Guest Post by D’Bickataw Purgaton
*Editor’s Note: The following piece has been slightly edited from its original content.
Let’s stick to our theme of John Clayton articles that vaguely have to do with the Jets-Steelers game. Friend of FJC Susan Shan recently wrote about how aggressive play calling worked for Mike Tomlin — going with a pass play with less than two minutes to go to ice the AFC Championship game instead of running the clock and punting. Unfortunately, in her effort to prove a point of comparison between Tomlin and known loser Marty Schottenheimer, she linked to… you guessed it. John Clayton.
Am I really going to do this with a four-year-old column about the 2006-07 AFC Divisional Playoff Game? You’re damn right I am. This one’s called “Patriots teach Chargers a lesson in playoff football.”
Schottenheimer may not have gone as conservative in his offensive play-calling as in past playoff eliminations, but the failures against the Patriots hit on a striking theme.
Please don’t say that they played not to lose.
The Chargers played not to lose.
The Chargers called 19 first-down running plays for LaDainian Tomlinson, including five in which he gained 11 or more yards.
Handing the ball off to your all-world, record-setting superstar playmaker running back — the best player on your team and maybe in the league — is now called playing not to lose.
In case you forgot about the legendary season LT had that year, let me remind you. He rushed 348 times for 1,815 yards — a 5.2 average — and scored 28 (TWENTY-EIGHT) rushing touchdowns. The Chargers “played not to lose” all year by handing him the ball all the way to a 14-2 record.
LT rushed 23 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns in that AFC Divisional Playoff Game. Do you know what Philip Rivers did in that game? No? That’s probably because Clayton refers to him one time in the entire article. So what did Philip Rivers do? He completed 14 of 32 passes for 230 yards (64 of those by LT), no touchdowns and an interception. He also lost a fumble.
Consider for a moment that, as Clayton says, 19 of LT’s 23 carries were on first down. That’s gotta make you say, well, how about second down? In San Diego’s 19 second-down plays over the first 59 minutes of the game, they passed 13 times. (I’m not even including the final drive here.) The few times they ran it were almost all in short-yardage situations. They ran the ball on second-and-long ONE time. Never have I seen such commitment to the run game!
But go on. Please. Be my guest.
Belichick and Tom Brady were all over the place. Brady couldn’t find his rhythm in the first half so they junked some two-tight end sets and went to a three-receiver offense, sprinkling in some no-huddle once he got a rhythm.
This is actually the very next sentence after the one about LT, so apparently, it’s further proof of the Chargers playing not to lose.
The Chargers continued playing not to lose, while the Patriots just tried to make enough plays to be one play ahead of San Diego at the end of the game.
In a span of five sentences, the Chargers have “played not to lose,” run the ball for double-digit gains on first down multiple times, and “continued playing not to lose.”
Brady was awful for all but the final drive of the first half.
Guess he was playing to lose at the time.
The Chargers executed a solid, conservative game plan. Tomlinson was great on first downs, but the Patriots defense wasn’t concerned as long as Tomlinson didn’t bust long touchdown runs. Tomlinson wasn’t going to beat them with 10-yard runs.
LT’s 22nd of 23 carries went for his second touchdown of the day, giving the Chargers a 21-13 lead at the time. He was beating them with 10-yard runs; thanks to him, the Chargers were able to sustain drives all day long. That “solid, conservative game plan” of handing the ball off to arguably the best player in the NFL that year was working perfectly. Can you imagine if Schottenheimer called for Rivers to throw the ball 50 times? Clayton would have ripped him a new one for not handing the ball off to LT, guaranteed.
Eventually, inexperienced playoff quarterback Philip Rivers had to make a play, and the Patriots were ready to stop him.
This is literally the only mention of Philip Rivers in this article.
So let’s get this straight. Running the ball with LT roughly 50% of the time (we’ll throw out the last all-pass series because it was in desperation mode) is a “conservative game plan” and “playing not to lose.” What the Chargers should have done instead, Clayton implies, is have “inexperienced playoff quarterback Philip Rivers” throw the ball more than the 32 times that he did, even though “the Patriots were ready to stop him.”
Kind of sounds like they’re screwed either way.
The Chargers led 14-3 and could have started running away with the game.
San Diego never had the ball when leading 14-3. Never. Not for one play. They scored to go up 14-3, then the Patriots marched right down the field and scored to make it 14-10 before the half.
In the second half, Brady completed 18 of 32 passes for 177 yards. Sure, he threw three interceptions on the game. But Belichick kept trying to let Brady improvise and make the plays that would eventually let the Patriots win.
Sounds like Brady was better in the second half. Seems like that might be why the Patriots won.
As he has done so often in these big games, Schottenheimer played the field-position game.
Oh, this is a nice new angle. Too bad it’s a pile of nonsense.
The Chargers’ average starting point was their 37, but they had three possessions that started at midfield or in Patriots territory. The Chargers had a touchdown and two punts in those possessions. The Patriots had six starts inside their own 20.
The first such drive started, indeed, at midfield. The Chargers ran the ball on first down. (So conservative! No other NFL coach would do that!) Rivers then threw incomplete twice and they were forced to punt. One run and two passes.
In the second of those three drives, the touchdown-scoring one in the second quarter, the Chargers went for it on fourth down (playing not to lose!).
In the third such drive, leading 14-10, the Chargers ran the ball three times, got a first down, then took a holding penalty, threw an incomplete pass, and ran the ball second-and-19 (a good play with the defense playing prevent that ended up not working), only to get called for a penalty.
So they were faced with a third and 19 at New England’s 28-yard line. It’s about a 46-yard field goal from there with traditional playoff choker Nate Kaeding.
As an NFL coach, you’re faced with two options on this play. Either you run it, figuring that the Patriots are most likely going to be in prevent defense, allowing you to pick up, say, six or eight yards and get into easier field-goal range, or you try a low-percentage play to try to get if not a first down, at least close enough to go for it on fourth down if you need to. The conservative play call here is to run it and kick the field goal to go up by seven points.
What’s Schottenheimer do? He calls for a pass, Rivers is sacked for a 10-yard loss that puts the Chargers out of field-goal range, and San Diego is forced to punt.
This, in the world of John Clayton’s bulbous head, is “playing the field-position game.”
You can call this the “playing the write-an-article-about-a-game-you-didn’t-watch game.”
Perhaps the strangest call of the game came in the first quarter. Schottenheimer went for a fourth-and-11 instead of attempting a 49-yard field goal by the AFC’s Pro Bowl kicker Nate Kaeding. Naturally, the fourth-down play didn’t work.
That doesn’t sound like playing not to lose. Going for seven points instead of three in the first quarter is extremely aggressive. See:
“I thought we had a play that we could use that would make the yardage,” Schottenheimer said. “The intention was to be very aggressive. I thought we had a play that would get it and Cam Cameron said, ‘I’ve got one’ and we went ahead and did it.”
Everything about what Schottenheimer did in this entire game was aggressive — stupidly aggressive — so, naturally, John Clayton excoriates him for not being aggressive enough.
Things started unraveling in the third and fourth quarters. Chargers cornerback Drayton Florence got a 15-yard unnecessary roughing penalty after Brady was stopped on a third-down sack at the Chargers’ 36-yard line.
Not mentioned here: Eric Parker’s muffed punt that gave the Patriots great field position for that drive. Obviously also Marty Schottenheimer’s fault. Shouldn’t have called for such a conservative punt return.
Tackle Shane Olivea got an unnecessary roughing penalty after an extra point following a Tomlinson TD that put San Diego ahead 21-13 in the fourth quarter. Kicking off from their 15, the Chargers handed great field position to the Patriots.
When the Chargers get good field position, they’re “playing the field position game.” When the Patriots get good field position, the Chargers “handed great field position to the Patriots.”
But after driving to the Chargers’ 41, Brady was picked off by Marlon McCree with just over six minutes left in the game. Troy Brown stripped the ball from McCree’s hands, though, and Reche Caldwell recovered it, giving the Patriots a first down and new life.
Oh, the Patriots got lucky! Must be Marty Schottenheimer’s fault.
The final straw came with 2:31 left in regulation. Brady spotted the Chargers in press man-to-man coverage at the line of scrimmage. He hit Caldwell down the sideline for a 49-yard completion that set up Gostkowski’s game-winning 34-yard field goal.
It was the last play the Patriots made to win the game. The Chargers played not to lose.
Except for all those aggressive plays they made to try to win the game, like going for it on fourth down multiple times, eschewing field goal tries to go for touchdowns, and passing consistently (and ineffectively) on second and third down.
Seems more like the Patriots won because they had the better quarterback and the Chargers had two fluky fumbles late in the game. But why let the truth get in the way of a good story?