More Super Bowl Analysis

Comparison to Broncos – Packers in SB 32

Many people are pointing out the similarity between last night's final touchdown and the situation in Super Bowl 32 between the Packers and Broncos. I’ve previously written about that game, and I agree that the right thing to do was to allow Denver to score. With about 1:47 to play and the score tied at 24, the Packers allowed Tyrell Davis to walk into the end zone for the go-ahead score. The Packers got back possession but were unable to move the ball on their first series of the drive. The Broncos went on to win.

So why should Belichick’s decision to allow the touchdown be considered gutsier than Holmgren’s? The primary reason is that in Belichick’s case, his team had the lead. The Patriots strategically forfeited a Super Bowl lead. Had they forced a field goal attempt and it was missed or blocked, the Patriots would have won the game. In Holmgren’s case, the best case scenario for the Packers was a tie. Had they held the Broncos scoreless at that point, they still would have likely needed overtime to win.

Although the ultimate effect was the same in the two situations, the notion of intentionally forfeiting a lead is qualitatively distinct from allowing a team to break a tie. It’s instinctively more difficult, and therefore I believe required ‘more guts.’ (Or in Deadspin parlance, it was "ballsiest".)

The second reason was the game situation. The Broncos had a second and goal at the 1 with about 1:47 left on the clock, and a touchdown was a very likely outcome anyway. In the Patriots’ case, a Giants touchdown was far less assured. Belichick’s decision also relied on the faith that the Giants would not take a knee at the one as they should have. From the 1, there was no risk that the Broncos could get any closer, making the FG any shorter.

Was the Giants’ 12th man penalty intentional?
That's hard to believe. If so, I’m not sure it was smart. If the Giants were able to intercept the ball to end the game, it would have been called back. Interceptions are not uncommon in desperation end-game drives. Perhaps the smartest thing for Brady to do was spike the ball as quickly as possible. I’d suspect that if he did see the flag fly on the snap, he was thinking it was an offside call. In any event, most people would consider an intentional violation of the rules unsportsmanlike. It turns out Coughlin wasn’t even aware that taking a knee at the one would have been the smart thing to do. He nearly cost his team a Super Bowl win by bungling that, so I doubt the Giants sideline was outthinking the world enough to gamble by putting an extra man on the field.

On the Giants’ 2-point conversion

It was smart. There was only time for a maximum of one more score. A last-second Patriots TD wins the game either way with a 4, 5, or 6 point lead—except in one case. With a 6-point lead and a Patriots TD, the game would be tied in the tiny likelihood NE misses the extra point. I've read some debate about what if the Patriots return the kickoff for a TD. If the 2-pt conversion fails and the Patriots go up by 3, now a NYG FG only ties it. True, but the Patriots would be smart to just accept the touchback because no time would come off the clock.

On the Giants' timeout

In a close game, timeouts are priceless. I've done some unpublished research on this topic and in most cases taking a 5-yd penalty for delay of game is preferable in the second half of close games. In some situations on the periphery of field goal attempt range, or when a 3rd and 1 might turn into a 3rd and 6, it may make sense to use the timeout, otherwise save it.

My favorite radio guy, Steve Czaban, made the point eloquently this morning: When used properly, timeouts should be treated like coupons redeemable for 40 seconds of game time. If you’re down by a score, think about the difference between the win probability at zero seconds remaining (which is zero) and with 40 seconds remaining (which is much better than zero in almost all circumstances. That's what a timeout might be worth in terms of WP. There are additional benefits to preserving at least one timeout, including preserving the option of challenging a play and keeping the middle of the field tactically available in a final drive.

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33 Responses to “More Super Bowl Analysis”

  1. Josh says:

    I saw some video this morning; it looked like one Giant defender was trying to run off the field and didn't make it to the sideline before the snap.

  2. ASG says:

    Still don't agree with a flat out declaration that there was only time for a maximum of one more score. If the Pats scored on the 1st or 2nd play (they were very close to a ~35 yard pass on their first play), it is possible the Giants might have had time for a FG of their own.

  3. JG says:

    @ASG - I think the odds of the Pats scoring in 1-2 plays are very slim when playing against a prevent-type defense. The whole point (and sometimes the significant downside) of the prevent is to prevent big plays at all costs. The Pats' best hope was to get big chunks (20 yds a time).

  4. JG says:

    Re the Giants time outs, I ordinarly agree that teams take time outs far too often to avoid delay-of-game penalties (especially in the 2nd half, when TOs are more valuable). But watching the game, I couldn't kill the Giants for either TO on the ultimately ill-fated drive in the 4th quarter. Both, I believe, were on 3rd downs where the 5 yards made a big difference. The first time, they converted the first down on a 3rd and 1 that otherwise would have been a 3rd and 6. The second time, they had a 3rd and 5 that would have been a 3rd and 10 (and subsequently became one after the false start, which was the drive-killer, but that doesn't go to whether the time out itself was a good thing). In hindsight, of course, they looked really bad because the drive wound up failing, but at the time, the situations in question were high-leverage ones where the 5 yards made a big difference.

  5. dand says:

    Would it have been illegal for a NE player to push Bradshaw into the endzone?

  6. Martin says:

    1 decision I haven't seen anybody mention is the fact that Giants took an XP on their first TD.

    Had they gotten 2 points they were up 10. If they didn't get it, they would put NE in a though spot if they had gotten a TD. A 9 point lead doesn't do anything, except making it a two possision game

  7. Anonymous says:

    dand -- Yes, if he had still been standing, he could have been shoved in by NE. But if he had slid or taken a knee, the play would have been over immediately.

  8. ASG says:

    @JG - May be you weren't watching the game but the pass that was incomplete to Branch but that would have taken Branch to the 45 minimum with one guy to beat.

    (see around 7:25 of highlight here:

  9. Matt W. says:

    I've often thought it's a big hole in the rules that a defensive team can commit a penalty late in the game with little downside. Say a trailing team has second and goal from the other team's half-yard line with 10 seconds in the game. In this situation, there is essentially no harm for the defense in committing any kind of penalty to prevent a score. If it's a pass, the defense can hold, interfere, attack the receivers with nunchuks, it doesn't matter. As long as there's no TD and 5 or 6 seconds wind off the clock, there's no harm in getting a penalty. They ought to look into adding the time back on the clock for situations like this. In the Giants' case, they could have sent 15 men out on defense, as long as they're not in the huddle, as that would result in a whistle before the play. Even if they make an Int. that's called back, it would wind even more time off the clock.

  10. spybloom says:

    Matt W.: The game can't end on a defensive penalty, however. In your situation on the half yard line all it would accomplish for the defense is delay the (possible) score and make them more tired by having to run a play over and over, even if it doesn't count. I see what you're saying, though, in relation to the play last night; taking an intentional penalty with the end zone 80ish yards away and little time. Strategic, but not very sportsmanlike ever something the nfl should think about.

  11. Joe says:

    "It was smart. There was only time for a maximum of one more score." I still think this analysis includes a lot of hand-waving. It's not possible to have two lead changes in the final minute of the game? Instead we're going to place our faith in the much more common missed extra point? How soon have we forgotten this, not quite the same situation, but perhaps even more unbelievable:

  12. Brian Burke says:

    First of all, it's certainly not "a lot" of hand waving. You make a worthy point but an instantaneous TD when a team is in full prevent is still going to less common than a missed XP.

  13. Matt W. says:

    Spybloom: If there are *ten* seconds left with the ball at the half-yard line, that's almost assuredly *two* plays, since the offense is certainly going to do something quick, like a fade pass to the corner.

  14. Jonathan says:

    So after the Bradshaw blunder, should we now tell runners to take a knee at the two yard line to run out the clock?

  15. Kulko says:

    Which also has the advantage of minimising any chance of a shove attack by the defense.

    NOw that would be a funny picture, aq Rugby like huddle, withe the defense trying to shove the player forward and the offense fight back,and the runner not able to bringt down his knee because he is just stuck in there.

  16. wolfie says:

    I think the best strategy would be to take a knee at a point as close to goal line as possible and then try for a touchdown on 3rd down and if you get stopped then do the field goal

  17. Anonymous says:

    Just admit that you completely forgot about Green Bay giving up the touchdown in their Superbowl win against the Broncos. This follow-up defense of your first article is weak sauce -- didn't you say that the Giants were 96% likely to succeed if they kicked a field goal?

    You've lost quite a bit of credibility with this latest post, as far as I'm concerned.

  18. Brian Burke says:

    That's the most asinine comment of the day.

    First of all, that's a false statement. My original draft contained references to both the Packers' SB play and their similar situation against CHI last year. They were both removed for brevity, one by me and one by the editor. Deadspin specifically asked for "a couple of paragraphs" and my post was already too long.

    Second, my job title is not "football historian." My job title is "I get to write whatever the hell I like, and you get to read it for free if you want."

    I usually let anonymous cowards take swipes, but I will always draw the line at cheap shots at my character. This isn't that kind of site. You know where you can go shove your take on my credibility.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Wall Street Journal also commented about the end-of-game, quoting Brian's competitor.

  20. Snowbody says:

    Brian -- any chance of adding "timeouts remaining" to the WP calculator for the 2012 season?

    A simple way to do it would be to split the games up into 9 categories depending on how many timeouts each team had.

  21. Phil Zimmermann says:

    its your site, you can do what you want, but can you run the numbers on the probabilities behind the 2 point conversion?

    As I see it, it would be:

    probability of making the 2 + probability of Pats missing a 2 point conversion + probability of winning game in OT


    probability of KO being returned for TD + probability being able to go the other way and get a FG with 1 TO and about 50 secs or so

    seems like we could put numbers on all those probabilities and calculate, (you seem to be able to do that all the time)

    -just a lowly peon who enjoys your work

  22. Brian Burke says:

    Snowbody-I've done preliminary work on that, but it's extremely complex to do it 'head-on'. There are 16 possible TO combinations (0..3)^2. I have the data and know the general WP effects of TOs. But when you slice things up into distinct situational groups (time, score, field position, etc.) the data gets really thin, even with a decade or more of games.

    Phil-Fair request. Are you the PZ of PGP fame?

  23. Phil Zimmermann says:

    I wish

  24. Whispers says:

    "A 9 point lead doesn't do anything, except making it a two possision game"

    That's a huge "except" there.

  25. Will says:

    I agree with Matt W. to a certain extent. It's a similar situation when defending 2 pt attempts: there is little downside to committing pass interference if that's what it takes to stop the conversion. The defense may not intentionally cheat, but they may play a lot more recklessly late on the goal line with the lead.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Just read your comment about the Giants that they were lucky to get to the super bowl. Wel I guess I'd rather be lucky than good!! Also I guess how the Giants doesn't come into play. The best team won!! So much for you stats and the soft schedule the Pats played this year.


  27. Brian Burke says:

    They were lucky.

    And good: In case you missed it, I had the Giants as slight favorites to win.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Funny how offended people get when you use the word "lucky" to describe a team winning. People are far less offended if you state that a team was "fortunate" to win, although they usually carry the same meaning.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Both teams were lucky to play in the Super Bowl. In a 1 and done tournament, there is a huge amount of luck involved.

    P.S. I don't see how, "Belichick’s decision to allow the touchdown be considered gutsier than Holmgren’s?"
    Belichick had less time. He had no other choice. His chances of winning went from 1% to 11%.

    Actually, the fact that he didn't do it a play before that, on first down, cost him a timeout, and probably a 4th championship.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Re: the 12th man

    The remedy against the intentional 12 man defense is to spike the ball - no time lost, no down lost and one gets the yards. Of course that means that in addition to everything else the QB must think about, he has to count men.

    Re: other intentional penalties.

    Let's say that Team A is on defense. There's a blown coverage leaving the opposing WR 20 yards open down the sideline when Team A has its bench. A man comes off Team A's bench to swat the ball away. What would be the penalty? 5 yards for too many men? Or could the officials award the TD?

  31. Steve says:

    That would probably be an "unfair act" and they can award whatever they please. The refs are like the Supreme Court, they can technically rule whatever on a judgment call but tradition tends to keep them in line. One rare case where they deviated on purpose was that controversial Pitt-Miami game in 2010 where the rules said it was a TD, they said no TD and Pitt ball and common sense said no TD and Miami ball.

  32. Jonathan says:

    Probably, the Giants would have won either way. Even the wrong decision would have lead to a high WP in favor or NYG.

  33. Anonymous says:

    A defensive penalty in the final minute is dumb and there is no strategic advantage to it. It stops the clock even if declined. Once Brady saw the flag, the play should have been to throw to the middle of the field, since declined penalty operates as a timeout, rather than a long developing high risk play like that downfield throw.

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