Shanahan Demoted for Insane Play Calling
Larry Thornberry
by

Coming from behind in championship competition has been a theme over the past sports year. First the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from down 3-1 to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. Then the Chicago Cubs ended a century-plus championship drought by also overcoming a 3-1 deficit to the Cleveland Indians, winning the 2016 World Series in a Game Seven that had everything that makes baseball fans swoon. (Not to mention sweat — you could cut the tension in the 10th inning of that one with a stick of Wrigley Spearmint Gum).

Then there was Sunday, when the New England Patriots were so far down the rabbit-hole you couldn’t see their ears from Earth’s surface. The Bradymobile was sputtering on all cylinders. Champagne was being trucked into Atlanta. All Peachtree Streets, Avenues, Boulevards, Circles, Roads, Traces, and Alleys were closed for celebration. The Falcons were to be NFL championships at long last. Mint Juleps all around. Take that, General Sherman, you miserable sod. We’re back.

Now were I pulling for any other team that found itself down 28-3 with less than three minutes left in the third quarter, I probably would have looked for a Columbo rerun to switch to or perhaps watched Miss Congeniality. Again. (Sandra Bullock is terrific in the Mustang Sally sequence.) But my team Sunday was the New England Patriots. So I stayed put. I manned my couch to the last. You don’t give up on Brady, Belichick & Associates until the entire 60 minutes have expired or until someone has driven a stake through their hearts. (Hmm. Belay that last. I shouldn’t be giving Roger Goodell and the other NFL owners any ideas.)

And take nothing away from the Brady Bunch. They were magnificent on both sides of the ball in their heart-stopping, come-from-behind win. From Julian Edelman’s immaculate reception on, viewers knew the worm was turning, and they were about to see something very special. But it has to be said that, however great the Pats were at the end, they had help from the other bench. Again.

It had echoes of two Roman numerals ago, when the Seattle Seahawks, down 28-24 to these same Pats with less than a minute left found themselves on the Patriot one-yard line, second down, with monster running back Marshawn Lynch idling in the Seahawks huddle. If Lynch can’t gain a yard in three tries, a chicken can’t lay an egg. (To that point in the game, Lynch had gained 102 yards and scored a TD.) But instead of the surefire play, the Seahawks elected to throw a slant pass into a bigger crowd than you’d find on the MTA at 5 p.m. in Boston. The Patriots, as one doesn’t have to be an NFL historian to know, came up with the ball and the Lombardi trophy. No one on the Patriots team or front office received anything on the following Christmas. They had already gotten their gift.

Sunday’s Santa Claus was Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. With his team up 28-20 with less than four minutes left, the Falcons were on the Patriots’ 23 with a second and 11. Already within field goal range. A couple of running plays to get a bit closer and eat some time off the clock, followed by three points, and it’s a two-possession game with hardly any time left. Pull the corks. The South has risen again.

But that’s not how it worked out. Stunned viewers watched in disbelief as the Falcons put the ball up and then gave it up. A sack, a holding penalty, and the house of cards collapses. The clowns pour out of the little car. Before you can say, WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY THINKING!?, Dr. Brady and his Patriots have the ball again and are doing their magic act. The rest, as they say, is pretty remarkable football history. Roger Goodell, with painted-on smile, hands the Lombardi Trophy to Bob Kraft. Patriots fans enjoy their championship parade in Boston on Tuesday in the snow.

Nothing for Christmas again for the Pats this year. I’m sure they won’t mind. But perhaps Patriots owner Bob Kraft should send a present to Shanahan — a deflated game ball.

Reaction in Atlanta to the incomprehensible call and the crushing, unexpected loss was swift and hotter than an Atlanta July afternoon. In deference to our younger readers or members of the clergy who might be tuned in, I won’t repeat any of it. But it didn’t take long to learn what Shanahan’s punishment would be for his felony play calling. On Tuesday he was named head coach of the 2-14 San Francisco Forty-Niners with the collateral duty of being Colin Kaepernick’s civics tutor. Take that, Dummy.

Harsh punishment for sure. But Shanahan is an adult. So he knows that actions have consequences. Lucky for him he’s a young fellow. A mere 37. So he has time to redeem himself. I’ve been told, and do believe, that many in Boston have forgiven Bill Buckner. Absolution may be in store for Shanahan at some point, too. But for now, he should probably stay clear of Atlanta. If he must linger there a bit to straighten up his affairs before moving to San Francisco, he might consider hiring a food taster.

Larry Thornberry
Larry Thornberry
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Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.
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