Ben volin _ on football_ in crunch time, patriots’ gameplan and execution won out – the boston globe

The Patriots compete for Super Bowl titles every year because they have the best quarterback on the planet in Tom Brady and the best offensive weapon on the planet in Rob Gronkowski.

And, oh yeah, their coach is pretty good, too.


Bill Belichick’s mastery of situational football was on full display in the final 2:14 of the Patriots’ 27-26 comeback win over the Giants. While we’ve seen numerous

examples this year of coaches and players flubbing clock management in the final minutes of close games — think Eli Manning throwing a dumb incompletion to stop the clock against the Cowboys, or John Fox not accepting a crucial 10-second runoff against the Lions — Belichick, Brady and his staff (i. e. Ernie Adams) aced their exam in the final minutes of Sunday’s 27-26 win.

The situation looked bleak for the Patriots when Manning hit Dwayne Harris for 30 yards with 2:14 left, putting the Giants in range for the game-winning field goal at the 28. But there were three positives going for Belichick and the Patriots: They had all three timeouts, they had the two-minute warning, and a Giants field goal would only put the hosts up by 2 points — meaning the Patriots would only need a field goal coming back the other way.

At that point in the game, the clock is as big of an enemy as the opposing team, so Belichick immediately used one timeout to stop the clock at 2:14. The Giants ran the ball for 5 yards on the next play, and Belichick immediately burned his second timeout at 2:10.

Patriots Replay: Key plays from New England’s win over New York

Here’s our weekly look at the key plays in the Patriots’ game after reviewing the film.

The Giants could have, and maybe should have, played it safe here at this point. But a touchdown would have put them up 6 (or 7), and they went for the win.

They called two straight passing plays. The first was completed to Harris, who was pushed out of bounds at the 5, and threw incomplete on the second pass. That’s two free clock-stoppages for Belichick and the Patriots.

The Giants threw again on the next play, but since it was at the two-minute warning, the clock was going to stop anyway.

On third down, Manning went for the game-winning touchdown pass, but when everyone was covered, he smartly went to the turf, keeping the clock running, and forcing Belichick to use his final timeout.

So, after the successful field go-ahead field goal, the Patriots got the ball back with 1:47 left, no timeouts, and needed to reach about the 40-yard line to get in Stephen Gostkowski’s range.

In another smart move, Belichick clearly ordered Danny Amendola to take a knee on the kickoff — the odds were that he wouldn’t return the ball much farther than the 20 anyway, and it would have wasted another five or six seconds off the clock.

And, finally, the Patriots didn’t panic. As most defenses defend the sideline in the two-minute drill, knowing that the offense needs to stop the clock after each play, four of Brady’s five completions on that drive went to the middle of the field.

When Amendola reached the 36-yard line with 10 seconds left, Brady and the offense hurried to the line of scrimmage, spiked the ball, and gave Gostkowski plenty of time to drill the winning 54-yard field goal.

Just as they drew it up.

Other observations from Sunday’s win after reviewing the game tape: When the Patriots had the ball

■ Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo did a nice job of disguising his pass rush and coverage schemes, making up for a fairly average pass rush and flustering Brady for much of the night. The Giants actually played it safe for most of the night — we only counted five snaps where the Giants sent five or more pass rushers. Three of them came on third down, and the Patriots converted two of them.

Otherwise Spagnuolo sent four pass rushers on 37 of Brady’s 46 dropbacks. He did call four zone blitzes to confuse the offensive line, and both of Brady’s sack-fumbles in the fourth quarter came with zone pressure. Spagnuolo also only sent three pass rushers at Brady and dropped eight into coverage on four snaps, although Brady converted two of them into first downs and induced a pass interference call in the end zone.

■ The Giants definitely sold out to stop Gronkowski. On one third-down play in the first quarter, Gronkowski was triple-teamed over the middle, forcing Brady to pump a couple of times, and finally find Amendola over the middle.

Later on that drive, Gronkowski was double-teamed in the end zone, forcing Brady to look elsewhere, but he found Scott Chandler open in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.

And when Gronkowski was lined up wide with one-on-one coverage, Brady immediately recognized it and went his way, like the 12-yard back-shoulder pass on third-and-1 with Craig Dahl in coverage, and the 76-yard touchdown with Brandon Meriweather covering him. Gronkowski’s touchdown was just like Odell Beckham Jr.’s — the safety took a bad angle to the ball and clipped his own player, allowing the ball-carrier to run free to the end zone.

■ The offensive line played pretty well overall, considering their left and right tackles were both making their first career starts at those positions, and they had two rookies on the interior. Cameron Fleming did a really nice job on Jason Pierre-Paul all day. While Fleming got plenty of help from the running backs and tight ends, he also stood up JPP one-on-one on several occasions. Josh Kline gave up a couple of pressures and a run stuff, David Andrews allowed the first sack to Dahl and a pressure from JPP, Gronkowski actually whiffed on a block on Trevin Wade and gave up a QB hit, and Stork had a few negative plays, allowing one QB hit to JPP and whiffing on Robert Ayers on the second strip-sack in the fourth quarter. At least Stork fell on the fumble to avoid further disaster.

■ That said, the Patriots used multiple tight ends on 45 of 73 snaps and gave the offensive line plenty of help. However, I’m surprised that Chandler isn’t having more of an impact with the Patriots. I don’t think he’s earned the trust of the coaching staff yet. He didn’t fight hard enough on a couple of potential touchdowns against Buffalo early in the year, and had a really bad drop on first down late in the third quarter with no defender near him. Chandler only played 22 snaps compared with 41 for Williams, which has been the trend all season.

■ Dion Lewis’s presence was definitely missed on Sunday. James White caught one slant pass for 6 yards, Brandon Bolden had one screen pass called his way that fell incomplete, and LeGarrette Blount just doesn’t have the speed or the moves to be effective in the screen game. Blount also whiffed on a block on Jasper Brinkley on the first strip-sack of the fourth quarter. Lewis was an excellent blocker in the passing game.

■ Amendola is proving to be incredibly clutch this year. He made several big fourth-quarter catches against the Jets, and had three catches in the final drive Sunday. But he plays with a little more hair-on-fire than Julian Edelman and isn’t always precise with his routes, so it will be interesting to see how well he takes over Edelman’s role. Given that Amendola has historically been injury prone, the Patriots really need to make sure he can stay healthy over the next seven games. When the Giants had the ball

■ What an awesome day for Malcolm Butler against Beckham. Yes, the stats say that Beckham had 104 yards and a touchdown, but go deeper and you discover that Beckham only caught 4 of 12 passes thrown his way, and after his touchdown (which was much more Devin McCourty’s fault for taking a bad angle than Butler’s), Beckham caught just three passes for just 17 yards — and one of those passes came in zone coverage where Butler wasn’t really covering him. Butler was scrappy and intimidating, did a great job of fighting through picks and rubs, and Manning didn’t really look his way, at one point throwing 12 passes to other receivers in between targets to Beckham.

■ The Patriots didn’t blitz Manning until midway through the second quarter, and were happy to rush three or four defenders almost the entire game while mixing in a little Cover 3 with their man-to-man defense. Chandler Jones’s sack-strip came on a three-man rush – he just bowled right through rookie left tackle Ereck Flowers — and Rob Ninkovich’s sack came on a three-man rush as well. Only late in the game did the Patriots get a little creative with their pressure, sending Patrick Chung and McCourty after Manning on consecutive snaps and forcing incompletions.

■ The Giants had four plays of 30-plus yards, plus another of 28 yards, which is the most the Patriots have allowed this year.

But credit the Patriots for clamping down in the clutch. They didn’t allow a touchdown in the second half, and only 6 points over the final 24 minutes of the game.

■ I was really impressed by Manning’s performance overall. The Patriots dare you to beat them with your second, third and fourth options, and Manning did for most of the game. He didn’t try to force the ball to Beckham, instead finding the best one-on-one matchups. He hit eight receivers overall, lobbing perfect jump balls to Rueben Randle and Myles White and getting sparsely-used players such as Will Tye and Jerome Cunningham involved in the offense.

And Harris, a speedy slot receiver, was virtually uncoverable, catching four passes for 34 yards and a touchdown against Justin Coleman in the first half (who tripped on the touchdown and just couldn’t hang), and then two more catches for 48 yards in the second half against Rashaan Melvin, who was equally ineffective. Coleman is a rookie who was playing with a cast, so we’ll give him a break, but Manning was clearly picking on him, also completing a 28-yard pass to White.

■ The Patriots need Jamie Collins back. Jonathan Freeny whiffed on a couple of tackles to give up first downs and bit badly on a play-action fake on Cunningham’s 16-yard catch. Jerod Mayo played a season-high 30 snaps and actually did fairly well covering the running backs, but he just doesn’t have the same speed that he used to. And on Tye’s 31-yard catch, Chung and backup linebacker Jon Bostic looked utterly clueless and had their backs turned to Tye as he rumbled right past them. It didn’t help that Duron Harmon missed the tackle on the play. Chung was great in the run game again, at least. Special teams

■ Amendola needs to make better decisions about when to take kickoffs out of the end zone and when to take a knee, but his 82-yard punt return was something special, and single-handedly got the Patriots back in a game they were trailing, 20-10.

We counted four potential tacklers that Amendola avoided, and he also got four crucial blocks — from Jordan Richards, Eric Martin (who absolutely de-cleated Mark Herzlich), Nate Ebner (who destroyed James Morris), and Matthew Slater, who took care of the punter.

The only tackler Amendola couldn’t avoid was Harmon, who accidentally tripped up Amendola on the 7-yard line.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben. volin@globe. com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin

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