Young Celtics Can’t Hang On Against Warriors

The Celtics ran out to a 26 point lead against the team many believe is the best in the NBA right now, the Golden State Warriors.

The Celtics didn’t so much lose that lead and eventually the game, as they did return to the mean.  What they did in the first half wasn’t really sustainable, but they remained competitive right to the end, and still had a chance to pull out the game in the end.  (Check CelticsLinks.com for all coverage.)

While the Celtics are a long ways from being a contender again, I’ll take their situation over just about any other “rebuilding” franchise in the NBA. They’ve got a bold GM, a very good coach who is getting better, some decent young talent under control, and tons of upcoming cap space and draft picks, not to mention trade exceptions.

If you think teams like the Knicks, Sixers or Lakers are going to become contenders before the Celtics, I’ll politely mock you and move on.

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The Bruins will look to make a final splash to determine the future of their season today with the NHL trade deadline coming down at 3pm this afternoon.

GM Peter Chiarelli made a move for the future overnight, trading picks for Tampa right wing Brett Connolly.

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The Patriots are are facing a deadline today with the 4pm deadline for designating Franchise players. While many think that S Devin McCourty is the prime candidate for this tag, Mike Reiss tweeted this morning that his intelligence suggests that K Stephen Gostkowski is more likely to be tagged.

I’m not sure what that means. Do they think they can work something out with McCourty before free agency starts next week? Does it mean they’re close with Revis and can’t make both moves right now? Could they lose both McCourty and Revis next week? I don’t think so, but I shudder at the possibility.

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Former Red Sox ace Curt Schilling is in the news this morning after his post on 38 Pitches last night (yes, it still exists!) about a situation that arose after he tweeted congratulations to his daughter for being accepted to college.

The world we live in…Man has it changed. ADDENDUM!

Wow. Sadly though, the types of Tweets Schilling is talking about, are all over the place. It’s the downside of social media, for sure.

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Speaking of idiots on social media, we have Peter King. The MMQB leader seemingly can’t go more than a couple of weeks without putting something absolutely tasteless or irresponsible out for public consumption.

The 21-year-old son of ESPN’s Ivan Maisel has been missing for a week now, and media types all over the country have been raising awareness of the case and expressing their concern and hopes.

King naturally, tries an awkward attempt at injecting himself into the topic and relating to the situation:

Ugh.

Does King even for a second consider how he comes off here? People I respect a ton have said that we shouldn’t get on King for this, as he no doubt is concerned about the Maisel family.

I don’t know that. To me this is King injecting himself into a topic that in no way involves him. If he wants to express sympathy for the family, there were a million better ways to do it. How about reaching out privately?

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A couple other links:

Why do media need to talk to athletes? – In like of the previously affable Kevin Durant going off on the media over All Star weekend, Bob Ryan examines why talking to the media is a part of the job for pro athletes.

A call to give Dick Vitale one more Duke-North Carolina game – Richard Deitsch’s SI Now media column looks at the big stories of the week.

Dale and Holley Sticking Around A Bit Longer

A bit of positive news, in my opinion, from Chad Finn this morning, (Dale Arnold-Michael Holley reunion has worked for WEEI) as he reports that Michael Holley is about to sign a new deal with WEEI and that he and Dale Arnold will be remaining together in the afternoons on the station – along with Jerry Thornton.

Holley has his flaws, but in my limited dealings with him, he’s always been one of the more thoughtful and self-aware guys out there. The show is a nice contrast to the daily bombast of negativity that is the Felger and Mazz show, and their ratings are reflecting that. While still trailing F&M by over 5 ratings points, Dale and Holley posted a strong 8.0 rating in the fall book.

There are plenty of vocal haters out there of both Dale and Holley, but I find myself appreciative of their style and I’m glad WEEI management is recognizing their success and keeping the show going.

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It’s early, but I think the Marc Bertrand/Scott Zolak pairing on 98.5 mid-days is going to be fine, and perhaps even an upgrade on the year-round basis. The football stuff might take a small step back, but Bertrand has a better all-around sports knowledge base and ability to talk about other sports than Andy Gresh did.

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But we can trust these guys to be objective when talking about the team? Klemko himself said the Patriots should lose all of their 2015 draft picks and railed about them cheating and getting away with it.

He should probably stick to beating up cab drivers and stealing cabs.

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It was somewhat odd to hear Danny Ainge trash the conditioning of Jared Sullinger yesterday morning on the Toucher and Rich show on 98.5. While it is no great surprise to anyone who looks at Sullinger that he would have issues with conditioning, it is rare to hear a team executive in any sport so publicly criticize his own player in this manner.

Ainge is no fool though. For the last few years he managed to keep Rajon Rondo’s trade value at least somewhat level by defending the player at every turn. If he’s saying these things about Sullinger, there must be a reason for it as well. The trade deadline is past, no further moves are going to be made until after the season. Sullinger isn’t going to play again this season, so the comments by Ainge likely were meant to attempt to light a fire under the talented yet seemingly unmotivated young forward.

Midweek Media Notes

A few items of interest across the Boston Sports Media world…

With Yoan Moncada and Other Elite Red Sox Prospects, It’s OK to Believe the Hype – I’m glad Chad Finn addressed the absolutely ridiculous memes on sports radio following word that the Red Sox had agreed to terms with the Cuban phenom.

Not that this is anything new, but I just don’t understand this mindset. The ability to find a negative – even a perceived one – in anything, is just astounding, and frankly, disturbing. That train of thought then spreads from show-to-show, from radio to TV like an insidious disease.

Putting on the old bastard hat for a moment, I remember when following sports used to be fun, and it was actually OK to be excited for your teams, and when they made a big move.

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It was interesting to see John Henry directly refute what his own employee, Dan Shaughnessy wrote about Larry Lucchino losing power in the Red Sox front office. Henry said “I read that ridiculous story…

Shaughnessy insists today that he’s not retracting what he wrote. So is this 1) Shaughnessy attempting to save face, 2) Henry trying to minimize embarrassment for Lucchino, or 3) A way to drum up interest in the Globe by creating a false conflict between owner and employee?

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Keep Revis and McCourty, that’s all I ask.

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Emily Austen named new on-air reporter for Tampa Bay Rays television broadcasts – The Celtics digital and arena reporter is moving on to a new position with FOX’s Sun Sports.

This position has been a stepping stone in recent years. Kristine Leahy is now anchor at CBSLA, Molly McGrath is now host of America’s Pregame on FoxSports1, and now Austen is leaving for a more prominent role elsewhere.

Jason Mastrodonato is the latest MassLive.com reporter to be plucked for a larger role. He’s done great work over there, and bringing him on essentially to replace John Tomase is a really good move for the Herald.

Adam Kaufman slides into the seat that was held for decades by legendary Patriots radio man Gil Santos.

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The Boston Sports Media in the Information Age and Taming the Beast Within – Take some time to read this by Larry Russell. Some mind-blowing quotes in here from the likes of Gary Tanguay, Dan Shaughnessy, Bob Ryan and Mike Felger, all of whom, not surprisingly, are either harsh or condescending towards Patriots fans.

New Brookline sports show by the fans, for the fans – A look at a new show by Scott Kerman.

Red Sox Spring Training Game Schedule on NESN

NESN will broadcast 12 games of the Red Sox spring training schedule, beginning with a March 8th game against the Mets. Remember, for a safe place to bet visit GamblingSites.org.

NESN’s 2015 Red Sox Spring Training Game Telecasts

DATE OPPONENT TIME*
Sunday, March 8 New York Mets (Port St. Lucie) 1:00 PM
Friday, March 13 New York Yankees 7:00 PM
Sunday, March 15 Philadelphia (Clearwater) 1:00 PM
Tuesday, March 17        Atlanta 1:00 PM*
Saturday, March 21       Pittsburgh (Bradenton) 1:00 PM
Sunday, March 22 Philadelphia 1:00 PM
Sunday, March 29 Tampa Bay                                     1:00 PM
Monday, March 30 Minnesota 7:00 PM
Tuesday, March 31        Tampa Bay (Port Charlotte) 1:00 PM*
Wednesday, April 1 Toronto 1:00 PM*
Friday, April 3 Minnesota 1:00 PM
Friday, March 4              Minnesota (Hammond Stadium) 1:00 PM

*Select Spring Training day games will be replayed in their entirety at 7:00 pm as the schedule permits.

Will ESPN Learn From Its Latest Disaster?

The process of breaking news is obviously a complicated one. How much information do you need to have before you go with a story?

In the case of the Outside The Lines reporting this week, it seems that the reporters involved came up woefully short.

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ESPN put the spotlight (literally in this case) on Jim McNally.

ESPN is without an Ombudsman at this time, so we won’t have an internal reaction on that front as to how those involved came to the conclusion that the information that they had was worthy of smearing a part time employee from coast to coast.

It’s worthy to check the writings of the departed Ombudsman, Robert Lipsyte for some prescient insight on how ESPN views journalism, and perhaps how they should view it.

In his final entry, Lipsyte writes I think that improvement is most needed in ESPN’s inconsistent execution of journalism, which does not appear to be the highest of company priorities.

He suggested a central news desk with a dedicated staff whose entire job would be breaking actual news. Currently the network just sort of taps into resources here and there as needed amongst its personnel.

This incident seems a perfect example of the flaws in the ESPN way of doing things. The initial report seemed so incomplete and raised many questions, but the main reporter, Kelly Naqi, (who is no rookie, she’s been at ESPN since 1987.) was adamant on WEEI yesterday that she engaged in “no speculation” and her job was to “literally just report the facts.”

She failed in her job then.

Jim McNally ended up at the center of a whole new wave of CHEATING! cries from around the country, ESPN First Take made comments such as “such a dumb attempt to cheat on the part of this part time locker room attendant.” and “this part time locker room attendant for the referees will take the fall for this, he will clearly lose his job and go down in infamy as the guy who went rogue and attempted to cheat.

The network even came up to McNally’s house here in New Hampshire and attempted to bully him into a comment.

ESPN then planned their Outside The Lines broadcast yesterday in which Naqi could take her bow as having broken open a new angle to the AFCCG story.

Except that the show was a mess. Their guests – one a former NFL official and the other a former official and head of NFL officials – directly contradicted each other, and then Adam Schefter unexpectedly called into the program and dropped a bomb, which essentially cleared McNally within 30 seconds.

After that, ESPN went into crisis mode. An internal alert went out directing all personnel that they were “holding off further reporting [on this story] temporarily until we resolve a few issues.” Despite Schefter’s report, the story was not updated on any ESPN site for a number of hours. The network later also directed staff to not attach the tag “deflategate” in rundowns on the story, preferring to use “NFL Ball” instead.

It’s not clear what the issues were that needed resolving, be they journalistic, or perhaps even legal. We know that the NFLRA demanded an apology from ESPN for what appears to be sloppy wording in the reporting – “NFL Official” vs “NFL Employee.”  Was someone representing McNally involved?

Schefter may have saved ESPN from itself. Had they continued along the path of painting McNally as the villain here, they could’ve been in deeper trouble with McNally, who as it is, should be considering his options.

The questions of what happened that allowed the original report to be published need to be answered. Even a loyal soldier like Mike Reiss is openly questioning the process:

If I’m a reader/Patriots follower, and passionate about the team, the natural follow-up is to search for answers. What happened? What was the process that led to the story being published, then altered, and the time lag in which it happened? I wish I was in position to provide those answers, but that’s not my job and quite honestly, I don’t know those answers. But it is my job to communicate with you and be honest and accountable. I’ve said in the past that I feel like an ombudsman would be beneficial for all involved when it comes to coverage of the Patriots/under-inflated footballs, and I include myself in that category because I’m far from perfect.

While in the past it has been fun to mock Patriots fans as being paranoid about the coverage the team receives, it sure seems like there is a concerted effort by someone (*cough*Mike Kensil*cough*) to dictate the coverage that is coming out, especially in this instance with ESPN.

It’s interesting to me anyway, that all initial “leaks” seem to be slanting in one direction, and then they are followed up by leaks that swing things in the other direction. It is clear to most by now that the NFL has screwed this up royally.

What is ESPN’s role in that? I think we deserve answers.

Update: From Tom E Curran: Strong NFL link to recent ‘Deflategate’ leak

It’s about the ties of Kelly Naqi’s husband:

More recently, Hussain Naqi worked for the New Meadowlands Stadium Company in East Rutherford, N.J. There, he served as Vice President of Business Planning and General Counsel at MetLife Stadium, the home of the Jets and Giants. Naqi would have worked closely with the league office on all the logistics for Super Bowl 48. The man in charge of “running” the Super Bowl for the NFL is its Vice President of Game Operations. He would speak to Naqi a lot. His name is Mike Kensil.

Ugh.

NFL Integrity Takes Another Hit

Before ESPN’s Outside The Lines ran their program this afternoon, they sent an afternoon email promising new developments.They quoted a former NFL head linesman as calling the activities of Patriots locker room attendant Jim McNally “unusual.” They even created a cute little hashtag for Twitter people: #PatriotsIssues

After Kelly Naqi repeated her reports that McNally had attempted to introduce an unapproved game ball to the AFC Championship Game, Adam Schefter called into the program. The show turned.

Let all that sink in, will you?

So the NFL, investigating the Patriots, is revealed to have had an employee stealing charity-bound game balls.

Great work, Roger.

Also:

Report: NFL official fired in deflate-gate case for selling football

Another Kick at the Balls from ESPN

At this point we can just admit that ESPN has giving up any hope of doing actual reporting, right?

They’ve just turned into ProFootballTalk when it comes to the Patriots.

Seriously, what is this junk?

Patriots locker room attendant tried to put unapproved ball into AFC final

There is nothing there. Absolutely nothing. All it is is red meat to dangle in front of the CHEATERS crowd. (and Kirk Minihane and Tim Benz.)

In fact, all this “report” does is muddy the waters even further, and directly contradict early ESPN reporting. What’s more, they cite within the story reports from Chris Mortensen, Jay Glazer and even ProFootballTalk, but completely leave out the report made by Ian Rapoport.

Moreover, this is from Outside The Lines, which is purported to be the last bastion of actual investigative, stick-to-journalistic integrity at the network.

CBS Boston’s Michael Hurley, who has done great work in hitting back at this entire under-inflated football scandal, has a good takedown of the report today:

New ESPN DeflateGate Report Paints Problematic Picture Of Entire Situation

It’s been encouraging to listen to Lou Merloni this morning, as well as the new Bertrand and Zolak pairing taking apart the report and exposing it for what it really is – sensationalistic clickbait.

More worrisome is the continued one-sided leaks that come from this “thorough and objective” independent investigation led by men with “impeccable” credentials, who “will not compromise the investigation by engaging in speculation.”

How’s that Revis tampering case coming along, anyhow?

Cabin Fever Setting In

After finally finding my way out of the snowdrifts and to the keyboard, I’m back to offer a few frostbite-influenced thoughts on the latest happenings:

It’s amazing how much has changed in ten years. When the Patriots won the Super Bowl in February of 2005, there was no Twitter, no Facebook, no Instagram. There was no FOX Sports 1 or NBC Sports Network. We had ESPN and a young NFL Network to get the recaps, and reviews from. Locally we had WEEI and whatever minor league competitor was on the air at the time.

The growth of social networks as well as increased competition on the television and radio side, both locally and nationally has led to a constant saturation of highlights, views, reviews and punditry.

The difference between 2005 and 2015 is amazing, and for me, its another reason I’m glad the Patriots were able to get that Super Bowl win in this new era – in many ways we got to experience it in a whole new way.

But, it’s already onto next season, as we talk combine and franchise tags.

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Can the Red Sox do another worst-to-first turnaround? Amazingly so, it seems that it’s not only possible, but many of the analysts out there are picking them to come out of somewhat weakened AL East. They’re also popular in Vegas and even in the UK where it looks like a tightly-contested season ahead with the Nationals and the Dodgers leading the MLB baseball betting markets at a price 13/2 respectively, with the Tigers next in-line at 7/1 from UK bookies Betbright.

Ben Cherington, after seemingly not  doing too much in the aftermath of the surprise 2013 World Series win got back on the horse this offseason and signing free agent bats and trading for starting pitching, while missing out on bringing back Jon Lester.

While there are still many questions around the team – young players, lack of an “ace”, the closing situation – the Red Sox figure to be much more competitive this season. Spring Training coverage should be announced shortly for NESN and CSNNE, and for once perhaps, the green fields and reporters having faux debates poolside at a Florida resort might actually be a welcome sight for the rest of us.

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The NBA trade deadline is this week. Coach Brad Stevens has said he’d like to keep the group he has now somewhat intact so that they can develop some cohesion. That is completely understandable from a coaches perspective, but I suspect if Danny Ainge can get more assets for his rebuild, he’s going to make deals. It still doesn’t look like it’s time to begin adding the “keeper” pieces, but we’ve been surprised before.

This team has been pretty fun to watch in recent games, especially their west coast swing, and that game against the East leading Hawks. While wins might not be the best thing for draft pick positioning at this point, they’re nice to be able to enjoy.

Congratulations to CSNNE’s Tom Heinsohn who will be inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame for his coaching career with the Celtics. Already in the Hall for this playing career, Tommy should be also considered for the broadcasting wing as well.

Younger viewers might scoff at that notion, but Heinsohn pioneered much of how basketball is produced for television. He’s a lot more worthy than many of the names that have been honored by that wing of the Hall.

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Are these the 2015 Bruins or the 2009 Patriots? Is Claude Julien standing next to Zdeno Chara saying “I just can’t get this team to play the way it needs to play.”

A 4-3 OT loss to the Flames last night was the Bruins latest poor performance, and it sure looks like some major changes need to be made to this roster.

New Marc Bertrand/Scott Zolak Show Starts Tuesday

98.5 The Sportshub made it official this afternoon, announcing the latest worst-kept secret in Boston sports media, that Andy Gresh is being replaced on the midday show by Marc Bertrand.

Gresh will be staying on at 98.5, in “a variety of roles.”

Bertrand will also take over co-host duties of Patriots pre and post game programming.

From the release:

“I’m beyond thrilled to be moving to middays to work with Scott Zolak,” said Bertrand. “Being able to say I’ve been at The Sports Hub since day one is an incredibly proud moment for me. As someone who was born and raised in Boston, I know it is the best sports town in America with the very best fans. The loyalty of our listeners has driven the success of our station, and I can’t wait to interact with them on a daily basis.”

 

 

The Worst Call in the History of History

By Dan Snapp

REPORTER: “What do you think of the execution of your team?”
JOHN MCKAY: “I’m in favor of it.”

Nobody can predict the past quite like the sports punditry.

Somehow, be it by tea leaves, phrenology or maybe even sorcery, they all have the breathtaking ability to foresee that a play that failed yesterday isn’t going to work. It’s uncanny.

Second-guessing sports decisions has long been a cottage industry. It makes up the bulk of the morning programming on ESPN, where today they battled over who can best hyperbolize Seattle’s decision to call a pass play on second down from the one.

It’s the worst play call in Super Bowl history!
No, it’s the worst play call in the history of the NFL!!
You’re all wrong. It’s the WORST PLAY CALL IN THE HISTORY OF SPORTS!!!

That’s about where I change the channel, before somebody brings Neville Chamberlain into the discussion.

Columnists added their two cents. Here’s Peter King, once again wagging his finger at participants of a sport he himself never played:

To coaches: Don’t out-think yourselves. Marshawn Lynch, even against a line led by Vince Wilfork, is your safest bet to win a yard—and have either two or three plays, probably three, in which to do it.

To players: I will quote a certain coach the players in Seattle will not want to hear from this morning, a fellow named Bill Belichick. Do your job. Pick the corner. Fight for the ball. Don’t make a throwing mistake down near the goal line.

Exactly. Did you get that, NFL coaches and players? If you make a mistake, something will probably go wrong. So don’t make mistakes. Ever.

However, we’re sad to note King’s suggestion that the Seahawks had “probably three” plays to run the ball. This is a mistake. Get your house in order, Pete!

The stat gurus entered the fray as well, with fivethirtyeight.com and others applying win probability calculators, comparative tendencies (Pats D 32nd  in power situations + Sea O 2nd in power situations = BEAST MODE!) and your requisite narrative framing to point in the direction their guts were already heading, which is that Pete Carroll’s decision probably wasn’t all that bad.

Fivethirtyeight did, however, take issue with Belichick’s decision not to call a timeout with a minute left, right after Lynch’s first-down run to the one-yard line. More on that later.

The foregone conclusion is that Lynch running the ball on second down would result in a touchdown. But what if he didn’t? What then? He was 1-for-5 from the one this season, and went 2-for-4 in “and-one” situations in that very game. And had Lynch failed to get in on second down, you already know what the collective reaction would have been: Why run it there?!!! That’s what they were EXPECTING you to do!!!

Coaches are paid to consider all outcomes and to prep their teams for as many possible scenarios as they can.  Carroll’s dilemma in this particular scenario – second-and-goal at the one-yard line, with 26 seconds left, and one timeout remaining – was time. He expressed later his goals: score the touchdown, leave the Patriots no time, and have all four downs available to him. The last one may have been his undoing.

Remember that after Lynch’s first-down run, Belichick didn’t call timeout. Fivethirtyeight.com called this a mistake:

So, when the Patriots had to decide whether to call a timeout, there were essentially three paths to victory for them:

  • Seattle turns the ball over on either second or third down. Letting the clock run slightly increases the chances of this, assuming the odds of a turnover are higher on a pass than a run (we’ll take it as about 2.5 percent combined instead of 2 percent).
  • Seattle fails to score on all three plays. Again, leaving the Seahawks a little less time probably increases the chances of this happening because it forces them to pass at least once. And we’ve seen how that worked out.
  • Seattle scores. New England gets the ball back and then goes on to win the game (most likely by kicking a field goal and then winning in overtime).

But the smaller amount of time the Patriots would have under scenario No. 3 easily dwarfs the other considerations. Belichick should have called a timeout.

That all sounds reasonable, but there’s one factor missing: Belichick’s decision to not use a timeout helped dictate Seattle’s decision-making. Had he called timeout with 62 seconds remaining, Seattle would face no time constraints, and could comfortably call a pass or a run on all three plays. By letting the clock roll, Belichick put the pressure on Carroll and his play-calling, not to mention the Seahawk players, whose confusion had already led to two wasted timeouts earlier in the drive.

Moreover, calling the timeout wouldn’t assure that the Seahawks couldn’t still run out the clock. Then Belichick loses the timeouts, the time, and the game.

If Carroll had confidence they could get a rushing touchdown in two tries, he would have run on second, and say screw fourth down. But he went the conventional route, going with the only play call that left all his options open. Basically, he wanted three bites at the apple, not two.

Carroll figured the pass would either be a score or an incompletion, and nine times out of ten, he’d be right. Then he’d have third down with 20 seconds left and a timeout, and he could do whatever he wanted on both downs.

If a Lynch run on second down failed, then Seattle takes the timeout, and it’s almost a sure thing that they pass on third down. So the only way for Carroll to preserve all downs and preserve his playcalling options would be to pass on second down.

Belichick’s decision to forego the timeout turned the game into a 60-second battle of wills and nerve. The people second-guessing him and Carroll today have the benefit of never having played such a high-stakes poker game, where a decision one way or the other determines the fate of an entire season.

No play call has been this criticized since Belichick’s 4th-and-2 call in 2009. After that play failed, he was excoriated in the press, where they said his “arrogance” and “hubris” prompted the unheard-of play decision.* The media also said the call proved Belichick didn’t trust his defense. Perhaps that was true. On Sunday, though, he was the one trusting his defense, while Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth were suggesting maybe the Patriots should just let Lynch score to preserve time, since it seemed such a foregone conclusion.

* Oddly, similar “risky” decisions by other coaches were hailed as “brave” or “daring”. Jeff Fisher, in particular, has been lionized for throwing caution to the wind with his frequent fake punts. Then again, he’s a natural beneficiary of the Jeff Fisher Corollary.**
** The Jeff Fisher Corollary: The amount of praise you receive rises in direct proportion to the number of column inches you fill.

All of this, though, misses the larger point: the players still need to execute. No arguments, no run/pass scenarios, no statistical analysis, no timeout decisions and no play call decisions can override that reality. In the end, the players still have to make plays. Execution is the key.

Malcolm Butler described how the Patriots had worked on that very same slant play in practice, and how Jimmy Garoppolo (playing Russell Wilson) and Josh Boyce had beaten him for a touchdown, because he wasn’t in position. Belichick stopped practice and told Butler, “You’ve got to be on that.”

When Butler saw the same formation in the game, he knew what he had to do, but he still had to execute it. Brandon Browner similarly diagnosed the play and executed his role.

Belichick’s decision possibly helped dictate Carroll’s decision, which then created the scenario. But the play worked because of the hard work before – seeing the play in Seattle game films, practicing it and correcting it – and the recognition and execution after, once the scenario presented itself again.

That’s foresight.