By PATRICK SLACK
If someone had told me before Sunday’s Super Bowl that in the final minute, one team would punch in a go-ahead touchdown, only for the other to come within a foot of hauling in a last-second Hail Mary pass, I would have been ecstatic.
As often as not championship games fail to live up to the hype.
But when the deciding play is a guy falling down backwards because the other team wanted him to score, it takes away a bit of the luster.
Here were a few of the takeaway points I had from the game:
For some reason NFL head coaches are not good with the challenge flag.
Chalk it up with faulty clock management and running 3rd-and-15 draws for things they just can’t help themselves with.
One of the biggest mistakes is the proverbial “challenge because the other team just made a great play that was clearly legitimate, but you wish it wasn’t.”
That’s essentially what happened on Mario Manningham’s 38-yard circus catch on the New England sideline, smack dab in front of head coach Bill Belichick.
The Giants had the ball deep in its own territory, down 17-15 with about four minutes to play.
Now, it might have been difficult for Belichick to see in full time. Maybe.
But watching it in full speed from home, I could tell he had his feet in. It wasn’t even that close.
New England’s booth should have known it was too, but even if they didn’t, one or two replays ought to have convinced them.
Nevertheless, Belichick challenged.
Sometimes there’s no choice but to do this, like if your team is down by 10 with a couple of minutes left and you just fumbled at your own five.
But the Giants were only going to have the ball around midfield and the Patriots would have still had all three of their timeouts.
Instead, they lose the challenge and a timeout, which turned out to be critical because …
Up 17-15, the Patriots let the Giants’ Ahmad Bradshaw score a touchdown with 57 seconds to play, leaving New England with one timeout and a prayer of marching down the field for a touchdown.
I can only imagine the praise that would have been heaped on Belichick if this had worked, given how much he received for thinking to take an extended break during a practice to simulate Madonna’s halftime show, when in reality this was the only feasible strategy.
But the bigger play in the sequence was this:
Giants have the ball, 1st-and-goal at the 6-yard line and a minute to play.
Run up the middle, stuffed, timeout.
Why did New England not think to let the Giants score on first down and keep a second timeout.
Being a coach is all about giving your team the highest percent chance of winning, and giving Tom Brady a second timeout would have greatly outweighed the slight possibility of knocking the ball loose on first down.
Supposedly the ultimate game planner, Belichick failed to think of what I have a handful of times playing Madden on my computer:
If the opponent has the ball inside your red zone and you don’t have enough timeouts to keep the clock from running down to about, oh, 20 seconds or less, just let them score.
Had Belichick not frittered away the first timeout on the Manningham challenge, it’s an entirely different scenario.
The Patriots can try to stuff the Giants, use their timeouts and only be down by one point with about 45 seconds left, needing only a field goal to win.
But plain old rotten game management by Belichick helped lead to the Patriots’ demise.
I normally can’t stand when quarterbacks throw up their arms when receivers drop passes, especially when those same guys have to lay out their bodies to make acrobatic catches to make them look good.
However, if the game is going to be framed as Brady losing to Eli Manning, the play of the receivers has to be taken into account.
With the Patriots going down the field for a potential clinching score, Wes Welker dropped a catchable, if unremarkable, throw.
On the final drive, Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez also couldn’t haul in passes.
Manning, on the other hand, had Manningham deliver his superb catch to spark the game-winning drive.
Brady’s wife Gisele Bundchen may have been blasted for saying that her husband can’t throw and catch the ball at the same time, but she was certainly right.
And that is something that people who insist upon judging quarterbacks strictly by wins should keep in mind.
Good call having Madonna wear sleeves.
It’s hard to enjoy a concert when it’s a 54-year-old woman singing that’s more ripped than you.
Hall of Fame hysteria
No Hall of Fame compares with Major League Baseball’s.
Can’t be argued.
The main reason is that baseball has clear numbers that people can relate to when judging who should get in: 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, 300 wins.
When someone says that Johnny Unitas threw for 40,239 yards and 290 touchdowns, it sounds nice, but I can’t wrap my head around what it means.
That leads to wildly differing, often laughable, opinions on who should be enshrined in the NFL’s Hall.
Earlier this season, a talking head said that the Vikings were bringing in a future Hall of Famer in Donovan McNabb.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I didn’t get that vibe from watching him this year.
But that doesn’t compare to the case for New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin.
Coughlin just earned his second Super Bowl championship which puts him in elite company.
But I can’t get past the fact that in both seasons the Giants snuck into the playoffs with a 9-7 record.
Both years the Giants also needed a miraculous catch in order to put together a come-from-behind drive.
In my opinion, legends are created in one or two memorable moments, not Hall of Famers.
Football fans will remember David Tyree forever for his catch four years ago, just like baseball fans remember Kirk Gibson for his walk-off homer against Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series.
But Coughlin is not even one of the top five coaches of his time with a career winning percentage of .555, which doesn’t even equate to a 9-7 average record.
To even consider him for the Hall is absurd.