The Patriots' defensive game plan involved frequent use of a front Manning hasn't seen much -- an 8-1-2 with all receivers against press coverage. This unusual front was worth a try, but alternated with a funky two-defensive lineman look, allowed 507 yards of offense and an 8-of-14 conversion rate on third and fourth downs.
Belichick made a puzzling decision by ordering a punt from the Denver 39. Sure, it was fourth-and-16, but you don't defeat the league's highest-scoring team by punting in its territory. Belichick made a really puzzling decision when with New England scoring to pull within 23-10 with 9:23 remaining, he had the Flying Elvii kick away. Belichick has never cared for the alternative -- only one recovered onside kick in his many years at New England. But what choice did he have? The ball went back to the league's best offense, and soon the lead was 26-10.
As for the Broncos, as usual they had a creative play for the goal line. Reaching second-and-1 on the New England 2, the Broncos lined up heavy left and ran outside left. Stuffed, they faced third-and-1 on the New England 2, and again lined up left and ran outside left, reaching first-and-goal. Again they lined up heavy left -- then faked an outside run left, Manning rolling right to toss an easy touchdown pass to the backup tight end. Denver's other touchdown came on a really pretty goal line zed-in to Demaryius Thomas -- the zed-in is the Canadian version of a z-in.
Denver has faced many third-and-short situations in the playoffs, and every time gone for a super-short possession play rather than thrown deep. Back in the day, Bart Starr thought third-and-short was the best down to throw deep. Seattle plays so tight on receivers, will Denver be able to complete super-short possession passes on third-and-short?
One of TMQ's themes this season has been the warning that scoreboard-spinning teams tend to peter out at the last. Until this season, the highest-scoring NFL team ever was the 2007 Patriots. They averaged 37 points per game in the regular season, then dropped to an average of 26 points in their two home playoff games, then scored 14 points in their Super Bowl loss. This season, the Broncos became the highest-scoring team ever. They put up 38 points per game during the regular season, then dropped to 25 points during their two home playoff games. Will the third part of the pattern repeat?
Tinkering with Kickoff, Try and Onside Rules: Last week TMQ proposed doing away with the kickoff -- the scored-upon team would start at the 25, which is generous to the receiving team because the average returned kickoff reaches the 23 -- and also eliminating the singleton PAT kick, making all tries two-point attempts. My reasoning was that eliminating kickoffs would reduce concussions, while requiring two-point attempts would add back roughly the amount of excitement lost with no kickoffs. The PAT kick is the dullest moment in professional football -- more than 99 percent succeed -- while the kickoff is the most dangerous moment. So fix both in one fell swoop, whatever "fell swoop" means.
My alternative suggestion was to eliminate kickoffs, then after touchdowns, give the scoring team the option of going for two from the opponent's 2-yard line (the current deuce try) or kicking for one with the ball spotted on the 35. That would add all kinds of strategy to the second half, and sports fans love statistical analysis.