By: Edward Egros

The Patriots...and Now the Tide

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Anyone looking to tease the Atlanta Falcons mercilessly might write that 28-3 score somewhere prominently or even wear that scoreboard on a t-shirt.

Expect Alabama fans to do the same whenever they need to remind Georgia fans about their team's collapse.

Alabama's Nick Saban once worked for Bill Belichick, so knowingly or not, Saban reflected his former boss in terms of how he engineered coming back from a two-possession deficit in the second half of the National Championship Game. He switched quarterbacks at halftime (opting with a true freshman quarterback with little experience up to that game), he wanted more throws down the field (Alabama completed four passes of 15+ yards in the second half, compared with completed none in the first half) and he demanded his defense take more gambles getting to the backfield (nine tackles for loss in the second half versus only three in the first half).

Belichick also took more risks in Super Bowl LI, knowing that these gambles were the only ways he could possibly win the game. If they failed and the Patriots fell into a deeper hole, it didn't matter; they were going to lose anyway, the size of the deficit does not matter.

In a previous post, I talked about a paper from Brian Skinner: "
Scoring Strategies for the Underdog: A General, Quantitative Method for Determining Optimal Sports Strategies". Skinner explained how underdogs must call riskier plays to have a chance at success. It might mean getting shellacked, but by finding specifically how much riskier a team should get, it might be the only way for those trailing to win.

Nick Saban had to make the change at quarterback because there was almost no chance he was going to win with Jalen Hurts. He had to take more throws down the field because he did not have the time to grind it out with the rushing attack. Lastly, he had to take more chances defensively because if Georgia mounted lengthy drives, there wouldn't be any time left for Alabama to have a chance to complete the comeback.

Some fans still seem surprised by these comebacks, calling them "improbable" or "unbelievable". While they are fantastic for football, it is not a coincidence that the coaches mounting these comebacks not only have won championships, they have been with their respective employer for years, with job security that seems undeniably stable. It is possible coaches who do not have this kind of job security are nervous to be blown out in any game, must less a contest for a championship. Any boss insinuating that the margin of defeat matters can have devastating consequences to the likelihood of a comeback.

Hopefully coaches will be more confidence in a deficit, take more risks, and football fans can watch even more competitive games.