1. Why did the Patriots Lose?
Tom Brady had an off day when his team couldn't run the ball and the Broncos could then stack their deck against his passing game. Plus the Broncos' Wes Welker knocked out the Patriots' best pass defender, Akeem Talib, with what in pro basketball would be a flagrant two foul for a moving pick on a pass thrown to another receiver. That's conventional analysis and it's right as far it goes. But it ignores the fact that at least twice Brady's receivers got behind the Denver defense enough to score, but Brady overthrew both of them -- two potential touchdowns off the scoreboard because of unforced errors by the Roger Federer of football. What was really going on? Well, Brady had been hearing all year that his arm strength was on the wane -- that he could no longer throw the long ball. So he set out, even before the game was played, to assert that his arm was just fine. Which it was, except he seemed to forget he was throwing at Mile High stadium -- and that high was altitude, not Colorado legal pot. The ball just goes farther, Tom, especially when you might be motivated to prove your arm strength. As for Talib, lesser quarterbacks than Peyton Manning have beaten the Patriots with Talib in the lineup, so Manning presumably could have prevailed without Welker's hit, which wasn't even flagged for a penalty.
2. Why did the San Francisco 49ers lose to Seattle?
Here again, conventional wisdom boils down to three turnovers by the Niners' quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the fourth quarter which gave Seattle the lead and then the win. He said so himself. This despite that fact that Kap single-handedly (or more accurately, two-footedly) kept the Niners in the game by his running in the first three quarters, and had kept them turnover-free during that time as well. Are there larger truths, however, than Richard Sherman's choke sign to Colin? Let's start with the fact literally every postgame analyst his missed -- the 49ers really missed their "Swiss Army Knife" fullback, the injured Bruce Miller. Miller was the trusted lead-blocker for Frank Gore, who was held virtually yardless for the entire game and thus put the burden on Kaepernick to be the running game on his lonesome (as well as the passing game). Everyone else they tried at fullback was playing out of his natural position, and they all failed. Miller was also the trusted last line of pass-blocking defense in the two-back set that Kap had been passing well from late in the season before Miller got hurt.
3. Miller also tripled as a valuable check-down pass receiver.
In short, his was a pivotal part of the base San Francisco offense, and might well have even saved Kaepernick from the strip-sack turnover deep in Niners' territory early in the fourth quarter -- because he would have picked up the looping rush from the left defensive end as Kap was trapped by the contain on the other side -- a smart adjustment the Seahawks had made to cut-off the Niner quarterback's successful run -- left the throw back right strategy that had cut into the Hawks vaunted three-deep coverage several times. Miller was as big, if not bigger, a loss to the Niners as Percy Harvin was to the Seahawks -- if the Hawks had lost, everyone would have said they missed Harvin badly, as their quarterback, the talented Mr. Wilson, was inconsistent in the passing game except for two instances where San Francisco fell asleep -- the Baldwin run-around and the Kearse end zone grab on the free-play offside hustle when SF's line froze as if the whistle had been blown and the safety forgot to cover deep.
4. We also have to remember that the hometown ref (literally, he resides in Tacoma -- how could the NFL be so stupid as to assign a local to ref that game unless they really do have it out for Harbaugh?) blew two calls at least against the Niners.
The most egregious of which was the "running into the punter" penalty that lost the Niners possession when it should have been a "roughing the punter" penalty and retention of possession because the Seahawks rusher clearly and unambiguously crashed into the punter's "plant" leg, not his kicking leg. Either ref was so dumb as not to know that basic rule, or he "saw" something that simply didn't happen -- maybe he was focusing on Tacoma. Either way, that indefensible mistake led directly to Seattle's go-ahead touchdown (which of course the aforesaid momentary zombie act by the Niners' defense clearly aided and abetted). Note: The NFL hasn't even attempted to defend that call, but they are apparently too embarrassed by it to offer a fair acknowledgment of the error either.
5. Finally, there is the idea that Kaeparnick obviously was the goat of the game because of the pick he threw into "double coverage" against Richard Sherman - a truly great defender who holds on most plays but not this one - without looking for other openings and with too much of a rush with time and timeouts left on the clock.
Again, the truth is not in the conventional wisdom. With a hat-tip to the analysis of NFL Films' Greg Cosell, we now know two indisputable facts: (1) At the time the quarterback let go of the throw, no other receiver was open -- the right side trailer (#11 Quinton Patton) only came free after Kap let go of the pass. (2) Again at the time of the throw, the Seahawks' left defensive end was busy plowing the 49ers right tackle right into Kap's body, to the point where he couldn't follow through enough on the throw to put it at the back end zone pylon, where only Crabtree could reach it. Kaepernick himself said that's where the throw should have gone, but he covered for the quick breakdown of his pass protection by shouldering the blame himself -- a real stand-up guy for his team, compared to say, Richard Sherman, who made the play but lost the plot. And, by the way, if Bruce Miller had been in to block...
Terry Connelly is an economic expert and dean emeritus of the Ageno School of Business at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. Terry holds a law degree from NYU School of Law and his professional history includes positions with Ernst & Young Australia, the Queensland University of Technology Graduate School of Business, New York law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, global chief of staff at Salomon Brothers investment banking firm and global head of investment banking at Cowen & Company. In conjunction with Golden Gate University President Dan Angel, Terry co-authored Riptide: The New Normal In Higher Education.
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