As we were watching the Patriots eek out an ugly victory against the Chargers yesterday, a friend and I couldn't help but think that some of the Pats victories have come because their opponent played timid at a crucial point. As of now, we've termed it "gutless" football because instead of going all out against arguably the best team in NFL history(ugh, it really pains me to type that), they play it safe, hoping to minimize the damage at that point in the game.
Exactly what am I talking about?
Think back to the Jacksonville/New England game last week. Heading into the fourth quarter the Patriots held an 11 point lead. On their first possession of the final quarter the Jaguars drove 86 yards, used up 5:16 of the clock and settled for a 25-yard field goal. At that point, the momentum had shifted over to New England, as they had outscored the Jags 14-3 in the third quarter. Instead of going for it on 4th and goal from the 7-yard line and cutting the lead to 4, possibly 3 with a successful 2-pt conversion, they played it safe. The Pats responded with a field goal of their own, and won the game by 11.
Obviously hindsight is 20/20, but the Jags had to be ready to score a touchdown on every possession, especially that late in the game down by 11. However, they chose to play it safe, and ultimately lost the game.
The same thing could be said about San Diego yesterday. With about 12 minutes left in the game, and New England leading 21-12, the Chargers faced a 4th and 10 from New England's 36-yard line. At that point on the field, they were looking at about a 54 yard field goal. A distance that Kaeding had made one out of two attempts over the course of the season. Sure there was a lot of time on the clock, but the Chargers had to know that they had a very limited amount of possessions left. They had to make the most of them, especially because they were down two scores. However, instead of going for the first down, or kicking the field goal, they chose to punt the ball down to the Patriots' 13-yard line. New England responded with a 15 play drive that killed the remaining 9:13 on the clock. The Chargers never had a chance to get one more score, let alone the two they needed to win the game.
Like I said, it's easy to be critical of a team's playcalling after the game is over. However, this New England team is capable of scoring a touchdown on every possession, and teams have to be aware of that. They can't be scared of giving up good field position, or putting their defense in a bad spot. Last I checked, those don't explicitly determine the winner of the game, though the amount of points scored does. Teams have to be willing to take some risks in order to keep pace on the scoreboard with the Patriots. Hopefully the Giants learned that from their first meeting with New England, and they'll follow that course of action during the Super Bowl. Otherwise, they'll just end up as win number 19 for the Pats.