It was an amazing game, and, admittedly, I spent most of it in a state of borderline depression and then bewilderment. But as agonizing as that first half was for Patriots fans, it must have been utterly demoralizing for Falcons fans, who had to suffer through watching their team snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Much of the post-game analysis has focused on the miraculous nature of the Patriots’ comeback, all the broken records and the legacy now cemented by the Brady-Belichick tandem. And all of it is 100% deserved. The Patriots have perfected a recipe for success based primarily around humbling the individual, putting the team first and focusing entirely on the next play. Their mantra is do your job. And it works. They tirelessly put themselves in a position to win, and that’s enough to provide the right conditions for hard work, luck and perseverance to deliver the big win.
But I’m just as fascinated with the sequence of events and conditions that made the Falcons’ collapse possible. Ask any football fan and they’ll tell you that a 4-score deficit in the 3rd quarter is just about insurmountable. The probability of Atlanta winning the game was over 99%.
I didn’t notice it at the time, but having watched that second half of football several more times, I’ve noticed subtle little things that made the epic collapse possible. In short, the Falcons got arrogant at worst or complacent at best. I’ll give Matt Ryan credit; he appeared dialed in until the very end. But most of the other players were celebrating prematurely, the owners came down from their box to jubilantly jump up and down on the sideline with the team, and the coaches began to make some unforgivable mistakes.
It takes time to recover from a 4-score deficit. Atlanta should have been taking that time away by milking the play clock on every down. Instead, they continued to take snaps at a record pace. Throughout the game, the Falcons’ running game was eviscerating the Patriots’ defense. But inexplicably, they began to adopt a pass-oriented attack that left them vulnerable to sack, penalties and turnovers. What were they thinking?
Check this out: With less than 5 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, on the cusp of the Patriots’ redzone and with an 8-point lead, the Falcons still had a 99% probability of victory! After marching down the field in seconds on the back of a near-impossible Julio Jones catch, the Falcons needed only a field goal to put the game out of reach. A few running plays, a knee or two and then it would have been time for champagne. But arrogance can be blinding. The Falcons stubbornly continued to pass. They paid for it. And they lost.
There’s a time and a place for risk. When attempting to accumulate a lead, it takes hard work and requires taking chances. When there’s plenty of time on the clock, risk is often rewarded. Fortune favors the bold!
But when you’re close to or already beyond retirement, that same mentality can hurt you. Perhaps irreversibly so. The Dow has just surpassed 20,000. People feel happy. They feel smart. More dangerously, they’re getting complacent.
The last two major market corrections sent portfolios spiraling by as much as 50%. If that happens in proximity to retirement, you’re going back to work or taking a permanent cut to your lifestyle. There’s no alternative and no second chances.
For the Falcons, there’s always next year. But retirees have one shot at getting things right. There’s nothing wrong with fearlessly investing some of your money in the market, but retirees need to seriously consider hedging against catastrophic risk by protecting some of the money too. For many, when it’s late in the game, the risk is losing what you already have.
Will you run the ball, take a knee, kick the field goal and go home with the trophy? Or, instead, will you keep pushing your luck, knowing the consequences could be disastrous? When victory is in reach, the path that gets you there with the least amount of risk is probably best. Don’t get complacent just because the market is currently breaking record highs. It won’t last forever. Remember the words of the legendary Warren Buffet, “be fearful when others are greedy.”