FG or TD ?
In my last post and in many Super Bowl postmortems, people have been analyzing over and over again whether Bradshaw should have sat down at the 1 foot line instead of scoring the winning TD. This would have forced the Patriots to spend their last timeout. Giants could then have taken a knee on 3rd down, let the full 40 seconds run off the play clock before 4th down and call a timeout with 18 seconds left in the game. Then, they could have kicked a FG, which would have consumed another few seconds, leaving the Patriots less than 15 seconds to field the kickoff, run a play to get them to the Giants 35 yard line, and line up to kick a FG, all of which is nearly impossible. Of course, scoring the TD was not that bad a choice either, because of the need for Patriots to score a TD and their inability to do so because of the near complete absence of a vertical component to their passing game. Let me expand on this last point. I read a really interesting article on one of the football-statistics web sites which do a really good job looking beyond the simple statistics that we all absorb. The statistics confirmed what I had asserted in some of my earlier posts, that Brady simply does not throw the ball down the field anymore and scoring a TD with 57 seconds left was really difficult for a Brady led offense. Of course, he did manage to get one heave into the end zone, so they did have at least a chance, but the statistics about Brady are revealing. In 20006, 2007 and 2009, Brady attempted more than 60 passes each year that traveled more than 20 yards in the air. However, in 2010 and and 2011 when the Patriots went even more to the spread offense feeding the ball to Welker and the TEs on dinks and dunks, Brady attempted only 36 and 45 of these 20+ yard passes. This year he was 13/45 on these 20+ yard throws, for a completion percentage of 28%. By contrast, Eli attempted 96 passes longer than 20 yards in the air and competed them at a 37% rate. So - forcing Brady into a deep passing game by scoring the TD and forcing the Patriots to do so was not the worst situation to be in either.
Some of my buddies who are Jets fans insist that the Giants were lucky to have won the Super Bowl. Their premise: first - Giants fumbled 3 times and did not lose any of them; second - Welker dropped a pass he catches virtually all the time -as Collinsworth said on the broadcast, "Welker catches that ball 100 out of 100 times" and catching that ball would have put the Patriots in position to win the game.
First a discussion of the fumbles: while it is true that the bounce of the ball is random after a fumble, therefore making its recovery also a random event, it is certainly no worse than 50% for each team. The Giants showed great hustle following the plays, which is what you are coached to do, just in case a ball does come out. The recovery of the fumbles was less luck than the fumbles themselves. Two players fumbled, Bradshaw and Nicks, that had not fumbled at all the entire year. So while one may consider the recovery a chance event, it is a 50% recovery chance, while causing the fumble for these two players who handled the ball 247 times during the season without fumbling is a much less likely event. The fumbles were the lucky plays, not the Giants recoveries. The first of the fumbles should not even be considered, because the Patriots had 12 men on the field which gave them the opportunity to send an extra defender at Cruz and strip the ball from him. The penalty nullified the fumble, so it did not count.
As far as the Welker drop, this is even a more interesting analysis. As mentioned above, Brady rarely attempts passes that travel longer than 20 yards in the air, which this pass to Welker was. Since 2007, Welker has caught 554 passes in the regular season and only 11 of them were on passes thrown 20+ yards in the air. That is less than 2% of the passes thrown to him, and one of those passes was in 2008 from Matt Cassel when Brady was out for the season. It gets more interesting for the playoffs - in 7 playoff games together with Brady, Welker does not have a single reception > 19 yards. Perhaps, when the defenses get better, as you would expect them to in the playoffs, Brady and Welker pull in the oars even more, get more conservative and don't have the accuracy / range to complete those longer throws. Welker is short and quick. He is nearly impossible to defend on those short 5-8 yard throws and because he is so quick, he can elude defenders and with YAC turn those plays into longer gains. However, he is short and cannot extend his body, stretch and reach to catch a deeper ball that is other than perfectly thrown. A big receiver with long reach can make a bigger adjustment on the ball and pull in a ball that is further away from him, which a short receiver, like Welker cannot. It's absurd that Collinsworth said that Welker makes the catch 100 out of 100 times, when he has caught only 10 such passes in the last four years and none in the playoffs. It was not luck for the Giants - it was an extremely low percentage play for the Patriots.