Tag Archives: New England Patriots

On Elusive Victory: Misapplied Data Models or Overlooked Variables?



Say not what you think I need to hear,
say not what your investors demand
when they come near the Sunday night lights
swept up in the pomp and circumstance
of TV cameras, confident linemen
and a house filled with brand enthusiasts.

Say not what you think I need to believe,
say not what your supporters soak up
when they wipe the sweat off the brow
of your best quarterback,
so enamored and honored to have been asked.

Say not what everyone has been saying to themselves,
instead, tell us you could bother
to dig and pry loose old fears and older tears.

Find the magic in the snap,
in the complete pass forty yards down the field,
manifested by instinct,
guaranteed with heart —
not algorithms and data charts,
things that might as well
be used for selling luxury cars.

— yiqi 3 may 2016 8:12 pm

The above poem was inspired by the comments on this AJC piece featuring quotes from Arthur Blank and his belief in the success of the Falcons for the 2016 season.

 photo hhboa.gif

When I bring up the reason why I haven’t watched any televised football, specifically the Atlanta Falcons, for a few a consecutive years, I am met with a lot of nodding heads and suggestions to watch televised NBA or college football.  And then someone asks, rhetorically or not, why the Falcons can’t make it to and through the playoffs to play in the Super Bowl?  I hadn’t thought about the why of it until recently.  It’s a good question.

How is it that decision-makers, scouts, and other persons responsible for identifying, attracting, and cultivating a winning team haven’t been able to reap the fruit of their recruiting labor?  A businessman who has ostensibly known more success than setbacks shouldn’t have to keep pining for the ultimate fruit of applied data analysis.  Why do some teams get to live a sports inspirational redemption narrative while other teams are stuck in tale of Sisyphus forever rolling a rock up the same hill over and over again?  Why is it that applying data models can effect positive change in pure athletic performance for an individual player but not the whole team or more effectively in baseball than football?

The first question I’d address is if there are overlooked variables that have nothing to do with batting averages, 40 yard dash time, or past performance patterns.  I shan’t pretend to possess a deep knowledge of statistical factors (other than that they exist and inform choices of who is drafted, benched, or cut) or microscopic-level details of the biological machinery that is a well-oiled, well-practiced football team.  I imagine there are aspects that breathe and permeate through the interpersonal dynamics of a competitive sports team that remain unseen and unknown to the outside — even in this day and age of hyper-drive experiential exhibitionism and voyeurism.

Putting together a consistently triumphant team isn’t necessarily the same as a harmonious team.  Just because everyone can play better than all of their college teammates combined, doesn’t mean they will play nice with each other.  I realize that finalizing the roster may result from imperatives beyond the actual game-play (contracts, monetary constraints, leveraging a multitude of components for current and future seasons).  I am also keenly aware that the rules of athletic engagement facilitate and demand their own momentum, energy, and parameters of prospering/failing.

To score points in baseball, a series of actions must take place: the batter must hit the ball such that he and/or his teammates can run the bases back to home plate without the other team getting them out.  In other words, don’t get struck out and successfully run/steal the bases.  Whichever team has the highest number of runs at the end of nine innings is the winner.  To score points in football, a series of actions (outcomes) must happen: the offensive player must carry into or catch the ball in the end zone, kick the ball through the uprights, or both.  Two additional points are awarded if the offense can get the ball into the end zone after a touchdown (rather than kicking for an extra point).  Again, whichever team has the highest number of TDs or field goals at the end of the fourth quarter is the winner.

Taking into account the ways in which each team attempts to prevent the other team from scoring, victory is not as simple as going through the offensive motions, executed brilliantly or not.  In baseball, the pitcher can strike out one or more batters before any of them have a chance to jog to first base.  He can also get a base-stealer out who is one or two steps too slow.  In football, the other team’s defense can intercept the quarterback’s pass, sack him before he has a chance to look up, tackle the running backs, wide receivers, or block a field goal.

Of course, there’s game-play strategy, encompassing the strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies of one’s own team and those of the opponent.  Once you’ve controlled for performance stats, franchise mythology, self-esteem/motivation issues of individual players or teams as a whole, the game-play itself is left.*  The primary text holds epistemological insights.

Visualize the various baseball players and what they may or may not do over twenty minutes.  It’s reasonable to assert that the pitcher’s attention must be on one to three places at a time: the catcher, the batter/home plate and any other runner trying to steal a base.  Other than the base-stealer(s), his targets are pretty stationary.  The pitcher may have to keep second or third base within instinctual sights, but those runners from the other team are not running at him.  Neither the infielders nor the outfielders have to worry about the other team running at them either.  The batter and any of his teammates who may be waiting to run home just have to hit the ball and run respectively.  Again, nobody must watch out for opposing players going at them (though, some players do collide).  Each player, when on the field of play, has specific parameters in which to excel and to promote the athlete as an individual and part of a whole.  It’s a cumulative team effort via individual success.


Now, imagine one possession in a football game.  Moments before the snap, the quarterback looks around to see that his team is in place and the other team is in place.  He knows what play to run and unless he calls an audible, it’s as straight-forward as executing that play.  Except that it isn’t so simple.  He may connect with his wide receiver or running back, but there’s no guarantee the ball-carrier will move the ball ten or more yards no less make it to the end zone.  And why ever not?  Because defensive players from the other team are chasing after and acting as obstacles to the offensive players.  Compared even to a bases loaded scenario in baseball, a single offensive play in football involves many more players in motion simultaneously, converging onto the same space and specific areas of the playing field.


Let that juxtaposition sink in for a spell.  In one sport, the sources of “threat” are encapsulated by each player’s function spread out across an expansive field.  The gathering of players doesn’t happen unless the inning is over and the teams switch places (or two players get into each other’s faces and there’s a melee whereupon the dugout may empty onto the field).  In the other sport, the sources of “threat” are flying by you, aiming for you, on your heels, three steps ahead and to the side.  Undoubtedly, it is your job as the wide receiver or running back to anticipate that chaos and run through it just as it is the job of your teammates to block for and protect you.

Yes, NFL players are trained and live for creating order out of that sensory load.   Yes, they have to be able to filter out the visual “white noise” so they can focus on not horse-collaring, false-starting, or holding, all the while putting points on the board or helping their team do it by clearing a path or protecting the QB.  It is precisely because of these intricacies that NFL Films so gorgeously demonstrates what I believe there are other factors that affect how reliably well the players do across a game and across a season: chemistry, physical and cognitive agility, nurturing the capabilities to score well period and to play smarter than the other team can against you.

Observe (I’m not a New England Patriots fan per se, but this video is topically relevant):
Certainly, there are repeatable behaviors and evidence-based information that contributes to how a team and its players evolve and grow to be dependably good and great.  I can’t help but wonder if it’s ultimately more art and serendipity than science and math.  Perhaps applying a winning strategy with a high return on financial, psychological, and emotional investment is more like an organ transplant — the donor and the recipient have to be a match and there’s still a chance of rejection.  What appears to be applicable systemically for great results is an illusion.  A team wins because of specific players in that specific time and place, defying expectations and breaking patterns.

Taking a step back from high-level contemplation and dipping into more grounded concerns, the Falcons have to play better against the other teams in the NFC South.  It’s not a foreign concept nor an unattainable feat for them.  They’ve done it before and in this century.  When Arthur Blank or anyone else in the Falcons organization expresses full faith and determination in a kick-arse season, the reluctance still remains.  How do you know? Doing everything right and smart that a team can do couldn’t equate to a victory on the field because they aren’t the other team.  They may know their opponents like  the back of their hand, but they can’t control what their opponents do or how they react.

Therein lies the beauty and escapist elements of watching a team play their hearts out and take in a good harvest.  That’s zen right there — a win today, maybe, maybe not a win next week.  Zen has its place in helping a player keep cool under times of extreme duress while the weight of a divisional title and playoff chance is pounding him on the shoulders, but try telling that to people who pay for a chance to live vicariously through his endeavors.  They want to see the professional baller outscore the other team, not have a spiritual awakening in the red zone.  Although, that would make for an awesome viral video.

* But can you really control for the strengths and weaknesses of other teams?  Football teams operate like colonies of ants — each ant has a duty and they all work as one fluid unit to ensure the survival of their queen and their home.  At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if sheer luck and recognizing kindred spirits in each teammate isn’t the actual reason one franchise has an enviable biographical legend and another is a sad, soggy bowl of cereal.  No matter what the bowl looks like, what milk is used, or what combination or permutation of cereal used, it’s forever sad and soggy.

Bonus Round: NFL as Theatre — something sounds like rice krispies.

NFL 2013: Patriots ankle boot the Falcons

I didn’t watch the game — I couldn’t bear to watch it.  I did check the score every thirty minutes, though.  The first two quarters of Sunday Night Football between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons suggested that both teams’ defense were giving stellar performances.  Their offensive players shook their tail feathers in the second half, and despite a victory within the Falcons reach, the Patriots did what they do best: outscore opponents in the fourth quarter.  New England 30 and Atlanta 23.

Get game summary, stats, and play-by-play here.

Super Bowl XLVI: The Giants almond butter the Patriots

Super Bowl XLVI.  Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN.  The New York Giants vs. the New England Patriots.  Four years ago the Giants knocked down the Patriots by just three points.  Will they go for a repeat performance or will the Patriots take back the night?
Broadcast on NBC, with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth providing commentary, the forty-sixth Super Bowl started with the Giants on offense.  They didn’t do much but New England quarterback Tom Brady inadvertently helped them out with an intentional grounding of the ball, giving the Giants a safety.  Shortly thereafter, Giants wide receiver was cradling the ball in the end zone.  New York 9 and New England 0.

The Patriots got on the score board with a field goal in the top of the second quarter.  New York 9 and New England 3. By the end of the first half, the Patriots’ rhythm improved enough for a TD courtesy of running back Danny Woodhead.  New England 10 and New York 9.

The Patriots brought out their proper ammo with another TD in the top of the third quarter, though the Giants managed to shrink the score distance with a couple of field goals by the end of the quarter.  New England 17 and New York 15.

Two point difference…two point difference!  With just over sixty seconds left, Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw unintentionally made a TD.  A two point conversion was not successful.  The Patriots had fifty-seven seconds to spit out a TD.  Tom Brady and crew came very close but in the end, New York 21 and New England17.  Final score.  The Giants have won Super Bowl XLVI!!!


Observations & Miscellania:

1.  Kelly Clarkson sang the National Anthem. She’s got bangs now!

2.  Are you excited about both the advancements in technology, execution, and feasibility of streaming the Super Bowl live?  Does it mean that all parties involved on the producing, distributing, and financing end have figured out a way to profit from such an offering?  And of course there’s an app.

3.  Patriots’ safety Patrick Chung is part Chinese.  His mom was a singer in Jamaica.  Chung is also a Korean last name but in this case it’s likely the Cantonese spelling of what would otherwise be romanized as “Zhong” or “Chong.”  If his Chinese name really is 鍾家庭, then his teammates could start calling him, “Chung Family.”  His first name in Chinese is literally “family.”

4.  Halftime thoughts.  Wow.  Madonna channeled Spartacus, Cleopatra, cheerleading camp, marching band, and candle-lit choir,  in her performance of “Vogue,” “Music,” “Give Me All Your Love,” “Open Your Heart to Me,” and “Like a Prayer.”

And for all of you young people who don’t know a lick about classic Hollywood, click on the actors’ name from the spoken word portion of “Vogue” for more information.

Greta Garbo, and Monroe
Dietrich and DiMaggio*
Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean
On the cover of a magazine

Grace Kelly; Harlow, Jean
Picture of a beauty queen
Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire
Ginger Rogers, dance on air

They had style, they had grace
Rita Hayworth gave good face
Lauren, Katharine, Lana too
Bette Davis, we love you

Best halftime show I’ve seen this side of the 21st century.

* Joe DiMaggio was not an actor.^U^

5. I watched the 60 Minutes segment on Meryl Streep; I know people who don’t think she’s that big of a talent.  Although I can’t say I like her the way I like Keira Knightley, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Charlotte Rampling, and Anna Mouglalis, I do like what she brings to the art and profession of acting. She’s got skills…and she’s stunning in a subtle way (and reminds me a lot of another actress, Jennifer Ehle).

6.  In my Youtube hopping tonight, I came across a clip of French singers covering “Ain’t No Sunshine.”  It made me wonder if Europeans singing in English sound any less accented than Asians singing in English.  Olivia Ong is from Singapore.  Ock Ju-Hyun and Hyori are KoreanGirls’ Generation from Korea singing “Wannabe” vs. now defunct French group L5’s rendition.

Get game summary, stats, and play-by-play here.  Click here for the Giants’ roster, here for the Patriots’ roster.


Pre-S 10: Patriots corkscrew the Falcons

The New England Patriots shuttled southward to meet-and-greet the Atlanta Falcons.  Televised on Fox, the predatory birds’ second pre-season game began with the home team receiving the kick-off.  Matt Ryan quarterbacked during the Falcons’ first possession.  Matt Bryant kicked a forty-six yard field goal six minutes into the quarter.  Atlanta 2 and New England 0.  Tom Brady donned his QB shoes next for the Patriots.  He and his teammates made football look easy.  Wide receiver Randy Moss nearly made a touchdown catch but Falcons cornerback Chevis Jackson and safety Erik Coleman rendered that pass incomplete.  A few plays later, running back Fred Taylor ran the ball twenty-eight yards for a TD.  New England 7 and Atlanta 3.

The top of the second quarter demonstrated a more focused Falcons offense.  Matt Bryant attempted a forty-seven yard FG at the end of the possession.  Kroy Biermann sacked Brady, which preceded a wide right forty-one yard Stephen Gostowski FG.  A personal foul on Chevis Jackson gave the Patriots an automatic first down.  Though Biermann made another defensive play, Brady connected with rookie Patriot tight end Aaron Hernandez for a TD.  New England 14 and Atlanta 3.  John Parker Wilson went in as QB upon return from commercial break (with five minutes left in the second quarter).  Patriots rookie cornerback Jonathan Wilhite intercepted John Parker Wilson’s pass meant for wide receiver Eric Weems.  Brian Hoyer set to QB duties for the Patriots.

Hoyer and Parker Wilson continued as QBs for their respective teams in the third quarter.  Seven minutes into the second half, Patriots running back Sammy Morris carried the ball twenty yards into the end zone.  New England 21 and Atlanta 3.  The third sprang to the fourth with the Patriots recovering a fumbled Falcons ball.  The fourth quarter burst out with a TD by tight end Rob Gronkowski.  New England 28 and Atlanta 3.  After getting sacked towards the bottom of the fourth quarter, John Parker Wilson threw a TD pass to wide receiver Troy Bergeron.  Chris Redman took to the field for the final minute and a half of the game.  New England 28 and Atlanta 10.   Final score.  Sure, I’d have liked the Falcons to win, but losing to the Patriots by fewer than twenty points in the pre-season isn’t that bad, is it?

Observations & Miscellania:

1.  Pre-game footage included a brief shot of Tom Brady walking into the Georgia Dome and wearing a suit.  His hair has grown past his ears; he looks like a hockey player.

2.  Matt Ryan is glowing.  Is it confidence? Bone structure?  Il est beau.

3.  Joe Buck and Troy Aikman narrated this evening’s game.  Joe wore a light pink-lavender tie, an off-white button-down shirt, and a black blazer.  Troy wore a dark blue and light blue tie with stripes, a cornflowery button-down shirt, and a dark blue blazer.

4.  The Fox score and quarter graphic looks different and is ill-placed.  It was unassuming last season and sat in the upper left corner.  Now, it’s rounder, bigger, more colorful and is in the upper left portion of the screen–roughly two inches into the screen (from the edge of the set).  The Fox logo is in the upper right of the screen.

5.  Did Troy Aikman refer to Tom Brady as “dreamy” immediately before the telecast cut to a commercial following Matt Bryant’s first quarter field goal?

6.  Can’t sleep? No problem.  You might be smarter than your sleep-before-midnight brethren.

7.  Percy Harvin suffers from migraines?

8.  Upon returning for the second half, cameras caught former Falcons coach Jim Mora signing dollar bills for fans in the stands.

9.  Mike Pereira joined Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the booth during the third quarter.

10.  Sammy Morris and Tommy Davidson could be brothers.

11.  Number 28 on the Patriots side was chewing gum in a sidelines huddle.

12.  Slow-motion footage of the Falcons sidelines after Bergeron’s TD had Matt Ryan and Chris Redman both congratulating John Parker Wilson (Ryan patted him on the back).

13.  Tom Brady hugged Matt Ryan when the game was over.  They both patted each other’s left breast…you know, the area between the arm pit and the chest.

Get game summary, stats, and play-by-play here.

Click here for the Falcons roster, here for the Patriots roster.

NFL 2010 wildcard: Ravens swarm the Patriots

If  the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens had a million dollars (right this second), would they buy you a house or a K-car?  Probably not.  Instead, they would meet on a patch of grass, squat down, crouch in stealth, chase each other, and pull one another to the ground in order to go to the playoffs.  Broadcast on CBS, the Ravens went on offense first and running back Ray Rice bolted eighty-three yards down the field for a  touchdown on the first play–seventeen seconds into the game.  Two plays into the Patriots’ possession, Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs initiated a turnover.  The end of that drive produced a touchdown by linebacker Jameel McClain.  Baltimore 14 and New England 0.  Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw an interception into the hands of Ravens cornerback Chris Carr in the middle of the first quarter.  Rice soon made his second TD of the day.  SWEET AND SPICY JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS!!!! Brady threw yet another interception when the Patriots got back on offense.  Ravens safety Ed Reed made the turnover catch and tossed the ball to safety Dawan Landry before getting tackled at New England’s thirty-four yard line.  The Ravens went with a field goal at the end of that excitement.  Baltimore 24 and New England 0.

The second quarter started with the Patriots punting the ball away but none of the Ravens caught the ball.  New England cornerback Kyle Arrington recovered the ball in Baltimore’s red zone.  The commentators thought the Ravens should’ve challenged the call but also pointed out that Baltimore’s coaches were not close enough to see anything to warrant throwing a red flag.  A few plays later, wide receiver Julian Edelman caught a pass for a TD.  Baltimore 24 and New England 7.  Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was picked off six minutes into the quarter.


The third quarter appeared to demonstrate more New England solidness, that is until Dawan Landry intercepted Brady six minutes into the quarter.  The Ravens increased their score with a field goal  Baltimore 27 and New England 7.  Several minutes later, Julian Edelman made a second TD.  Baltimore 27 and New England 14.  The fourth quarter began with the Ravens winning a challenge to get a first-and-goal and a couple plays later, running back Willis McGahee got himself into the end zone.  A two-point conversion attempt did not work.  Baltimore challenged the unsuccessful try but lost.  Halfway through the quarter, Patriots kicker Stephen Gostowski’s kick was no good.  Baltimore 33 and New England 14.  Final score.  The last time the Patriots lost at home was to the Jets in 2006.  The Ravens are going to play the Indianapolis Colts next week.


Observations & Miscellania:

1.  Jim Nantz and Phil Simms were the commentators.  Both men wore dark suits, but Nantz had a purple tie, a lavender shirt, and a dark gray sweater vest.  Simms was decked in blue of varying shades for vest, tie, and shirt.

2.  Phil Simms noted during the Ravens’ kickoff to the Patriots upon returning from the commercial break that followed Ray Rice’s game-opening TD run that in an interview from the previous night, Rice said that, “I run deceptively quick with speed.”  I had no idea what that meant until an extreme high-angle (essentially an overhead view) of the field where the Patriots end zone was at the bottom of the screen.  The replay began at the line of scrimmage and as Rice broke through the New England defense and was headed down the field, the “deceptively quick with speed” became apparent in comparing the running of two Patriots that were trying to catch up to Rice.  These Patriots’ feet move more rapidly, whereas Rice’s strides were bigger.

3.  Jameel McClain did a little step-dance after he stood up in the end zone.

4.  Did I just see Peyton Manning and Justin Timberlake speaking really, really bad Mandarin in a Sony TV commercial?  Yes, I did.  Manning sounded like he was speaking a bizarre smoothie of bad Cantonese and Mandarin.  Timberlake sounded like he was only speaking bad Mandarin.  It was pretty funny, though.  They have inflections in their voices.  I think I could teach both of them how to pronounce Mandarin properly.

5.  Ravens tight end Todd Heap sustained some kind of injury in the bottom of the fourth quarter.  He’s one year and two months older than I.

6.  New England head coach Bill Belichick was wearing a beanie.  The red and white yarn ball atop of it reminded me of a peppermint candy.  Tom Brady also needs to cut his hair.

7.  After the game, Ravens head coach Jim Harbaugh ran around the field high-fiving Baltimore fans.

Get game summary, stats, and play-by-play here.


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