For all those people who tell you how talented they are at predicting winners of games - whether against the spread or outright - Sunday night’s contest between New England and Denver can be used as the litmus test that, unless someone will give specifics as to why a certain team will win (or cover), using eeny-meeny-miney-moe is just as reliable a method.
The Sunday night nationally televised game was one for the ages. The Broncos jump out 24-0 early, largely due to Patriot turnovers. Even the voices of broadcasters Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, two of the best in the business, sounded as if they wished they were anywhere else but Foxboro with the “dog” of a game they were going to have to finish. Either that or they just wanted to get out of the 23 degree weather with 22-mile an hour winds (8 degree wind chill) which couldn’t have made it too comfortable for them in the booth. Then, again, it had to be infinitely better for those guys than it was for a bundled up Michele Tafoya who was stuck on the field interviewing Bill Belichick about his least favorite subject - inept ball security.
I have to admit that at halftime I thought the Pats were dead in the water (or ice) just like everybody else in America did. Except for the guys in the Patriots’ locker room - and don’t for a minute think all of those boys felt a comeback was in the wind(s). Having given away 24 points, with their #1 running back (at least going into that game) on the bench for the unforgivable sin (see above - which he committed for the second game in a row) and looking across the field at Denver’s #18, the setting didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Not to dwell on the weather but the play and game clocks froze and those times had to be kept on the field!
So what do the Patriots do but come out after the half and score on their first five straight possessions to take a 31-24 lead! The crowd, most of which had miraculously stayed (maybe they were frozen in their seats), was crazy - even crazier than New Englanders normally get for their (four) beloved professional teams. Undoubtedly, they were well-lubricated. Peyton Manning, who had just witnessed his team squander a big first half lead, had not had his typical game. Rather than performing his usual passing prowess in the opening half, he had merely directed the offense into the end zone (helped by his defense going there once itself) mostly by handing off. All of a sudden, the Broncos found themselves trailing. Having a reputation as a guy who doesn’t have his best games in the cold (or in New England), Manning put together a final drive in regulation to tie the game by pinpointing passes - into the wind - to tie it up.
What other way could a game as improbable as this one end but in overtime. But the Patriots’ magic (and hex) was only beginning. They won the toss and needing only a touchdown to win, Belichick elected to take the wind and give the ball to Manning! Are you serious, Bill? He just scored! If he does it again (a TD would win it, a field goal would force the Pats to match or score a TD themselves - on the ensuing drive), all of New England is upset beyond belief (and the Brits can attest to what can happen in that instance). But, alas, the Broncos did not score. Neither did the Patriots. There had already been one tie in the NFL that day, what were the chances there could there possibly be another?
No way. Because of the hex. What hex? New England’s former favorite son, none other than the darling-turned-traitor Wes Welker, had been inserted into the game to field punts because Denver’s exciting, but erratic return man, Trindon Holliday, had been more of the latter than the former. Indecision on the part of the incredibly talented Welker saw him initially come up to field the Pats’ punt in OT, only to back off and give the “get away” sign to his teammates. A little too late. The kick hit the Broncos’ Tony Carter, making it a live ball, recovered by the Patriots. A chip shot field goal by Stephen Gostkowski put an end to, arguably, the most bizarre game of the season.
ESPN’s Trent Dilfer remarked on Belichick’s decision to take the wind in OT. Dilfer said that while many will proclaim the coach a genius (and not for the first time), had his ploy backfired, fans would have second guessed the coach (NO!), pointing to how much success Tom Brady had leading three straight touchdown drives into the wind in the third quarter. Quoting Dilfer:
“I’m sure there were many saying just that right after the coin toss decision, but you can’t hear any of them now.”