistake, a bad angle and their speed and explosiveness takes a 5 yard play and makes it 35. They take a 20 yard play and take it all the way. The Giants defense dominated through 3 1/2 quarters, but then the mistakes they made were all capitalized on by an Eagles team that is built to do exactly that.