Is Having a Huge Lead the Worst Thing That Can Ever Happen to a Sports Team in 2018?

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In the moments after Sunday’s stupefyingly exciting NFL playoff games, I was searching for a take to throw out there in the coming days. Most NFL weekends I kind of just let breathe until the next one, since usually nothing crazy happens and I already told you everything that would happen beforehand in my weekly picks. But I knew this weekend was different. Too many crazy finishes, too much drama. I couldn’t just recap the games, that’d be boring and pointless. So what should I talk about? I was ready to just scrap it and move on to something else when it hit me: in 2018, having a huge lead at any point in the game is the worst thing that can possibly happen to a team. And to be clear I’m not talking about something like the Titans taking a 7-0 lead in the first quarter against the Pats or the Twins going up 3-0 in the top of the first in the Wild Card game against a superior Yankees team. Early leads like that come and go all the time. I’m talking about the games where one team looks like they’re playing a completely different sport than the other. The ones that are over at the half. The ones where the announcers are warming up their garbage time material. The ones where the comeback is so obvious that anyone could see it coming, but everyone is still somehow caught off guard. They’ve become practically commonplace.

Think about what we’ve seen in the last few years: Vikings were up 17 at the half and it felt like 700. If it weren’t for the worst defensive gaffe of all time they would have lost. Jags were up 21-0 and were dying to give it away, and probably would have if Mike Tomlin wasn’t an IDIOT. The Titans looked worse in the first half against Kansas City than they did at any point against the Pats and they made that comeback look easy. I guess last year’s Super Bowl counts. College sports are a different animal, but Georgia had the least convincing two score lead of all time and predictably blew it. Penn State was passing out Rose Bowl Champion shirts on the sideline before Sam Darnold’s one good game. The Clippers had historic collapses against the Rockets and Warriors. PSG’s unbelievable-but-totally-believable loss to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yankees erased a 2-0 series lead against the Indians, then blew a 3-2 lead in the very next round. People forget that the Warriors, Thunder, and Indians blew 3-1 leads in the same year. Teams just flat out refuse to close out leads these days, and it’s starting to get easier and easier to spot.

First off, and not to always bring things back to my privileged life as a Pats fan, but obviously certain teams are exempt from this. The Pats would literally never blow a massive lead in a playoff game. Spurs usually squeeze the life out of teams and don’t allow comebacks in games where their best player doesn’t get hurt. Baseball is too unpredictable to always avoid blowing the occasional lead, but the good teams usually can. That’s really the crux of things, if we’re being honest- all the teams that blow these leads are either actually inferior or believe they’re inferior. No one on the planet thought the Titans were better than the Chiefs, but the Chiefs get paralyzed by success. They want to be the victim so they clam up. Same with the Vikings. The Vikings get into their own heads trying to finally win that big game, so they just start panicking. The Jags aren’t supposed to beat a team like the Steelers, so when the Steelers score a touchdown the Jags, despite what Jalen Ramsey would like you to believe, start questioning things. They were lucky Blake Bortles and Tomlin bailed them out. It’s happened against the Pats a million times. There have been so many comebacks that teams create a self-fulfilling prophecy when they get a lead because all they can think about is how to avoid being the next team to blow a lead.

They’re so easy to predict now, too. In football, if a team is down 21-0 but scores at the end of the half and opens the half by either getting the ball back or forcing a 3-and-out, the leading team goes away from what got them the lead, playing soft defense meant to limit big plays and not make mistakes, next thing you know you’re wondering how you blew that big lead. In basketball, if you take ten points off the lead in the third quarter, you better believe the team in front is going to start passing the ball around, trying not to be the guy that has to shoot, trying not to turn it over, trying not to make the big mistake, then you look up and people are clowning you on Twitter for blowing a bigger lead than the Warriors. Baseball is almost the most obvious because it’s so clear when the pitcher wants no part of the game. One guy gets rocked, put in the next reliever who gets lit up, and now it’s a train of middle relief that’s dying not to be the guy that blows it. And literally any college sport if a team has a huge lead but gives up two unanswered scores it’s pretty much over. The signs are so easy to spot yet people are still caught off guard. If I were a coach, I’d recognize right away if my team had Loser DNA and try to counteract it. “We have a two score lead in the fourth quarter, I’m not going to run prevent defense and I think I’ll call plays that have a chance of picking up 4-5 yards every time to take the pressure off my terrible quarterback.” “Boy, how should I protect this 10 point lead with five minutes left? Perhaps I’ll keep my gameplan the same since that’s what gave us the lead and it’s a good thing I had the foresight to practice what to do against a full court press so my team doesn’t start running around like a chicken with their head cut off.” “Maybe I won’t put my season in the hands of a reliever with a career ERA of over 5.” Somehow professional coaching staffs don’t know how to prevent these things, which just proves that Loser DNA is real. Some teams are just destined to blow leads and never win. Loser DNA is going to make its presence felt this weekend in a big way. For who? Well, you’ll have to tune in on Friday to find out. That’s what they call a tease in the biz. Just like the fleeting feeling of pride you get when you think the team you like is about to win the big game by a million points. These days, it’s safer to just assume they won’t.

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