The game itself

1-0 Super Bowl, 7-4 playoffs. I don’t think too many NFL team owners are pulling out their hair about their decisions to pass up the opportunity to hire Charlie Weis or Romeo Crennel. They’re both very good coordinators, but their play-calling is by no means flawless. The Patriots should have sewn up the game much earlier, but for Weis’ usual habit of getting whacky at inopportune times. This led to the direct loss of 6 probable points, with a poorly-timed reverse that knocked them out of field goal range and the interception in the end zone at a time when three points would have hurt the Panthers badly.

I was surprised that New England’s secondary broke down so badly in the second half. They weren’t hitting very hard compared to the game in Miami, and both Muhammed and Proehl were so open on their touchdowns that it looked as if Delhomme was playing Madden on the Rookie setting. Then again, it’s possible that New England was willing to let Carolina score quickly in order to get the ball back, as Green Bay did with Denver a few years ago, although they were rushing pretty hard for that to have been the case. Regardless, Carolina scored too soon.

It was a good game, to be sure, but it shouldn’t have been. And was Vinatieri pulling a Kobe Bryant to make things more exciting for himself, or is Reliant just a house of voodoo for him? Four indoor misses and they’re all there? What are the odds? But the biggest surprise had to be the bargain bin New England offensive line, which delivered its third consecutive sackless performance, this time against a front-four widely considered the best in the league. They, not Brady, should have been the MVP.

I also thought it was strange that Fox was considered to have been aggressive in going for two. I didn’t see it that way at all. I thought it was what TMQ calls a fraidy-cat move, telling your defense that you don’t trust them to get the ball back or at least hold New England to a field goal. That decision may not have made any difference as they lost by more than two in the end, but it’s impossible to say for certain. Unless you’re a total psycho who goes for two automatically, save it for when it’s necessary and then have a play ready. That direct snap to Kevin Faulk, for example, was brilliant.

As much as I think it was New England’s breakdowns that kept the Panthers in it, I was very impressed by Jake Delhomme’s cool and ability to bounce back from a bad start, the Panthers’ stubborn defense and John Fox’s patience with the run. I expect them to be in the playoff hunt next year as well. Another great NFL season comes to an end… sigh. Only six months until we start talking fantasy drafts….