Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s I was a fan of Quantum Leap. For those of you who don’t remember it, or it was before your time, the premise was one of time-travel where the main character, Dr Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) ‘leapt’ through time righting various wrongs with only a hologram of his friend Al (the brilliant Dean Stockwell) appearing to help him solve what he needed to do to leap again, trying to get home.
Reminded of the premise the other day I wondered about instances in the NFL over the last decade. Games are won and lost by the smallest of margins, sometimes on one decision. So, how might the last decade have looked if we make a few small changes, concentrating solely on playoff games.
February 5th 2012 – Super Bowl 46
NY Giants 21 – 17 New England Patriots (4th Qtr 0:05)
Watch this final play back. The Patriots are down by 4 after Ahmad Bradshaw had ‘fallen’ into the end zone for a Giants TD with 0:57 left on the clock. Conscious of leaving Tom Brady enough time to strike back, the New England Patriots defense had parted like the red sea to allow Bradshaw to run in from 6 yards out unchallenged.
Brady, starting on the Patriots 20 yards line, had managed somehow (in the midst of incompletions and a sack from Justin Tuck) to engineer one final hail-mary shot at a miracle finale. On the final play he evades the Giants token 3-man rush and hurls a bomb which is up for grabs in the endzone. Giants defenders deflect the initial throw but the ball then falls to the ground barely out of the finger tip grasp of Rob Gronkowski.
What if Gronk had stretched a little further or anticipated the deflection a fraction of a second earlier? The result could have been one of the most memorable final plays in Super Bowl history. BTW as a Giants fan this one hurts me to even contemplate!
New Result: NY Giants 21 – 24 New England Patriots
Let’s leap on!
January 11th 2015 – NFC Divisional Round
Dallas Cowboys 21 – 26 Green Bay Packers (4th Qtr 4:50)
It’s a catch. You know what I am talking about. The Cowboys are at the Packers 33 yard line with a 4th and 2, and they are going for it. Tony Romo, ever the gunslinger, eschews any thought of a short yardage gain for the first down. He sends a jump ball to Dez Bryant who catches it while falling to the ground with the Packers defensive back, and rolls into the endzone. Somehow it is ruled as he was not in control of the catch. I’m a Giants fan and I think it was a catch!
He could have been ruled down at about the 2-yard line but the Cowboys still punch it in, and I’m taking them to see the game out and advancing to the NFC Championship game.
New Result: Dallas Cowboys 29 – 26 Green Bay Packers
But there is more to do in 2015.
February 1st 2015 – Super Bowl 49
New England Patriots 28 – 24 Seattle Seahawks (4th Qtr 0:26)
So, sorry Cowboys fans but after beating the Packers in the divisional round I still think the Seahawks, the reigning champions after their destruction of the Denver Broncos 12 months earlier, face the Patriots.
Again, we all know where I am going here. This was a great Super Bowl. A real back-n-forth as first the Patriots led, then the Seahawks were up by 10 in the second half. The Patriots dominate the 4th quarter with 14 unanswered points to lead by 4. Finally, Seattle drive to the Patriots 2-yard line and with 2nd and goal call a pass play, a quick slant, which Malcolm Butler reads, intercepts, game over.
I have huge respect for Pete Carroll and the job he has done at Seattle but he is surely 1 playcall away from another Super Bowl ring. Let’s give the ball to Marshawn Lynch, he gets the 2 yards. The Seattle Seahawks have consecutive Super Bowl victories.
New Result: New England Patriots 28 – 31 Seattle Seahawks
Where next? Oh yes, 2017
February 5th 2017 – Super Bowl 51
New England Patriots 20 – 28 Atlanta Falcons (4th Qtr 4:40)
For three quarters the Atlanta Falcons were imperious. It wasn’t a contest. If it was a title fight the Patriots had received the standing 8 count from the referee and were one punch away from being KO’d. Then the comeback began and you could see the contender start to buckle as the more experienced champion summoned up all they had not and refused to be defeated.
However, even after 17 points were clawed back, the Falcons found themselves 1st and 10 with 4:40 left on the clock at the Patriots 22-yard line. Even if Matt Ryan had knelt down 3 times they could have kicked the field goal to go 11 points clear with possibly around 3:30 left. Instead, following a sack and a holding penalty they found themselves 3rd and 33, now out of field goal range. The Patriots sensed blood in the water, the Falcons were broken.
The 2016-17 Atlanta Falcons were an outstanding team and would have been worthy winners of Super Bowl 51. Let’s change the playcalling on that fateful drive, they kick the field goal and although the Patriots score another TD it is Atlanta lifting the trophy.
New Result: New England Patriots 28 – 31 Atlanta Falcons
Here’s where it gets fun – lots to change in 2018 so it’s a quickfire round!
January 13th and 14th – NFC Divisional Round
First of all it is sorry to Minnesota Vikings fans. The Minneapolis Miracle doesn’t happen. With 10 seconds left, on their own 39 yard line, 3rd and 10, but this time Saints Safety Marcus Williams concentrates on tackling Stefan Diggs in-bounds and time expires. The amazing Case Keenum show ends here.
January 21st – AFC Championship Round
In almost identical fashion to the previous year’s Super Bowl, the Patriots toyed with a pretender to the throne. Blake Bortles and the Jaguars largely dominated the first three quarters, which is never enough. The Jaguars ad taken part in one of the best divisional round games I’ve seen the week before as they and the Steelers had ‘duked’ out a 45-42 classic. Against the Patriots though the Jags dried up on offense as the game progressed. At the end it was a brilliantly batted down ball from Stephon Gillmore which sealed the Patriots progression. This time he doesn’t quite make it, the completion is made and the Jaguars win out.
What would this do to Super Bowl 52? Who would the Jaguars play? I’m going with the Saints as they struggles past the Falcons in the divisional round and I think the Saints would have edged them. If this was to play out I think the New Orleans Saints would walk off with Super Bowl 52.
There is one more Super Bowl I think I need to save…..on to 2019
January 13th 2019 – NFC Championship
LA Rams 20 – 20 New Orleans Saints (4th Qtr 1:48)
What did the officials see? Nothing, clearly. Everyone else did. Known as the “worst no call in NFL playoff history”. The Saints are 3rd and 10 at the Rams 13-yard line. The Rams only have 1 timeout remaining. Drew Brees finds Tommylee Lewis on the sideline or at least he would have done if Rams corner Nickell Robey-Coleman hadn’t slammed him mid-air before the ball arrived. Clearcut pass interference, at the very least. It should have been Saints 1st and goal with 1:45 left which would have given them scope to run the clock down before kicking a game winning field goal – or the opportunity to run in a TD.
In watching the video back the irony is that Coleman could have waited a split second and tackled Lewis fairly and out of bounds, about 3 yards short of the first down. Sean Payton would have then had to decide whether to go for it or kick the field goal. Either way, I hated the call (or non-call) so my yellow flag is thrown to the ground.
New Result: LA Rams 20 – 23 New Orleans Saints
This would have resulted in a Saints vs Patriots Super Bowl 53, Brees vs Brady. It would have been more of a classic than the 13-3 result. Remember in my alternate universe the Saints won in 2018 so I’m giving them 2 in a row winning Super Bowl 53.
So, there we have it, a rewritten history for the last decade of NFL Playoffs. Unsurprisingly, the Patriots are the team most affected by my time travel exercise. Three titles taken away but one added. I think it shows just how ruthless they have been in playoff football, often capitalising on individual moments in games on the biggest stage. They know how to win.
Seahawks and Saints fans should be happy as I’ve created mini-dynasties for them with both achieving back-to-back victories. Again, these are two of the strongest NFC franchises of the last 10 years but it demonstrates how close you can get to a title, to within touching distance, before having victory swiped away from you. And the Falcons don’t capitulate from 28-3 up.
How would you change NFL history by a split-second here or an inch there? It could all have been so different, the beauty of competitive sport. I wonder what 2020-21 has in store for us…….