Kenyan Drake saw Gronk en route to TD, but ‘he wasn’t stopping me’

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Twenty-nine minutes after making the play of the year in the National Football League (and oh, there was some competition for it, even Sunday), man-of-the-hour Kenyan Drake of the Dolphins picked up the phone and told me a story about the weekend he was drafted in 2016. Miami plucked him in round three. When Drake got to team facilities after the draft, rookie coach Adam Gase greeted him with a smile.

“When I met Coach Gase,” said Drake, “he told me, ‘We drafted you to beat the New England Patriots.’ “

Now isn’t that convenient? What happened at 4:10 p.m. in south Florida, on a play the Dolphins call “Boise,” was so weird and so unlikely that the NFL didn’t even know what to call it. On the official National Football League Game Summary, the play that beat the aforementioned New England Patriots 34-33 with :00 left on the clock was listed thusly:

K.Drake 69 yd. pass play by R.Tannehill (1-69, 0:16)

Drake was credited with 55 receiving yards on the play, and a 52-yard touchdown, somehow, and you get the feeling everyone in Hard Rock Stadium was trying to figure out exactly what just happened. Including Drake, who was left on the phone trying to process the incredible play and the enormity of its meaning.

“Could you imagine ever making a play like that, to beat Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots?”

“In my dreams,” Drake said, with a lot of mayhem in the background from the Miami locker room.

“Really. In my dreams.”

Remember: This was not only a cool play to beat the Goliath of the division. Miami has a trip to dangerous and likely desperate Minnesota coming this week, and if the Dolphins had lost, they’d have been 6-7, tied for ninth with Denver in the AFC playoff pecking order with three games to play. In other words, they’d have been on life support with a loss. “It was do-or-die for us, and we knew it,” Drake said.

“What helped us,” Drake told me, “is how much we practiced this exact play. We actually walk-through or jog-through the play every week. We go, like, half-speed. So we all knew what to do. It’s just a matter of doing it, and hoping it goes your way.”

“Why ‘Boise?’ “ I asked.

“You know, as a testament to that Boise State-Oklahoma game,” Drake said. The 2007 Fiesta Bowl, you may recall, when Boise use a hook-and-lateral play, a 42-yard miracle, to upset the Sooners.

Here, Sunday: Patriots 33, Dolphins 28. Ball at the Miami 31, seven seconds left. No timeouts. Ryan Tannehill took the snap, dropped to his own 21, and threw a strike to Kenny Stills at the Miami 45; he advanced it two yards and lateraled to DeVante Parker back at the Miami 45, and Parker ran to midfield. There he saw Drake, romping up the right sideline, with ace patriot linebacker Kyle Van Noy in close pursuit. Van Noy dove and caught Drake at the heels, but it was only enough to make him stumble, not go down.

“Then,” said Drake, “I was just looking for someone to toss it to. That’s the way we practice—there’s always someone for me to toss it to.”

Uh-oh. No one there, and no clear lane up the sideline. Drake cut inside, looking for daylight, and still looking for a pitchee. Unless you count Patriot defenders Adam Butler and J.C. Jackson, there were no good options for pitches. Miami guard Ted Lawson hustled downfield to make a key block on Patriot safety Patrick Chung at the New England 30.

And then, space.

“I was still looking for one of my guys, but then I had some open space,” Drake said. “That was amazing.”

Inside the 20, and here, at about the New England 12-yard line, came Rob Gronkowski, who was in the game at deep safety because New England had its Hail Mary hands team in the game. A rare mistake by Belichick; tackler extraordinaire Devin McCourt was not on the field for the play. But surely, Gronk would stonewall Drake.

Wouldn’t he?

“I saw him,” Drake said. “And I know how great he is. I know he’s going to the Hall of Fame. Awesome player. But regardless of who was there, he wasn’t stopping me. That I know for sure.” Gronk stumbled and never got a clear shot at Drake. Amazingly, with the division title on the line, after Van Noy, no Patriot had a legit chance to tackle Drake.

Drake threw the football half-a-section into the stands. Surrounded and pummeled in the end zone, all he remembers is a loud hum. “No words, just the hum. Dumbfounded. I am still in awe. Greatest play of my life.”

Well, what play could ever compete with that?

As for what it means, it gives Miami life; the Dolphins are one of four 7-6 teams in the conference now, and very likely only one of those will make the playoffs. Regarding the Patriots: It would take a very non-Belichickian collapse for 9-4 New England to lose the division, with a two-game lead over Miami with three to play, and the Patriots exit Sunday the number two seed in the conference. So they still have a good shot at the two seed and an outside shot at the one seed entering Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh.

Knowing the Patriots, they’ll be able to erase the bitterness by Sunday in Pittsburgh. Just don’t expect it to go away in the next day or two.

MORE: Read Peter King’s full Football Morning Morning in America column by clicking here

Cris Collinsworth, Pro Football Focus writers explain how analytics are changing the NFL

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Peter King is on vacation until July 15, and he lined up some guest writers to fill his Monday spot on Football Morning in America. Today, it’s a collaborative effort by Pro Football Focus, the popular football analytics website. To start, here’s PFF Majority Owner and NBC’s Sunday Night Football color analyst Cris Collinsworth.

How data is impacting the landscape of football

When I broadcast my first NFL game during the 1989 season, I had absolutely no idea what to study or how to study. NBC provided me with a handful of newspaper articles, we watched some film at the team facility on Friday before the game, and we interviewed some players and coaches. I took notes, but I didn’t even have a board with the players’ names and numbers on it.

I was thrown into the deep end of the pool. This was going to be the shortest broadcasting career ever. Luckily, I had David Michaels as my producer (yes, Al Michaels’ brother). David had worked for years with Terry Bradshaw, and Terry had created these boards for calling games. The positions were aligned on this board where they would line up on the field. Offense facing defense, back-ups behind starters. All I had to do was fill in the blanks. Once again, my friend Terry was ahead of his time, and David showed me how to use it.

When I think back to those days, it’s pretty comical. Today, I could never read, watch or study all the data that I have available to me. In 2014, I bought controlling interest in Pro Football Focus. At the time we had 60 employees evaluating every player on every play of the NFL season. Now we have nearly 500 employees, providing data to 90 NFL and NCAA teams, multiple television networks and individuals who use it for private purposes. I won’t get into all the details, but if you are a data scientist, mathematician or IT specialist, and you love football, we are hiring.

PFF has already changed the way I think about building a team and play-calling. I can remember a time when everybody thought Andy Reid was crazy for passing 60% of the time. He doesn’t look so crazy now. I remember when running backs were thought to be the most valuable position; now they are considered the easiest to replace based on our WAR (wins above replacement) metric. I think it is fair to say that now very few NFL contracts are negotiated without PFF data being at the heart of the debate. The agent pitches all the positive data about the player, and the team is loaded with all the not so positive data. Some of those negotiating stories are pretty entertaining.

But as much as the data has changed broadcasting, it has changed the game of football even more. “Gut instincts” are no longer good enough. Decisions must be made based on the data. Every year at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, PFF meets with nearly every team. I always laugh when somebody starts telling me about “old school” coaches in the league. I won’t mention names, but some of the “old school” coaches have recently blown me away with their knowledge of the data.

I sat in on a meeting with a team that had seven data scientists, mathematicians and IT specialists from Harvard, Stanford and M.I.T. all in the room, and they were loaded with questions that would make your head spin. Luckily, I had the people in the room with the answers. Of course, there are teams that are not quite that sophisticated, and it is getting more and more difficult for them to compete. The data arms race is very real, and it is widening the gap between those who engage, and those who don’t.

The fans are now engaged in the data arms race, as well. Fantasy football had always created a market for data, but since May 2018, when the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 against the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act that effectively barred state-authorized sports gambling, a new aspect in the arms race has opened to fans. Whether anyone likes it or not, there is no stopping state-sponsored gambling on football and other sports. We have seen a real spike in our consumer sales of our Edge and Elite products. Some fans just want to know more about their team, others want to be the smartest person at the water cooler, some want to dominate their fantasy league, and others still are writing their own gambling algorithms. Regardless, there is no going back now. Data has changed the game.

 

For more PFF writers’ analysis, read more from this week’s Football Morning in America here

Patriots settle as small favorites on Super Bowl odds 2019

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For all the narratives that can hang off the great Tom Brady and Super Bowl first-timer Jared Goff, two of the big moving parts in the matchup on Super Sunday involve the rushing phase.

The New England Patriots have settled as 2.5-point favorites on the Super Bowl odds 2019 against the Los Angeles Rams with a 56.5-point total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com in the Super Bowl 53 matchup slated for Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Sunday.

The Bill Belichick- and Brady-led Patriots are 6-2 against the spread in their last eight games as a favorite of 3.0 or fewer points, according to the OddsShark NFL Database, while the Rams are 4-3 straight-up and ATS in their last seven games as an underdog. Interestingly enough, underdogs are 13-4 ATS in the last 17 Super Bowl games.

As so often happens, the last two teams standings are in good health. The biggest exception for New England, whose run defense has been league-average much of the season, is that defensive tackle Malcom Brown (calf) was limited in practice. The Rams claim leading rusher Todd Gurley (left knee inflammation) is 100 per cent after he had only five touches during the NFC championship game two weeks ago.

Backing the Patriots, who are 13-5 SU and 11-7 ATS on the year, involves putting stock in Brady and cohorts’ abundant Super Bowl experience, along with the fact the offense has been at peak form, averaging 38.7 points and 465.7 yards per game over its last three outings.

The Patriots’ offensive line will arguably be the unofficial playoff MVP, collectively, if it contains the Rams’ front four anchored by Aaron Donald, the best defensive lineman in football. If Brady, the subject of many Super Bowl props for Sunday, isn’t disrupted and/or the opposing pass rush is sucking wind after a ball-control drive, the Patriots passing game is lethal.

The Rams, 15-3 SU and 9-7-2 ATS, are new to the tumult of the Super Bowl. However, head coach Sean McVay thrives at creating mismatches, and two of the Rams’ season-long strengths, running out one-back, one-tight end sets and using play-action passes, are not tactics that New England has defended particularly well.

Goff also led five game-winning drives during the season, emerging victorious in quarterback matchups against stars such as Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson (twice).

The total has gone OVER in seven of the Patriots’ last eight games in the playoffs. New England’s last four closely contested playoff games have featured 68, 74, 44 and 62 points.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.