BSMW has been only sporadically updated for some time now. As I find less and less of the on-air sports media to be even remotely palatable, it is difficult for me to find the desire to write much about it.
It seems like New England goes about free agency signings the same way I approach a breakfast buffet. I start out intent on just oatmeal and a banana, but after seeing they have omelets made to order? I mean, I’ve got to at least inquire, right?
New England went against their typical wait-and-see mode this off-season and loaded up their order with a little of everything. They traded for tight end Dwayne Allen, receiver Brandin Cooks, and defensive lineman Kony Ealy, while scooping up free agents like cornerback Stephon Gilmore, D-lineman Lawrence Guy, and running back Rex Burkhead, while re-signing safety Duron Harmon, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, and corner Justin Coleman.
Got it? Good. Because you might have to remind me later.
And, oh, hey – we’re still more than a month away from the NFL draft. Coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots move around the draft board like a nuthatch attacking a suet feeder, flitting about in search of the best angle for the biggest reward. A few of the team’s tendencies surfaced in our annual Patriots Draft Round-By-Round Review. From that, breaking down their drafts gets simplified: not by where they pick nor by areas of need, but by the categories of athletes they tend to select.
We posted our previous “That Guy” column right after the NFL Combine. This column has some changes, but still lists more than a few combine testing numbers. For clarification of each drill, the NFL Combine page provides some useful info.
After the Cooks trade with New Orleans and the Ealy trade with Carolina, the Patriots have no first- or second-round picks. Though that may change, it has forced us to look later in the draft for certain types of athletes. New England has selections in the Third (two), Fourth, Fifth (two), Sixth, and Seventh rounds. Round One of the NFL Draft happens on Thursday night, April 27. Rounds Two and Three on Friday, April 28, and Rounds Four through Seven take place all day on Day Three, April 29. I can tell you this: as excited as you are now, you won’t believe how bored you’ll get after the first 15 minutes.
In any case, here are the sorts of players to look for next month…
The Solid First-Rounder: As said before, no Thursday night pick for the Pats; however, that could change via trade, allowing in a potential starter. The Patriots have a history of success in their first-round selections, as seen in our aforementioned Round-by-Round Review. (Am I pushing that too much? I’ll stop.) Past picks include Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Dont’a Hightower, and Logan Mankins.
Possible Pick: With the Patriots drafting at 32, we previously picked tight end Evan Engram out of Ole Miss, but now it’s time to look more closely on the defensive side of the ball. Lots to like about Ohio defensive end Tarell Basham (6-4, 269). With the departures of veteran free agent pass-rushers Jabaal Sheard (Indianapolis Colts) and Chris Long (Mt. Kilimanjaro Waterboys), the Pats will look to add further depth along with Ealy and Guy.
By the way, “Ealy and Guy” sounds like the new quirky detective show on USA that follows reruns of “Rizzoli and Isles.” (You can take the “Rizzoli and Isles” quiz now!) Anyhoo, Basham came out of relatively tiny Ohio University to make some waves during Senior Bowl week, proving difficult to contain in one-on-one drills. His 4.70-second 40-yard dash didn’t disappoint. He was named the 2016 MAC Defensive Player of the Year with 16 tackles for loss (11.5 sacks), 44 tackles, and two forced fumbles. Seems like the type of player who could come in and rotate early as a rookie before expanding his role.
The “Who’s That Guy?” Guy: Beginning in the second round, the Patriots have selected players like Sebastian Vollmer in 2009, Tavon Wilson in 2012, and Jordan Richards in 2015, who did not exactly enter the draft adorned in neon lights saying “Pick Me Early.” Even if they fall short of acquiring a second-rounder, New England could use one of their two third-rounders on a less-than-famous prospect, much like they did on Duron Harmon in 2013.
Possible Pick: I had Northwestern defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo fitting here, but since free agency I’ve done a little shifting around (and as you’ll see, I end up with a lot of pass-rushers in other categories). Tony Conner of Ole Miss fits into this area of the draft, not just as a surprisingly high selection, but also as an Injured Guy (more on that below). Conner, a safety (like three of the four Patriots mentioned in this category), was well on his way to the NFL, reaching All-American Freshman status in 2013 and All-SEC Second Team as a sophomore. His junior season got derailed by a torn meniscus in his knee. When he returned as a senior, he managed 41 tackles (3.5 for loss) and a half-sack, along with five passes defensed, failing to reach his previous levels. Considering his setback and follow-up surgery junior year, the 6-0, 225-pound Conner could show off more of his previous abilities this spring.
The 3-Cone Guy: If you’ve ever read my pre-draft stuff before, you’ll remember that New England seeks out a player with quickness over straight-line speed. Seventh-rounder Julian Edelman had a 6.62-second 3-cone at his pro day in 2009, showing off the short-twitch skills that have helped him become the player he is today.
Possible Pick: Washington cornerback Kevin King keeps this spot after his two 2017 NFL Combine bests: 6.56-seconds in the 3-cone and 3.89-seconds in the 20-yard shuttle. (Compare to Edelman’s 6.62 and 3.92 marks, and you’re looking at particle-accelerator-fast feet). The 6-foot-3 King also leapt a 39.5-inch vertical (tied for top seven overall) and a 4.43-second 40. King earned All-Pac 12 Conference Honorable Mention, both on the field and academically. He had 44 tackles (3.5 for loss) and two interceptions. Plus, his last name would provide a boon to those like me with an affinity for terrible, pun-filled headlines.
Like, a picture of him next to Kevin Faulk, with the headline “Faulk-King Great.” Right? Like that.
The Freakishly Athletic Guy: Former Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins earned this moniker at the 2013 combine, moving around in ways that a 250-pound linebacker should not: a 41.5-inch vertical and 11-foot-7 broad jump. Such athleticism can help coaches set up difficult match-ups on either side of the ball.
Possible Pick: We’ve been keeping an eye out during pro day testing, but the athleticism of UConn’s 6-4, 224-pound safety Obi Melifonwu is rarer than steak tartare. A 44-inch vertical. An 11-foot-9 broad jump. A 4.40-second 40 (tied for eighth best at the combine). Crazy numbers for the First Team All-ECAC safety who wrapped up 2016 with 118 tackles, four interceptions, and three pass break-ups.
Fun Fact: Melifonwu gained 1,394 yards and scored 17 touchdowns as a running back at Grafton High School in Massachusetts.
Fun Watch: You can see those moon-man jumps in slo-mo on this CBS Sports page.
Offensive Line Double-Dip Guys: A few years ago, New England started going all Noah on O-linemen, seeking them out in pairs. In 2015, they picked Tré Jackson and Shaq Mason. Last year, Joe Thuney and Ted Karras got selected. After releasing tackle Sebastian Vollmer this off-season, the team should be seeking depth on the line.
Possible Picks: Though he will never be confused with the rabbity King, Isaac Asiata (6-3, 323) could add some bulk and strength to the middle of the Patriots’ front five. The guard out of Utah had a combine-best 35 reps on the bench press. Asiata earned the Morris Trophy for best offensive lineman in the Pac-12, voted by the conference’s defensive linemen. At tackle, Will Holden from Vanderbilt gets the call, especially after Belichick’s visit to the Commodores’ pro day. Holden has the right size at 6-7, 311 pounds, and he put up some of the top combine scores for O-linemen in the 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle. The All-SEC Second-Teamer started as a right tackle sophomore year but moved to left beginning as a junior, starting all 13 games his senior year.
The Long-Limbed Defensive End: Drafted out of Arkansas in 2015, Trey Flowers has worked up to the role of the team’s best pass-rusher, giving the Patriots enough confidence to let Long and Sheard seek contracts with other teams. In 2016, the Patriots seemed to have about as many sacks as a roomful of eunuchs (actually, they sat firmly in the middle of the pack, tied for 16th in the league with 34). New England (and most other teams, really) could use another rangy D-lineman to get after the QB.
Possible Pick: Hard to let go of 6-7, 289-pound Tanoh Kpassagnon out of Villanova, especially considering his baby-anaconda 36-inch limbs. With those reachers, he can name quarterbacks George and hug them and squeeze them. Kpassagnon ran a 4.83 40, leapt 30 inches, and jumped 10 feet, seven inches. No big surprise, he earned Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year honors with 40 tackles (19 for loss) and 8.5 sacks.
Technique: Here’s an interview with Kpassagnon at the Senior Bowl, where he talks about working on his technique. Considering Flowers’ nickname is “Technique,” maybe Foxboro is the place for Kpassagnon to go.
Bonus Technique: Oh, it’s also an album by New Order? Have fun.
The Alabama Guy: Belichick and Alabama coach Nick Saban‘s relationship goes back to a different era, one where giant, square glasses frames made sense (I had the same kind as Saban in this Browns coaching photo). Second-year player Cyrus Jones and Super Bowl standout Dont’a Hightower (2012) are two examples of Tuscaloosans becoming Foxborobros.
Possible Pick: Not like they’re starving for defensive linemen, but Dalvin Tomlinson (6-3, 310) had a good year in Alabama’s defense, with 62 tackles (5.5 for loss), three sacks, and four pass break-ups. Tomlinson also made some noise at the combine, with a 5.19 40 and a 27-inch vertical jump, both notable numbers for a 300-plus pounder.
Fun Fact: Tomlinson won three state titles as a high school heavyweight wrestler in Georgia, compiling a career record of 169-2.
The Ohio State Defensive Back: This is a recent amalgam of The Rutgers Guy and The Ohio State Guy, taking into account former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano moving into the D-Coordinator position at OSU. Call it a potential category of the future.
Possible Pick: Declared junior Dareon Conley (6-0, 195) should get a long look from the Gillette front office. He made All-Big Ten second team with 26 stops, four interceptions, and eight pass break-ups for OSU. At the combine, Conley ran a 4.44-second 40 and – more importantly – a 6.68-second 3-cone, tied for top three corner.
Fun Fact: In 2015, Conley blocked a punt vs. Rutgers. Because it always comes back to Rutgers.
The Injured Guy: New England has been known to gamble on an injured collegian, hoping to cash in on the player out-performing his draft status. Tight end Rob Gronkowski in 2010 immediately comes to mind. Alas, so does Ras-I-Dowling in 2011. Like I said: it’s a gamble.
Player To Watch: With the Patriots having so few picks early, I’m backing off of linebacker Alex Anzalone out of Florida and moving down the draft a bit, switching my attention to edge rusher JoJo Mathis (6-2, 266) out of Washington. Mathis led the Huskies in sacks after six games with five, then had to stop due to injury and eventual foot surgery. He did not test at the combine and could fly under the radar before the draft. As a late pick, he has the chance to provide a decent payoff.
An extended look at Mathis vs. Arizona embedded in this article. Lots of potential to work with, there.
The Small-School Defender: Sixth-rounders Markell Carter of Central Arkansas (2011) and Zach Moore out of Concordia (2014) show New England’s willingness to look past school pedigree for potential gems looking to dazzle once light is shone upon them.
Holy crap, that was poetic.
Possible Pick: Sticking with West Georgia outside linebacker Dylan Donahue (6-3, 248) here. He’s got the physicality with a 4.75 40 and 26 bench reps. He’s also got the prerequisite almost-unbelievable numbers for a small-school product. The Division II First-Team All-American and Gulf South Conference Defensive Player of the Year had a school-record 13.5 sacks in 2016, racking up 67 tackles (20 for loss).
Donahue’s Division II dominance calls to mind that of former Patriot Dane Fletcher, a D-II defensive end out of Montana State who played linebacker for New England. You can see Donahue’s pass-rushing skills (and some rather flustered offensive linemen) in this highlight reel.
The Backup Quarterback: Some recent surprise choices include Jimmy Garoppolo in the 2014 second round and Jacoby Brissett in the 2016 fourth. Both seemed like high picks for a team with the best QB in all the land, but they’ve worked out so far, helping New England to a 3-1 record to begin 2016.
Possible Pick: I don’t think the Patriots will pick quite as high again. With that in mind, after Davis Webb of Cal had a solid Senior Bowl and an impressive combine, his draft board status got too lofty for the Patriots to take him. That switches our focus to C. J. Beathard (6-2, 219) out of Iowa, who led the Hawkeyes with 1,929 yards and 17 touchdowns vs. 10 interceptions. Beathard completed 170 of 301 passes for a 57 percent completion rate. An added bonus is the fact that Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and Belichick go back about 25 years to the pair’s days coaching for the Browns. So, hey: in-depth scouting report for a potentially solid backup.
Random Pats Connection: When I had Webb here, I noted that he began his career at Texas Tech under head coach Kliff Kingsbury, the Patriots’ 2003 sixth-round QB pick. With Beathard, a more random connection arose. His father Casey has written songs for Kenny Chesney, including the single, “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems.” Chesney was seen celebrating the Pats’ most recent Super Bowl victory with Robert Kraft.
Yeah. When I said “random connection,” I was not kidding around.
The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: After selecting Deion Branch and David Givens in 2002, New England had a long, discouraging history of drafting receivers who didn’t quite fit in at Foxboro, including Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce in 2013. (Let’s not even discuss Chad “Combine Skills Champion” Jackson). The Pats found a gem in Edelman (more on him below); they halted their poor streak after finding Georgia pass-catcher Malcolm Mitchell in the fourth round last year. The rookie caught 32 balls for 401 yards and four touchdowns in 2016, bringing hope to the overall daunting challenge of finding first-year fits for New England.
Possible Pick: I liked the size and athleticism of Kenny Golladay (6-4, 218) out of Northern Illinois, but a lot of other people agreed with me after his impressive combine performance. Still seeking out a bigger receiver (I mean, Patriots wideout Michael Floyd isn’t going anywhere anytime soon) brings us to Michigan’s Jehu Chesson (6-3, 204). Chesson stood out at the combine with an 11-foot broad jump and 4.09-second 20-yard shuttle (both top six for wide receivers) and a 6.70-second 3-cone (top three for receivers, top nine overall), which, given his stature, must have looked like a sapling on ice skates. For the Wolverines – Wolverines! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself) – Chesson caught 35 passes for 500 yards (14.3 avg.), with two touchdowns in 2016, a down year after a notable junior season (50 for 764, nine TDs) with a different QB.
The Backup Tight End: As of this writing, the Patriots have brought in Rob Housler and old pal Michael Williams after losing Martellus Bennett in free agency. It seems like they could use another lighter, quicker guy to put stress on defenses if Rob Gronkowski proves unavailable. (Lower case “if.”)
Possible Pick: The previous column’s mention, Iowa’s George Kittle, did yeoman work at the combine, but Darrell Daniels (6-3, 247) out of Washington seems more like the receiving type TE the Pats could look for here. Daniels ran a speedy 4.55-second 40, the fourth-best time for tight ends at the combine. He also had a 7.09-second 3-cone, tied for sixth-best TE. In his senior year as a Husky, Daniels earned All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention with 17 catches for 307 yards (18.1 avg.) and three touchdowns. Plus, if you watch highlights, he resembles former Patriots tight end Tim Wright. (For comparison, some Wright highlights from the Buccaneers in 2013.)
The Special Teams Guy: Picks like UCLA’s Matthew Slater in 2008 and Ohio State’s Nate Ebner in 2012 tend to emerge in the fifth and sixth rounds, guys who might fill in on offense or defense in a pinch, but who get drafted to focus on special teams. I liked Boston College safety John Johnson here before, but his combine work might take him a little too high for the late-fifth, early-sixth rounds.
Possible Pick: Here’s where studying pro days from combine snubs comes in handy, as it led me to Oklahoma linebacker Jordan Evans (6-3, 232). Evans had scouts conking themselves on the head like they’d neglected V-8, showing serious juice in a 4.51-second 40, which would have been second-best linebacker time at the combine. He also had top-10-worthy 4.27 20-yard shuttle and 7.00 3-cone times. The All-Big 12 First Team defender led the Sooners with 98 tackles, adding 2.5 sacks and four interceptions.
The Navy Guy: The connection between Belichick and the Naval Academy is well-documented. (Literally, you could say: the coach and his father contributed the Belichick Collection of football tomes to the school library.)
Possible Pick: Hard to overlook wide receiver Jamir Tillman, who caught 40 passes for 631 yards and two TDs this past season. Decent numbers anywhere, but especially notable on the third-best rushing team in the country. He averaged 15.8 yards per catch. For his career, Tillman amassed 1,626 yards receiving via 91 catches (17.9 avg.) and 10 touchdowns.
Fun Fact: Tillman rushed six times in his career for 51 yards (8.5 avg.).
Fun Retro Fact: When I was a child, the Navy had the best recruiting ads on television: It’s Not Just A Job, It’s An Adventure.
The Back-To-The-Well Guy: While Belichick might not have ties as strong to most schools as he does Navy, the success of one player can lead to selecting another from the same program. Rutgers had its own category for years. Florida State (center Bryan Stork, 2014; guard Jackson, 2015) is another example of a program that has provided some recent additions.
Possible Pick: Had linebacker Tyus Bowser here previously in light of New England drafting Houston LB Elandon Roberts in the sixth round last year. However, Bowser’s draft stock may have gotten too rich for New England after a killer combine. (Note: Killer Combine is not the name of a Stephen King novel about farm equipment gone amok. But it should be.) We’ll switch over to offense here, taking Cal running back Khalfani Muhammad in light of the Patriots drafting Cal running back Shane Vereen in 2011 and signing rookie free agent receiver Chris Harper in 2015. At 5-7, 174 pounds, the word “diminutive” is itself too big to describe Muhammad, but he made All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention in 2016 with 1,543 all-purpose yards. He led the Bears with 827 yards rushing on 152 carries (5.4 avg.), caught 17 passes for 132 yards, and returned kicks at a 24.3-yard clip. A combine snub, Muhammad has yet to be tested, but his highlights show speed, quickness, and a surprising amount of strength.
Seventh-Round Slot Guy: We can look back at Jeremy Ebert (Northwestern, 2012) and Jeremy Gallon (Michigan, 2014) and see New England trying to reap similar benefits as with the Edelman selection of 2009. Again, 3-cone can play a large role, but production and adaptability provide keys as well.
Possible Pick: I had Isaiah McKenzie out of Georgia here before, but he is Khalfani-sized at 5-7, 173-pounds. Seriously, those guys’ frames could barely hold up a painting. Instead, I’ll go back to Fred Ross (6-1, 213), a Mississippi State receiver whom I mentioned in our “That Guy” Senior Bowl column. (There I go, linking myself again.) Ross, a two-time First-Team All-SEC selection, caught 72 passes for 917 yards (12.7 avg.), for 12 TDs. He also returned punts. At the combine, Ross put up respectable-yet-unremarkable numbers (4.28 20-yard shuttle, 6.99 3-cone) that will keep him toward the back of the draft. So, sure, he shouldn’t be confused with John Ross – he of the astounding 4.22-second 40 – but he can play in the NFL.
Nice look at Ross’ versatility on this brief, densely profane highlight reel.
The Pedigree Pick Guy: We’ve introduced this category this year in light of former Patriot Bryan Cox’s son entering the draft next month.
Possible Pick: We watched defensive end Bryan Cox, Jr. (6-3, 264) do some damage at the East-West Shrine Game, getting in the backfield often and causing general havoc. His combine wasn’t the best, but a 4.89 40 fails to represent the type of impact he could potentially have on the field. Injuries limited Cox to 19 tackles (2.5 for loss) in 2016.
Other Possible Pick: Illinois linebacker Hardy Nickerson (6-0, 228) is the son of the Tampa Bay Pro Bowler of the same name who had an amazing 214 tackles in 1993. The younger Nickerson had 107 tackles last year (5.5 for loss) and two interceptions.
Next week, we’ll post the first of 2017’s Combine Snubs Who Showed ‘Em series, checking in on notable field days from players whom NFL scouts overlooked. Last year’s Snubs wrap-up column is worth a review as it includes current Patriot linebacker Trevor Bates, who at 6-1, 245, ran a 6.75-second 3-cone drill at Maine’s pro day.
You want a quick preview snub? Sure. Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong projects as an NFL receiver; his pro-day times in the 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle would have made top 10 at the combine.
See? Fun. Hope to have you back next week. You’re officially invited.
Chris Warner noticed that the woman sitting across from him has the same coffee travel mug and he now wonders if he should try to make eye contact and nod toward his own mug, like, “Hey, how about that? Twinsies!” but is deciding against it. You can email him advice about how to initiate human contact at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @cwarn89.
Listen, I tried. For years, I struggled to figure out players Coach Bill Belichick and his cohorts would select in each draft. I’d look at New England’s draft positions, figure out where athletes were ranked, and attempt to make them fit. At my prediction rate, I may as well have spent my time trying to drink a Fribble through a paper straw.
A few years ago, after putting together a Round-by-Round Review of Patriots drafts since 2000, a better, simpler way emerged: before narrowing down to specific names, find general types. As we’ll see below, the New England draft board often gets lined up differently from other teams’ boards, resulting in some surprises. That inconsistency itself has become one of a few trends that have surfaced, giving us keys as to how the Foxboro front will go about their business. Round One happens Thursday night, April 27. Rounds Two and Three follow on Friday, with Rounds Four through Seven on Day Three.
You won’t find a mock draft here; I’m leaving the board open to tendencies and possibilities.
The NFL’s combine website is a reliable resource (it’s a home-team advantage, but still). For testing newbies regarding the goings-on at Indianapolis, the page explaining each drill can prove helpful, especially regarding the 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle quickness drills.
Also, please keep in mind: I listed the possible picks shown here in light of the NFL Combine. Some players who did not participate due to injuries or snubs should get mentioned in our next “That Guy” column in a couple of weeks.
On to the picks!
The Solid First-Rounder: A look at New England’s first-round draft picks in the Belichick era reads like a predictor of the franchise’s Hall of Fame. Plenty of Pats picked here should be heading to the red blazer store, including Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, and Logan Mankins.
Possible Pick: This is always a little tough, because the Patriots tend to stay away from the dynamic athletes and go for the more stable, diligent types (picking Seymour over much-ballyhooed Michigan receiver David Terrell, for example). You know what? The heck with it. I’m going with tight end Evan Engram out of Ole Miss. He’s a lighter guy at 6-3, 234, but his 40 (4.42 seconds), 3-cone (6.92 seconds), and 20-yard shuttle (4.23 seconds) make him about as pleasant to match up with as burlap. Engram, who served as team captain twice, went All-SEC and All-American after leading the team with 65 receptions for 926 yards (14.2 avg.) and eight touchdowns.
Many have put Miami tight end David Njoku here, but Engram actually fared better in the 40, 3-cone, and 20-yard shuttle (Njoku had 4.64, 6.97, and 4.34 seconds, respectively). However, Njoku’s ridiculous 11-foot, 1-inch broad jump might get him plucked off the board before New England drafts.
If you want to see a guy go up the seam more than a stubborn leggings tear, you can see Engram’s highlight reel here.
The “Who’s That Guy?” Guy: Beginning in the second round, the Patriots have selected players like Sebastian Vollmer in 2009, Tavon Wilson in 2012, and Jordan Richards in 2015, sending draft commentators scrambling for their back-page notes.
Possible Pick: The combine’s not the best place to fill in this category (Vollmer was a snub), but it’s still possible to find a lesser-heralded guy to rise up the draft ranks at Gillette. Defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo fits here as someone with high potential. The 6-3, 258-pound Northwestern product’s 10-foot-8 broad jump tied for second-best among all defensive linemen at the combine. He also ran a 4.72-second 40, had 25 bench reps (top 13 for combine DLs), and a 31.5-inch vertical leap. He notched 10 sacks last season (12 tackles for loss) and forced two fumbles on his way to earning All-Big Ten honorable mention. Odenigbo only took up football his sophomore year in high school, yet became an Under Armour and SuperPrep All-American by the end of his senior season.
I took up listening to U2 my sophomore year of high school. So, different sets of accomplishments, I guess.
The 3-Cone Guy: As noted multiple times on this site, New England’s got a thing for quickness. The drafting of Kent State QB Julian Edelman, who put up a swift 6.62-second 3-cone at his pro day in 2009, both points to the obsession and a good reason to continue it. The quarterback became a receiver, and – in case you haven’t been following the team recently – got to be pretty good.
Possible Pick: Cornerback Kevin King out of Washington wins the 2017 Quickness Award with two combine bests, a 6.56-second 3-cone and 3.89-second 20-yard shuttle. Both are impressive times considering Edelman’s 6.62 and 3.92 marks (and he’s not exactly known for munching plants in the Galápagos). King also showcased a 39.5-inch vertical (tied for top seven overall) and a 4.43-second 40. Another Pats-possible trait? Dude’s 6-foot-3.
King earned All-Pac 12 Conference Honorable Mention both for his work on the field and in the classroom last season. He tallied 44 tackles (3.5 for loss) and two interceptions. The Patriots could get a strong scouting report from Alabama coach and Belichick pal Nick Saban, as King racked up nine stops vs. the Crimson Tide in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, a 24-7 Alabama win.
Fun Fact: According to his UW player page, King won the Tyree Sports Community Service Award, a foundation that helps incoming freshmen catch footballs on their helmets. What? Wait a second … Nope. Read that wrong: it’s the Tyee Sports Council Community Service Award from the Tyee Club, a supporter of Husky Athletics. Different deal, I guess.
The Freakishly Athletic Guy: Ever since the Patriots took Jamie Collins in 2013, it’s been worth keeping an eye out for someone who lights up the combine. Collins showed the explosiveness of a Yosemite Sam cartoon with his 41.5-inch vertical and 11-foot, seven-inch broad jump. Belichick seeks versatility in his charges; physical ability can help gain that.
Possible Pick: Whoooaa. You know, being a 6-4, 224-pound safety set UConn’s Obi Melifonwu apart from the crowd already, but after this past weekend, he might have to take up residence on a different planet. He showed a combine-best (and Collins-besting) 44-inch vertical and 11-foot-9 broad jump. Think about that for a second. If Melifonwu were standing with his toes just inside the four-yard line, he could broad jump to the end zone. Add a 4.40-second 40 (tied for eighth best at the combine) and 17 bench-press reps (eighth among safeties), and Melifonwu has cemented his status as the WHAT THE HUNH?!? combine player of 2017. This past season, Melifonwu was named First Team All-ECAC after piling up 118 tackles (in 12 games, no less), four interceptions, and three pass break-ups.
Fun Fact: In the West African language of Igbo, the word “Obi” means “heart.” Sometimes pronounced haht.
Offensive Line Double-Dip Guys: The Pats have done well to go back to the OL buffet in recent drafts, stocking up on Tré Jackson and Shaq Mason in 2015 and Joe Thuney and Ted Karras last year. With the release of tackle Sebastian Vollmer and the relative lack of bulk on New England’s interior, the team could draft to bolster the line both inside and outside.
Possible Picks: If the middle of the offensive line is light, then Isaac Asiata projects well to anchor that bunch of helium balloons. The Utah guard checked in at 6-3, 323 pounds and put up a Herculean (and combine-best) 35 reps on the bench press. At tackle, Will Holden from Vanderbilt seems to fit. An elm tree at 6-7, 311 pounds, Holden managed a 9-foot-3 broad jump and a 28-inch vertical, showing the athleticism necessary to keep faster pass-rushers at bay. The All-SEC Second-Teamer started as a right tackle sophomore year but moved to left beginning as a junior, starting all 13 games his senior year. Asiata earned the Morris Trophy for best offensive lineman in the Pac-12, voted by the conference’s defensive linemen. It’s an award Asiata said he wanted since he started playing at Utah.
Fun Fact: Asiata is the cousin of NFL running back (and former Ute) Matt Asiata.
The Long-Limbed Defensive End: After his 2016 performance, this might get renamed the Attempt To Duplicate Trey Flowers Guy. The 2015 fourth-rounder out of Arkansas became the team’s best pass-rusher and went amok for 2.5 sacks in the Super Bowl to consistently give New England a chance to come back. With veteran Chris Long moving on in free agency, the Patriots are expected to tend to this position.
Possible Pick: Well, outside of Freddy Krueger living in my nightmares, you’re not going to get a longer-limbed demon than the 6-7, 289-pound Tanoh Kpassagnon out of Villanova, who sports 35-and-five-eighths-inch limbs. If running a 4.83 40 didn’t bolster his draft stock, then his 30-inch vertical leap and 10-foot-7 broad jump did. (Putting up 23 bench reps with those transatlantic-cable arms wasn’t unimpressive, either). Kpassagnon was the Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year with 40 tackles (19 for loss) and 8.5 sacks.
Oh, and that nightmare about Freddy? I dreamt he cut my arm off, then woke up having slept in an awkward position where I couldn’t feel my arm. True story.
The Alabama Guy: Belichick’s relationship with Coach Saban is only a little younger than the relationship between the Earth and the Moon. Second-round rookie cornerback/potential 2017 comeback story Cyrus Jones is the latest example; Dont’a Hightower came aboard in 2012.
Possible Pick: They seem stocked with defensive linemen, but could the Patriots take another one in Dalvin Tomlinson? (Well … of course they could. It’s not magic or anything.) The 6-3, 310-pounder whose 33.5-inch arms also make him look like a living Laocoön sculpture excelled at the combine, showing some speed (5.19 40) and athleticism (27-inch vertical, 9-foot-2 broad jump) for his size. He also did quite well in Alabama’s defense in 2016, notching 62 tackles (5.5 for loss), three sacks, and four pass break-ups.
The Ohio State Defensive Back: This is a recent amalgam of The Rutgers Guy and The Ohio State Guy, taking into account former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano moving into the D-Coordinator position at OSU.
Possible Pick: The best DB out of Ohio State this year will be Malik Hooker, meaning he should be gone by the time the Patriots pick. Declared junior Dareon Conley (6-0, 195) could make the Foxboro draft board. Conley ran a 4.44-second 40, 11th for combine corners. He submitted a 6.68-second 3-cone (tied for top three corner) and a 10-9 broad jump (top six corner). At OSU, he made All-Big Ten second team with 26 stops, four interceptions, and eight pass break-ups. You can watch a highlight reel where he demonstrates solid fundamentals here.
The Injured Guy: On the hunt for value like my mother at Zayre, New England will gamble on an injured player in the hopes that he will outperform his draft status. The greatest example of this theory? Rob Gronkowski in 2010. The not-so-greatest? Ras-I-Dowling in 2011. Eh, you take your shots. (Flashing back on Zayre, this discovery: Garanimals still exist!)
Player To Watch: Following up his noteworthy Senior Bowl performance with a strong combine, I’m sticking with linebacker Alex Anzalone out of Florida. The 6-3, 241-pound linebacker ran a 4.63-second 40-yard dash, a 6.88 3-cone, and a 4.25 20-yard shuttle, all top five for linebackers at Indy. Anzalone has played in only 10 games in the last two seasons due to shoulder and arm injuries. in his one full season (2014), he played in all 12 games as a backup and tallied 14 tackles.
The Small-School Defender: As we saw with Zach Moore out of Concordia in 2014 and even Kamu Grugier-Hill from Eastern Illinois last year, New England seems quite willing to overlook school status in favor of potential. Despite going undrafted, a certain cornerback from West Alabama whose name rhymes with Talcum Cutler adds to this ideal.
Possible Pick: The more I research West Georgia outside linebacker Dylan Donahue (6-3, 248), the more I like what I see. Running a decent 4.75 40 and putting up a solid 26 bench reps might get him a little more notice, but numbers for the Division II First-Team All-American tell a better story. The Gulf South Conference Defensive Player of the Year had a school-record 13.5 sacks in 2016, racking up 67 tackles (20 for loss) as an edge defender.
Donahue reminds me of Montana State product and former Patriot Dane Fletcher, a D-2 defensive end who converted to linebacker for the NFL. Both are from Montana (Fletcher went to Bozeman High, Donahue to Billings West), and both put up monster numbers in college.
Fun Fact: The word “monster” comes from the Latin “monere,” to warn, and “monstrum,” portent. It’s also the name of an oddly-sexualized cartoon high school.
The Backup Quarterback: Recently, the Patriots have been drafting quarterbacks earlier than expected, with Jimmy Garoppolo in the 2014 second round and Jacoby Brissett in the 2016 third. Though New England will probably wait until the later rounds before picking a QB this year, it’s still likely they’ll seek out another arm for the summer.
By the way, Another Arm For The Summer sounds like it would be the title of Mike Lupica’s worst novel. Christ, I’m cringing just thinking about it.
Possible Pick: Looks like Davis Webb of Cal had a strong Senior Bowl and could be a Day Three fit for Foxboro. He also had one heck of a combine, gaining top five scores for quarterbacks in the 40, vertical and broad jumps, and 3-cone and 20-yard shuttles. Last year, Webb got an Honorable Mention in the Pac-12 with 4,295 yards passing (62 percent completion rate), and a Tom-Brady-like ratio of 37 touchdowns against two interceptions.
Random Pats Connection: Webb began his career at Texas Tech under head coach Kliff Kingsbury, the Patriots’ 2003 sixth-round QB pick.
The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: Let’s see, here. New England skipped a couple of years in this category after taking Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce in 2013, but Malcolm Mitchell in the fourth round this past year has changed perspective. With 32 catches for 401 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games, Mitchell proved that – as difficult as it may be to find young receivers who can get on the same page as Brady – productive pass-catchers are out there.
Possible Pick: Looking for a bigger receiver with impressive combine measurements leads us to Kenny Golladay. The 6-4, 218-pound Northern Illinois product did solid work in Indianapolis, running a 4.50 40, a 7.00-second 3-cone, and a 4.15-second 20-yard shuttle. He also had a 10-foot broad jump. He is one of the biggest wideouts to participate in the combine.
Golladay made First-Team All-MAC last season, catching 73 passes for 1,129 yards and two touchdowns. New England only has two receivers on their roster over 6-foot-1: one (Devin Lucien) is a second-year player with no game experience; the other (Michael Floyd) is not exactly going to be running a lot of pass patterns over the next couple of months. Expect someone Golladay-sized to get a tryout at Gillette in July.
The Backup Tight End: As of this writing, the Patriots have six tight ends on the roster, only one of whom weighs under 265 pounds (Rob Housler, at a petite 250). It seems like they could use another lighter, quicker guy to put stress on defenses should Martellus Bennett and/or Rob Gronkowski be unavailable.
There’s a notable clip from the Week 16 Jets game edition of Mic’d Up where Matt Lengel has just scored his first career touchdown. At about the 2:35 mark, ends coach Brian Daboll says to him, “Don’t’ worry about your touchdown, got me?” followed by something that sounds like, “I want better in the run game.” In other words, You’re not here to catch passes, big fella. Even if the Patriots pick Engram early, they could still be on the lookout for a versatile H-back type.
Possible Pick: At the combine, Iowa’s George Kittle raised some eyebrows with a 4.52-second 40 (third-best tight end) and an 11-foot broad jump (also third). The 6-4, 247-pounder caught a mere 22 passes for 314 yards (14.3 avg.) and four touchdowns in 2016. He was often called on to block, as the Hawkeyes featured two running backs who gained 1,000 yards on the year.
Fun Fact: Since 1999, Kirk Ferentz has been Iowa’s head coach. Despite having known Belichick since coaching with him at Cleveland in the early 1990s, Ferentz has only had one of his players drafted by New England. (That player’s listed below. And if you can get this off the top of your head, you win the day.)
The Special Teams Guy: When New England drafted Matthew Slater out of UCLA in 2008, I figured they’d gotten themselves a fast receiver and potential kick returner in the fifth round. Little did I realize they would begin a trend of drafting players who focus and excel on special teams. Ohio State rugby player Nate Ebner (2012 sixth) also makes this list, as well as long snapper Joe Cardona (more on him below).
Possible Pick: Let’s keep it local with John Johnson (6-0, 208) out of Boston College. Timed at 4.61 in the 40, with a 6.72-second 3-cone (tied for second among combine safeties), a 4.18-second 20-yard shuttle (tied for fourth safety), a 37-inch vertical (also tied for fourth) and 14 bench reps at the combine, Johnson may have moved beyond typical Special Teamer draft status. At BC, he had 77 tackles (three for loss), three interceptions, and nine pass break-ups.
The Navy Guy: Belichick’s father, who was to football scouts what Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was to The Beatles (thanks for the refresher, Internet!), coached at the Naval Academy for 50 years. His son wanted Cardona in Foxboro badly enough to spend a fifth-round draft pick on him in 2015. The result? Super Bowl. (Okay, maybe not a direct correlation, but still.)
Possible Pick: For the record, no Navy guys made it to the combine this year. As a preview of future “That Guy” columns, keep an eye on receiver Jamir Tillman, who somehow managed to grab 40 passes this past season in a program that throws the ball about as often as Carli Loyd. His 631 yards receiving led the team by over 350. He averaged 15.8 yards per catch and came down with two touchdowns.
The Back-To-The-Well Guy: While Belichick might not have as strong a tie to most schools as he does Navy, the success of one player can lead to selecting another from the same program. Rutgers is the best example of this, as the Gillette lighthouse once beckoned to the Scarlet Knights like the Lighthouse of Alexandria to sailors in papyrus boats. Florida State (center Bryan Stork, 2014; guard Jackson, 2015) is another program that gets attention from around these parts.
Possible Pick: New England drafted Houston linebacker Elandon Roberts in the sixth round last year; that paid off in the form of 45 tackles and a forced fumble from the rookie. Easy to get enamored with Roberts’ college teammate, linebacker Tyus Bowser, watching his highlight reel. While I know that’s what highlight reels are for, the fact that a Houston product like Roberts found such success as a rookie points to his former teammate coming in with potential to contribute quickly. Bowser’s 7.5 sacks and 10.5 total tackles for loss in 2016 should help – especially if you consider he missed five games due to injury. The 6-3, 247-pound Bowser ran a 6.75-second 3-cone, best among combine linebackers. His 10-foot-7 broad jump qualified as top three among linebackers, while he added a 4.65-second 40 that made top five for good measure.
Ha! Measure, I said. About the combine. I kill me.
Seventh-Round Slot Guy: Looking at Jeremy Ebert out of Northwestern in 2012 and Jeremy Gallon from Michigan in 2014, we can see attempts to duplicate Edelman magic from 2009. Edelman’s NFL success makes college receiving stats about as reliable as a sundial in Seattle, but combine quickness may offer a clue or two regarding potential. (For the record, Edelman was not invited to the combine in 2009.)
Possible Pick: At 5-foot-7, he might be shorter than his future Fathead poster, but Isaiah McKenzie out of Georgia still manages to come up big on the field. McKenzie ran a 4.42 40 (tied for seventh best at the combine), and a 6.64 3-cone (third best), because if you’re going to be smaller than a tackling dummy, you’d better be fast and quick. As a junior in 2016, he was Georgia’s leading receiver with 44 catches for 633 yards (14.4 avg.) and seven touchdowns. He also ran for 134 yards on 19 carries (7.1 avg.) and returned a punt for a touchdown (he had five punt return TDs in his career). Pats brass must be contemplating the success of Bulldogs alum Mitchell in Foxboro last year and wondering whether that could translate to his former teammate.
Trivia Answer: The only Iowa player drafted by the Patriots under Belichick has been offensive lineman Mike Elgin in 2007.
Fun Fact: Elgin, Illinois is a stupid suburb of Chicago where jerks come from. (You know what you did, Kevin. You know what you did.)
The Pedigree Pick Guy: A new category this year, it may get used more frequently as former NFL players see their sons play in college. Although, as I write this, I have to wonder whether Slater’s pedigree (his father is Pro Football Hall of Fame left tackle and Brady-based truth-teller Jackie Slater) became a factor as Belichick considered drafting him. Safe to say it didn’t hurt.
Possible Pick: In any case, seeing the name Bryan Cox brought back some memories, the clearest of which involved his linebacker father back in 2001 planting Colts receiver Jerome Pathon like a daffodil bulb. (Nice piece on Cox, Sr. by Christopher Price here.) Cox had a mediocre combine, timing at 4.89 in the 40 and benching 16 reps, but his size (6-3, 265) and – like the category says – pedigree make him an intriguing prospect. Beset by injuries his senior year, Cox only had 19 tackles (2.5 for loss). Seen as a late Day Three pick, Cox could bring value to the right team.
In the next couple of weeks I’ll be putting together the first of 2017’s Combine Snubs Who Showed ‘Em series, checking in on notable pro days from players who did not get invited to Indianapolis. Last year’s Snubs wrap-up column is worth a review as it includes current Patriot linebacker Trevor Bates, who at 6-1, 245, ran a 6.75-second 3-cone drill at Maine’s pro day.
Enjoy the speculation, folks. It’s all we’ve got for the next several weeks. Well, that, and multiple “Three Games To Glory V” viewings.
Chris Warner actually kind of admires the flat-earthers for their sticktoitiveness, as misplaced as it may be. He can be emailed at email@example.com or tweeted at @cwarn89.
If we hadn’t seen it for ourselves, we wouldn’t believe it.
When Atlanta took a 14-0 lead with 8:48 remaining in the first half of Super Bowl 51, erasing that deficit would have counted as the greatest comeback in the game’s history. An ensuing 57-yard drive by New England that took 15 plays (including two Falcons defensive holding penalties) and 6:27 off the clock was terminated by a devastating interception return for a touchdown. With 2:21 left in the half, the Patriots trailed 21-0.
After an 11-play drive in which they had to settle for a field goal, New England went into the half down, 21-3. By the 8:31 mark of the third, that disadvantage had risen to 28-3 on an all-too-easy Tevin Coleman touchdown reception.
Then, somehow, overtime. And then, after a favorable coin toss, the improbable thing became inevitable.
As much as New England fans celebrated, a part of them must have felt like Tom Brady did at the 0:17 mark of the James White touchdown video, where he was just trying to make sure that what happened did, in fact, actually happen.
For a detailed review of the comeback, please see our rundown in the last Patriots Thursday Observations column of the season, “It’s Not Over Yet.”
With time comes perspective, and with that perspective, some thoughtful looks back on the biggest comeback in NFL championship history.
Soo many thanks to all the sports reporters who took the time to offer their points of view: Matt Chatham, former Patriot linebacker and founder of FootballByFootball.com; Mark Daniels of The Providence Journal, Chad Finn of The Boston Globe; Tanya Ray Fox of USA Today Sports Media Group; Mike Giardi of CSNNE; Mike Reiss of ESPN.com; and Bob Socci, play-by-play announcer on 98.5 The Sports Hub and host of The Bob Socci Show on patriots.com.
For an insider look at reporting on the NFL championship (and, really, the experience of writing up any away game), I recommend Christopher Price’s column “What it’s like to cover a crazy Super Bowl finish.” Great work by Chris here.
Ah, remember February 5? To the WABAC machine!
All of our media members predicted the Patriots would win. As Socci said, “Initially, my expectations were consistent with conventional thought, that Super Bowl LI figured to be a high-scoring, closely-contested game. As the game drew nearer, my confidence in the Patriots increased based on a number of factors: I believed they had the advantage at head coach and quarterback, possessed a better defense, and would enjoy success running the ball against Atlanta’s defense. In truth, after also considering the contrast in experience between the teams, I said to myself and others, ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots end up pulling away.’ It goes to show what I know – or, more importantly, don’t know.”
“I expected a competitive Patriots victory,” said Chatham. “From my pre-game study, I expected the Patriots to control interior play on both sides of the ball – was shocked to see that not happen for about three quarters. I also expected better Patriots ball security all around. That, too, was an unexpected problem in the game. With those two unlikely things swinging dramatically to Atlanta’s side, many of my pre-game assumptions were predictably way off.”
Though most of our pundits correctly laid out a few basics of the contest, including some prescient score predictions, no one foresaw the tectonic shift in momentum. Giardi said, “Coming into the game, I didn’t think the Falcons defense was good enough to keep the Patriots under 30 points. And while I still don’t think the Pats defense is this elite unit, I love their toughness and their ability to tighten up inside the 20. So while I figured (Matt) Ryan and company would get into the high 20s, I assumed they’d never be in control. I ended up getting both predictions right, but it didn’t play out like I figured. Not at all.”
Like Socci, Reiss grew more confident in the Patriots’ chances as Super Bowl week went along. “I had predicted the Patriots to win, 37-31, but as the game drew closer I was thinking that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a more comfortable victory for New England. So much for that,” Reiss said. “The whole atmosphere leading up to the game was special – what a great Patriots turnout – and it just felt like Tom Brady wasn’t to be denied. No doubt, I didn’t see the game unfolding the way it did. Not many did.”
Finn said he “picked the Patriots to win 34-31, which wasn’t too far off from the final score but was way off in terms of how they got there. I thought it would be a tight back-and-forth game throughout, with both teams’ defenses struggling to stop the opposing offenses, with Stephen Gostkowski ending it with his own Vinatieri moment. Obviously, it wasn’t a back-and-forth game. It was 28-3, and now let’s see what you’ve got, Brady. I like the way it played out much better. Watching Gostkowski lining up for a winning kick might have caused half of New England to black out.”
Fox, looking at New England’s history, also anticipated a taut thriller. “I’m pretty sure I texted my Mom that the final score would be 27-24, Patriots. I was sure that it would be a last minute, one-possession game because that’s the only way the Patriots win (or lose) Super Bowls! Little did I know.”
Though he came the closest in his score prediction, Daniels believed the Patriots could follow an uneventful path to get there. “Well, after diving into the numbers, looking over the two rosters, and comparing the schedules, I honestly thought the Patriots were going to roll over the Atlanta Falcons. I didn’t think it was going to be a blowout, but thought the Patriots would win with relative ease. I thought the Patriots were a superior team defensively and that the Falcons weak offensive line was going to be their biggest downfall. My prediction was actually close to being right – Patriots 34, Falcons 27 – but certainly didn’t think it would play out like it really did.”
Socci, for one, saw pretty quickly a couple of the problems with his prediction, saying, “Chief among the things I didn’t fully realize is just how much team speed and quickness Atlanta had on both sides of the ball. Nor, despite expecting Freeman and Coleman to be keys for the Falcons, did I fully comprehend what kind of trouble they could create for New England’s defense.”
When The Patriots Were In Trouble
Finn said he saw what he called “real trouble” at the point “When Robert Alford left Brady lunging at air on the pick-six to make it 21-0 with a little over two minutes left in the first half. We all knew the stat: the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history is from a 10-point hole, which the Patriots pulled off two years ago against the Seahawks. The 21-0 deficit didn’t feel insurmountable, but a comeback felt very unlikely, especially the way Brady and the offense were struggling.”
Chatham felt that having to settle for a field goal late in the first half foretold how the game would play out. “I thought they were in trouble when they couldn’t convert the first and 10 from Atlanta’s 15 into seven points before the half. Not as an indication that there wasn’t time to come back, or that they weren’t capable of coming back – more that they were prone to missing opportunities on this day. That’s never (typically) something you want happening when you’re chasing a championship. This was the standard-breaker of all standard-breaker games.”
For Socci, a turnaround during a recent championship helped him maintain hope for a similar second-half performance by New England. “Despite the halftime difference, at 21-3, I still believed the outcome was far from decided,” Socci said. “At one point, I even referenced Super Bowl XLVII on air. In that game, the Ravens led the 49ers by the same score until the final seconds of the second quarter (it was 21-6 at the half) and eventually held on to win only after surviving a first-and-goal threat by San Francisco in the final half minute. With somewhat of a nod to Mohamed Sanu, I wondered aloud on the radio if the long halftime would help the Patriots and hinder a young team like the Falcons. After a three-and-out to start the half and good field position for their first possession of the second half, I fully expected the Pats to begin their comeback. Of course, it didn’t happen then and there.”
Fox maintained some optimism for New England coming out of halftime, but that was short-lived. “Knowing the Falcons were going to get the ball to start the second half, I thought to myself, ‘if the Pats can stop them right out of the gate, they have a shot at this.’ Then they did! The Falcons went three-and-out, and the Patriots got the ball, and it was their time to get something going. Then they went three-and-out and ended up with negative yardage. It was then, before the Falcons even scored that touchdown to go up 28-3, that I thought the game was over. I figured if Brady and the offense couldn’t get it together to take advantage of that opportunity, it was over.”
The lead reaching its 25-point peak sent Giardi to the archives. “Anyone who tells you they didn’t think the Pats were in trouble is either a) a fool b) a blind optimist (and I guess I can appreciate that, too!) or c) the ballsiest SOB on the planet,” Giardi said. “At 21-3, I had doubts. At 28-3, I was looking up the worst losses in the Belichick era. There aren’t many, for what it’s worth. A 20+ point loss to the Chargers in a regular season game eons ago, another regular season loss to the Colts when half their team was hurting, and then those couple of playoff losses to the Ravens – 24-0 after one quarter (in 2010), and that 28-13 AFC title game loss at home (in 2013) when it just wasn’t that close.”
Reiss said that at “28-3, midway through the third quarter was my starting-to-have-significant-doubts point. I have the text-message evidence from a halftime exchange with my wife that I hadn’t ruled out the Patriots at halftime. I had been checking back on how our kids had reacted to the 21-3 deficit, and wrote, ‘Let’s see if they can pull off biggest comeback in SB history. Wouldn’t put it past Tom Brady.’ (Note: Here is a screenshot of said text.) After 17 years, I’ve learned to never count out Brady, although I have to admit, at 28-3 I was thinking how disappointing it was for him and the Patriots that they didn’t bring their ‘A’ game to the most important game of the season. It happens. But I also knew that they would still go down with a fight, and make the Falcons earn it. That’s the one thing you can always count on from Bill Belichick’s teams – you have to knock them out. They lie down for no one.”
That 25-point deficit also sounded the game knell for Socci, who said, “They gave the ball back to Atlanta and soon fell behind, 28-3. That’s when I resigned myself to the reality that a come-from-behind win was improbable, at best.” Socci then had to get into the right frame of mind to deliver the unfolding bad news to his listeners. “During the ensuing break, I told myself to remain focused, to concentrate on being a ‘pro’ and having a broadcast I could be proud of. Part of my thinking at the time was to be sure to chronicle the success of the Falcons – and tell their story – as well as the disappointment for the Patriots.”
As I said three weeks ago in the aforelinked column, the lede I scribbled onto my notepad after the pick-six made it 21-0 was “No heart-stopper tonight. No, ‘Well, if this didn’t happen, or this.’ Atlanta is just better.” Then I hunkered down for what I expected to be a disappointing-yet-predictable finish, with the Patriots putting together a couple of touchdown drives in the second half to make the score somewhat respectable. Happy to learn I did not stand alone in writing up and then tossing out a few sentences that described a different fate.
Reiss said, “Mine was something along the lines of, ‘This had a familiar feel to some of the Patriots’ most gut-wrenching playoff losses: Offensive line struggles to protect, no running game to help settle things down, and costly turnovers. Instead of vindication, it was heartbreak.'”
“When the score was 21-0, I started to work on my Super Bowl LI lede,” said Daniels. “With my job, I need to send in a game story as soon as the game ends. A blowout always helps because I essentially get started in the second half. When the Falcons extended the score to 28-3, I tweeted, ‘I thought this game was a mismatch, but definitely picked the wrong team’ and started to write my game story. I didn’t think the Patriots would be able to comeback from a 25-point deficit with the way the Falcons were moving the ball.”
Daniels got deep into this version of the report, and I mean deep. “I had several different ledes that I was working on around this time. I started working on this:”
HOUSTON – Super Bowl LI was supposed to be the place for poetic justice. Instead, it turned out to be a night of heartbreak for Tom Brady and the Patriots.
It was thought that Brady suffered enough at the hands of Deflategate, but inside NRG Stadium, the Atlanta Falcons thought otherwise.
Brady was under pressure and off the mark. Receivers couldn’t hang on. Running backs couldn’t run the ball. Defensively, they struggled to stop both the Atlanta run and the pass. Add in a few turnovers and what was supposed to be a remarkable 2016 season turned into a forgettable Super Bowl as Atlanta handed the Patriots a BLANK-BLANK Super LI loss.
As the Patriots took the first, for the first time in Super Bowl LI, chants of ‘Brady! Brady! Brady!’ broke out. The Patriots were hoping to get off to a fast start on Sunday night and the fans were there in full force, but the first half was anything but celebratory for Brady and his team.
Instead, it was misery for the Patriots.
Due to the nature of how he constructs his game columns, none of Finn’s worst-case-scenario statements made it past overtime. “It’s funny, my usual post-game assignment is to write a goofy but fun X-number of thoughts column that goes up immediately after the game. The X is the number of points the winning team scores. It requires that I write constantly throughout the game, and naturally a lot of it dies on the vine as the game takes different twists and turns,” Finn said. “In this one, well, at one point I probably had 35 thoughts about, you know, underestimating the Falcons, and the Patriots’ offense’s no-show, and all of that stuff. When the Patriots cut it to 28-20, I thought, there’s a great chance a lot of what I’ve written never sees the light of day. And it didn’t. I wish I’d saved it, but as I banged out all of the stuff about the Patriots comeback and the unreal turn of events and so on, I just deleted what I’d written about the Falcons. Wish I’d kept it on a separate file.”
As a play-by-play announcer, Socci found himself in a different situation than most. No unusable ledes for him, because his reporting on the game happened in real time. “As the comeback unfolded – including the third-and-10 conversion (from their own nine-yard line) that prolonged the game-tying drive – I stopped trying to anticipate what was going to happen and became consumed by calling what was actually happening. As strange as it sounds, and not to suggest in any way that I called the end of the game perfectly – far from it, I know – but thinking back to the final few series I remember being more or less ‘in a zone’ trying to react and describe what I was seeing. In other words, for the most part, I stopped thinking ‘big picture’ to focus on the snapshot of each succeeding play.”
When The Falcons Were In Trouble
The Dont’a Hightower strip sack at 8:31 of the fourth with the Patriots trailing 28-12 seemed to get the team going. This gave New England’s offense the ball in Atlanta territory, leading to a touchdown (Danny Amendola catch) and two-point conversion (White run) to make the score 28-20 with six minutes remaining. This cut a daunting 16-point deficit in half, with a lot of time left on the board. At that point, I wondered, if I – who had all but given up on this team – now believe the Patriots have a good chance, what must the Falcons be thinking?
Despite the lopsided score at the half, Giardi saw some positive signs for New England. “At halftime, I tweeted that the one thing you could hang your hat on in regards to a comeback was that Atlanta’s defense was on the field for way too long in the first half, but while I figured there would be a run, as I said before, I never thought it would go like that. Hightower’s strip sack was the first thing that made me think maybe, but I wasn’t sold until James White took the direct snap and crashed in for the first two-point conversion. That’s when I believed we had a chance at something special.”
Fox sensed a change in momentum at a time when many (including myself) believed the Patriots offense had failed to generate it, settling for three points with 9:44 left. “When Gostkowski made the 33-yard field goal to close it to 28-12, that was when the mood really began to shift,” Fox said. “The Patriots were suddenly playing their game, and while they’d only scored nine points on their last two possessions, they were methodical. Five-to-six minute drives, 70-plus yards. The Falcons were rushing and spending very little time on the field. That’s always the death knell against Brady and Belichick. You can’t give them the field. Hightower’s strip sack was absolutely a byproduct of the fact that the offense was not only giving the defense time to rest, but also changing the entire mood on the sideline.”
That field goal affected Chatham’s outlook in a similar way. “When the score hit 28-12 with (9:44) remaining, I remember thinking that’s WAY too much time to leave Brady and the offense. Two scores in eight-ish minutes for this offense isn’t unprecedented at all. Neither is two consecutive defensive stops. It took both together to pull it off, but at that point the comeback possibility seemed very reasonable.”
“For me, it was the Hightower strip sack,” said Daniels. “When a team is down by this much, you need a game-changing play by either the defense or special teams. When Hightower strip-sacked Matt Ryan and Alan Branch recovered, I quoted Rocky Balboa and tweeted, ‘I didn’t hear no bell.'”
Daniels began to see fatigue setting in for Atlanta. “At this point, it was clear that the Falcons defense was really tired. I think one huge thing we didn’t think about during the game was the amount of time the Patriots had the ball. Although they weren’t always scoring, the long drives were wearing Atlanta down. As soon as the Patriots were in striking distance, I knew my original gamer was in trouble. I turned to my coworker Kevin McNamara and said, ‘the Patriots are going to f*** us.’ What I meant by that was, after settling on what I was writing for a game story and he was writing for a column, we were going back to the drawing board with our deadline minutes away. Around this time I tweeted, ‘RIP my game story’ and started to write about the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.”
“Well, the Hightower strip sack was the biggest play and momentum-shift of the dozen or so things that absolutely had to happen for the Patriots to pull off the comeback,” said Finn. “But even then, when he made that play, I was skeptical that the clock was going to be the Patriots’ friend. I really started thinking it could happen when the Patriots marched down and scored on the Amendola TD, then converted the two, making it a one-score game with roughly six minutes left. That’s the first time it felt like time wouldn’t run out on them. I’m not a big believer in momentum in sports, but it was a palpable feeling at that point. Of course, even then the Patriots needed the Falcons to bumble their way out of field goal position to give themselves a chance to tie.”
“One of the many remarkable things about the Patriots’ comeback is the number of turning-point plays for both teams,” said Socci. “For example, the Pats scored to make it 28-9, only to see the extra-point try careen off the upright. Then Atlanta recovered an on-sides kick, only to squander the opportunity to expand its lead. And even after Hightower’s strip sack and the ensuing touchdown to pull the Pats within 28-20, the Falcons drove to New England’s 22-yard line in three plays. So, there were many instances where I sensed trouble for the Falcons, only to change my mind seconds later.”
Full belief in something special going down came later for Reiss. “So many things still had to happen for the Patriots to win, even after the Hightower strip sack,” he said. “So the first time I really felt like the Falcons were in trouble was after Danny Amendola’s two-point conversion to tie the game at 28. Once it got to overtime, it was hard for me to envision anything but a Patriots victory and once Matthew Slater called heads and the coin came up heads, I turned to a colleague and said, ‘Can you believe they’re going to win this?’ And that’s when I began writing the first few paragraphs of my final piece with the anticipation that they were pulling off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.”
Some New Perspective
In terms of picking up on more aspects of the game over the past few weeks, Reiss said there are “so many, and they come mostly from watching many of the NFL Films-produced pieces with on-field and post-game sound. This Patriots team had a special chemistry. There was a lot of love among this group and you heard that come through in the celebration. You can’t order up team chemistry at the start of the year, but this team had the magical mix – from the coaches to the players.”
“I’ve watched it more than I care to admit. I mean, get a life!” said Giardi. “The Pats’ physicality with the Falcons skill guys is more and more impressive as you hit the replay button. They really made Julio Jones work. Logan Ryan played a damn good football game (again). Atlanta played softer as it increased the lead. Understandable. Hell, a couple of those Pats drives took an eternity. But the one thing it did was allow Brady to get into a rhythm. And once the Falcons needed to get more aggressive, it was too late. Brady was locked in.”
Finn didn’t think he’d gained much perspective recently because he had immersed himself in replays of the Super Bowl so soon afterward. “Like most Patriots fans and observers, I devoured everything in the days after the game: all of the SoundFX stuff, the DVR’d Fox broadcast, Inside the NFL, the abbreviated replay on the NFL Network, all of it. Hell, I wished there was more.”
“Super Bowl LI was so enjoyable that I think I watched it over and over again about five or six times,” said Daniels. “At this point, if my wife sees it on the TV again, I’m in trouble.”
“To be honest, my perspective hasn’t changed much,” said Fox. “It was a miraculous win, and it always will be. Sure, in hindsight we can recognize the signs that the Patriots were never as badly off as it seemed – chiefly time of possession and total plays – but a 25-point deficit is still a 25-point deficit. I think that when we watch that game back, when they make the ESPN ’30 for 30’, it will have the feel of re-living the 2004 ALCS. I don’t think it will ever get old.”
The Patriots solidified their reputation as winners, said Daniels. “It’s literally impossible to count the Patriots out. We live in a world of hot takes when it comes to football, but it’s getting increasingly harder to be negative when it comes to Bill Belichick and this team. Even when they’re down by 25 in the Super Bowl, there’s always a way. Even when they trade Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones, their defense still looks elite. Super Bowl LI was so hard to process because games never play out that way.”
Did this game define the Patriots? Chatham believes it may have done the opposite. “This was the game that will force anybody who responsibly covers this team or dutifully roots for this organization to forever stay away from absolute statements about them. This thing broke all the proverbial rules. Outlier City. But since it happened, from here on out, who the hell knows…”
Over time, and with repeated viewings, certain aspects of the contest start to set themselves apart from others. “For me, it’s also interesting to see which players step up big on the biggest stages,” said Daniels. “We all know Tom Brady was going to bring it in Super Bowl LI. After seeing Dont’a Hightower making a stop on Marshawn Lynch in Super Bowl XLIX, it wasn’t shocking to see him step up again in Super Bowl LI. For me, it was great to see James White and Trey Flowers elevate their status to the sports world. Flowers was one of the best stories last season and he’s about to turn into a star. I’ve always been a big supporter of White, so to see him go off was enjoyable. He’s a good person and I always thought he was a little underrated when it came to his pass-catching ability.”
Multiple looks helped Reiss see one of White’s overlooked contributions, a moment of rock-solid execution. “As for specific plays in the game, I could go through no shortage of a dozen of them that stood out to me, but No. 1 on the list is the third-and-10 from their own 9-yard line on the game-tying drive with 3:17 remaining – Tom Brady to Chris Hogan for 16 yards. The Falcons blitzed off the defensive left side and running back James White helped pick it up. It was a huge pickup, which I’m sure was aided by Brady’s pre-snap communication, but I’m not sure it’s received its due (the Patriots are probably punting if they don’t convert there). Think about it – White makes that blitz pickup to extend the game-tying drive, while Falcons running back Devonta Freeman blows his assignment earlier in the fourth quarter and it leads to a game-turning Hightower strip sack. If ever there was an advertisement for the importance of blitz pickup among running backs, this is it.”
Over the past few weeks, Socci said, “I’ve also thought more about the various turning-point plays and unsung contributions of so many. For example, as enormous a play as Hightower’s sack was, Trey Flowers’ 2.5 sacks were equally important. One occurred after the on-sides recovery by the Falcons and another after the Jones grab that could have helped to clinch the game.”
Giardi has a theory as to how New England got so far behind. “Hell of a turnaround by Nate Solder in the 2nd half. His first half was about as bad as I’ve ever seen him play, by a long shot. I think it took the Pats longer than they thought to adjust to the Falcons’ speed. Lot of misses early on that you hadn’t seen from that group. Same held true offensively. Couple of those matchups, Atlanta was just so much faster/quicker early on.”
Reviewing footage helped Finn assess what happened to Atlanta’s speed. “The one thing I noticed on the repeat viewings that I didn’t pick up on during the game was how gassed the Falcons defense was because they were constantly on the field. That’s common knowledge now, but in the heat of the moment it was a crucial detail that I didn’t pick up on. It’s not just that the Patriots offense wore them out. Their own offense wore them out, too.”
Socci thought back to before the Super Bowl started and considered what it would mean. “Shortly before the game I was chatting with some colleagues just outside our booth. At one point, one of them asked, ‘Do we all agree that the overriding story entering this game relates to Brady and his legacy?’ I did. And immediately after the game, many of my on-air comments and thoughts were centered around Tom and what he accomplished in the wake of a remarkably trying time, enduring the Deflategate saga and suspension, as well as his mother’s battle with cancer. Of course, much was also said about what the win meant to Patriots fans, Belichick, and the organization as a whole, including mention of the ‘D’ word – as in dynasty. With a little more time and space, I realize just how much that game demonstrated qualities we heard about early in the season, as the team’s personality was taking shape: togetherness and toughness. A very close-knit team never fractured from the circumstances they faced early, including Brady’s suspension and Garoppolo’s injury, through those they confronted in their final game, falling behind by 25 points in Super Bowl LI. All along, they showed great toughness, physically and mentally. The Pats never lost their poise.”
Chris Warner likes going outside and screaming, “Let’s Gooooooo!” to no one in particular. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter @cwarn89.
New England coach Bill Belichick manages the back end of his roster as well as any NFL coach. Past Patriots champions benefitting from the rise of unsung athletes (in 2014, cornerback Malcolm Butler started just one game; this past season, running back James White scored zero rushing TDs) points to the readiness of every player.
With the NFL Combine coming up February 28 through March 6, the names of potential draftees will be floating around New England like oh-so-many stray Christmas ornaments in puddles of slush. But before we look at potential rookies, we should get a better understanding of a few more players already in Foxboro. Below are the names of some potential contributors we could see more of next fall.
Lucien Up: Have you heard of the Patriots’ Receiver Rule of Sevens? (Probably not – I kinda made it up.) In 2002, the team used a seventh-round pick on David Givens, who grew to become one of Tom Brady’s most dependable pass-catchers. Seven years later, Julian Edelman came to New England as a seventh-rounder. In 2016, the Pats picked Devin Lucien out of Arizona State. Every seven years, a seventh-round receiver. Coincidence?
Well, of course it is. Still fun, though. In the 2016 preseason, Lucien caught three passes for 39 yards. The team cut him in September but signed him to the practice squad right away. At ASU, Lucien had 66 catches for a team-best 1,075 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. He transferred out of UCLA for his senior year with the Sun Devils after 58 receptions in three seasons for the Bruins. This highlight reel demonstrates his strong hands and elusiveness, as well as some surprisingly profane lyrics.
With the futures of free agent Danny Amendola and house-arrestee Michael Floyd carrying some doubt, Lucien could get a second look from coaches this summer.
‘Cause I’m A Housler: The Patriots nabbed Rob Housler with a futures contract, which makes their tight end dynamic all the more interesting. Assuming Martellus Bennett leaves for greener pastures (as in money-green – and good for him, by the way), New England has post back-surgery Rob Gronkowski, Matt Lengel, and Gregg Scruggs. Gronk is the lightweight here at 265 (amazing how big tight ends have gotten), so Housler arrives as the pass-catching TE.
The six-year vet has been injured for the past two years (Browns, Bears), but back in 2012 Housler had his best season at Arizona with 45 catches. You can watch his highlight reel in about the time it takes to boil an egg. As Patriots salary cap expert Miguel Benzan has said, we shouldn’t be surprised at New England double-dipping for tight ends in the draft, but even if they do, Housler could factor in come September.
Superstar DJ, Here We Go: We can’t anoint him as a superstar just yet, but running back/receiver D. J. Foster out of Arizona State has potential. He only had one reception in 2016 to go along with seven carries for 24 yards (3.4 avg.), but his ability to play both running back and slot will get him a few chances for more time on the field.
Foster ran a 4.45-second 40 and a 6.75-second 3-cone at his pro day. Three stats of note from his college days in regards to consistency: he appeared in all 53 games during his career; he’s one of only five players in NCAA history to compile 2,000 yards rushing as well as receiving; he caught at least one pass in all 53 games. (Just a few of those catches and runs are highlighted here.)
You know how certain writers have players they like to keep an eye on? I’ll just say it: Foster’s my guy. (I hope this does not doom him.) The fact that he and Lucien both come from ASU isn’t an accident, as Belichick has noted his respect for Sun Devils coach Todd Graham in the past.
Got A Lot Farther By Workin’ A Lot Harder: Defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton had just three tackles in two games this year, but he did a solid job against the Browns’ rushing attack, helping to limit Isaiah Crowell to a mere 1.7 yards per carry (he came into that game averaging 6.5). You can watch a quick clip of Hamilton executing the “zero technique” (head-to-head with the center) here. An undrafted free agent out of Ole Miss, Hamilton could factor into the Patriots’ future, especially with veteran Alan Branch turning 32 this past season.
At 6-3, 315 pounds, Hamilton won’t be chasing down QBs, but his 29 bench press reps at Ole Miss’ pro day speak to his strength. Could be a fun player to watch develop.
Inaction Jackson? Guard Tré Jackson played in 13 games in 2015, starting nine. Last year, he was put on injured reserve after getting placed on the Player Unable to Perform (PUP) list before the season, battling a knee injury. If healthy (and, yes, that “if” is only slightly less serious than the look on Falcons’ fans’ faces in overtime), Jackson could provide some necessary bulk in the middle of the line. Guard Joe Thuney (305), center David Andrews (295), and guard Shaq Mason (310) all seem about as intimidating as a herd of dik-dik; meanwhile, Jackson weighs in at a more gravity-enhanced 326 pounds. Interesting to see how many reps Jackson gets with the starting unit this summer.
Some nice Florida State game film of Jackson from 2014 here (he’s the right guard, number 54).
A Roster Survivor: Glenn! Must be fun to have two Gronks around, as fullback (and little brother to Rob) Glenn Gronkowski made the off-season roster to this point. At 6-2, 234, Lil’ Gronk finds himself a bit of a ‘tweener: not big enough to block in-line, not small or shifty enough to elude linebackers in coverage. In terms of the 2016 roster, he got dropped more often than a hockey puck, but he managed to make it back to the practice squad each time and now sits on the off-season lineup.
The Kansas State product, who had a cup of coffee in Buffalo before being released in September, had a crazy college stat: though he only caught 15 passes in his career as a fullback, he averaged 24.6 yards per reception, the highest average in school history. So, something to consider, I suppose. You can watch Gronkowski’s game film vs. Kansas here.
By the way, Cup of Coffee in Buffalo sounds like the title of the saddest play you could imagine. It’s like if Death of a Salesman had a sequel.
Double Dog Darius: Nose tackle Darius Kilgo had five stops this past season for Denver before the Broncos released him in late November. The Patriots signed him off waivers, released him, then signed him to the practice squad in December. Kilgo could get crowded out of the defensive line rotation with such youngsters as Hamilton, Malcom Brown, and Vincent Valentine, but even in a pass-first era, most coaches like to have a stockpile of big bodies.
Considering he’s roughly the size of a lion at 315 pounds, Kilgo rates highly as an athlete, running a 5.17 40 and benching 225 pounds 33 times at his pro day. On his highlight reel (starting at the 0:19 mark), you can see Kilgo hustle from his nose tackle position to push a running back out-of-bounds on a flat pass.
Cardinal Rule: The Patriots continue to hold on to Tyler Gaffney out of Stanford. The running back has shown promise in previous seasons, only to end up on injured reserve (with Carolina in 2014 – from whom New England snatched him – and with the Patriots in 2015). Gaffney has made it to the roster on a couple of occasions but has zero carries as a professional. At 220 pounds, the potential is there (here he is running for a TD in a preseason game vs. the Saints); his fate will partly be determined by what the Patriots do with LeGarrette Blount.
As a senior at Stanford, Gaffney ran for over 1,700 yards and 21 touchdowns. He had a 6.78 3-cone drill at the combine, notable for a guy his size. In his nifty highlight reel, Gaffney scores running a Wildcat play and, later, catching a pass in the flat. (By the way, consider pressing Mute before watching. I know I’m old, but I can’t even allude to what gets said on that thing.)
Please keep looking out for our Patriots’ draft “That Guy” columns. Coming soon: a review of NFL Combine participants who would fit in at Foxboro.
Chris Warner knows another big snowstorm is coming, but he’ll be damned if he could tell you when. You can email him at email@example.com or tweet @cwarn89.
Hey there, Patriots fans. Feel like you’ve gotten a bit behind in draft research? This may, in part, result from your having lives outside of football, but also because you’ve been floating through the daydream ending of New England’s 17-2 championship season.
Well, we here at BSMW want to help. Starting with the first installment of our “That Guy” draft series posted after the Senior Bowl earlier this month, and now with our annual Round-By-Round Review, you can impress your friends with the SparkNotes version of the 2017 Patriots draft.
Speaking of SparkNotes, I finally figured out that Santiago was destroyed but never defeated. Only took me about 35 years.
In terms of our rankings, I’ve tried to keep the parameters simple: if a young player remains with the team, he remains a success. If he’s cut, he didn’t work out. I don’t go overboard factoring in expectations: for this, 2012 second-rounder Tavon Wilson sets an example. He didn’t start on a regular basis, but he contributed on special teams, played out his four-year contract, and went to Detroit. Not a stellar pick, but one with value. On the other hand, late-round picks who exceeded expectations (2009 seventh-rounder Julian Edelman, 2000 sixth-rounder What’s-His-Name-With-The-Five-Trophies), don’t earn extra credit, so this method seems to balance out overall, percentage-wise.
With New England faring well recently in later rounds, an interesting trend should emerge. The better the Patriots do, the less room they will have for rookies. Last year, Kamu Grugier-Hill exemplified this. The linebacker fit two of New England’s “That Guy” draft categories: Small School Defender (Eastern Illinois) and Special Teams Guy. However, because the Pats already had a core group of special teams players, Grugier-Hill didn’t make the final 53. The Eagles scooped him off the waiver wire in September and featured him as a special-teamer in 2016 (he was credited with eight tackles). So, even though I won’t deem Grugier-Hill a successful pick, it’s important to highlight how even solid selections fail to make the cut on more talented rosters.
As of this writing, Coach Bill Belichick has six picks in the 2017 draft, accounting for all seven rounds except the sixth (part of the Kyle Van Noy trade to Detroit). For a more complete rundown of various trades and mind-numbing NFL penalties, you can read Rich Hill’s projected draft picks column on PatsPulpit.com. Intriguing to see if – given the mix of young talent on the roster and unrestricted free agents possibly leaving – New England uses all six picks.
Day One (Round One) of the NFL Draft begins at 8 p.m. on April 27 (Thursday); Day Two (Rounds Two and Three) at 7 p.m. April 28, and Day Three (Rounds Four through Seven) on Saturday, April 29, at noon.
And round and round we go…
2000: None (pick went to NYJ for BB)
2001: Richard Seymour, DL, Georgia
2002: Dan Graham, TE, Colorado
2003: Ty Warren, DL, Texas A&M
2004: Vince Wilfork, DL, Miami; Benjamin Watson, TE, Georgia
2005: Logan Mankins, OL, Fresno State
2006: Laurence Maroney, RB, Minnesota
2007: Brandon Meriweather, DB, Miami
2008: Jerod Mayo, LB, Tennessee
2009: (No Pick – traded down)
2010: Devin McCourty, DB, Rutgers
2011: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
2012: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse; Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
2013: (No Pick – traded down)
2014: Dominique Easley, DL, Florida
2015: Malcom Brown, DL, Texas
2016: (No pick – Taken away by the NFL because science doesn’t exist)
Total Picks: 15
Successful Picks: 12 (Seymour, Graham, Warren, Wilfork, Watson, Mankins, Mayo, McCourty, Solder, Jones, Hightower, Brown)
Most Successful Pick: Seymour
Despite what I wrote above about not necessarily giving certain picks greater weight than others, I tend to hold the first round to a higher standard. Every first-round pick has started in Foxboro (though Easley had only three starts). Maroney rushed for 1,580 yards in his first two years in the league, but injuries limited him. Meriweather had 12 interceptions in four seasons with New England and remains in the league. I don’t consider either one a bust; however, in light of the red jackets many of these first-rounders have and will receive, they failed to live up to Patriots First Round status.
Jones makes the “nice” list for two reasons: he contributed at a high level through most of his contract, and his trade to Arizona returned more value to the Patriots (draft picks for starting left guard Joe Thuney and receiver Malcolm Mitchell). Call it a win-win.
Belichick has the 32nd pick this year. Curious if he’ll move it. (Is anyone making a documentary of their draft room this April? Because, considering where this franchise is right now, I would find that fascinating.)
2000: Adrian Klemm, OT, Hawaii
2001: Matt Light, OT, Purdue
2002: Deion Branch, WR, Louisville
2003: Eugene Wilson, DB, Illinois; Bethel Johnson, WR, Texas A&M
2004: Marquise Hill, DE, LSU
2005: (No pick)
2006: Chad Jackson, WR, Florida
2007: (No pick – traded for Wes Welker)
2008: Terrence Wheatley, DB, Colorado
2009: Patrick Chung, DB, Oregon; Ron Brace, DT, BC; Darius Butler, DB, UConn; Sebastian Vollmer, OT, Houston
2010: Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona; Jermaine Cunningham, DE, Florida; Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida.
2011: Ras-I Dowling, DB, Virginia; Shane Vereen, RB, California
2012: Tavon Wilson, DB, Illinois
2013: Jamie Collins, OLB, Southern Miss; Aaron Dobson, WR, Marshall
2014: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
2015: Jordan Richards, DB, Stanford
2016: Cyrus Jones, DB, Alabama
Total Picks: 23
Successful Picks: 13 (Light, Branch, E. Wilson, Vollmer, Gronkowski, Spikes, Vereen, T. Wilson, Collins, Garoppolo, Chung, Richards, Jones)
Most Successful Pick: Gronkowski
Sure, things didn’t end all that well with Collins, but drafting a college defensive end from a winless Southern Mississippi squad and helping him become one of the most productive linebackers in the NFL deserves credit. As with the aforementioned Tavon Wilson, the Patriots often take chances in this area of the draft on players with lesser perceived value (Richards belongs on that list, as does Vollmer) or with injury histories (Gronk, Dowling, Wheatley). This makes for an up-and-down round, especially when compared to the previous one.
Here’s a reminder for when New England takes someone in Round Two who a) ranks as a Day Three pick or b) plays a seemingly unnecessary position (Hello, Garoppolo!): the chances the Pats will find the right player are better than the chance Matthew Slater will correctly call a coin toss. And we know what happened in overtime.
2000: J. R. Redmond, RB, Arizona State
2001: Brock Williams, DB, Notre Dame
2002: (No pick)
2003: (No pick)
2004: Guss Scott, DB, Florida
2005: Ellis Hobbs III, CB, Iowa State; Nick Kaczur, OL, Toledo
2006: David Thomas, TE, Texas
2007: (No pick)
2008: Shawn Crable, OLB, Michigan; Kevin O’Connell, QB, San Diego State
2009: Brandon Tate, WR, North Carolina; Tyrone McKenzie, LB, South Florida
2010: Taylor Price, WR, Ohio
2011: Stevan Ridley, RB, LSU; Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
2012: Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas
2013: Logan Ryan, DB, Rutgers; Duron Harmon, DB, Rutgers
2014: (No pick)
2015: Geneo Grissom, DL, Oklahoma
2016: Joe Thuney, OL, N. C. State; Jacoby Brissett, QB, N. C. State; Vincent Valentine, DL, Nebraska
Total Picks: 20
Successful Picks: 10 (Hobbs, Kaczur, Ridley, Mallett, Ryan, Harmon, Grissom, Thuney, Brissett, Valentine)
Most Successful Pick: Ryan
New England has gone six-for-six in this round since 2013, giving the Third a major boost from 29 percent to 50. That double-dip of Rutgers defensive backs set the Pats on the right path: five of those selected have started games, while the lone exception (Grissom) has made his mark as a core special teams player. Very strong work by Pats’ brass of late.
This round seems to jumpstart the hit-or-miss nature of the draft, as we delve into a class of players who tend to have certain amounts of athleticism or football intelligence, but not necessarily copious amounts of both. If you told me you thought Harmon would end up contributing more than you thought, say, Crable would have, then you either have a great eye for overall talent, or you are a pathological liar. I mean, for God’s sake, Crable jumped over a guy.
A nice update here on Crable from September, 2013. The man had an impressive rise out of a difficult childhood and, after trying out for the NFL, he returned to Ohio to work with families in need.
Okay, back to football: Let’s watch that Valentine goal-line tackle for loss in the AFC title game vs. Pittsburgh one more time, shall we?
2000: Greg Robinson-Randall, OT, Michigan State
2001: Kenyatta Jones, OT, South Florida; Jabari Holloway, TE, Notre Dame
2002: Rohan Davey, QB, LSU; Jarvis Green, DE, LSU
2003: Dan Klecko, DL, Temple; Asante Samuel, CB, Central Florida
2004: Dexter Reid, DB, North Carolina; Cedric Cobbs, RB, Arkansas
2005: James Sanders, DB, Fresno State
2006: Garrett Mills, FB, Tulsa; Stephen Gostkowski, K, Memphis
2007: Kareem Brown, DL, Miami
2008: Jonathan Wilhite, DB, Auburn
2009: Rich Ohrnberger, OL, Penn State
2010: The Tight End Who Shan’t Be Named, Florida
2011: (No Pick)
2012: (No Pick)
2013: Josh Boyce, WR, TCU
2014: Bryan Stork, OL, Florida State; James White, RB, Wisconsin; Cameron Fleming, OL, Stanford
2015: Trey Flowers, DL, Arkansas; Tré Jackson, OL, Florida State; Shaq Mason, OL, Georgia Tech
2016: Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia
Total Picks: 24
Successful Picks: 11 (Green, Samuel, Sanders, Gostkowski, Stork, White, Fleming, Flowers, Jackson, Mason, Mitchell)
Most Successful Pick: Samuel
Trying to avoid getting blinded by the Super Bowl afterglow here, I’m going back to Samuel as the best pick from this round instead of White, Flowers, or Mitchell. Gostkowski headed this list two years ago, with Stork following up last year because, and I quote myself, “Stork’s potential to play center and help the O-line mesh in the foreseeable future makes him our number one choice.” Whoops. Still, I’m keeping Stork on the successful list because he started on a Super Bowl-winning team and got replaced by someone better (perfectly acceptable for a fourth-rounder).
Like the previous round, lots of correct choices lately: six of seven fourth-round players drafted since 2014 remain with the team, including the aforementioned trio of major SB contributors (a quartet if you include starting right guard Mason). Here’s a fun snippet from last year’s column: “Flowers had a strong preseason and, if healthy (in 2016), could contribute in a pass-rushing rotation.” Could contribute, I said.
My gosh, I am adorable. In any case, White’s championship performance, Flowers’ and Mason’s strong sophomore seasons, and Mitchell’s breakthrough as a rookie pass-catcher help change the perception of this middle round. The percentage of productive picks has almost doubled from the pre-2014 rate of 24 (four of 17). Great value for the middle of the draft.
2000: Dave Stachelski, TE, Boise State; Jeff Marriott, DT, Missouri
2001: Hakim Akbar, DB, Washington
2002: (No pick)
2003: Dan Koppen, OL, Boston College
2004: P. K. Sam, WR, Florida State
2005: Ryan Claridge, OLB, UNLV
2006: Ryan O’Callaghan, OL, California
2007: Clint Oldenburg, OL, Colorado State
2008: Matthew Slater, WR, UCLA
2009: George Bussey, OL, Louisville
2010: Zoltan Mesko, P, Michigan
2011: Marcus Cannon, OL, TCU; Lee Smith, TE, Marshall
2012: (No pick)
2013: (No pick)
2014: (No pick)
2015: Joe Cardona, LS, Navy
2016: (No pick)
Total Picks: 14
Successful Picks: 5 (Koppen, Slater, Mesko, Cannon, Cardona)
Most Successful Pick: Koppen
Slater, Mesko and Cardona have helped create the perception of the Fifth as the Special Teams Round. Cannon’s impressive turnaround this season at right tackle halted the trend of iffy offensive linemen (O’Callaghan, Oldenburg, Bussey). Belichick went on a streak of trading the fifth pick in recent years (including the 2016 selection for receiver Keshawn Martin). I suppose we should keep our eyes out for another special teamer or backup-offensive-lineman-to-be-developed this year.
Did anyone else like Lee Smith as much as I did? No? Well guess what: he’s still in the league!
2000: Antwan Harris, CB, Virginia; Tom Brady, QB, Michigan; David Nugent, DT, Purdue.
2001: Arther Love, TE, South Carolina State; Leonard Myers, DB, Miami
2002: (No pick)
2003: Kliff Kingsbury, QB, Texas Tech
2004: (No pick)
2005: (No pick)
2006: Jeremy Mincey, OLB, Florida; Dan Stevenson, OL, Notre Dame; LeKevin Smith, DL, Nebraska
2007: Justin Rogers, OLB, SMU; Justise Hairston, RB, Central Connecticut; Corey Hilliard, OL, Oklahoma State
2008: Bo Ruud, OLB, Nebraska
2009: Jake Ingram, LS, Hawaii; Myron Pryor, DT, Kentucky
2010: Ted Larsen, C, NC State
2011: Markell Carter, DE, Central Arkansas
2012: Nate Ebner, DB, Ohio State
2013: (No Pick)
2014: John Halapio, OL, Florida; Zach Moore, DE, Concordia
2015: Matthew Wells, LB, Mississippi State; A. J. Derby, TE, Arkansas
2016: Kamu Grugier-Hill, OLB, Eastern Illinois; Elandon Roberts, ILB, Houston; Ted Karras, OL, Illinois
Total Picks: 25
Successful Picks: 5 (Brady, Pryor, Ebner, Roberts, Karras)
Most Successful Pick: The Quarterback Not Named Kingsbury
Go ahead and watch “The Brady Six” again. I’ll wait.
See? That was fun, watching the Patriots pick a sixth-round quarterback out of Michigan, even though they had their franchise guy in Drew Bledsoe, who the following off-season signed the largest contract in NFL history. Always remember those facts the next time you hear anyone insist “the Patriots missed on Brady, too.” I’ll defer to Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post, who on February 10 compiled a list of Boston media reactions regarding the Brady pick at the time.
Quality over quantity, I suppose. Ebner continued his work as a key special teams guy. Though I first viewed Roberts as a special teamer, the linebacker came on strong on defense this year, taking some reps for the traded Jamie Collins to net 45 tackles as a rookie.
But seriously, who cares? The Patriots could draft Donny from Dunkin‘ every year and still: Brady, man. Come on.
2000: Casey Tisdale, OLB, New Mexico; Patrick Pass, RB, Georgia
2001: Owen Pochman, K, BYU; T. J. Turner, LB, Michigan State
2002: Antwoine Womack, RB, Virginia; David Givens, WR, Notre Dame
2003: Spencer Nead, TE, BYU; Tully Banta-Cain, LB, California; Ethan Kelley, NT, Baylor
2004: Christian Morton, CB, Florida State
2005: Matt Cassel, QB, Southern California; Andy Stokes, TE, William Penn
2006: Willie Andrews, DB, Baylor
2007: Oscar Lua, LB, Southern California; Mike Elgin, OL, Iowa
2008: (No pick)
2009: Julian Edelman, WR, Kent State; Darryl Richard, DT, Georgia Tech
2010: Thomas Welch, OT, Vanderbilt; Brandon Deaderick, DL, Alabama; Kade Weston, DL, Georgia; Zac Robinson, QB, Oklahoma State
2011: Malcolm Williams, CB, TCU
2012: Alfonso Dennard, DB, Nebraska; Jeremy Ebert, WR, Northwestern
2013: Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois; Steve Beauharnais, LB, Rutgers
2014: Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan
2015: Darryl Roberts, DB, Marshall
2016: Devin Lucien, WR, Arizona State
Total Picks: 29 (Wowza.)
Successful Picks: 8 (Pass, Givens, Banta-Cain, Cassel, Edelman, Deaderick, Dennard, Lucien)
Most Successful Pick: Edelman
Will Lucien join the stable of seventh-round reliable pass-catchers that includes Pass, Givens, and Edelman? Could be fun to watch – as is his 2015 ASU highlight reel. (Some caution here as it’s NSFW; although, in his defense, he is ’bout his paper like a mothereffer scratch ‘n’ win.)
While fewer than one in three seventh-rounders makes the cut, we should point out short-time contributors who got left off the list, like pass rusher Buchanan (nine tackles in 15 games as a rookie) and cornerback Andrews (24 tackles in two seasons). With 29 seventh-round selections in 17 drafts (54 picks combined in the sixth and seventh), we see consistent attempts to add depth at the back end of Day Three. Exactly what this area of the draft is for.
Some of the Patriots’ notable undrafted free agents (also called rookie free agents, or RFAs) include starting center David Andrews and second-team All-Pro corner Malcolm Buter. After the draft, please keep an eye out for our annual “Who’s The FA? UDFA!” series. (Last year’s is linked here.)
Some past UDFAs who contributed: Stephen Neal, OL; Tom Ashworth, OL; Eric Alexander, LB; Randall Gay, DB; Wesley Britt, OL; Antwain Spann, CB; Kyle Eckel, RB; Santonio Thomas, DL: Mike Wright, DL; Corey Mays, LB; Pierre Woods, OLB; BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB; Vince Redd, OLB, Tyson Devree, TE; Gary Guyton, LB; Brian Hoyer, QB; Ray Ventrone, DB; Chris Harper, WR; Josh Kline, OL.
Some UDFAs on the roster now: Butler, CB, West Alabama; Andrews, OL, Georgia; Ryan Allen, P, Louisiana Tech; Brandon Bolden, RB, Ole Miss; Brandon King, DB, Auburn; D. J. Foster, RB, Arizona State; Jonathan Jones, CB, Auburn; Woodrow Hamilton, DL, Ole Miss.
Maybe I should end 2017’s column with the same line I used to wrap up last year’s: “With a few solid picks, maybe a surprise UDFA or two, and good health, the 2016 Patriots could continue their impressive run.”
I mean … sure. Let’s keep it vague: With a strong rookie class, the wise coaching of Bill Belichick, the insatiable desire of Tom Brady, and the relentless pursuit of excellence by an entire organization, 2017 could be a year of specialness for Foxboro folks.
Chris Warner watched his alma mater’s hoops team lose by 20 this weekend, yet in light of the Super Bowl he never really thought they were out of it. You can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Twitter @cwarn89.
Welcome to our annually updated column reviewing how every Super Bowl champion during the Patriots’ run has needed some good fortune along the way. After New England’s stunning comeback on February 5, we might have to rename the column to “With A Little Bit Of – HOLY HABANEROS THEY DID IT!”
Did the Patriots get lucky in Super Bowl 51? Well, if you’re going to mount a 25-point comeback midway through the third quarter, you definitely need some compliance from the other side (more on that below).
Of the 16 Super Bowls listed here, eight were decided by four points or less, and that’s not including New England’s six-point overtime win. For a look at how every team – no matter how deserving or how talented overall – needed the ball to bounce its way, see our list of fortunate moments, starting with a snowy night in January 2002. (Note: each Super Bowl year is listed when played, meaning each team played their regular season the year before. If you don’t like it, switch to baseball, I guess?)
2002 Super Bowl: New England 20, St. Louis 17
Most Fortunate Moment: Has to be the Tuck Rule, right? An obscure, now-abolished rule – albeit one with which Patriots fans had become familiar in 2001 after their Week Two game against the Jets – was implemented to overturn an apparent Tom Brady fumble, thus prolonging a drive and allowing Adam Vinatieri to kick the football into the maw of a blizzard for the greatest field goal in playoff history.
Hey, Raiders fans? That was 15 years ago. George W. Bush had been in office for about a year. Usher’s “U Got It Bad” was the number-one song. Friendster was a thing. Maybe time to move on, is all I’m saying.
Honorable Mention: Pittsburgh’s special teams implosion in the AFC Championship game, allowing two TDs (punt return and blocked kick return); having Drew Bledsoe as a bench QB after Brady hurt his ankle in the first half of that game; the Super Bowl refs adapting a “let ’em play” attitude, with Pats DBs getting more hands on more Rams than a Dodge Touch A Truck contest.
2003 Super Bowl: Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21
Most Fortunate Moment: Coach Jon Gruden got to play his previous team in the Super Bowl, which proved beneficial when new Oakland head coach Bill Callahan failed to make significant changes to the offense. Talk about an in-depth scouting report. Seriously, Raiders fans should stop fretting over the Tuck Rule and wonder why on earth, after actually making the Super Bowl, their coach neglected to put in four or five dummy calls from the line of scrimmage. In terms of planning, this compares only slightly favorably to the charge at Gallipoli.
Honorable Mention: Oakland’s starting center Barret Robbins did not show up to practice Super Bowl week (he was barred from playing and later diagnosed with manic depression).
2004 Super Bowl: New England 32, Carolina 29
Most Fortunate Moment: After Carolina tied it at 29, John Kasay’s kickoff sailed out-of-bounds, giving New England possession at their own 40 with 1:08 left. Vinatieri booted the game-winner with four seconds remaining.
Honorable Mention: Panthers coach John Fox went for two 2-point conversions in the fourth quarter and failed; in the divisional playoffs, normally sure-handed Titans receiver Drew Bennett dropped a pass that would have gotten Tennessee into field goal position to tie it; in the AFC Championship vs. Peyton Manning and the Colts, the refs allowed the Pats’ defensive backs to play with the type of aggression that would get penalized today; plus, snow fell in Foxboro, an anathema to most dome teams.
2005 Super Bowl: New England 24, Philadelphia 21
Most Fortunate Moment: The failure of the Eagles to assist shaken QB Donovan McNabb. Down by 10, Philly failed to hurry on offense, in part because McNabb was having trouble breathing after getting hit by Tedy Bruschi. (You can read a more in-depth story on that here.)
Honorable Mention: Optimum health at the optimum time. As they had in 2003, many New England starters missed games due to injury, but most came back in time for the playoffs. Once again, Khione (the goddess of snow) smiled upon Foxboro vs. the Colts.
Overall, it’s tough to associate pure luck with this team: one of the best of the decade and certainly one of the strongest, deepest squads in Patriots history.
2006 Super Bowl: Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10
Most Fortunate Moment: Not having to face the Patriots in the playoffs. (This isn’t pure homerism: New England had escorted Pittsburgh back to Steeltown twice in four years.)
Honorable Mention: Some close officiating in the big game. This is not to say that Pittsburgh didn’t deserve to win (they appeared to be the better squad), but had some of those close calls gone the other way, Seattle would have been the lucky ones. In the divisional playoffs at Indianapolis, Jerome Bettis fumbled on the Colts’ two-yard line, potentially paving the way for glory for Nick Harper on the fumble return, but Roethlisberger made a diving, spinning tackle at Indy’s 42; Colts kicker/anti-hero Mike Vanderjagt missed a potential game-tying 47-yard field goal.
2007 Super Bowl: Indianapolis 29, Chicago 17
Most Fortunate Moment: Whatever switch went off in Peyton Manning’s head in the AFC Championship that had him looking for drive-sustaining first downs instead of long passes. The Patriots defense had to stay on the field forever and couldn’t protect their halftime lead.
Honorable Mention: The Patriots defense was also suffering from the flu, wearing them down further; NE receiver Reche Caldwell dropped an easy pass that would have at least led to a clock-killing first down; cornerback Ellis Hobbs got a questionable pass interference call in the end zone that led to a Colts score; Indy got to play Rex Grossman in the Super Bowl.
2008 Super Bowl: New York 17, New England 14
Most Fortunate Moment: We think we know what most fans would say, but we’ll point to the NFC Championship, specifically Brett Favre and his ill-advised pass-punt in overtime. This easy interception led to the Giants’ game-winning field goal. Few New England fans doubt that the Pats would have cruised past the Packers.
Honorable Mention: The Helmet Catch, of course; Eli Manning fumbled twice in the Super Bowl but lost neither; Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel failed to secure what could have been the game-sealing interception on New York’s final drive.
2009 Super Bowl: Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23
Most Fortunate Moment: While Steelers defender James Harrison returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown, he got unintentional help from Cardinal Antrel Rolle who – stepping onto the edge of the field for a closer look – bumped into receiver Larry Fitzgerald, preventing Fitzgerald from making the tackle in time. (Keep an eye on number 11 running along the sideline in this clip.)
Honorable Mention: Roethlisberger bounced back from a concussion suffered during the final week of the regular season to beat the Chargers in the divisional round (um, maybe “bounced back” is the wrong phrase to use when discussing concussions); in the AFC Championship, the QB fumbled twice but lost neither in a 24-19 win over the Jets.
2010 Super Bowl Winner: New Orleans 31, Indianapolis 17
Most Fortunate Moment: On a potential game-tying drive, Colts receiver Reggie Wayne came up short on his route, allowing Tracy Porter to cut in front of him for a pick-six.
Honorable Mention: During their on-sides kick – a gamble akin to betting on the Patriots at halftime in SB 51 – Indy receiver Hank Baskett had the ball bounce off of him, giving the Saints possession to open the second half.
2011 Super Bowl: Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 25
Most Fortunate Moment: I wrote this last year, and I have to say again, honest to God, I remember nothing about these playoffs. Apparently the Chicago Bears were down to their third-string QB (Caleb Hanie) in the NFC Championship game; Hanie threw an interception directly at Packers defensive lineman B. J. Raji, which seems like trying to throw a crumpled-up piece of paper into a wastebasket and not realizing there’s a door in front of it.
Honorable Mention: Um, I dunno … health? Seriously, I got nothing. Did these playoffs happen?
2012 Super Bowl: New York 21, New England 17
Most Fortunate Moment: An injury to regular San Francisco punt returner Ted Ginn, Jr. put Kyle Williams into the spotlight for the NFC Championship. That worked out great for New York, as Williams muffed one return and fumbled the other, respectively leading to a regulation TD and the game-winning field goal in overtime for a 20-17 win.
Honorable Mention: Gronkowski getting hurt during the AFC Championship, making him less than 100 percent for the Super Bowl; New York fumbling three times in the big game and – again – losing nary a one.
2013 Super Bowl: Baltimore 34, San Francisco 31
Most Fortunate Moment: In the divisional playoff, Denver safety Rahim Moore got lost on Joe Flacco’s 70-yard pass, allowing the tying touchdown with 31 seconds left to play. Baltimore won in OT.
Honorable Mention: Gronkowski’s absence from the AFC Championship game; Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib’s injury during that game opening up the passing lanes for Flacco; in the Super Bowl, terrible play-calling for the 49ers on their potential game-winning drive; on that drive, the refs allowed contact on a potential pass interference penalty in the end zone. (Something that probably would get the call this year.)
2014 Super Bowl: Seattle 43, Denver 8
Most Fortunate Moment: On the first snap of the game, Denver center Manny Ramirez shotgunned the football past Peyton Manning into the end zone for a what-the-heck-just-happened safety. Seattle’s D had a huge game, but didn’t have to lift a finger to get the lead. The Broncos’ lack of preparedness for the Seahawks’ 12th man set the tone for the night.
Honorable Mention: In the NFC title game, on a fourth-and-seven play, Niners defensive end Aldon Smith went offside, giving QB Russell Wilson a freebie (as he told in this game story); Jermaine Kearse snatched Wilson’s pass in the end zone, giving Seattle a 20-17 lead on their way to a 23-17 win.
2015 Super Bowl: New England 28, Seattle 24
Most Fortunate Moment: Not to be contrarian, but I just don’t think the play call was the worst in Super Bowl history. However, the Seahawks’ decision to pass from the one-yard line gave rookie Patriots defensive back (and budding star) Malcolm Butler the chance to intercept the ball and seal the game. Whether fortunate or diligent, as we saw in the “Do Your Job” program, the Patriots had planned for that exact play in the previous week’s practice.
Honorable Mention: After dealing with key injuries in previous playoffs, the Patriots finally got to compete with a mostly healthy roster, as Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Vince Wilfork and a full O-line contributed; Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner signed with New England and re-shaped the defense. (For a year, at least. A remarkable year.)
Reviewing their final two playoff games, the Seahawks seemed destined to win. From Green Bay’s inexplicable breakdown in the NFC Championship to Tom Brady’s first interception (Not. Good.) to what is now deemed The Kearse Catch, Seattle looked like SB repeaters for sure.
The Pats just needed a break. And they got it.
2016 Super Bowl: Denver 24, Carolina 10
Most Fortunate Moment: Stephen Gostkowski’s missed extra-point kick in the American Conference Championship. I know, Denver deserves credit for a great defensive effort throughout the playoffs. Still, if you consider that Brady got beaten more than the “it” in a Michael Jackson song, yet still managed to bring the Patriots down the field for a touchdown in the final minute, we all have to agree that overtime would have been awfully interesting.
Honorable Mention: General good health throughout the year, plus a backup QB in Brock Osweiler who played well. Also (and I’m not sure where this lies in terms of luck), but it’s amazing that in the Super Bowl Peyton Manning converted only one of 14 third down attempts (a whopping seven percent). Lucky to have such a great defense, I guess?
2017 Super Bowl: New England 34, Atlanta 28
Most Fortunate Moment: Sticking with the idea of luck as something you do not control, I’m going with Atlanta calling a pass on second down from New England’s 23-yard line with under four minutes left and a 28-20 lead. (And something tells me more than a few gamblers would agree.) Sack, Trey Flowers. Atlanta drops back to pass again to make up some yardage – holding call. Third down again, incomplete pass. Fourth down, punt. Pats get the ball back with 3:30 left. A crazy sequence of events, there.
Honorable Mention: Kudos to Edelman for maintaining his focus during his Catch, but – considering the football contacted more body parts than an orthopedist – the play seems more remarkable with each viewing; running back Tevin Coleman’s injury in the fourth quarter may have convinced the Falcons’ staff to pass on the ensuing third and one play; unfortunately for Atlanta, Devonta Freeman’s block was too small for a LEGO set, much less Dont’a Hightower, leading to the linebacker’s game-changing strip sack.
At that point (8:24 left), a 28-12 lead didn’t seem so safe anymore.
Next week, we’re on to the draft, with our annual Patriots Round-By-Round review. (Here’s last year’s column to get you thinking.)
Chris Warner shall never tire of watching the Slaters celebrate. You can reach him at email@example.com or @cwarn89 on Twitter.
While I’m sure the frequency will dissipate with time, every few hours or so I begin chuckling to myself. I can’t help it. New England won their fifth Super Bowl in the game’s first-ever overtime, 34-28, after trailing 28-3 with 8:31 left in the third quarter. Even after the confetti, the parade, and the trophies (Careful, Gronk!) it’s still difficult to believe.
Here’s the lede I had lined up after Atlanta’s Robert Alford returned a Tom Brady interception for a touchdown to push the Falcons ahead, 21-0. “No heart-stopper tonight. No, ‘Well, if this didn’t happen, or this.’ Atlanta is just better.”
Well, in my defense, they were better, at least until midway through the third. After settling for what seemed like a useless field goal at the end of the first half, the Patriots offense began the second half by going three-and-out, in part due to drops by Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman. The Falcons stormed down the field and scored yet again to go ahead 28-3. No one could have guessed that those would be their final points of the night.
An historical note amidst an historical week: In 2001, Coach Bill Belichick brought his team to see a special screening of Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure, a documentary about Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew, whose 1914 journey to the South Pole was thwarted by ice crushing their ship. After almost two years of struggle and perseverance, all 28 men returned to civilization. WGBH’s website posted the story. Many of the themes Brady and Belichick discussed came up 15 years later.
One tell-tale quote about the documentary, from Brady: “It told you that there are always going to be obstacles along the way. You have to keep your faith, keep believing in each other, keep working together, even if you think you’re never going to make it.”
Fitting that a season that began with so many unknowns had its ending in doubt until the last minute. What a game. What a ride.
Patriots fans can link to an entertaining collection of TV and radio calls of James White’s winning touchdown here (Kevin Harlan for Westwood One is a favorite.) Proof that, yes, it really did happen.
Four Scores And Several Fears Ago: A quick rundown of The Comeback, just to refresh our memories of how to erase a 28-3 deficit in the final 17-plus minutes of regulation. (Highlights of New England’s overtime drive can be seen here.)
TOUCHDOWN, five-yard pass to White, at 2:12 of third Q. 28-9.
Big Plays: 17-yard pass to Danny Amendola on fourth and three; 15-yard scramble by Brady on third down and eight.
SACK of Matt Ryan by Kyle Van Noy and Trey Flowers at 0:52 of third Q on third and 11.
FIELD GOAL, Stephen Gostkowski, at 9:48 of fourth Q. 28-12.
Big Plays: Passes of 15, seven, and 18 yards to Malcolm Mitchell; 25-yard pass to Martellus Bennett.
SACK by Dont’a Hightower, forcing Ryan to fumble, recovered by defensive tackle Alan Branch at 8:31 of fourth.
TOUCHDOWN, six-yard pass to Amendola, at 6:00. (White with the Kevin Faulk-ish two-point conversion rush.) 28-20.
Big Play: Pass to Mitchell for 12 yards on third and 11.
SACK by Flowers on second and 11, pushing Atlanta back to New England’s 35. (3:56 left.)
TOUCHDOWN, one-yard run for White, at 1:00. (Amendola quick screen two-point conversion.) 28-28.
Big Play: 23-yard pass tipped by Alford, gathered up by Edelman (more on this below).
I don’t know. Seems so straightforward when you spell it all out in print. But I suppose that’s how the Patriots did it: not looking for amazing plays, just trying to do enough on every down to keep the game within reach.
Brady Four-ever: Let us peruse some of the numbers, shall we? After going 16 for 26 in the first half (62 percent) for 184 yards and an avert-your-eyes interception, Our Tom hunkered down in the quest for four Super Bowl MVP Awards (I know, he wasn’t thinking about that, but just go with it) and completed 27 of 36 passes (75 percent) in the second half-plus for 282 yards and two touchdowns. This included going 16 of 21 in the fourth quarter (76 percent). He ended up completing 43 of 62 throws (a percentage of 69 – Go, Gronk!) for 466 yards. Brady broke more records than Disco Demolition Night, including but not limited to passes, completions, and yardage, on his way to (another record-breaking) fourth MVP.
I have a buddy who is not a Patriots fan, and he texted me to point out how much fun he had watching this Super Bowl as a part of history. Maybe it will take some time, but New England fans can spend the next month or so wearing out their DVRs the same way I wore out Side One of my Combat Rock cassette. Rewind, Play. Rewind, Play.
At this point, if you refuse to see that Brady is one of the best quarterbacks ever, that’s on you. It’s like refusing to believe the Earth is round. Fine. Just keep your own misinformation to yourself.
King James: A running back, receiver, and possible android, White deserved a serious look at Co-MVP, catching a (yet another record-breaking) 14 passes for 110 yards and one touchdown, while running for two more (including the sudden-death dagger in overtime), and bolting up the middle for a two-point conversion. On the Patriots’ first touchdown, White caught the ball near the left sideline and spun back toward the middle, cutting free for a five-yard score. With two minutes left, White got all three touches from the 21, toting a 13-yard pass to the eight, then snatching Brady’s next throw and scuttling under the defense for a seven-yard gain to the one. White then sliced through the middle of the line to get New England within two points.
No eye-popping, spectacular plays from White, just a stream of steady contributions that set his team in the proper direction. Great overall game by him. (You can watch his remarkably workmanlike highlight reel here.)
The one argument against White as MVP? While his 14 receptions are a record, they’re a lower percentage of completions than what SB 39 MVP Deion Branch had. White caught 14 of Brady’s 43 completions, an impressive 33 percent, with his 110 yards receiving accounting for 24 percent of Brady’s 466 total. Branch, however, caught 11 passes for 133 yards, making up almost half of Brady’s 23 completions (one-third of his 33 total passes) and over half of the QB’s 236 yards through the air. So, while I’m on board for White as Co-MVP, I just don’t think you can take the trophy away from Brady.
Would the Patriots have won without White? Probably not. But you can say the same about a half-dozen other players who rose to the occasion. Speaking of whom…
Jugglin’ Edelman: While Edelman caught five passes for 87 yards, his 23-yard falling-Plinko-disk catch will be analyzed only slightly less than the Zapruder film. (ESPN shows it from just about every angle.) Alford did a good job to tip the pass, and for a moment the cornerback actually had the ball between his feet as Edelman jockeyed with two oncoming defensive backs to try to secure it. Amidst a collection of arms and legs reminiscent of a cluster of Pop-Rocks-fueled fourth-graders playing ultra-competitive Twister, Edelman managed to clear the football of the fray and – after losing contact for an angina-laden heartbeat – scooped the ball out of the air to prevent it from touching the ground.
An overlooked aspect of the unbelievable nature of the catch was that the Falcons had to challenge that thing. The call was upheld, which took away their final timeout. Hard to blame Atlanta, though: my first thought upon watching this in real time was that it had to be overturned. An amazing call by the referee.
‘Tis I’ll Be Here, In Sunshine Or In Shadow: Oh, Danny Boy. Looking at the rundown of New England’s tying drive in regulation, we get a sense of every receiver’s importance. From their own nine-yard line, Brady hit Hogan for 15 yards on third and 10. The QB then found rookie/second-half phenom Mitchell for 11 on second and 10. From the 36, the aforementioned Edelman Catch netted 23 yards to Atlanta’s 41. Amendola bolted open to gather in a 20-yarder to the 21, whereupon White took over.
Earlier, Amendola’s TD with six minutes left resulted from a six-yard out where his knife-sharp pattern got him clear toward the left sideline. On the night, he had eight catches for 78 yards, Mitchell had six for 70, Hogan had four for 57, and tight end Bennett had five for 62 and forced linebacker De’Vondre Campbell to commit a neck-hug-from-a-drunk-girl-who-doesn’t-really-like-you-that-way pass interference penalty in overtime that gained 13 yards to the Falcons’ two.
Overtime had more featured players than a Christopher Guest movie. Brady to White for six. To Amendola for a 14-yard catch-and-run. To Hogan for 18, then Edelman for 15, then the attempt to Bennett for 13 penalty yards. It was overwhelming to watch, much less try to defend.
Ooh, that reminds me…
Hotlanta: How overheated was Atlanta’s defense? New England had possession for more than 40 minutes with 93 offensive plays, over twice as many as the Falcons (46). Of those 93, 63 were pass plays (Edelman had one attempt). Let’s consider the kind of effort it takes to rush the passer. You must move, push over, or get around a 300-pound man, whose sole purpose is to prevent you from doing so. You yourself must propel your not-diminutive frame out of a three- or four-point stance at great speed, keeping said 300-pound obstacle at bay as you seek to grab the professional athlete behind him. So, essentially, a series of squat thrusts with added heavy bench press reps, to be continued after a half-hour intermission when adrenaline has subsided.
No wonder Brady started having success in the third quarter. The QB had gotten smacked around like an effigy of Roger Goodell in a Cumberland Farms parking lot, but after, what, forty passes? Fifty? Those dudes must have been more used up than a gift certificate for a Chadwick’s Belly Buster. According to Pro Football Focus, the Falcons’ pressure declined steadily over the course of the game. The percentage of pressured pass attempts dipped from a high of 60 in the first to a mere 13 percent in the fourth and overtime. Oh, you Patriots. Playing the long game again.
Trey Magnifique: In 2015, New England chose Arkansas defensive end Flowers in the fourth round. He ended up on IR that December after an injury-plagued rookie year, playing in only one game. Suffice to say, 2016 has been a little different. Flowers became the team’s top pass-rusher by season’s end, totaling 45 tackles and seven sacks on the year. Flowers had a great night, hassling Ryan with 2.5 sacks, one hit, and one hurry. The end’s best-timed tackle came with four minutes left in the fourth, when he engulfed Ryan on second down. The QB lost 12 yards on the play, putting Atlanta on the edge of field goal range at the Patriot 35. Chris Long forced a holding call on the next snap, pushing the Falcons back to New England’s 45. One, two, punt-a-roo.
High There: Of course, we can’t mention sacks without talking about the big-time play of Hightower. The Patriots had just spent the first five minutes of the fourth quarter on offense, coming away with a mere three points for their effort to close the gap to 16. This felt like watching a conversational foreign-language film when you’re tired: something needed to happen to get back into it. With 8:31 on the clock, Ryan attempted a pass from his own 36, but Hightower brushed past running back Devonta Freeman like a bull through a blueberry thicket, smacking the ball out of Ryan’s cocked arm for a strip sack. Five plays later, Amendola was cradling the football in the end zone like it was a vintage Beanie Baby, the comeback gaining mind-changing momentum.
Fill Collins: Remember that weird feeling when linebacker Jamie Collins got traded for a juice box and a bag of Cheez-Its? (Actually, it was a compensatory third-round pick, but you get the picture.) Well, while no single player could replace Collins, a single-minded effort emerged in his absence. Sunday, rookie Elandon Roberts had two tackles. Van Noy had a half-sack. Shea McClellin exhibited a Collins-like leap to prevent an extra-point attempt, but it was nullified due to the officials calling “illegal formation,” which didn’t make sense. In any case, solid contributions throughout the lineup.
Look, Collins got paid mucho bucks by Cleveland. He’s happy. The Patriots assembled a classic, better-than-the-sum-of-its-parts linebacker ensemble to complement Hightower. They’re happy. Sometimes when it happens, no matter how many times we see it happen, we outside of Gillette initially fail to grasp the potential benefits of trades like this.
Ball Hawks, Ball Falcons: Speaking of linebackers, the Falcons looked impressive on defense before their tires started to wear out. Both of New England’s turnovers were strong plays by Atlanta’s defense, a topic that was also part of my deleted lede, which is starting to resemble the second act of It’s a Wonderful Life. (But there is no fifth Lombardi, George: the Falcons ran the football in the second half.) Linebacker Deion Jones basically gave the weight-room version of the jaws of life to LeGarrette Blount’s football, setting it free at the Atlanta 29. This took away the Patriots’ best chance to score at that point and gave the Falcon’s offense serious momentum, as five plays later Devonta Freeman ran around left end for a five-yard touchdown.
The second turnover was just a strong read by Alford, who cut in front of Amendola and rode into Valhalla, all shiny and chrome. Excruciating for the Patriots, who had taken 14 plays (including two defensive holding penalties) to drive 52 yards to Atlanta’s 23. Just an absolute killer to go down 21-0 with 2:21 left in the half.
Seriously, how in the hell did New England win this game?
Jones’ Down Massacre: Seeing receiver Julio Jones toe-tapping along the sideline for remarkable catches was like watching a bird demon dancing on the Patriots’ grave. Still, if Jones wanted to start a cult, I just might join him. His 27-yard catch over lanky cornerback Eric Rowe along the right sideline looked like the reception of the night (pre-Edelman), considering how high he had to jump and how nimble he had to be to get his feet inbounds. Just an amazing athlete. Surprised the Patriots held him to four receptions for 87 yards. Every catch belonged on a highlight reel.
Ryan’s Hope: Oh my gosh, Matt Ryan. My respect for him grew watching his post-game press conference. Can’t imagine sitting down and acting cordial after that emotional meteorite. (I’m in space! I’m flying! Oh God now I’m on fire and crashing to Earth!) Ryan completed 17 of 23 passes (74 percent) for 284 yards (17 yards per completion, 12 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns. One issue? The Falcons only converted one of eight third-down attempts. Allowing five sacks probably didn’t help, either, especially one late in the fourth quarter when a field goal could have iced the game.
FOX And Trends: Usually, this space is devoted to the replays that CBS broadcasts missed. I have no such complaints for FOX’s Super Bowl broadcast, quite possibly because I watched the first half in the same way I would witness a mugging. (What is happening over there? Is that – ? Should I do something? What can I do?) Anyway, solid job overall by Le Renard, with a few tidbits that could have used improvement.
• Joe Buck confused Amendola for Edelman with 9:42 to go in the first quarter, which, you know, fine. But with 5:45 to go in the third quarter, after Amendola’s 17-yard grab on fourth and three, Buck identified Amendola correctly yet felt the need to say, “Not Edelman.” Yeah, we get it, Rain Man: we can see the jersey numbers.
• Troy Aikman’s tone-setting remarks at the start of the second half: “This opening possession, for both teams, I think, is big.” Wow. “Big.” Someone got a word-a-day calendar for Christmas.
• Showing a replay of the Tyree catch right after the Edelman play seemed a little forced, kind of like when the pre-2004 Red Sox made an error in the playoffs and the networks would break out scenes from Game Six (you know which one). It was hard not to think of the broadcast crew getting all excited at the opportunity to use the clip, celebrating like NASA scientists at the end of Apollo 13. Of course both Super Bowl receptions defied probability, but there are differences. For example, Edelman made his catch on first down, while Tyree made his on third down, right after he signed his name in blood on a contract made from the skin of harp seal pups.
• I personally enjoyed this, in part because my daughter was fast asleep. When Willie McGinest presented the trophy to the team, he barked out more than one (non-PG) variation of “Kiss that mothereffer!” After the first one, maybe FOX could’ve turned down the volume? No one in that gauntlet of spent, elated, testosterone-fueled humanity was going to censor his own words. Plan ahead, FOX.
• One complaint about the halftime report: if you’re going to showcase a gem like Katie Nolan, you have to do so for more than one minute. She read a couple of unremarkable tweets, and did little after that. More of her next time, please.
• After the game, fun to hear Curt Menefee proclaim, “The New England Patriots 2016-2017 Revenge Tour is complete.” I mean, somebody had to say it.
• Nice work on FS1 after FOX went to their “24” spinoff (possibly named “24: Why Not?”). Charissa Thompson chaired an entertaining-if-not-awe-inspiring panel including Peanut Tillman, Greg Jennings, and Dave Wannstedt. The latter figured prominently in the interview with Dion Lewis, as he recruited Lewis at the University of Pittsburgh. Fun table.
Two notes on the NFL Network, one good, one not as good:
• Deion Sanders said this about Atlanta’s response to pressure: “Everybody’s aggressive when you’re up, but when that thing gets tight, everything gets tight.” He based this on his experience as a corner playing with the Niners and how, once they got a big lead, he’d try to pick off shorter routes. If he got beat, no big deal. Strong mix of observation and experience from him.
• LaDainian Tomlinson analyzed the Edelman catch, which was fun to watch. He then analyzed the Lady Gaga catch (a football was tossed to her while she leapt off the stage), which was less fun and more – oh, what’s that word? – Rough. That’s it. I think every studio should hire a producer specifically to alert on-air talent when their goofing around fails to translate. Just because your buddy at the desk is laughing doesn’t mean anyone else is.
Tomlinson still earns points after calling out Sanders and even throwing to footage of him making two different predictions on pre-game shows. Apparently, Sanders liked Atlanta in the morning and New England in the afternoon. (I guess the Patriots do tend to look better later.)
Golden Belichick! What a world of happiness their harmony foretells! Speaking of Prime Time, kudos to ESPN’s NFL Primetime for appreciating the moment and for getting Coach Belichick to sit down for a quick interview after the game. Quite an experienced panel, with Chris Berman, Steve Young, and Randy Moss opening the segment trying to verbalize their disbelief. Moss coaxed the coach to say a few words, an appealingly impromptu moment emphasized by Berman’s less-than-smooth attempt to hand over his own headset.
Amazing how Belichick could break down what happened during the game: how much time was left after the Patriots scored, what Atlanta did in response, defensive schemes, specific plays, etc. I have a hard enough time figuring out the chronology of college games I’ve just watched from my couch, much less the most dramatic Super Bowl comeback ever. Belichick seems to be loosening up in some regards, making him a lot of fun to watch and listen to this season.
Blank Stare: As a lifelong fan of the Celtics, I know a thing or two about celebrating victory in the other team’s face (RIP, Red Auerbach and his cigars). This helps me understand why Falcons owner Arthur Blank would walk down to the sideline to be with his team during an apparently imminent victory. I feel bad for the guy, but after watching him dancing around at halftime, that feeling dissipates a bit. Interesting that, in the previous link, it says, “As of halftime, (Blank’s) team is beating the New England Patriots, 21-0.” Guess those writers neglected to see the field goal with five seconds left. Amazing how important that became.
Oh, commercials? There were some? Of course. I’m just going to mention a few that stuck with me for more positive reasons.
Misleading Weapon: A promo for the show “Lethal Weapon” said they had 50 million viewers. How is that possible? What does that mean? Fifty million total? Ever? Besides my mother, I don’t know anyone who watches that show. Not saying it’s bad – heck, my mom loves it – but I think it tickles the boundaries of belief that “Weapon” has almost half as many viewers as the Super Bowl.
Ghost In The Hellloooo: Watching the preview for Ghost In The Shell, I just had to wonder what parents were telling their children across the country. Scarlett Johansson seems to be nude (it’s a skin-tight, flesh-colored body suit), and starts punching and kicking everything, all to that overused, overloud, BWAAHHH movie score noise. Again, in consideration of children in the room, maybe that’s a third-quarter ad instead of first quarter? Not sure the younger kids want to catch up on an updated 20-year-old manga film.
Drop Me In The Water: Enjoyed the Life Water ad, where raindrops result in multi-colored designs on sidewalks and buildings. A nice break from some of the louder, more intense commercials. (I’m looking at you, Ghost In The Shell.)
Class of 84: The “Journey” ad for 84 Lumber rates highly because a) I had never heard of 84 Lumber before Sunday night; and b) it tells the most compelling story of any commercial. (You can see the nearly six-minute short film of “The Entire Journey” here.)
Some were upset by the story of a mother and daughter trying to cross the border from Mexico (just search for “84 Lumber protest” and see for yourself). I’ll just say that I, personally, consider my hard-fought struggle to become an American – a tale that involves my mother going to a Boston hospital and me managing to survive birth under the best medical care the world has to offer – and I can see why people get upset.
Just kidding. It’s a lumber company commercial. You should be more riled up about that Ghost In The Shell ridiculousness. Since when is Johansson Japanese?
Just What I Needed: A Cars song for some car commercials that hit on different levels. First, we had the Honda CR-V ad featuring CGI’d celebrity yearbook photos. The talking portraits are a distraction from the fact that the ad makes no sense. “Follow your dreams; see where they may lead.” Not sure where a Honda CR-V fits in here. I don’t figure that many high school students would vote for a Honda as their dream car, but, hell, I don’t know. The Civic gets really good mileage.
Anyway, I loved the KIA Niro ad with Melissa McCarthy. A funny, slapsticky short about a self-perceived “Eco Warrior” and the difficulties her efforts can entail. The Niro gets 51 miles per gallon on the highway, which they probably should have mentioned in the ad.
I really enjoyed the Alfa Romeo commercial, not so much for its “Ride on the backs of dragons” theme (taken in part from the Alfa Romeo symbol, based on the symbol for the City of Milan), but simply for the idea that someone is going to see it and think, “You know what? I could use a sports car around the house.” In their defense, the Giulia comes in at under $40,000, far less than I figured upon seeing the ad. Shoot: buy two!
In Your Head, In Your Head: Zombie! Amazing timing regarding the extra-point miss by Gostkowski (whose name may or may not translate from Polish as “For the love of Christ!”). The commercial right afterward was for “The Walking Dead.” I don’t consider myself superstitious, but down 28-9, that coincidence was difficult to ignore.
Rise Up? Wise Up: As I’ve said before in this space, I’m not a fan of sports schadenfreude. It bothers me when cameras show the offensive player who committed the turnover as the other team scores, or when they zoom in on the losing coach as he realizes he’s losing. So what I’m about to say isn’t in regards to Falcons fans as much as some pot-stirring media. The USA Today Falcons blog The Falcons Wire posted a piece with video on Sunday night with the headline: “WATCH: Was James White’s knee down before ball crossed goal line?” To this, I give my standard answer for every headline in the form of a question: Nope.
The irresponsibility of this click bait rises up (ha!) when, while discussing the embedded video, blogger Tim Weaver writes, “At the very least, the game’s most important play should have been reviewed as all scoring plays usually are in the NFL.” This insinuates that, due to the immediate, confetti-blitzed reaction, the officials neglected to take another look at the replay, and the Falcons might have gotten the shaft. Of course, every scoring play is reviewed (one NFL policy I have always agreed with), making Weaver’s statement either ignorant or inflammatory.
I believe it was the former, as the above quote was removed by Tuesday afternoon (I have a screen shot of it from that morning). The new wording says, “Again, this angle is hardly definitive but it certainly appears that White’s knee hit the turf before any part of the ball crossed over the white line.” I mean, sure, if your brain hasn’t yet developed a sense of object permanence. The football is hidden from view by a Falcon’s knee when – barring some bizarre outlier in physics – it crosses the plane of the line. We clearly saw it do so from the opposite angle shown during the broadcast.
Maybe it’s time to spice up my internal monologue a bit. I might steal this mode of presentation.
WATCH: Is Chris Warner about to eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra all by himself and hide the empty container deep in the trash where his wife can’t find it?
Yeesh. That got sad. That got sad real quick.
So Just Let Me Introduce Myself: The 2001 Patriots were the first Super Bowl squad to be introduced together as a team. Who will be the team to go back to the way it used to be, with individual player intros? I think that would be awesome to see, because it would take a certain amount of, shall we say, confidence? “Ladies and gentlemen, choosing to be introduced separately …“
I would love that. An ultimate, I-don’t-care-what-you-think moment. Hell, the Patriots should do it. I can hear Belichick at the podium now. “The individual introductions, I mean, it was good enough for Terry Bradshaw. Good enough for Joe Montana, Jerry Rice.The Cowboys in the ’90s? You know, that team, you’ve got – you’ve got some pretty good players on that team. Giants, when I was there. The 1985 Bears. They did it, too.”
I Want Your Six: Really? A “We want six!” chant breaking out at the parade? Good God, people. Live in the now! Let’s savor the moment and, at the very least, wait for the “Three Games To Glory V” DVD to come out before making plans for Minneapolis.
As an aside, “Making Plans For Minneapolis” sounds like the name of an early Replacements EP.
Plead The Fifth: Was this the least important Super Bowl in New England’s history? Okay, according to my previously stated standard response to headline questions, no. But bear with me. I’m not talking about the quality of the game itself, and I’m not referring to Brady’s desire to win this specific one. I mean, in terms of the Patriots since 2000, where did each game rank in importance heading into it?
In 2001, they broke through, taking the trophy for the first time in the franchise’s crazy, oft-comical history. (Chronicled by Jerry Thornton in his book.) The 2003 season proved 2001 was no fluke, while 2004’s encore cemented their standing as a short-term, Dallas-like dynasty. (A nice rundown of the early championship years here in this book by Chris Price.) In 2007, a chance at 19-0. In 2011, a chance at some form of redemption. Two years ago, a confirmation of greatness in the face of tyrannical obstacles. Where does 2016’s championship rate? Hypothetically speaking, where might the next one?
I don’t know, but I’m hoping for a chance to find out.
That’s all for this week, and for the season. See you in this space over the next couple of months as I offer up some Pats-centric views on the NFL draft. Time to go: better start that long walk to the bus.
Chris Warner is willing to sell the slogan “In The Mix For Six” to the Patriots for a juice box and a bag of Cheez-Its. He also hasn’t gotten enough sleep this week. His email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @cwarn89.
Sorry you won’t read many observations about the Super Bowl here. I’m loathe to watch the Sunday pre-game stuff for a couple of hours, much less two weeks. I’m thinking it should be close, like all New England Super Bowls this millennium, and high-scoring. So… go ahead and place your bets, I guess?
Spent the past couple of weekends watching college football players at the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game in preparation for this, our first draft column of the season. After covering the Patriots’ draft for several years, I came to the conclusion that, as difficult as it could be to predict the specific names of players New England would choose, we could start to predict the general types of players they tend to select at certain points of the draft.
With only a few days of practice, Senior Bowl offenses inspired about as much confidence as a pufferfish platter at Red Lobster. Still, it was a decent demonstration of athleticism and how players perform under pressure knowing their future bosses are watching. The South held on to beat the North, 16-15. (I knew you were on the edge of your seat, there.)
For a more extensive rundown of past Patriots picks who fit these categories, please take a look at our Senior Bowl “That Guy” column from last year. Also, for a slightly different perspective on Coach Bill Belichick’s drafts, you can take a peek at our annual Round-by-Round Review from 2016. (We should have an updated one later this month.)
Quick rundown of Guys To Be Named Later, i.e. we’ll get a better idea after the NFL Combine:
The 3-Cone Guy: The Patriots seem to appreciate quickness measured by 3-cone drills more than straight-line speed measured by 40-yard dashes. (On this point, WEEI.com’s Chris Price and I agree.) Seventh-rounders Julian Edelman (6.62-second 3-cone) in 2009 and Darryl Roberts (6.66) in 2015 fit this description. We’ll see all the relevant times after the combine concludes March 6.
Best Guess If I Had To: Back-of-all-trades Donnel Pumphrey out of San Diego State, who, at 169 pounds, weighs almost enough to break the surface tension of water.
The Freakishly Athletic Guy: You can call this the Jamie Collins pick. Once in a while the Patriots will go after a guy who makes the combine crowd react like they’re watching a rim-shaking dunk by a high schooler. Some nice feats of derring-do at the all-star tilts, but we’ll have to wait for the numbers.
On to the Guys!
The Solid First-Rounder: The Patriots have a high rate of success in the first round, with Richard Seymour (2001), Vince Wilfork (2004), Nate Solder (2011) and Dont’a Hightower (2012) just a few examples of high-end, long-term starters culled from their top selections. Defensive tackle Montravius Adams out of Clemson (6-3, 308) had a strong game for the South and seemed to have the flexibility along the line that New England craves. Last season, Adams made All-SEC Second Team with 39 stops (8.5 for loss) and 4.5 sacks.
The “Who’s That Guy?” Guy: Using second-round picks on unheralded names like Sebastian Vollmer (2009), Tavon Wilson (2012), and Jordan Richards (2015) demonstrated how the Patriots value players differently than many draftniks. If Bill and Co. like what they see in a guy, they go get him. Not a lot of unknowns at the Senior Bowl, so we went with…
East-West Shrine Guy: Temple cornerback Nate Hairston (6-0, 192) showed sound defense on an end zone fade route and made a great punt team tackle. For the Owls, Hairston had 27 stops (including three for loss), two interceptions and three pass break-ups in 2016.
The Small-School Defender: New England drafted Zach Moore (Concordia) in 2014 and Markell Carter (Central Arkansas) in 2011, both in the sixth round. At the Senior Bowl, safety Lorenzo Jerome (6-0, 192) out of adorable St. Francis University had the kind of day that would put him on the front page in Loretto, Pennsylvania (population: 1,341). Jerome opened some eyes in this game with two interceptions, a well-played tackle for loss on a reverse, and a forced fumble. As a senior, Jerome totaled 59 tackles (5.5 for loss), 2.5 sacks, six interceptions, and five pass break-ups for the Red Flash.
Note: if you begin to experience Red Flash, please consult your physician.
Offensive Line Double-Dips: As shown with Joe Thuney and Ted Karras last year, Tré Jackson and Shaq Mason in 2015, and Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming in 2014, the Patriots have been on a recent streak of nabbing at least two O-linemen per draft (they also took guard Jon Halapio in 2014). Taking a couple of well-aimed shots in the dark here, I’ll go with Dion Dawkins (6-4, 317) out of Temple and Justin Senior (6-5, 322) from Mississippi State. Both had solid games last Saturday. This past season, Dawkins was named All-American Athletic Conference First Team by league coaches. Senior made Second-Team All-SEC and was awarded the Kent Hull Trophy this year for having his foot in the crease. What? Hold on…
Nope, my mix-up. The Kent Hull Trophy is awarded to the best collegiate O-lineman in Mississippi, in honor of the late MSU center and NFL Pro Bowler who played for the Buffalo Bills from 1986-1996.
The Long-Limbed Defensive End: New England often seeks out a lanky pass-rusher, as seen with Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom in 2015 and Michael Buchanan in 2013. While they had depth at the position this season (enough where the trading of Chandler Jones seemed not-quite-seppuku-like), Rob Ninkovich and Chris Long are in the teenage vampire movie of their careers.
Sorry: Twilight. That’s what I meant. Anyhoo, you can’t get much longer-limbed than Villanova phenom/potential-Game-of-Thrones-character-name Tanoh Kpassagnon, whose 6-foot-7, 280-pound build had Senior Bowl scouts all agog. In Mobile, Kpassagnon (which may be pronounced pass-EN-yo, but good luck with that) had a hurry and a sack and made himself a general nuisance for most of the game. Last season, Kpassagnon made All-Colonial Athletic Association First Team, leading the conference with 21.5 tackles for loss, including 11 sacks.
The only reason the Pats won’t draft him is that he’s getting a little too much attention from scouts. (The quote from a Philly scout made him sound like a GQ cover model.) Interesting to see how highly New England values him.
East-West Shrine Guy: With Flowers’ success coming out of Arkansas, maybe Deatrich Wise will get a look? The 6-5, 275-pounder looked strong against the run, using his long arms to shed blockers. For the Razorbacks, Wise had 49 tackles, 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and seven QB hurries.
The Alabama Guy: The connections between Bill Belichick and Coach Nick Saban of Alabama go back about 25 years, making the Tide a constant target of Pats’ draft speculation. Last season, they used their top pick in the second round on slot cornerback/serial punt mishandler Cyrus Jones. In 2015, New England drafted outside linebacker Xzavier Dickson. In 2012, they spent the aforementioned first-round pick on Hightower.
As much as we love tight end O. J. Howard, the Pats will draft after pick 30, and they know Howard will stick around about as long as the cool kid after CCD class. (Hey, you want to go to the spa, or you want to talk more Beatitudes?) With this in mind, keep an eye out for linebacker Ryan Anderson (6-2, 258) at the end of the first round. Anderson did not play in the Senior Bowl due to a thumb injury suffered during practice, but his 61 tackles, 19 tackles for loss (nine sacks) and four forced fumbles in 2016 (All-SEC honors) will probably suffice. I mean, if they can get a player similar to Hightower, I assume they’ll do that.
The Rutgers Guy: Well, it’s time to retire this category. Coach Belichick and former Rutgers head Greg Schiano had such a high level of respect for each other that the Raritan used to have a steady flow north, but that has become a trickle since Schiano has been out of New Jersey. New England drafted Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, and Logan Ryan, and could look to take more defensive backs under Schiano’s tutelage as he continues as associate head coach and defensive coordinator at Ohio State. Therefore… The Ohio State Guy: Ol’ Belichick pal and current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer unintentionally screwed the Pats with most of Meyer’s Florida players New England selected. Chad Jackson in 2006 remains the team’s biggest second-round misfire, while a certain Tight End Who Shall Not Be Named still casts a shadow over Foxboro. So, to be more specific…
The Ohio State Defensive Back: There we go! New category! Looks like Malik Hooker (leave it alone, Chris, just … leave it) is the number-one ranked corner in the draft, so we’ll go with Gareon Conley, a junior who declared for the draft but did not play in the Senior Bowl. Conley had 26 tackles, four interceptions, and eight pass break-ups. We’ll be keeping an eye on him during the combine.
The Injured Guy: New England tends to take chances with college players who missed time due to injury. Sometimes this gamble works (Rob Gronkowski, 2010), sometimes not (Ras-I Dowling, 2011). Well, despite our past misgivings about Florida, we’re taking a shot with linebacker Alex Anzalone (6-3, 240). The declared junior looked fast afoot and quicker with a diagnosis than a surly-yet-misunderstood TV doctor. In 2016, he broke his arm after only eight games, missing the rest of the season. In 2015, a shoulder injury forced him out of all but two contests. Though missing out on five games this season, he still had the third-highest tackle total with 53 for the Gators, including four for loss and three sacks. He also had two pass break-ups and six QB hits.
The Backup Quarterback: When Tom Brady starts for your team, it causes some head-scratching when you pick a QB closer to the beginning of the draft than the end. (Have the Pats lost faith in Brady? What else can be inferred from this? Do I have too much time on my hands? To whom am I speaking right now?) Still, it’s hard to argue that selecting Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round in 2014 didn’t reap benefits, or that taking rookie Jacoby Brissett in the fourth doesn’t have potential. With that in mind, Cal QB Davis Webb (6-5, 229) seemed to have the most control over his South team. He went seven of 10 for 116 yards and a touchdown in the first half, finishing 11 of 16 for 165 yards to earn Most Outstanding Player honors. He executed some delicious touch throws, including a moonshot dropped in the bucket on a 2-point conversion attempt.
Last season, Webb completed 62 percent of his passes, with 37 TDs and 12 INTs.
The Backup Tight End: Going all the way back to 2000 with fifth-rounder Dave Stachelski, the Patriots have consistently added to the tight end position as if they were grandma’s figurines (“Oh, just one Andy Stokes for the sun room. Isn’t he precious?”). First-rounders Daniel Graham (2002) and Benjamin Watson (2004) started in the early years, while second-rounder Gronkowski (2010) has performed a key role in recent seasons but could use some young depth behind him and Martellus Bennett, Northeastern University’s finest notwithstanding.
We mentioned Howard out of Alabama and his unavailability before, so let’s discuss Michael Roberts from Toledo (6-4, 261). A participant in both the Senior Bowl and the Shrine Game, Roberts has the size and quickness to contribute. He only caught one pass in Mobile, but he showed tenacious blocking in the Shrine Game and made a couple of nice catches-and-runs, including one where he shrugged off two would-be tacklers. Last year, Roberts had 15 touchdown receptions, the best for a tight end in the nation.
Fun Fact: Roberts’ hands measured 11 and 5/8 inches, over one inch bigger than receiver Malcolm Mitchell’s mitts, each of which resembles two ptarmigans colliding.
The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: The trick of drafting involves understanding how a player can fit in one’s system. The receiver position has the most pitfalls for Foxboroites, because they’re not just learning an offense, they’re trying to mesh with a QB who also happens to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Too bad Tom Brady can’t got along on scouting trips to play catch.
Watching the Senior Bowl, it was hard not to fall in love with Zay Jones (6-2, 202) out of East Carolina, who broke open more often than that plastic baggie containing all your child’s god damn Calico Critter accessories that you are guaranteed to step on barefoot later tonight. Jones finished with one touchdown catch but could have had as many as three more if not for a holding penalty, an overthrow, and a lack of official review on a toe-tap at the back of the end zone that would have inspired Degas. At ECU this past season, the two-time captain made All-American Athletic Conference First Team with 158 receptions (wha-?) for 1,746 yards (yikes!) and eight TDs.
The Special Teams Guy: The Pats consistently pick guys with a special teams focus. Perennial Pro-Bowler Matthew Slater came to Gillette via 2008’s fifth round. New England selected punter Zoltan Mesko in 2010, Nate Ebner in 2012, and long snapper Joe Cardona in 2015. This year, we like the look of a local, with Boston College safety John Johnson (6-1, 205) showing up in Mobile on a solid punt return tackle. Johnson, a captain for the Eagles, ranked second on the team with 77 tackles (a team-leading 56 unassisted). He also had three interceptions, nine pass breakups, a forced fumble, and a sack on BC’s top-10-ranked defense.
The Navy Guy: Cardona remains the only Navy Academy grad drafted by Belichick, though Fullbacks Kyle Eckel (scored two TDs in 2007) and Eric Kettani spent some time in New England, while others have been on the Patriots’ roster under reserve/military exemption (slotback Shun White, for example). This year featured no Navy players in Mobile, but we’re going to offer up East-West Shrine attendee Will Worth (6-1, 205) as someone with whom Belichick has become familiar. Starting the season as a backup quarterback, the senior was pressed into action in Week One when sophomore starter Tago Smith injured his knee. Worth himself had his season ended by a foot injury, but not before rushing for 1,128 yards and 25 touchdowns, while completing 72 of 117 passes (62 percent) for 1,397 yards and eight TDs.
Worth could be healthy in time to participate in the NFL Combine, if he’s invited. Hey, if he gets a solid 3-cone time, maybe the Pats will consider converting him to receiver.
What?!? A college quarterback playing receiver? Do tell…
The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver: Northwestern’s Jeremy Ebert (2012) and Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon (2014) fit here, but none could live up to the growing legend of Julian Edelman (2009), who – get ready for this – played QB at Kent State. It’s true. The most promising slot guy at the Senior Bowl seemed to be Mississippi State’s Fred Ross (6-1, 203), who made a couple of nice catches on slants and crossers and had a sweet back-shoulder grab in the third quarter. Ross earned First-Team All-SEC honors for the second year in a row this past season, totaling 72 catches for 917 yards (12.7 avg.) and 12 touchdowns. He played every receiver position (ooh, versatility, you seductive minx) and returned punts.
So, why only a seventh-round prediction? State went 3-5 in the SEC, 6-7 overall.
East-West Shrine Guys: Fun to watch Kermit Whitfield out of Florida State (5-8, 183), who became a go-to guy for the East Team as the Shrine Game progressed. Whitfield had one drop but overcame that with some nice receptions, slipperiness in space, and a solid punt return. At FSU, Whitfield spent more time on the field than sunlight, catching 34 passes for 395 yards (one touchdown), rushing eight times for 79 yards (one TD), and returning 26 kicks for 595 yards (22.9 avg.). Another player worth mentioning in light of the previous Ebert pick is Austin Carr (6-0, 201), also out of Northwestern. Carr set a school record by catching a TD in six consecutive games. The former walk-on finished with 90 receptions, 1,247 yards, and 12 touchdowns, leading the Big Ten in all three categories to be named the conference’s Receiver of the Year.
Fun Fact: Carr attended Benicia High School in California, only about an hour’s drive from Edelman’s alma mater, Woodside High.
Another Fun Fact: The Big Ten Receiver of the Year Award was named the Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year Award, after German painter Hans Richter and American director Ron Howard.
Fun Fact-checked Fact: Actually, it’s named after Pat Richter of Wisconsin and Desmond Howard of Michigan. So, close?
Hey, how’s about some more new categories while we’re at it?
The Pedigree Pick Guy: Relatively rare (get it? Relatively? Amazing you get to read this stuff for free), this group will grow as former NFLers get older and more of their offspring develop into prominent college players. While watching the Shrine Game, it was hard to miss defensive end Bryan Cox (6-3, 264) out of Florida. Cox showed great change-of-direction and play-deciphering skills when he rushed the passer, stopped, and chased down a receiver on a bubble screen. He seemed difficult to block all day, beating different O-linemen one-on-one to harass West team QBs. Last year for the Gators, Cox fought through various injuries (including a broken hand) and managed 19 tackles, 2.5 for loss, half a sack, six QB hits, and a forced fumble.
His father had 49 tackles in 11 games for the Patriots, but his time in Foxboro is nicely summed up in this piece by Mike Reiss on ESPN.com.
The Back-To-The-Well Guy: The Patriots got a solid linebacker from Houston in last year’s draft (hey there, Elandon Roberts), so maybe they’ll take a long gander at Tyus Bowser (6-3, 244). Bowser looked fast and seemed to get himself in good position at the Senior Bowl. Last season, Bowser missed five games due to injury, yet still managed to tie for a team-best 8.5 sacks. He totaled 12 tackles for loss and notched a forced fumble and a safety.
Hey, You Got Peanut Butter In My Public Relations: Watching the Reese’s Senior Bowl – or any bowl game, for that matter – means checking out the company flack at halftime trying to connect football to her corporation. Anna Lingeris did a fine job (and that’s not sarcasm), talking about a player field trip to see kids and wrapping up with this nugget:
“From the brand perspective, from the Reese’s team and the Hershey company, that is what we’re about, being able to touch the community.”
You know what’s great about this? While you read it, Reese’s could be anything. They could make beer; they could sell garden hoses. PR is about promoting an emotion. Here, Ms. Lingeris has to convince us that a major corporation doesn’t just want to shovel limitless dollops of goober sluice down our expectant gullets, they want to connect with us and help us connect with each other. You think of it that way, and it’s almost like charity.
I have to admit, I’m a little jealous, because I think I would have crushed this if I’d followed that path out of college. Coming up with catchy slogans? Giving concise presentations? Promoting candy, for the love of God? Another professional opportunity missed.
In any case, see you next week. Not sure who will win, but I hope it’s the Patriots, because that’s what they’re about: being able to touch the community.
Chris Warner could also have been a pretty decent meteorologist and would have tried to crack up the anchor desk with his shenanigans. You can email him at email@example.com or tweet @cwarn89.
If you could summarize New England quarterback Tom Brady’s career in one sentence, this might be it: he has reached the Super Bowl in seven of his 15 seasons as a starter. (Thanks to Rich Hill of PatsPulpit.com for that reminder.)
New England handled Pittsburgh from start to finish, bolting out to a 10-0 lead and never letting up in a 36-17 win. Viewers got a solid idea of how this game would go on the Patriots’ first possession. First, New England won the coin toss and chose to receive the kickoff, which they almost never do. This spoke to the confidence Coach Bill Belichick had in getting off to a fast start. Secondly, Brady completed his first four passes to four different receivers. Tight end Martellus Bennett gathered in a 12-yarder over the middle. Julian Edelman took a seven-yard crosser and kept going, zipping up the sideline and dance-cutting to the middle for 41 yards. Rookie Malcolm Mitchell caught a five-yard out. Danny Amendola got four yards by the left hash mark. After an uncharacteristic drop by Mitchell, New England had to settle for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal, but the tempo and the tenor of the game were set.
Brady ended up completing 32 of 42 passes (76 percent) for 384 yards (personal playoff best) and three touchdowns, pushing the Patriots to a commanding victory over the Steelers for their second AFC Championship in three years. New England held the visitors to nine points until late in the fourth quarter, dominating the game after halftime with a 16-point third quarter that stretched the lead to 33-9.
In last week’s column, I was, one could say, one-third prescient: “This Sunday, anything could happen. It could be a 44-43 barnburner, a 16-15 defensive struggle, or a 34-6 blowout (though my money would lay with the first option).” Hey, 34-6, 36-17. Who’s keeping track, really? The Patriots found a best-case scenario against a team that Brady typically handles well. In fact, since Coach Mike Tomlin took over the Steelers in 2007, Brady has zero interceptions vs. Pittsburgh.
That begs the question, why did so many commentators pick the Steelers? Was it due to New England’s lackluster performance vs. the Texans? Was it the argument that the home team hadn’t played any great quarterbacks? Not sure, but it’s safe to say that the two best remaining teams made it to the finals.
The Drive for Five continues vs. Atlanta, with what could be a record-breaking point total for a Super Bowl. Should be a fun one.
Hogan Zeroes In: If anyone thought Chris Hogan would lead the Patriots in receiving, raise your hand and don’t you raise your hand you liar. Hogan ended up with nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Throughout the night, he received about as much coverage as your average Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. (I promise to cancel that issue, as I’ve gotten old enough where it makes me uncomfortable.) At times, it seemed like either the Steelers underestimated Hogan’s speed or figured someone else would pick him up in their zone. Whatever they were doing, it didn’t work.
The most concise summary of Hogan’s night happened on New England’s second scoring drive, their third possession of the game. Brady found Hogan for four yards at the home team’s 43 on third and one. Next play, Brady audibled, coaxing running back LeGarrette Blount and fullback James Develin to split out, which caused more confusion than a foreign-language version of Inception. Hogan for 26 yards up the left seam. Next play, Hogan for 11 on a curl route. After two Blount runs for four yards total, Brady took the snap, did a couple of Dance Dance Revolution steps to his left, and threw to Hogan in the back of the end zone, wide open as a prairie. That made four catches for 57 yards for the receiver on that drive alone, staking the home team to a 10-0 first-quarter lead. Hogan’s second TD came midway through the second quarter on a flea-flicker for a 17-6 advantage.
By the way, you can watch all game highlights here.
The Un-synch-able Maudlin Brown: Safe to say that Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown wasn’t happy Sunday night. The Patriots focused on shutting down Brown and keeping him out of rhythm. They did a solid job of it, holding the best receiver in the AFC to seven receptions for 77 yards and zero touchdowns. The attention that cornerback Malcolm Butler and safety Devin McCourty paid Brown forced Ben Roethlisberger to seek out other pass-catchers, none of whom seemed up to the task for four full quarters. Eli Rogers did some damage underneath, hauling in six passes for 66 yards, but others seemed to wilt like those flowers that you bought for that thing but of course you forgot them in the car. Sammie Coates missed a bomb down the left sideline on Pittsburgh’s opening drive, then failed to gather in a would-be diving touchdown catch at the end of the third. Cobi Hamilton’s presumed touchdown catch was called back because he accidentally went out of bounds. He also missed a pass in the end zone at the end of the first half. Even Rogers himself fumbled when stripped of the ball by linebacker Kyle Van Noy near the end of the third quarter. Rough day for the young receivers.
Not A “Drop The Mike” Moment: Listen, Tomlin has earned the respect of the league with his coaching. In 10 years in Pittsburgh, he has a 103-57 record and a Super Bowl win. So, I guess the question is, why couldn’t he get his team in a better position to beat New England? Brady has a record of high production vs. the Steelers (6-1 since 2007; 22 TDs, zero INTs); it’s apparent that their zone schemes do not work against him. Afterward, Tomlin got asked a specific question about 2012, where Pittsburgh’s press man coverage seemed to give him trouble. (You can read transcripts of post-game interviews here, courtesy of patriots.com.) The reporter was probably referring to 2011, when New England lost at Pittsburgh, 25-17. Tomlin responded, “We stand by what we did in the game. We just didn’t do it well enough.”
Didn’t do what well enough? Execute a flawed game plan? Seems like a weird, overly political response. Doesn’t seem too tough to say, Yeah, if we could do it over again, we’d probably try to play more press man and blitz their QB up the middle. It’s been talked about in the media this week, but the mantra of “We do what we do” only works if what you do is effective. Otherwise, you’re just Wile E. Coyote convincing yourself that, despite results, you’re a super genius.
The other quote of note on this topic arose from safety Mike Mitchell’s reply to a question about the flea-flicker that Brady converted for Hogan’s second TD. Mitchell said, “It’s a good play. We hadn’t seen it.” Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hadn’t seen it? What about on “Monday Night Football” vs. the Ravens last month? Mitchell added, “We were expecting some type of trick plays,” but he hadn’t seen a flea-flicker? That wasn’t on the docket? Linebacker Bud Dupree said that the home team’s use of no-huddle on offense “caught us off guard” (courtesy Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.) The Pats also used a lot of hurry-up offense vs. Baltimore. In terms of film study, we’re talking about going back a little over a month to watch a game featuring an AFC North Division opponent. They wouldn’t even have to fast-forward through commercials. That apparent lack of preparation just seems odd.
A Run ‘N’ They’re Stalking: The Steelers do deserve praise for their run defense through most of three quarters (a little like fixing a window when your house is underwater, but still). New England did less on the ground than a helium balloon, failing to produce much until they had a comfortable lead. At one point in the third quarter, Blount had carried seven times for three yards. Pittsburgh shot linebackers up the middle, with human ninja star Ryan Shazier compiling seven tackles and loping scythe Lawrence Timmons wreaking his share of havoc with 14 stops. They also did a solid job with one-on-one battles along the line, as avalanche Stephon Tuitt and tsunami Jason Hargrave (five tackles) dropped Blount and Dion Lewis for losses.
That Rush Was Scrum-ptious: With the above paragraph in mind, Blount’s 18-yard run with 3:21 remaining in the third quarter provided the largest surprise of the night and put its signature on the back of this game’s envelope. From the 19, Blount scooted left and fired forward, first making contact with Mitchell at the nine-yard line. He stopped for half a second, seeming to re-adjust his pad level, and started grinding out yards (replay here). No fewer than four Steelers joined the fray at the six, but Blount kept his legs churning. New England’s Mitchell started to push the pile forward from the left side; he was joined by most of the offensive line and a few receivers as two more Steelers stuck their heads into the scrum. This massive man-amoeba undulated to the one-yard line. On the next play, a fired-up Blount went over the goal line, making it 27-9, home team, with 2:44 left in the third.
It’s tough to point to any one play and say, that’s the one that settled this thing, but New England gained palpable momentum out of this run. Van Noy stripped Rogers on Pittsburgh’s next offensive play, leading to the Patriots’ second TD in just over one minute of playing time, a touchdown pass to Edelman.
Finding A Julian The Rough: If not for Hogan’s Model-T-level production, Edelman would be getting a lot more notice. Tom’s typical go-to guy tallied eight catches for 118 yards and one touchdown. He converted a third-and-10 on the flea-flicker drive. (FleaFlicker Drive, by the way, a great title for an independent film about an eccentric Southern woman who swears she has hundreds of hand-written letters from William Faulkner. Will the rest of the town believe her? And, in the end, does that really matter?) He notched about 10 yards-after-catch (YAC) near the sideline in the fourth, on the drive that resulted in his own TD. It was a better-than-average day for a better-than-average receiver.
Valentine Delivered: No bigger series in the game than New England’s goal-line stand at the end of the first half, the home team leading 17-6. Steelers tight end Jesse James appeared to shoot his way in (ugh) for a 20-yard touchdown catch-and-run, but replay showed that safeties Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon got him down at about the half-foot line. No score, but first and goal for Pittsburgh with 1:53 to play in the first half.
On first down, the D-line did their job, with Jabaal Sheard and Trey Flowers slicing in from their right side toward the center. This slant freed up space for linebackers Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, and Dont’a Hightower to fill the gaps. (Amazing to watch Roberts and Hightower start the play seven yards deep in the end zone. Dudes built up more momentum than otters down a ski jump.) Chung sprinted in from the defensive left and hustled down the line to help wrap up DeAngelo Williams for a one-yard loss.
Second down and goal from the two. This time, linebacker Roberts hurried up to the line pre-snap and blitzed the offensive left A gap (between the center and guard). A second handoff to Williams. Roberts’ presence seemed to pull some attention from the right side of the O-line. This in turn appeared to force a one-on-one matchup with Patriots tackle Alan Branch, who swatted aside his blocker. Meanwhile, rookie Vincent Valentine catapulted himself through the hole left by the pulling guard and smothered Williams like mole sauce on chicken flautas. Minus-three yards.
Third and goal from the five, a weakly executed pick play to Rogers resulted in an incompletion. The pass had little chance of scoring anyway, as cornerback Eric Rowe was in position to tackle him at the three. Pittsburgh settled for a field goal, leaving New England with a 17-9 lead at the half.
Stand In The Place Where You Live: The Pats had another strong stand early in the fourth, keeping the Steelers out of the end zone on four tries (though they got help from Hamilton’s poorly-placed feet going out of bounds before a would-be TD catch). This didn’t get as much attention because the score was 33-9, but it showed the team’s ability to stay focused throughout the contest. On fourth and goal from the two, Pittsburgh went back to Hamilton on a fade that was broken up by Logan Ryan. Here’s where the injury to running back Le’Veon Bell made a difference, as Williams’ previous two rushes had only netted four yards, making it preferable to try a pass play on fourth down.
The Quick Frown Fox: Just one note on the Fox broadcast of the NFC title game between the Packers and the Falcons. They had comedians Jeff Ross and Rob Riggle face off in a so-called “Roast Battle,” with each representing a team (it really doesn’t matter who roasted whom). This two minutes of screen time contained about as much humor as the beginning of Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” video. I found it disconcerting that these two performers – whose work I typically enjoy, by the way – could feel confident in that material. It said a lot that they had to hire actors to dress up like an engaged crowd. I would have had more fun at the State Department of Health getting a death certificate. I’m linking to the video here. If you can get through it without pausing, groaning, or wincing, you’re a stronger person than I.
Could Be Sharper: Not a bad broadcast by CBS, but, as always, we have a few nits to pick. Let’s start with some replays we would have liked to see.
• With 13:10 left in the second quarter, trainers started looking at Patriots defender Flowers. CBS went straight to commercial and never showed us a replay of what happened to him.
• At the 2:15 mark of the second, Hamilton seemed to mishandle what looked like an easy six points on a 21-yard pass into the end zone with Rowe in coverage. Phil Simms and Jim Nantz called it a drop on the replay, but both camera angles showed the attempted catch from behind, concealing the football from view. These perspectives meant that Hamilton’s torso shielded what, if anything, Rowe’s hand may have done to break up the pass. An end zone shot would have cleared that up.
• Surprising that CBS decided not to replay the first rush attempt of New England’s goal-line stand at the end of the first half. Stopping the Steelers cold on the one-foot line deserved a second look (and third, from the end zone cameras, say).
• Late in the third quarter, Coates dove for a potential touchdown reception but came up empty. As with the Hamilton incompletion, we got replays from basically the same angle as the live shot. The lack of a view from the end zone made it difficult to tell how close Coates came to getting his hands around the football.
• At 10:36 of the fourth quarter, Edelman complained about getting held after a third-down incompletion (the pass was just out of his reach). Did he have a legitimate argument? Sure. Or not. We don’t know.
• With 7:18 remaining in the game, Steelers defender James Harrison was called offsides, with the referee adding that he didn’t get off the field in time. Note to CBS and all NFL broadcasters: few things in football are more entertaining than watching replay of a 12th defender failing to get to the sideline before the snap. It is to an NFL game what a “Yakety Sax” chase sequence was to “Benny Hill.”
Now, for the commentator-based miscues…
• On the replay of Williams’ rushing TD, Simms said, “It’s gonna be close.” I couldn’t see anything close about the play. Williams may have lost control of the ball after it was already halfway across the end line. This seemed like a situation where the commercial was coming up and Simms felt like he had to say something. He would have been better off with “Football’s neat-o. We’ll be right back!”
• Nantz said that Chris Boswell’s PAT miss was his first of the year, then did that thing when you know someone is yelling into his earpiece, correcting himself with a hurried, “Second time this post-season!”
• During Coates’ diving reception attempt mentioned above, Simms was talking about the Rutgers-Foxboro connection and didn’t really discuss the replay. Would have helped if he could have put the Scarlet Knights aside for 10 seconds to comment on how close Coates came to six points.
• Before the half, Simms said that the story of the game was Brady’s third-down conversion rate, completely ignoring the fact that Roethlisberger (16 of 22, 136 yards) wasn’t exactly soiling the sheets.
• Way, way too much confusion on the challenge to the Brady fumble early in the third quarter. Nothing in the replay was going to overturn the call of no clear recovery by Pittsburgh. Instead, Simms and Nantz went back and forth, at first not even sure if Tomlin could challenge it. A straightforward play that became much less so. Might have helped to put Tracy Wolfson on the case. Not always sure if sideline reporters are necessary, but Wolfson makes a solid case for their existence.
And, as always, a couple of kudos: After Brady opened the game four-for-four, Simms said, “I’m not surprised by this at all,” and he had earned that comment in his pre-game preview, pointing out that Brady loved to face the Steelers’ defense, hit short passes against zone, and let his receivers pile up YAC. Also, kudos to CBS for staying in Foxboro and avoiding going to commercial during the home team’s goal-line stand at the end of the first half. That decision really helped viewers monitor the pulse of the game and made for a better home experience.
On The Hunt: I miss the old Lamar Hunt Trophy for the AFC Championship, and I don’t believe I’m alone. Take a look at this photo of Coach Belichick holding the trophy in 2005. He’s carrying it the way a librarian would handle the Gutenberg Bible. (Keep your Police Academy jokes to yourself.) Compare that to his actions at the post-game ceremony Sunday night, where Belichick grabbed the new trophy with all the reverence of swiping a six-pack of ‘Gansett off a shelf. The old one had heft and a sense of significance. The new one has a Christmas ornament vibe. Like, a nice ornament that your cousin’s second wife got you because she didn’t really know you yet, but you know what I mean.
Jones Jet: Great special teams day from Jonathan Jones. He made the tackle on New England’s first kickoff. He had a gasp-inducing hit at the 15-yard line on a kickoff later in the first quarter (with help from Nate Ebner). He also made a shoestring tackle with 10:30 remaining in the game, helping punter Ryan Allen net 58 yards. The undrafted rookie has continued to make his case for permanent status on the game-day roster.
You Goth To Be Kidding: People should know when they are conquered. Look, I get the whole “never give up” ideal, but Tomlin calling a timeout with 2:44 left in the game accomplished what, exactly? They were down four scores. They didn’t have the ball. All they did was buy more time for their offense to sit on the bench and stare into the void, as if they were auditioning for a community theater version of Christopher Walken’s role in The Deer Hunter. Again, I get it: keep fighting. But also, figure out when to call it a day.
King Kong Doesn’t Have A Darn Thing On This Guy Right Here: Okay, so CBS is going to take a shot at “Training Day,” with Bill Paxton in the Denzel Washington role. Hmph. Mixed reaction to this. While it seems like a solid idea to bring a gritty cop drama to the small screen, the trailer shows us the shortcomings of this venture. I enjoy Paxton as an actor, and highly recommend watching his turn as a small town police chief in One False Move. Still, when he’s stuck with lines like “You wanna fight monsters, Kyle? Then you sure as hell better be willing to become one yourself,” a Nietzschean reference for prime time that he makes right after a Wizard of Oz allusion, it’s hard to take what’s supposed to be a serious role all that seriously.
Three other aspects of the show won’t help: the lack of harsh language allowed (probably a few “Let’s get those motherflippers!” et al); the perceived glib manner with which Paxton’s character breaks the law (whereas Washington went about his tasks with steely determination); and the newcomer actor (Justin Cornwell) as trainee, who will have a tough time living up to the earnestness that Ethan Hawke displayed in the movie.
Sometimes casting doesn’t work. You’re not going to see Denzel Washington in a remake of the “Fish Heads” video.
Also on CBS? Apparently a show where someone asks, “You guys were aroused, right?” Seems unnecessary – even desperate – for a halftime sitcom promo, CBS. Maybe funny in context of the show (probably not), but not something I want my child – or, frankly, any child – to hear while watching a football game in early prime time. I know I sound prudish, but to hell with it: save your clumsy sex comments for your sitcoms and keep them away from football when a younger demographic might be watching.
Fields Of Fire: I touched upon this subject after viewing Rob Gronkowski ads post back injury. At what point do you pull an ad involving a player who’s not playing anymore? This must have been a tough call with Aaron Rodgers’ State Farm commercial, because before this past Sunday he was playing like a cartoon character, avoiding falling from great heights because he wasn’t bothering to look down and realize he was walking on air. When the ad in question has his receiver proclaiming his stuff is on fire, and it ends with everything he owns literally going up in flames, maybe it’s not a good look after a rough loss. Something to think about, State Farm people.
Have A Great Fall: That Turbotax Humpty Dumpty ad is a bit too realistic, no? When all the king’s men rush to Humpty’s aid, we see that he has giant, real human eyes searching frantically for help as he coughs up yolk blood. It’s like Mother Goose meets Reservoir Dogs. Plus, he falls because he’s doing his taxes on his phone. They should have an ad when a twenty-something does his taxes while driving. You can hurt yourself using our product! Try it!
The Rabid And The Hair: Boy, Duracell really went all-in on the ear hair ad. Their point is that, if you qualify as hirsute in the aural area, you can’t trust all of your friends and co-workers to avoid obsessing over it, but you can trust Duracell batteries to make sure your hair trimmer works. This is yet another commercial where I would have loved to attend the pitch meeting.
“Well, we’ve polled our customers, and an inordinate amount of them have disgusting amounts of ear hair. Like, freakish. So, let’s remind them of that and how they feel ostracized!”
The irony of this off-putting idea arises from the fact that my first thought for an alternative campaign was showing the importance of batteries in children’s toys. Hey, look: they’ve already done this. “Duracell Express Saves Christmas” is a 90-second mini-doc about a Christmas Eve service where Duracell employees hand-delivered “one ton” of batteries throughout the Midwest. How many batteries are in a ton? Who cares? This could have easily been cut up into a couple of 30-second spots, because no god damn ear hair.
Mother of Pearl. Do I have to do everything for you ad people?
Bah-Da-Bah-BAH-Bah, I’m Fine With It: Ending our ad criticism on a far sweeter note, I’m a fan of the young woman in the McCafé commercial, not just for the fact that she looks lovely, but because she’s a good enough actor to almost convince me she’s really drinking coffee and not just pretending to sip from an empty cup. The fact that actors drink air out of coffee cups – and, more often than not, look like it – is a slap in the face to viewers and to the precise object work of the late, great Jerry Orbach, who would actually take the lid off the cup and blow on phantom coffee before leaning in for a tentative sip. Dedication, my friends.
The Patriots joined the NFL in 1970 during the AFL/NFL merger. From 1970 to 2000, the franchise played in two Super Bowls, losing both. From 2001 to 2015, New England made six Super Bowls, winning four. Now they’re back in the big game. It’s a pretty good time to be a Patriots fan. Some local media don’t seem to appreciate this era. (I wouldn’t be surprised if, should New England beat Atlanta, The Boston Globe headline will read “Pats Win, But Repeat Unlikely”). Don’t click on them. Do not feed the bears, and maybe they’ll stop coming around and picking through the garbage.
In the meantime, some of the better stuff to review: I think Chad Finn is one of the best writers in sports right now. I haven’t subscribed to the Globe yet, but if I do, it will be because of him. Mike Reiss of ESPN.com is quintessential reading for his consistent, straightforward, up-to-the-minute info. I’m always intrigued with how Chris Price takes more obscure bits of information and provides original views of how the team works (like the obsession he and I share regarding the Patriots and 3-cone drill prowess). Speaking of angles, Mark Daniels of The Providence Journal deserves a look for the creative ways he gets stories out of subjects that are difficult to cover (he’s constantly talking to the people around those players whose one-on-one interviews can prove elusive). And hats off to the CSNNE.com triumvirate of Tom E. Curran, Mike Giardi, and Phil Perry for their insight and entertaining video posts, as well as their podcasts “Quick Slants” and “The Ex-Pats Podcast” that Giardi usually hosts with Dan Koppen and Jerod Mayo.
For radio, it’s worth repeating that Price’s NFL Sunday on WEEI with Pete Shepphard and Jerry Thornton is the best program on that station. Informative, fast, and funny, while avoiding those brain-dead moments that can make your face scrunch up with exasperation. It’s on this week. Price is off to Houston, which will make for intriguing listening considering where the Shepphard/Thornton dynamic might travel.
Next week, some notes on this Saturday’s Senior Bowl and how it might apply to the Pats (the draft is a mere three months away, after all). In the meantime, you can check out last year’s column on how Super Bowl winners in this century have always needed some luck. Enjoy the bye week.
Chris Warner is fighting off what is apparently a lighter version of the flu, which is like having a first-grader instead of Stephen Gostkowski kicking you in the figs: brutally uncomfortable, yet escaping a much, much worse fate. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @cwarn89.
Though they did it with more difficulty than most foresaw, the Patriots defeated the Texans, 34-16, in a hard-fought divisional playoff match. New England advances to the AFC Championship for a record sixth year in a row, taking on Pittsburgh Sunday evening at 6:40.
As someone who predicts these games with all the assurance of a turkey forecasting the weather, forgive me for pointing out that I actually made a decent call on this one in my previous column: “All in all, I would not be shocked at the Patriots grabbing an early lead, then coasting a bit before finishing up strong, much like they did down in Miami.” Pats led 14-3, committed two costly turnovers, and allowed the lead to slip to 14-13. They then nabbed a bunch of turnovers themselves to lead by three scores midway through the fourth quarter.
Isn’t it funny how New England played so hard to get the bye week, yet they came off of that week seeming flat? (Note: the “isn’t it funny?” is from my grandmother, who used to ask that regarding unsettling topics. “Isn’t it funny, Chris, how you never call me?”) Some of the uncharacteristic gaffes included receiver Michael Floyd tipping a pass that was intercepted. Quarterback Tom Brady took the blame on the off-target-yet-catchable throw. The two just looked out-of-synch. Running back Dion Lewis left more balls on the ground than a lazy tennis instructor. And one could argue that defensive back Eric Rowe opened the Pandora’s Box of foolishness by committing an unsportsmanlike penalty midway through the first quarter, ruining what would have been the defense’s third consecutive three-and-out.
After watching the play a couple of times, my opinion wavers. Yes, Rowe pulling someone off the pile qualifies as dumb, but replay showed Texans tight end Ryan Griffin jumping on the pile right in front of Rowe, who seemed like he instinctually reacted. So, dumb, but understandable, kind of like reading an US Weekly when you’re bored. In any case, they got through the ridiculous to reach the sublime.
(I’m just happy it was Griffin and not tight end C. J. Fiedorowicz, because I can not spell that guy’s name.)
Oh, so many numbers surrounding this win. Here’s a favorite: Brady is now 16-3 at home in the playoffs. For comparison, the Kansas City Chiefs have two home playoff wins in franchise history.
Here’s another: Brady’s 22 post-season wins are more than 22 current NFL teams. Another column, another reminder that we should all savor these days with the Patriots. You can believe that, when the time comes, they’ll find another quarterback who can win games, but they will never have another Brady.
This Sunday, anything could happen. It could be a 44-43 barnburner, a 16-15 defensive struggle, or a 34-6 blowout (though my money would lay with the first option). Look for the Steelers to score some points, but expect the Patriots to score just a few more.
If You Can Keep Your Edelman When All About You Are Losing Theirs: Okay, yes, Brady had fewer successful passes than the U.S. Olympic men’s 4X100 relay team (uncanny at this point), but unlike that squad, the quarterback kept getting himself second chances. (Much like the women’s team, one could say.) His first pass of the day went to Julian Edelman for five yards, but give credit to the Texans for shutting down the short stuff faster than a supermodel getting hit on by the Lollipop Guild. (Was that too much? That seemed like too much.) Edelman ended up with eight receptions (expected) for 137 yards (less expected). His 48-yarder at 2:34 of the second quarter marked 70 post-season receptions, setting a Patriots record. He did a great job to help swing momentum in the third, hauling in consecutive 26- and 14-yard passes around the 12-minute mark to add a necessary jolt to New England’s nine-play, 90-yard TD drive and a 24-13 lead.
Brady actually completed six of seven passes for 94 yards on said drive, the extra yardage due to a holding call on tackle Nate Solder that involved about as much contact as my first date. (I took her to see Doctor Detroit. I wish I were making that up.) Edelman even added a run in the fourth quarter, a 12-yard jaunt that qualified as the longest one of the night to that point (Danny Amendola and then LeGarrette Blount would best it with 15- and 18-yard rushes, respectively.) Edelman’s run found success in large part due to tight end Martellus Bennett, who had more blocks than Beacon Street.
Special mention here of Chris Hogan, who tallied 95 yards on just four catches. His early work helped get New England on the board, eliciting a pass interference call from A. J. Bouye for a 30-yard gain, and following that up immediately by gathering in Brady’s 22-yard lofter along the right sideline.
Houston, We Have A Cliché: Against Houston they had a…an issue, we can say, but the idea of a “blueprint” to stop the Patriots’ offense deserves to get thrown out like yesterday’s news. I mean, sure, the Texans played like a house on fire, but in the end, New England stayed as cool as a cucumber, and eventually the cream rose to the top.
My God, that is exhausting. Anyhoo, if your team can rush Brady up the middle with players like Whitney Mercilus and JaDeveon Clowney, drop back seven defenders, and avoid missing tackles in the open field, then, yes, you’re going to do more damage than a bull in a china sh – goddammit.
Put Houston’s Dion Notice: Up-and-down day for Lewis. We’ll focus on a few of the “ups” (and you can watch his highlights here), as his 13-yard catch-and-run TD and kickoff return in the first staked the home team to a 14-3 lead that – as close as it got – made Houston play catch-up for the rest of the night. His one-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter raised the lead to 15 and gave the Pats a little breathing room. On that play, Lewis got popped by Mercilus but managed to slide past him with Vince Wilfork on his back. Lewis gave even better effort on his previous run, a five-yard carry at 12:44 of the fourth. On that play, he managed to slip through two defenders on the left side with all the sneakiness of a pearl earring finding that space between your dresser and the wall.
Also, keep in mind regarding the reception TD that McKinney ran a 4.66 40-yard dash and had a 40.5-inch vertical leap at the 2015 combine. He’s not exactly an old man sporting a hip replacement, there. What’s most impressive is that fullback James Develin’s motion causes the linebackers to shift in the direction of the play, but Lewis’ time-bending hesitation dip-and-dart left McKinney diving for air.
Fun Fact: Lewis became the 25th different receiver of a Brady post-season TD pass. Brady has now played in 32 playoff games. That stat alone contains enough potassium to tide you over for a month, it is so bananas.
Something Of A Phenomenon: Running back James White had a simple stat line with exactly one catch, but he made it count. At 9:09 of the third, White looked to blow away any linebacker in coverage, and McKinney stepped up once again (Don’t do it!), falling behind White as Brady lofted a beaut into the right corner of the end zone. White had zero carries in the game, but he executed well on his one big chance.
David And Goliaths: I don’t know, Davey. Rough day from center David Andrews. He seemed out-matched on a few occasions, surrendering a sack on a spin move from Mercilus and getting absolutely murdered by defensive tackle/shipping container D. J. Reader on the Texans’ goal-line stand at the end of the first half. Andrews looked like a sand pail caught in an ocean wave on the play, as Reader’s backfield disruption stopped a touchdown. While Develin had a block on Clowney and Bennett had Mercilus sealed to the outside, the big tackle forced Blount away from the crease in the defense, forcing him toward Mercilus and safety Eddie Pleasant for no gain. Definitely an area to improve on, execution-wise.
Knights To Remember: Early on, Logan Ryan broke up a third-down pass to Keith Mumphrey to force Houston’s second consecutive three-and-out, setting the tone for New England’s trio of former Rutgers Scarlet Knights to have themselves an impressive playoff game. Midway through the first, Ryan had a sack blitzing from the Texan’s left side that was so well-executed he himself had to take a bow. Devin McCourty broke up a pass in the end zone with such efficiency that he forced a Freaky Friday, making the tight end go into defensive mode as McCourty went up for a sure catch. (That tight end’s name? C. J. Fedorawitch. Sort of.) Each of the three Rutgers alums notched an interception, with Duron Harmon’s sealing the win with 3:13 to go.
The Third Degree: Besides the alums from the Banks of the Raritan, it’s tough to pick out defensive stars in this game because so many seemed to contribute and execute well. One strong indicator of this is Houston’s miserable third-down conversion rate of 18 percent (three of 16). Blame quarterback Brock Osweiler for some of this inefficiency (23 of 40 for 197 yards, one TD, three INT), but certainly the defense deserves some credit here, too. Holding the visitors to field goals after a couple of ugly turnovers made sure the Patriots had the lead at halftime.
Can’t Be Saved: Well, CBS’ broadcast was pretty good overall, capturing the excitement of the crowd, the intensity on the sidelines, and the tension in the game. But do we have some complaints? Heck yes. We’ll begin, as usual, with our list of missed and/or inefficient replays.
• We got a side view, but would have loved an end zone view of Houston’s third-and-one stop on New England’s first possession. Clowney made the hit in the backfield, but how did he get there? Phil Simms credited Wilfork, but trying to tell from the sideline was like trying to read a poster on the opposite subway tracks as the train goes by: wayy too much happening in front of it.
• Like above, we got a full-field, sideline view of the aforementioned first-quarter pass interference call on Bouye grabbing Hogan. That made it tough to discern exactly where the penalty occurred. Again, Simms described it, noting that Bouye put his arm in front of Hogan, but a close-up replay of the two from the end zone would have confirmed it. Makes me wonder what different replays, if any, Simms and Nantz are watching, and if they’re more distinct than what the home viewer gets.
• At 11:49 of the second quarter, defender Jabaal Sheard walked off the field as gingerly as a Schweppes. We never saw what happened.
• After an incomplete pass at 6:43 of the second, Jim Nantz wondered aloud if Texans safety Corey Moore had interfered with Bennett on the play. We were left wondering that, too.
• With about two-and-a-half minutes remaining in the first half, Edelman had a 48-yard reception. While Nantz mentioned a potential push-off by Edelman, on the distant, full-field replay it was difficult to see that. Plus, we missed what may have been a facemask penalty, never getting a closer look.
• At 6:18 of the third quarter, Brady threw a deep incompletion along the left sideline for Edelman, who seemed to get to the ball late. The receiver immediately turned to the refs. Nantz said, “Edelman this time, looking around, to no avail.” Why was he looking? Simms added that the refs were getting a “verbal beating,” yet we never got the opportunity to discern whether or not Edelman had a legitimate gripe.
On a positive note, the end-zone-view replay of Lewis’ kickoff return TD deserves praise. On it, we see Develin and Geneo Grissom push their men to the outside, allowing Lewis more space than you’d give a flighty co-worker right after her boyfriend decided to take that job in Saskatchewan.
Oh, Christ, Janice. I am so sorry. Why not take the rest of the day?
Now, the production/commentator-based mediocrity.
• On-field reporter/Exasperated-Dad-Trying-To-Get-Directions-From-Siri Jay Feely opened his comments with “Special teams played a pivotal role here in Week Three: two kickoff returns for touchdowns, for the Patriots.” Seeming to catch himself (because no one returned a kick for a touchdown in that game) but wanting to gloss over his mistake, he stumbled through, “They caused fumbles, scored 14 points off those fumbles.” Nantz could have corrected Feely, but only said “That (special teams) was a big story here in the Thursday night game, September the 22nd.”
Listen, like a lot of occupations, reporting from the sideline is tougher than it looks. I’m not saying just anyone could do it; all I’m saying is that if you’re going to do it, at least get your opening statement on point.
• Two good grades for sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson. She gave a solid report on Clowney’s post-kickoff-return rant, adding details regarding team-wide reaction. Her best moment of the night happened during one of my least favorite rituals, the grab-the-coach-rushing-to-the-locker-room-at-halftime interview. She asked Coach Bill O’Brien, “What has impressed you most about what you’ve seen here?” an open-ended, more inviting alternative to, “What do you need to see in the second half?”
Of course, after O’Brien answered the first question, Wolfson followed up with, “What do you need to see in the second half?” Ah. So close, Wolfson. Sooo close.
• On Lewis’ kickoff return fumble, Simms obsessed over the idea that Texan Tyler Ervin caused the miscue with a “hard hit,” a phrase Simms repeated three times. On the replay, we can clearly see linebacker Akeem Dent punching the ball out of Lewis’ grip, but Simms remained focused on the hit. Giving Ervin most of the credit was like saying Dereck Whittenburg’s shot won the championship.
• With 19 seconds left in the half, it was third down New England at the one-yard line. When the home team called a timeout, Simms said, “I’m pretty sure they’re going to go for a touchdown here.” He then corrected himself, “Well, it’s third down. Of course they’ll go.”
Janice? Seriously? Just go home.
• During a replay of the rush on Osweiler that forced an incomplete pass at 6:01 of the fourth quarter, Simms talked up defender Chris Long’s hit on the QB. As we watched, we could see linebacker Kyle Van Noy swatting the pass as Osweiler released it.
Mentions of Long: Five. Mentions of Van Noy: Zero.
• Maybe the least efficient work of the night occurred during some odd officiating with a little over two minutes left in the third quarter. Linebacker Shea McClellin smacked Osweiler on the arm, causing an incomplete pass that rolled several yards downfield. For whatever reason, the referees failed to blow the play dead, resulting in an alert Patrick Chung recovering the “fumble” and returning it for a let’s-enjoy-this-before-it’s-overturned TD. CBS cameras went away from field action for a few seconds, forcing them to hurry back once Chung neared the goal line. Neither Nantz nor Simms did a great job explaining what had happened; viewers were left to piece the action together via replays on the hit itself. The announcers should have been more on top of that one from the start, especially considering a) the lack of a whistle, and b) Chung’s immediate reaction to pounce on the football. As both Nantz and Simms noted after the play, “Chaos.”
• After Osweiler’s final interception (the one to Harmon), the QB seemed to lose his cool, gesticulating downfield, protesting like I do when I watch Negan on “The Walking Dead.” If you’re going to bring in this awful character, act least diverge from the plot of the comic!
Though the play looked like an overthrow to his tight end (Griffin, not the other one), Osweiler seemed less mad at himself than a physical mistake would warrant. Was he upset with Griffin, or did he feel like safety Chung interfered on the play? CBS showed replays, but nothing from the end zone to get a solid review of any contact. No one in the booth commented on Osweiler’s reaction or what could have instigated it. A few plays later, a sideline shot revealed him still steaming.
(By the way, Safety Chung might be the best name for an ’80s cover band, ever.)
• This isn’t a CBS thing as much as an all-out football coverage deal, but I for one don’t care to see the opposing team’s player responsible for turnovers or extended drives after a score. For example, when Houston cut the lead to 7-3 on a Nick Novak field goal, the ball had barely dropped out of the net when the producers went to Rowe sitting on the sideline, talking with Harmon. My appetite for schadenfreude has some heft, but even I don’t enjoy watching, say, Osweiler after New England’s final TD (set up by his second interception).
I mean, what if we cut to that guy and he’s beating the hell out of himself like the protagonist from Fight Club? It could happen.
The exception to the No Schadenfreude Rule? Coaches. I’m a Larry Izzo fan, but the look on the special teams coach’s face following Lewis’ kickoff return had to be shared.
Ain’t That A Shane: Kudos to CBS for the fun fact that Texans punter Shane Lechler got drafted in the fifth round in 2000, the same year Brady got drafted in the sixth. Selected by the Raiders, by the way. Solid pick. Lechler is the Tom Brady of punters.
Can You Please Spell Out Which Night It Is? Really, CBS? Going into commercial playing the Bay City Rollers’ “Saturday Night?” That’s good enough for me and my lame references, but you guys have got to come up with a more recent song describing one of the most fun nights of the week. Have you called Yusuf Islam?
Brock Of Ages: So, um, based on his four-year, $72 million contract with $37 million guaranteed, the Texans have quarterback Osweiler on the roster for a bit. Is he salvageable? I’d say so. I mean, New England made some solid plays on defense, and Osweiler’s receivers didn’t always provide the most help. On McCourty’s interception, the safety showed the range and honing-in skills of an orca, traveling several yards to cut in front of the pass. Granted, with Osweiler’s wind-up, his throws take about as long to develop as the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, so he’s still a work in progress in some ways. Should be interesting to see what Coach O’Brien does with him next year.
Where There’s A Will There’s A Whoa! Okay, Osweiler performed about as well as a wet cell phone inside a bank vault, but that drop by receiver Will Fuller did a lot of damage. The QB missed Fuller on a slant with 10:21 to go in the first that could have gotten several yards, if not a first down. Between that drop and the mishandling of a catchable pass by tight end C. J. Fetasandwich (oh God it’s getting worse), Osweiler’s numbers could have looked a lot better.
Maybe Not Great, But Good Scott: Not always a fan of Bart Scott on the CBS football panel, but I enjoyed his intro to his pre-game prediction. Being a former Jet, he had to bring up their 2010 playoff upset of the Patriots and how the regular season means nothing. He hit the landing, however, by adding, “that being said, Patriots, 42-17.”
Psycho Killer: As much as I enjoy the references from AT&T’s data free phone ad, I can’t help thinking that this guy galumphing around the city watching shows on his phone is a bit of a tool. I mean, can’t we just walk down the street for one minute without escaping into whatever world is portrayed on our tiny screens? Also, do we need a Psycho reference? Are we watching this guy have some kind of a breakdown? I’d rather see him passing his time checking his shows while sitting on the bus, then watching where he’s going strolling around NYC. People get hurt that way.
Dancing On The Ceiling: I’m a fan of the new Airpods on iPhone 7 ad with the protagonist dancing on walls and ceilings to a song called “Down” by Marian Hill. Though I have to say I hate earbuds because my ear canals are too small for them. It’s like trying to fit a football inside a Funyun.
Is that too personal? I feel like that got wicked personal all of a sudden.
But Someone Might Out-Good Them: As addressed in previous columns, I’m a pizza snob. Living not too far from New York City and within driving distance of one of the most highly-acclaimed pizza restaurants in the country has made me that way. Well, maybe it’s time for a change, because apparently, “No one out-pizzas the Hut.” It’s only a mildly annoying slogan that jumps on the tired premise of turning a noun into a verb. Sure, it looks just like frozen pizza, but it has, apparently, out-pizza’d everybody else.
I will start using versions of that slogan in my everyday life, though: “This morning, no one shall out-oatmeal me!” “I’m gonna sandwich the hell out of this lunch!”
A Light At The End Of The Tumble: Those Michelob Ultra ads are hilarious. Working out like a crazy person so you can enjoy a 95-calorie beer? At that point, how’s about a little seltzer with a splash of cran and a lime? Is drinking Pink Floyd Tribute Band Beer (an ode to Waters) really worth it? Hard to say. Also, considering the fact “ultra” means “extreme,” I’m not sure how that name fits. It seems like true “ultra” beer would just be a jagged tin can full of grain alcohol.
Michelob Ultra: Now punch me in the face!
The Patriots’ extreme journey to Super Bowl 51 continues. See you next week.
Chris Warner believes that a football-based version of Utimate would attract millions of fans. His email is email@example.com; Twitter: @cwarn89