The FOB syndrome works on coaches’ minds.
It starts with an unsettled feeling in the pit of the stomach, and then it worms its way into the mind to create an overwhelming sense of paranoia, and then the inability to make rational decisions.
FOB hit the Seahawks’ staff a couple of years ago, and affected the way they approached their play calling on the goal line late in Super Bowl 49.
FOB struck again Sunday late in the Super Bowl when the Atlanta Falcons’ staff decided they had to keep passing the ball to get first downs and run time off the clock rather than settling for a few runs and the comfortable margin gained from a tack-on field goal.
FOB — Fear of Brady — is a serious ailment, and its side-effects are profound and long-lasting, and, at least for now, there appears to be no cure.
However, given the dramatic finish of Super Bowl 51, the onset of FOB is not merely a matter of paranoia, but the very real possibility that the quarterback on the other side of the ball is going to pull off the impossible.
In some ways, the Seahawks never really have gotten over the goal-line interception in their loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl 49.
They, too, were concerned about scoring with too much time on the clock for fear the Patriots’ quarterback would drive back down the field in the final moments.
Even though they had the ball on the 1-yard line with 26 seconds remaining, needing only the short touchdown to re-take the lead with scant seconds on the clock, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll explained that the plotting process included this mandate: “We’re going to leave them no time.”
Why? Fear of Brady.
The pass on that play, of course, was intercepted and the Patriots held on for the win.
However watching the Falcons cave in Super Bowl 51 might have served up small comfort to the Seahawks. Their defeat was the result of one extremely bad play, but the Falcons took part in a systemic collapse.
Atlanta coughed up a 25-point lead (the Falcons were leading 28-3 late in the third quarter) to lose 34-28 in overtime — all the while watching the Brady-led Patriots climb up from out of an almost bottomless abyss.
FOB struck most definitively in the fourth quarter after the Falcons, with a 28-20 lead, moved to the New England 22. They ran the ball for a 1-yard loss on first down.
With the clock moving to under 4 minutes, they could run the ball two more times to burn clock and kick a good-percentage field goal in the mid-40-yard range to go ahead by 11 points.
Instead, the Falcons tried to pass, which resulted first in a sack (12-yard loss), a holding call (10-yard loss) and an incompletion.
They ended up punting, allowing Brady to drive for a touchdown and two-point conversion to send the game into overtime.
Why stay so aggressive?
“We knew how good the other side (Brady) was, too, so we wanted to go attack at every opportunity,” said Atlanta coach Dan Quinn.
The takeaway is that the Falcons worried that the near surety of an 11-point lead with about 2 minutes remaining wasn’t enough to hold off Brady?
The lesson from both teams losing Super Bowls 49 and 51 should be this: Score first, and then worry about stopping Brady.
The Falcons’ approach left Brady and the Pats with time to tie and all the momentum they needed to drive for the touchdown in overtime that gave them the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
The subplot to it all is the effect of pressure on even the best NFL quarterbacks.
Both quarterbacks were sacked five times. Brady was pressured on almost half of his drop-backs as the Falcons were surging to their big lead, whereas Atlanta’s Matt Ryan faced persistent defensive heat in the second half as the Patriots roared back.
It was a scenario that also played out in the Seattle loss to New England in Super Bowl 49. If you can’t get in Brady’s face, he will dismember you.
In the end, the Falcons’ defense was on the field 93 snaps, more than double the Patriot defense (46). The Atlanta pass-rushers were worn out, and Brady picked them apart.
FOB strikes again.