Okay, I want to say this, even though, in the wake of New England’s 13-3 Super Bowl win over the Rams, it will annoy non-Patriots fans to no end. You ready? Here goes:
I really needed this one.
I know. I know how that sounds. A lot of you are saying, “Give me a break!” and “Pats fans are the worst!” and “What a mediocre writer!” (That last one, by the way? Hurtful.) But please hear me out.
If you read my column after the November 4 Packers game, you saw at the end that I dedicated this season’s work to my late friend Eric. He’s been gone for three months now. I miss him so much. Every week, I have missed his game predictions (Pats, always, but with reason). At halftime of the Super Bowl, I missed his steadying texts reminding me that, yes, New England made some early mistakes, but the defense was killing it and the offense would figure things out by the fourth quarter.
And, most of all, I missed his post-championship-game “Yeah, baby!” that, as a Boston sports fan, had come close to an annual tradition. In 2017 I had told Eric that I wasn’t sure I’d continue the column. He texted me a picture of his younger son checking out my columns, and he encouraged me to keep writing. The reason you’re reading this – and everything else I’ve posted on this site for the past two years – is because of him.
We feel relief in winning, avoiding a year spent with the nerve-grinding agony of coming up short. After a season of loss for Eric’s family and many, many friends, the Patriots helped bring some comfort. That’s why I really needed this one.
Miss you, E.
All right. On to other topics. What was I … ? Oh, wait – the game!
T. B. Continued: I love it when the arguments against Tom Brady as the best quarterback ever start to get personal, like, “I just don’t like his stupid face!” Because that’s when you know he’s golden. No, he didn’t get off to a great start in the Patriots’ 13-3 win, throwing a pick on his first attempt, and a short time later hanging on to the football for a period of time marked by glacial movement and suffering a strip sack fortunately recovered by his center David Andrews. The Rams kept Brady off-balance, forcing him to throw in tight windows off of unsure feet. He ended up hitting 21 of 35 targets (60 percent) for 262 yards and an interception. For over three quarters, he showed promise at the beginning of drives but finished with points only once.
And then, midway through the fourth quarter, New England had to score a touchdown. Brady started off the drive by floating a pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski, who charged along the right sideline for 18 yards. Brady then found Julian Edelman more open than a megastore on Black Friday, allowing the receiver to scoot downfield for 13 yards. After a quick seven-yarder to Rex Burkhead, Brady arced a gorgeous 29-yard rainbow to Gronkowski, who cashed in that pot of gold for a first down at the two-yard line. Rookie running back and not-bust Sony Michel shoved his way into the end zone behind an increasingly effective offensive line, providing a 10-3 lead with seven minutes left on what ended up as the lone TD of the game. (Drive highlights here.)
With Brady, we can always go the historical route. Here are my favorite stats: In 17 years as a starting quarterback, Brady has won nine AFC Championships and six Super Bowls. He’s batting .529 and .353, respectively. In other words, every year Brady starts at QB, he has a better chance of winning an NFL championship than Ted Williams did at getting a hit (.344 lifetime avg.). As Coach Bill Belichick often says, “There’s no quarterback I’d rather have than Tom Brady.” You said it, Bill. Hey, you need your boat painted?
Way To Use Your Edelman: It looked more and more like Edelman would get the MVP award as this game progressed. Yes, he had stunning stats – 10 receptions, 141 yards, aka nine more receptions and 136 more yards than James White, Chris Hogan, and Phillip Dorsett combined – but his timing and aggressiveness to convert eight first downs on those 10 catches made the difference. Fun highlights of every Edelman catch here. The man’s like Bruce Lee showing up at a dojo: he just beats everybody.
It’s D-Licious, It’s D-Lightful, It’s D-Lovely: We must not progress any further without talking about the best defensive effort a group of New England Patriots has put forth since the Battle of Bunker Hill. They somehow held the Rams nearly 30 points below their regular-season 32.9 average. L.A.’s first eight drives ended with punts. They never reached the red zone. They were only the second team in history to fail to score a Super Bowl touchdown (Miami, 47 years ago). A telling stat, courtesy of ESPN, was that nearly half (27 of 60) Rams offensive plays resulted in zero or negative yardage. Quarterback Jared Goff completed only 50 percent of his passes (19 of 38) for 229 yards and a crucial fourth-quarter interception, his rushed reaction to a blitz by safety Duron Harmon that parachuted into cornerback Stephon Gilmore’s hands.
Front Of The Linebackers: Veteran LBs Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower helped make the Rams offense about as effective as a tissue in a rainstorm. Van Noy had three tackles, three quarterback hits, and a sack where he reacted to Goff’s rollout with almost cartoonish acceleration (that you can see here). Hightower had two punishing sacks, attacking Goff like he held a longstanding grudge against him. The Rams QB got taken down four times and pressured more than a deep-sea sub, rendering him ineffective when it counted in the late stages of the game. Linebacker John Simon chipped in with some pressure of his own, tipping a pass up the middle to force a punt.
Deliver Your Line: New England’s D-line patrolled the line of scrimmage like the aliens in War of the Worlds, razing all beings in their path. L.A. had only 62 rushing yards on the day. Tackle/quasar Danny Shelton and defensive end/human-python-hybrid Trey Flowers Pac-Manned running backs, engulfing them for losses in the backfield. Deatrich Wise (five tackles), Lawrence Guy (two), and Malcom Brown (two) added to L.A.’s misery, with Wise clothes-lining C. J. Anderson on a play that didn’t count due to a penalty but managed to set the tone.
Anderson had seven carries for 22 yards (3.1 avg.). Todd Gurley totaled 10 totes for 35 yards (3.5 avg.). That’s a big ingredient to a championship cake.
Mmmmm … cake.
The pressure worked, along with some help in the defensive backfield.
Atlanta’s Hottest Club Is Gilly: Oh, Stephon. It’s like that thing, where you intercept the opposing QB to help seal a Super Bowl victory. Gilmore tallied five tackles, three pass break-ups, and a forced fumble to go along with his pick, effectively containing the deep threat of Brandin Cooks and helping fluster Goff all day.
Strong game also from undrafted rookie corner J. C. Jackson (two tackles), who a couple of months ago helped turn around a Patriots defense that lacked consistency from its defensive backs.
Develin The Details: Two of New England’s biggest runs of the game opened up in large part due to fullback/road grader James Develin, who took on Rams D-linemen and linebackers with equal disdain. On Michel’s touchdown, Develin led Michel to the left, smacking safety Mark Barron at the one and shoving him backward to clear a path for six. (Nice, quick turnaround by NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry on an oral history of said drive here.) Later, on Burkhead’s 26-yarder that got a first down on second and seven and kept the clock running, Develin peeled outside to the left and battered Barron again, springing Burkhead into the secondary, where he squeezed through Rams safeties for extra yardage to the 33. A strong day from the big fella, helping grind down L.A.’s defense late.
New England didn’t set rushing records, but Develin and the O-line helped Michel (18 for 94, 5.2 avg.) and Burkhead (seven for 43, 6.1 avg) come through in the end.
The Ghost In You: Yes, Stephen Gostkowski missed an earlier field goal attempt, but he made his last one, which adds to his clutchness (clutchosity?) in my book. Gostkowski actually did the opposite of Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein, whose late miss effectively ended the game (personally, I would not have been a fan of having to watch the Rams try an onside kick, even with only five seconds left. Call it the Miami Meltdown Effect). Ghost’s fourth quarter field goal did not qualify as an official game winner, but it worked as a game sealer and brought a certain level of assurance to New England fans.
That reminds me: 13-3 means the biggest margin of victory in a Super Bowl by New England. Yeah, a real laugher. No wonder we get so tense.
Will you stawp texting me Mahsha I’m watchin’ the gawd damn game!
Pinned Down To The Matt: Special mention for a special teamer, as Matthew Slater seemed to play a game of catch with punter Ryan Allen at times, downing three punts inside the eight-yard line. That can take a toll on an offense, especially one that can’t seem to find the big plays to switch field position.
Twin Killing: Lest we forget cornerback Jason McCourty beep-beep-roadrunnering toward a wide open Cooks to swipe the receiver’s arm and knock a certain six-point pass to the ground, let’s review the highlight here. Had the Rams scored there, they would have taken a 7-3 lead with 3:35 left in the third quarter, changing the dynamics of the game. Jason, playing with twin brother Devin McCourty for the first time since college, had himself a strong overall game with five tackles and two passes defensed.
And to think last year he went 0-16 with the Browns.
And One To Gronk On: As I’ve said before, a part of me would like it if Gronkowski retires. This year he appeared to deal with constant discomfort. The grind of participating in every post-season takes a toll over the years. If he does decide to move on, what a way to go out. That 29-yarder to set up Michel’s touchdown deserves another mention, as it looked as vintage as a James Dean poster and twice as cool. Racing past double (triple?) coverage, Gronk laid out for the ball, cradling it like a rescue puppy before touching down at the two-yard line. Last career catch a highlight-worthy game-changer? Last career contest a Super Bowl win? Yeah, if I were Gronk, I would definitely think about more beach time this summer.
Speaking of the beach…
You Don’t Bring Me Flores Any More: Unofficial-but-official defensive coordinator Brian Flores moves to Miami this off-season, sounding a change knell for New England. (Not sure if “change knell” is a thing, but maybe knells don’t always want to be associated with death. Let’s try something new, knells). Flores brings wide receiver coach Chad O’Shea with him, expected to fill the role as offensive coordinator. Looks like Miami just got better.
Gronk may retire, along with a few other veteran players (the McCourtys, perhaps?). On the flip side, next year’s expanded roster additions will include five 2018 rookies who got injured and will enter 2019 as redshirt-type prospects. Plus, New England has 12 draft picks this year, giving them pieces to trade all over the draft board.
You know what? With all these comings and goings, all these changes, this team could be fun to watch. New England has nothing left to prove. We can play GM or coach or QB from the couch with no pressure. Six championships, man.
Tony Awards: Nice work by announcers Jim Nantz and Tony Romo, as expected. A criticism or two involving each before we get to the good stuff. During the lone TD drive of the game, Romo seemed to get a little overexcited and started rattling off predictions, in one case pointing to the possibility of passing to Gronk, or the running back, or anyone else except for Edelman, who ended up gathering in a short pass across the middle and bolting ahead for a first down. Rare misfire, there. Nantz remained solid throughout, one hiccup coming when he confused linebacker Simon with Albert McClellan. My only other criticism of Nantz – and this could not come from a more biased place – arises from his jinx of Gostkowski, proclaiming that no kicker had ever missed a field goal in the new Mercedes-Benz stadium. Yup, 31 of 31. Yessirree.
(*Ghost misses kick*) God damnit, Jim!
Overall, though, a strong effort by both announcers. Stats-wise, informative addition to the TD drive came with Nantz pointing out Brady went 4-for-4 (I was losing track due to nearly blacking out). Later, a nice touch by Nantz to mention that 17 years ago, Patriots’ number 24 Ty Law intercepted the Rams’ Kurt Warner, and now number 24 on the Patriots (Gilmore) had another interception vs. the Rams.
During the regular season I typically have a stockpile of replays I would have liked to see, but those requests diminish the deeper we go into the playoffs, as networks cover the field with more cameras than the London surveillance system. In the third quarter, with 7:40 remaining, New England got called for an illegal shift. Without replay, I couldn’t tell who moved. Just the type of thing you’d like to know when your team is twisting you into more knots than my daughter’s first necklace.
Great graphics from CBS, as usual, including the “no first quarter touchdowns in eight Super Bowls” for the Pats (note: you can up that to nine now), plus the eyebrow-hoisting early statistic that Edelman had out-gained L.A. 74 yards to 32. It’s a shame casual fans aren’t more invested in the Super Bowl, because you can learn a lot about the sport just by reading the stats on the screen.
I’m sticking with ones I enjoyed (these do not include the Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer spot, which I found disconcerting, as it was shot underwater and I felt concerned for the women playing mermaids. How long did they spend underwater? How many takes did they need to pretend they were talking to sharks?) To me, spiked seltzer sounds like something a group of teens would resort to because the host kid’s cousin forgot to bring orange juice.
I asked you to do one thing, Craig!
Elevator Go-o-oing Up: Not an ad for Koka Kola, the Hyundai Car Shopper Assurance spot featuring Jason Bateman hits on a lot of levels, with Bateman operating the elevator that descends to the worst life experiences. Hard to stick out from the crowd with a car commercial, but this one nails it.
Take A Chance: The Doritos commercial featuring Chance the Rapper and The Backstreet Boys must work, because it got my attention despite there being no way on earth I’m putting spicy Doritos in my body. (That’s not a food-snob thing; at my age, that’s just self-preservation.)
Light Of The Rings: The Bud Light “Special Delivery” commercial has the king going on a quest to deliver a misplaced barrel of corn syrup to Lite and Coors, because they use it while Bud Light does not. I think I would have appreciated attending the meeting where they had to brainstorm how to note their ingredients without sounding pedantic. It’s a fun spot, with a trek across land and sea worthy of a short film.
A Stella Performance: Speaking of beer, notable campaign by Stella Artois, taking pop culture figures from places like The Big Lebowski, “Sex and the City,” and Dos Equis commercials, and showing all of them drinking Stella. Way to expand the demographics, S.A., and way to associate recognizable faces with a product that has always seemed a bit distant or unrelatable in previous ads. “Change Up The Usual,” indeed.
I Am The Modern Marshall Major Taylor Ad For Hennessy: Watching this Hennessy commercial, I learned that Marshall “Major” Taylor was a world champion cyclist in 1901. Taylor, an African American, became famous for his accomplishments. You can learn more about Taylor in this nifty seven-minute ESPN doc. So… drink booze, I guess?
I always find it ironic when companies use athletes to promote food or drink they probably wouldn’t consume. “Hi, I’m Tom Brady. Let’s talk about the Cheesecake Factory.”
While we’re on the topic of food…
Next Time, Try The Soup: That Burger King spot had me so confused. Did Andy Warhol actually eat a Whopper? Let me see, here… Yup. There’s a YouTube video from several years ago of “Andy Warhol eating a hamburger,” which, if you think about it, seems like something he’d do. Quite Warholian, especially when he takes the top bun off the burger but pours the ketchup on the side for dipping. Oh, Andy. Always apart from the crowd.
Next Up: Basquiat eating a Filet-O-Fish!
And now, my two favorite commercials:
Keep It 100: While I disagree with much of what the NFL stands for and how they have gone about their business regarding player health and welfare, I have to admit that the NFL 100 ad grabbed me. You put all those personalities in a room and something entertaining will happen.
(Note to the league: the inclusion of Roger Goodell does not make this better in any way.)
Another cool thing, or not, depending on your point of view…
Mission To Marvel: I don’t know how they did it, but Marvel has managed to hook me into their universe. I used to read comics once in a while, but the fact that Iron Man helped get me interested in a world full of characters I’d never heard of (Guardians of the Galaxy? What?) says a lot about how the MCU’s plans have taken effect over the past 10-plus years. Looking forward to Captain Marvel in March and Avengers 4: Endgame in April.
Netflix Note Of The Week: Watched Incredibles 2 with my daughter this past weekend. This followed watching Coco with her last week. Of course, being what my father would call “dramatic,” I started to tear up watching Miguel sing “Remember Me.” My daughter noticed this and, wanting me to feel better, said, “Daddy, I’ll remember you.” And, of course, I immediately stopped crying and totally held my crap together.
Right? Sure. That’s what happened.
So, Pixar movies on Netflix. Check ’em out.
All We Hear Is Radio Goo-Goo: I briefly listened to what Boston’s sports radio personalities (a different word than “experts”) were saying on Monday morning, and I guess I would have been disappointed if I had had any expectations whatsoever. Within three minutes, I heard one guy question Edelman’s ability to participate in the playoffs due to his PED suspension in September, one guy say Brady did not play well vs. the Chiefs (“He was terrible for three-and-a-half quarters,” as if performing in the fourth and overtime meant nothing), and both guys saying Gronk didn’t look healthy.
Six Super Bowls. SIX. We could be sitting back and enjoying this. Instead, it’s like we’re refusing a lifetime’s supply of ice cream cones because we think the napkins are too small.
It’s not just Boston. Actual ticker on FS1 Monday morning: “Coming Up: Did last night hurt Brady’s legacy despite winning 6th ring?”
Absolutely. Of course it did. Just like The Deer Hunter hurt Meryl Streep’s legacy because she didn’t win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. You nitwits.
Cliff Diving: Do Max Kellerman and Rob Parker have any other opinions beyond Brady is finished, or falling off the proverbial cliff? I mean, I never hear these guys say anything else. Do they have other jobs, and just freelance a seasonal down-with-Brady gig? Are they actual human beings, or avatars created to appear every fall and snipe at the NFL’s greatest? I’m serious. What do they think about any other player? I don’t know. I’ve only heard Parker talk about Brady. Kellerman has just whined about this topic for years. Because other opinions don’t get them noticed. They owe their careers, whatever they are now, to trolling Brady and Patriots fans. What a gig. What a pathetic, maudlin little schtick they’ve got, spouting out uninformed, out-of-context nonsense to plead for attention.
Listen, I get it. I could write a headline for this piece like, “Brady Should Retire: Best Days Behind Him,” or “Did Belichick Get Lucky Against Woeful Rams?” and – because social media has turned all of us into on-edge, perfectionist middle-schoolers – I would triple my readership with commenters leaping to set me straight. But, alas, I don’t do a good enough job as a troll.
So let’s do this: pay attention to the people who put the work in. Check out Mike Reiss on ESPN.com, Chris Price on Boston Sports Journal, Michael Hurley on CBS Sports Boston, Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry on NBC Sports Boston, Evan Lazar at CLNS Media, Doug Kyed at NESN.com, Mark Daniels at Projo.com, Chad Finn and Nora Princiotti at Boston.com, Matt Chatham and Jeff Howe at the Athletic, Jerry Thornton on Barstool, Dave Brown at the Concord Monitor. That’s a ton of content, there, and only a fraction of what’s available. A lot of these writers have podcasts and/or give interviews, suitable replacements for Boston radio. We have plenty to consume without giving credence to those who seek to escalate the ire of a winning team’s fans. Let’s try. In the meantime, enjoy this championship, aka The Best Six I’ve Ever Had.
Next week, an updated version of my kinda/sorta annual column on the role of luck in winning it all (I maaaayy have forgotten to update it last year). Did the 2018 Pats get lucky? Yup. You’ve got to have some good fortune to take home the Lombardi.
Always sad to wrap up the final game column of the season, but especially this one, because it will be my final final one. I’ll write up a couple of draft stories through April, but it’s time to move on to some projects this summer that will take me away from weekly pieces in the fall.
The Pats won the Super Bowl. Seriously, what better way to go out? Thanks for reading.
Chris Warner will take any role in a Marvel movie, including the awestruck onlooker. He’s at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @cwarn89.