Copyright 2012 by John T. Reed
I did not watch the 2012 Super Bowl but I did DVR it in case something unusual happened
A number of my readers have asked me what I thought of the clock management in the final minutes of the Super Bowl.
I think I wrote the script that both teams followed, or intended in the case of the Giants, on the Giant touchdown that was scored with :57 left in the game.
You think that’s preposterous? Well, let me give you the evidence.
In 1997, I wrote the first edition of my book Football Clock Management.
In that book, I advocated two things that I am not aware had ever been done before:
1. deliberately let the opponent score a touchdown in some circumstances
2. when you have a chance to score a touchdown in some circumstances, take a knee at the one-yard line instead, followed by a series of take-a-knee plays that run out the clock, then, when the clock gets down to :03, kick the game-winning field goal
My book came out in the fall of 1997. Like I said, I do not believe either of these things was ever done in a football game before I published that book.
On page 29 of the first edition of my book, speaking to the defense, I said,
May be smart to deliberately allow a touchdown if you are just down by one point.
On page 59 of that edition, speaking to the offense, I said,
If you are ahead by one point, you may find that the other team deliberately lets you score a touchdown to get the ball back.
If your ball carrier senses that he is being allowed to score a touchdown , he should run past the first down line, but not into the end zone. He should stand at the other team’s two-yard line or so until he is about to be tackled. Then take a knee as the tacklers approach.
There is also a 10-paragraph discussion of this on page 183 of the first edition.
I got this idea for Paul Zimmerman, “Dr. Z” of Sports Illustrated. It was in his book The New Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football. He got it from Joe Thiesmann who said it was the kind of thing players dream up but coaches would never do.
Did I just say that Zimmerman gave the Patriots the idea to let the Giants score on 2/5/12? Nope. Zimmerman said it, but he said it in 1984. Furthermore, he did not suggest it seriously, but just presented it as player musing. In any event, no one did it until after I said it more emphatically in 1997 and thereafter. Plus, in 1998 and 1999, I was the clock management columnist for American Football Quarterly magazine. There had never been a clock management columnist anywhere before. I also spoke at their 1998 and 1999 American Football Quarterly University conventions. At the 1998 one, I was told by one of the organizers that my clinic was the talk of the University. Many pro coaches were there as both speakers and students. At that clinic, I discussed my book one-on-one with Bill Walsh, Brian Billick, Mike Nolan, and others.
When is the first time a coach told his players to deliberately allow a touchdown? Mike Holmgren did it in 1998 in the same situation as 2012. He let the Broncos score a TD at the end of the Super Bowl so he could get the ball back. How do I know it was deliberate? He said so at his post-game news conference. How do I know he got the idea from me? I do not for sure. But like I said above, no one ever did it until I emphatically advocated it in my 1997 book. It is my impression that virtually every NFL team has had my book since the first edition came out.
I never heard of this happening until Maurice Jones-Drew did it.
Here is the entry from my web page called Football Clock Management News:
With his team down by 1 point against the Jets, Jaguar Maurice Jones-Drew got to the Jets one-yard line with 1:40 left in the game—AND TOOK A KNEE!
What’s up with that? Almost the same as the situation above at Stanford-Notre Dame. Jacksonville then took a knee three times, running the clock down to :03, at which time they kicked the game-winning field goal.
Did I have a connection with that? They probably got it from my book. I never saw or heard of any such thing when I wrote the book, but it made logical sense to me so I put it in there. The Broncos 9/13/09 game (see below) when the receiver ran sideways along the goal line to run off some more clock before scoring probably made the NFL safe for such things. (The Bronco guy did not take a knee because they needed more than three points.)
Jones-Drew graduated from De La Salle High School which is 12 miles from my house, but I am not aware that school has ever used my clock book or rules.
Another possible connection is with Amador Valley Exercise Equipment in Dublin, CA. I was talking with the owner there a couple of years ago and mentioned my book. The owner was very interested. He said he was a personal friend and former personal trainer of Jack Del Rio. When he trained Del Rio, Del Rio lived in Castro Valley, CA, the town west of Dublin. The trainer said he was going to tell Del Rio about my Football Clock Management book. That was around 2006. Del Rio was the head coach of the Jaguars from 2003 until 2011 and was for the game when Jones-Drew took the knee at the one. I do not know if Del Rio ever got my book. But I suspect that someone on the Jaguar staff must have because players do not think shit like that up on their own in the middle of a game in which they are trailing.
Many fantasy football owners of Jones-Drew were pissed that he did not score a TD on that play. Go back to cleaning your pocket protectors, guys. The object of the game is to win, not to pad your individual stats.
Kudos to Del Rio for coaching Maurice Jones-Drew to execute that play in that situation. Kudos to Jones-Drew for having the discipline and team orientation to do so.
Where did I get the idea for taking a knee at the one? I figured it out just by logic for the first edition of Football Clock Management. But around the time that book came out, Colts coach Lindy Infante did a similar thing, albeit his player did not intentionally take a knee before scoring. Rather, he tried to score, got tackled at the one, then Infante had a brain storm to just take a knee three times, then, when the clock hit :03, kick the game-winning field goal. And that is exactly what they did. At the time, their opponent, the Packers, were defending Super Bowl champs and Infante’s team was 0-10.
Indeed, it was the memory of that which caused Holmgren later that season in the Super Bowl to deliberately let the Broncos score. He was afraid the Broncos might intentionally, or by dumb luck, do what Infante had done to him earlier—thereby eliminating any chance of winning the game. I suspect Holmgren also needed the admonition in my book to crystallize the whole scheme in his mind before the Broncos-Packers Super Bowl.
In the 2012 Super Bowl, Eli Manning reportedly told his running back Bradshaw to take a knee at the one.
Simultaneously, Belichick apparently told his defense to let the Giants score. Watch the replay. The defenders are pretending to defend, but made no effort to stop or even touch Bradshaw per se.
That was arguably the weirdest play in the history of the Super Bowl. The running back, whose team was TRAILING 15-17, did NOT want to score the game-winning touchdown and the defense did NOT want to STOP him from scoring a go-ahead touchdown with :57 left!
WTF!? Well, if you had read my book, you would understand completely. Indeed, NBC TV play-by-play man Al Michaels seemed to instantly explain it perfectly. Did he read my book? I think so. I sent him a free copy of it years ago and after I did, I noticed his discussion of clock management improved remarkably on subsequent games. Did I ever talk to him? Nope. Not even a thank you for the book. The contrast between Michaels’ and Collingsworth’s discussion of the play in 2012 and the sports writers’ and TV announcers’total cluelessness in 1998 could not have been greater.
And this play, as done by EACH of these two teams, would NOT have happened if I had not written my books, my columns, and done my clinics.
I hope you enjoyed that play and Collingsworth’s and Michaels’ discussion of it. You and they are welcome.
Coughlin says he did not think of and did not tell Manning to tell Bradshaw to take a knee at the one. Shame on him. Then it was excellent clock management by Manning. Did he read my book? I have no evidence of that other than this play. He says he is an “elite” quarterback. If he wants to be an elite quarterback and has not read my book, he’d better get it and read it now. But I would not be surprised if he and his brother—being consummate professionals and hypercompetitive—already did read it.
Bradshaw did NOT take a knee at the one. He tried to then ineptly fell into the end zone. How stupid do you have to be to be unable to take a knee at the one-yard line when no one is touching you? His failure to take that knee at the one could have cost his team the Super Bowl. Coughlin dishonestly said it didn’t matter whether Bradshaw took the knee at the one. It could have mattered disastrously. Coughlin was protecting Bradshaw from criticism. Bradshaw is the Kyle Williams of the Giants, except that he got away with his mistake. Williams did not. Both were awful in their mistakes. Bradshaw’s was worse than Williams’.
The coaching point is one I often make. Players need practice reps of everything you expect them to do. For some skills, like giving a fair catch signal or taking a knee on the one, they only need a couple of reps per season. But if you assume you need only tell them to do something in a Super Bowl when they have never repped it, do not be surprised if even world class pros screw it up. And that appears to be what happened here.
Two plays before the TD, a Giants receiver went out of bounds. You don’t go out of bounds in that situation. That was a pace-graph situation. There is a whole chapter about that in my book. You stay in bounds and let the clock run. Pats would have had to use one of their two timeouts if they had. Page 166 Graph D of the current 4th edition.
Why? Giants have plenty of time to kick the game-winning field goal. But you do not want to kick it too soon or you will leave New England time to come back and beat you. Bradshaw scored too soon and he scored more points than were necessary to win teh game. Enough, not more. Scoring more than you need has gotten a lot of teams beat over the years. See my book for all the actual case histories.
On the next play, the Giants ran up the middle, were tackled inbounds. The Patriots immediately called timeout at about 1:04. That is correct clock management because it was near certain that the Giants, although behind, were going to take the lead. So NE was trying to preserve as much time as possible to come back.
Then Bradshaw scored stupidly. The Giants went for two and failed so the score stayed at 21-17.
That left far more time on the clock than should have been left: :57. But in the event, the Pats were not able to score so the Giants won.
The “deliberately let them score a touchdown” rule applies when you are on defense tied or ahead by one or two, not just when you are ahead by one. It could also work if the team on offense was ahead by one before the TD. If they did not try for two or tried and failed, you could still score a TD and go for two if necessary to tie.
The take-a-knee on the one rule is my Clock Management Rule 3.02 in the current, fourth edition of my book.
I was a freshman high school head coach in the 2000s after my clock book came out in 1997. I gave our head varsity coach a free copy. After a while, I asked if he had read it. He said it was his bathroom book and that he would eventually finish it.
Later, I asked again. He said he had finished it. “Learn anything new?”
If you don’t take that stuff about deliberately letting the other team score a touchdown, coaches will think you’re stupid.
I pointed out that Mike Holmgren had done that in his Packers-Broncos Super Bowl.
I watched many of that varsity coach’s games after that. I never saw him adopt a single clock management principle from my book.
There are many people in football coaching who cannot admit that anyone below them in coaching status could ever teach them anything about coaching. The initial reaction to Bill James, depicted in the book and movie Moneyball, was the same. Virtually every NFL coach has my book. I talked to a number of them on the phone or in person when they ordered it. But I have yet to see any of them ever volunteer the information that they read it and followed it when they are asked about the subject.
Although I must admit that the higher a coach is in the food chain, the more likely they are to recognize my book’s correct. When I gave my first clinic at AFQU, it was standing-room only. Kentucky coach Hal Mumme could not get a seat and was sitting on the floor taking notes. At the time, he was Tim Couch’s head coach. Cal head coach and former 49er Tom Holmoe was in the first row taking notes. I think Brian Billick was in the back of the room. Ricky Hunley, former NFL player and then college coach was in the audience. I was too busy talking to note all the guys who were there. But when I made the same clinic speech to a group of high school coaches, a number of them arrogantly walked out when I used a case history from a youth game. The NFL and college guys took notes on the youth example.
Mumme said “Every coach should read this book.”
Bill Walsh said, “That was really good,” after he sat at the front table of one of my clinics.
Paul Zimmerman (“Dr. Z”) wrote in his SI/CNN column: “I know a guy who just wrote an entire book about clock management in football. ...I'd suggest that every NFL coach take a look at it because this is a much-neglected area of game strategy.”
So I did not remove the advice to sometimes let the opponent score a TD on purpose so you can get the ball back sooner.
Here is an email I got about this article followed by my answer:
Thank you for your articles and insights.
I am a big football fan and a real estate investor so I enjoy reading your material.
I agree with your analysis of the end of the Super Bowl. Scoring too soon can be costly and clock management should be an important consideration. The Saints - 49ers playoff game this year is evidence of how scoring too soon can cause you to lose. Although I think that the Saints pretty much had to take the TD when it was available in that game as a field goal wasn't enough to take the lead and you need to score when you can against the 49ers very stout defense.
I have three questions for you regarding the Super Bowl winning TD please:
1. If it was correct strategy for the Pats to allow the TD on 2nd down, would it have been correct for them to allow the TD on 1st down and save a few seconds and a timeout for the offense?
2. If the Giants did not want to score a TD and kill the clock, shouldn't the blame be on the coaching staff? After the timeout, Coughlin could have countered the Pats let them score strategy and called for Manning to center the ball and take a knee on 2nd down and use the Pats last timeout. Then they could have taken a knee on 3rd down and run the clock down to around 15 to 20 seconds and kicked the winning field goal on 4th down from about 25 yards. That would give them the lead and leave the Pats with very little time and a very faint hope.
3. Even though a 25 yard field goal by a pro is around a 95%+ probability, it is never 100% sure. The Ravens missing a 30 some yard field goal in the AFC championship is recent evidence of this. Herm Edwards said on Monday that some coaches have a philosophy of taking the points when given to you in this situation and putting the win in the hands of the starters on defense and not in the hands of the kicking specialists (snapper, holder, kicker). What are your thoughts on that philosophy?
2. NY should have gotten as close to goal line as possible to make FG more certain. If there was a first down to be had before goal line, they should get it so they could run more time off. Once they get close enough and there are no more first downs, they should take a knee until 4th down, then stop the clock at :03, then use 4th down to kick the FG. That's all in my book with very precise rules. Not scoring too fast is covered by very precise graphs in the Pace Graph chapter. You speak of the decision somewhat vaguely. Some decisions are like that, but not this one.
3. BS You always choose the path with the highest expected value. Expected value is probability multiplied by value of outcome. Not using a field goal to win in that situation shows substantial ignorance of decision theory. Plus, the probability is 99% not 95%. See my article
regarding PAT kicks. If Bradshaw had stopped at the one, it would have been an 18-yard field goal.
A lot of people who think the clock management rules in my book are incorrect say they have a different “philosophy.” That’s bull! 2+2 = 4. That’s not a “philosophy.” It’s a fact. Similarly, it is also a fact that on every single play of a game, you should be maximizing your win probability. Herm Edwards does not know what he is talking about. He spent too much time coaching and playing football and not enough studying probability and statistics and decision theory. Reading my book would probably straighten Edwards out. Plus, Edwards is in the book. He was the Eagles player who picked up the Giants’ fumble and scored the game-winning TD in the “Miracle of the Meadowlands” play where the Giants OC violated the take-a-knee rule (my Rule 3.01 “When you are in the take-a-knee period, take a knee.”) and lost the game, got his career ended the next day, and got his head coach and director of football operations fired the day after the season ended. That play was the reason the so-called “victory formation” (take a knee with a defender playing in the offensive backfield) was invented.
This is all explained in detail in my book.
The reader responded:
Hello Mr. Reed,
Thank you for your prompt and precise response. They helped me clarify what
happened at the end of the game.
As a trained accountant (a CA is a Canadian version of a CPA in the US) I
agree with your comments and probability methodology.
Based on your articles and comments, the conclusion appears to be that the
Giants winning drive in the biggest game of the season with two 'genius'
coaches was a complete and total comedy of errors by both sides.
Error #1: Nicks for the Giants gets the first down, but goes out of bounds
at the 7 when it appears that he could stayed in the field of play and still
got the first down. He clearly blew it by being forced out of bounds after
getting the first down. This saved the Pats a timeout.
Error #2: The Pats defense does not let the Giants score on first and goal
costing them a very valuable time out and valuable seconds.
Error# 3: The Giants appeared to be trying to score on first down instead
of running the clock down and setting up a winning field goal. They were
saved by the Pats poor strategy in error # 2 above here, but they did not
appear to have clock management awareness here either.
Error# 4: Coming out of a timeout, the Giants were either poorly coached
and unaware that it was possible the Pats were going to let them score or
Bradshaw ignored orders by going into the end zone. I do find it a bit hard
to believe that the first time he was told not to score was by Eli yelling
at him during the play as reported so this is likely on the player. This
left the Pats 57 seconds and a time out to try and win the game. If the
Pats don't make error # 2 above, the have about 1:05 left and two timeouts
to try and win the game.
I agree that running the clock down as much as possible and kicking a chip
shot field goal with NFL level specialists at the end of the game gives you
by far a better percentage to win than scoring a touchdown and leaving time
on the clock for the other team. If you don't trust professional level
players to execute basic plays, why are they on a professional level team?!?
All in all it was a very poorly executed finish by both teams to end the
biggest game of the year. Neither team executed the clock management
situation at the end properly.
On an unrelated note, any chance that you will be writing a follow up
article on Facebook now that it is going public at, in my opinion, a
ludicrously idiotic valuation. I enjoyed your earlier analysis / movie
review on the subject.
Thanks for sharing your work and take care,
The clock management you describe was raggedy but not worthless. They did better than coaches would have done in that situation before my book, but very poorly considering how much those coaches are paid and NFL head Roger Goodell’s brragging about the great quality of play. I think Belichick and Coughlin probably both read my book, because you could see some smart clock management that you did not see before 1997. But they failed to buy into it enough. They need to read it again and implement all of it. They are supposed to have a clock management assistant on the sidelines who controls tempo at all times and calls special clock plays like taking a knee at the one or allowing the offense to score a TD if they are stupid enough to do so. This all has to be practiced at least a little before the game. I know of lt least one NFL team that has such an assistant. Can’t tell you who it is.
As I said in Facebook, the whole playoff tournament this season was a comedy of errors, stupid mistakes, inept playing and coaching, and gratuitous post-whistle lack of discipline. I have no idea which team was the best in the NFL this season. Probably six teams tied for the honor.
John T. Reed