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DeflateGate Reaching New Heights In Absurdity

There are things that happen in history, and you say to yourself, “My goodness, we’re still talking about it all these years later!”

In the case of DeflateGate, any discussion should have ended a few days after the AFC Championship Game. This is nothing more than an equipment violation. Instead, it is beginning to resemble Tea Pot Dome, Watergate and Iran-Contra in terms of notoriety and the impugning of the guilty party.

What should have been over and done with in a quick and expedient matter instead has captured national attention, exhaustive media scrutiny, and the continued castigation of both the NFL and the New England Patriots. The NFL has had bounty hunters, woman beaters and drug abusers to deal with, but instead you have this incredulous fascination over some footballs that were slightly underinflated. The result has been a laughable farce that has been called a dog and pony show by many observers.

It’s not laughable, of course, if you belong to Patriot Nation. You are getting a front row seat to watching your team, the best NFL team of the 21st century, having their dynasty and reputation dragged through the mud. You have the best owner, coach and quarterback in the league, but you can’t enjoy that right now. All you hear is that your Patriots are cheaters.

DeflateGate is the biggest absurdity in NFL history. Nothing else comes close. You had the 1982 season decided by only nine regular season games, stupid NFL owners, the Redskins Fun Bunch, and Dennis Miller’s broadcasting career. But this beats all.

There are two defining elements which explain why this whole mess has become what it has become.

Everyone outside of New England hates the Patriots.

Bob Kraft has built the Patriots into the gold standard sports franchise, but nationwide hatred of the Patriots has led to a small matter like DeflateGate becoming more than it should have.
(USA TODAY Images)

Those of us with long perspectives on the Patriot organization still find this hard to believe. But it’s true. The Patriots are the Yankees of the NFL, not so much in terms of number of championships won, but in terms of national perception.

Young Patriot fans have no idea how awful the Patriots used to be. Jim Plunkett got killed in Foxborough because he had next to nobody nearly good enough to complement him, then he goes on to win three Vinces with the Raiders. If you remember players like Halvor Hagen, Honor Jackson and Sandy Durko, you have no life. Unbelievably, the 1981 and 1990 Patriots were worse than the Plunkett Pats. The Dick MacPherson Pats weren’t much better.

Today, you have a Patriot franchise that has won four Super Bowls. Tom Brady either holds or shares a ton of Super Bowl records. Bill Belichick is the unchallenged best coach in the league. Bob Kraft has transformed that corner of Route 1 in Foxborough from a stadium with toilets that couldn’t flush and fans who couldn’t stay out of jail into a gleaming sports palace, with a Taj Mahal known as Gillette Stadium and other upscale hot spots.

Since 2000, the Patriots have won 171 regular season games and have lost only 54. They have double-digit wins in every Belichick year except 2000 and 2002. NFL Films, which used to ignore the Patriots almost completely, now cannot get enough of these guys. They have become the gold standard of the NFL, and maybe in all of pro sports.

Because of this, the rest of the nation has grown to hate this team. SpyGate exacerbated this hatred to a significant degree, but this is a team that is so consistently excellent every year that everyone across the USA is simply sick and tired of the Patriots. Anything that cuts them down is hailed by everyone. What is bad for the Patriots is good for everyone else, and vice versa.

Which can act as a segue into the second reason why DeflateGate has become so absurd.

Roger Goodell has been charged with sticking it to the Patriots, and must do so – or else.

One must wonder what former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue must be thinking about his successor’s stewardship. One might also wonder what Pete Rozelle must be thinking from way up on high in NFL Valhalla. Tagliabue successfully proctored two nasty tiffs between the Patriots and the Jets. Rozelle helped broker an AFL-NFL merger, negotiated lucrative television contracts, and built the Super Bowl into what it is today.

Goodell? He botched BountyGate, handled the Ray Rice situation wrong, and is now staking his career and reputation on some slightly underinflated footballs.

Goodell had to make a national case out of this. The owners probably ordered Goodell to make an example out of the Patriots, leaving the means up to him. The result is this flawed investigation, a report that is more vague than it is factual, and a media which would no sooner reject a sexy story than they would a sexy human object of their desire.

Goodell has all the ingredients to placate his owners. Two equipment staffers who could probably star as Horace and Jasper in any subsequent remake of 101 Dalmatians. The dirty deed being done on the second biggest NFL stage. Best of all, a chance to make a big name for yourself by impugning the centerpiece name of the entire league, Tom Brady.

There you have it. Nail the Patriots, nail Brady, and you have lifetime job security. That $45 million annual salary will still keep coming in. The only price you have to pay is that Kraft is no longer your buddy. Never mind that he helped save your butt during a labor crisis when at the time he was dealing with the death of his wife Myra. Call it residual damage. Nothing personal, just business.

This is somewhat akin to the amazing story behind why the Baseball Hall of Fame is in Cooperstown, New York and not Hoboken, New Jersey. Abner Doubleday had nothing to do with the invention of baseball, but a convoluted chain of events helped a Cooperstown millionaire bring the baseball museum to a place it has no business being in. Goodell is taking a minor slap on the wrist and turning it into a major personal defining moment, and Goodell will make it happen by hook or by crook.

In the end, Goodell will get his personal redemption, the Patriots will come away with some tarnish, and Brady will have to sit down for a few games even though he is adamant in professing his innocence. The rest of the league will applaud Goodell for finally doing something right, for being David and felling the giant Goliath.

So now, what becomes of the hated Patriots? Josh Lucas, who portrayed UTEP (Texas Western in 1966) head basketball coach Don Haskins in the movie Glory Road, offers up this excellent morsel of advice.

Shut them up. Win.

NFL Drops Bomb On Patriots, Brady

Super Bowl XX was nothing. The last time Patriots were attacked this badly, it was sometime around 1776.

The hammer fell on the Patriots on Monday, and it was a sledgehammer at that. According to’s Adam Schefter, the Patriots were fined one million dollars and have forfeited a first round draft pick in 2016 and a fourth round pick in 2017 for “violation of the playing rules and failure to cooperate in the subsequent investigation.” To prevent any draft pick manipulation by Bill Belichick, the league ordered that the forfeited draft picks “may not be traded or encumbered”, and if there are multiple picks in either of the affected rounds, the earliest picks in each round will be lost.

The two men at the epicenter of this whole situation, Jim McNally and John Jastremski, have been indefinitely suspended without pay by the Patriots, according to Robert Kraft. According to NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent, he must approve the reinstatement of either Patriot employee. If McNally is reinstated, he is barred from having any contact with game officials and cannot have any hand in any game ball or equipment preparation at any time. If Jastremski is reinstated, he cannot have any involvement in game ball preparation in any way.

The biggest bomb fell on Tom Brady. The future Hall of Fame quarterback has been suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2015 NFL season for “conduct detrimental to the integrity of the NFL.” Brady can participate in any offseason activity, preseason activity and preseason games, but must miss the first four games: home games against Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, and away games at Buffalo and Dallas.

Kraft said that the Patriots will not appeal any penalties. What happens to Brady might be another story.

Bob Kraft said that the Patriots would accept the punishment of a $1 million fine and two draft picks for findings in the Wells Report concerning the deflation of footballs in the AFC Championship Game.
(USA TODAY Images)

First of all, let this be the last time we ever mention the names of these two nobodies in this column. What happens to McNally and Jastremski moving forward is of no consequence to anyone but those two bad boys. They should be fired. They can be replaced and should be. Sometimes long time employees go bad. Thirty-year employees might steal from the plant store. It happens. Send them packing.

The Patriots might feel a bit of a sting from the lost draft picks. The smart thinking here is that Belichick will find a way to ease the pain and turn this to the team’s advantage. According to the press release, the draft picks cannot be “encumbered”. Belichick will come up with something creative to neutralize the pain. Nobody in the NFL knows how to manipulate a draft board than Belichick.

Kraft could be like former Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee and make the $1 million check out to his favorite charity. Lee was once fined by MLB for making comments about his usage of marijuana, and he made his fine check out to some Canadian benevolence entity which helps to feed eskimos that are below the poverty line. Kraft’s charitable benefactors are more likely something you have heard of. They need that money more than the league does.

What will bear watching is how Brady goes forward with his incredibly harsh punishment. Of particular interest is what the NFLPA will do, how the Patriots will react, how Brady’s agent Don Yee will react, and possibly how NBC will react.

You don’t hear much from the NFLPA like you do from the MLBPA. In baseball, something like this would soon become something akin to a World War II ack-ack battle. Questions like “Does the punishment fit the crime?” will be asked. Punishing Brady for something that other quarterbacks in the league (Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning) have admitted to doing themselves will be scrutinized. Why levy this kind of penalty against Brady when this is more about those ball attendants that seem to be more culpable in this mess?

Yee came out a few days ago and questioned the fairness of this entire investigation. He is not the only person to go on record and question Ted Wells’ bias in his 243-page report. How much Yee can impact the appeals process is subject to debate. If Yee has any legal recourse, he will take it.

Another major player in the appeals process could be an unlikely, but very interested and invested entity: the National Broadcasting Company.

Over the years, opening night in the NFL has grown into an event that sometimes makes you think it’s the Super Bowl. Opening night is a Thursday night special broadcast, with live musical and recreation events in the host city (the city of the defending Super Bowl champ) and other cities around the country. Top name entertainment do live gigs at these events. NBC televises the events, turns it into a mega-production, and the home team chimes in with a celebration of their Super Bowl win, usually an unveiling of their stadium acknowledgement of the championship.

This last happened in Foxborough in 2005, for the season opener with the Patriots and the Raiders. With great fanfare, Kraft unveiled the Super Bowl XXXIX banner, and NBC had all of it live. It was a fantastic affair, replete with fireworks and uplifting music.

If Brady is not allowed to play in the Thursday night opener against Pittsburgh, how will NBC react to that? Worse, if the Patriots choose to defer their banner unveiling until Brady’s first home game, which would be October 25 against the Jets, a 1:00 game on CBS, how will NBC feel about that? The NFL cannot simply tell NBC “tough luck, too bad”, given that the network has almost $4 billion invested in their football broadcast package, and how high profile the Thursday night opening night broadcast has become.

If the Patriots do not unveil their banner on that particular night, NBC could always try and get another game to replace Patriots-Steelers. But not being able to see the championship celebration would put a damper on the entire evening, and most certainly drive NBC’s ratings down.

In the end, the NFL may not need to listen to NBC. They will more likely listen to any legal ramifications the players union or Yee can brandish. What the union and Yee will have to establish is that the punishment is too harsh based upon Brady’s career body of work and reputation, and who is really at fault in this particular situation.

And the league will have to look closer at all consequences of suspending someone of such high magnitude. Making an example of someone like Ray Rice is one thing. Making an example of Brady is quite another. There are far too many circumstantial elements to this case for something not to happen in support of Brady.

For now, the Patriots have had their tails whipped by the league. They were taken out to the woodshed. Roger Goodell and Vincent opened up a can of whoop-(expletive).

Meanwhile, one must wonder if Jimmy Garoppolo is looking at all this and thinking about some thunderous Mo Lewis hit on Drew Bledsoe several years ago.

Generally Speaking, Patriots Probably Guilty

I don’t deal in maybes and probablys.

Seems like Ted Wells does.

DeflateGate finally reached some breakthrough on Wednesday. The 134-page Wells report was finally finished and released to the press. The long and short of it was that some measure of culpability in this mess has been linked to Patriot equipment staff members Jim McNally and John Jastremski (pronounce that name carefully, folks), and quarterback Tom Brady. The report found the Patriots front office and head coach Bill Belichick blameless in this incident.

By “some measure of culpability”, it is difficult to glean that Patriot employees did what they did beyond a reasonable doubt. The wording of the Wells Report deals in vague language versus definitive language, and does not send down an emphatic damnation of anyone in the Patriot organization. There is still much wiggle room in terms of interpretation of the report, as well as what the league can and will do with this information as they move forward.

In the report, the words “more probable than not” are a central issue in interpreting the findings by Wells. The report says that “it is more probable than not that McNally…and Jastremski…participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee.” The report goes on to say that “it also is our view that it is more probable than not that Brady…was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.”

Tom Brady celebrated a Super Bowl win three months ago, but now faces possible league action after the release of the Wells Report on Wednesday.
(USA TODAY Images)

It is clear that the Patriots do not come out of this smelling like a rose. This is not anything close to exoneration. But the wording in the report is based on what Patriot employees “probably” did. The report also states that Brady “probably” was “generally” aware of what McNally and Jastremski were doing.

In other words, this report did not say that “McNally and Jastremski did, without question, deflate game balls with the full knowledge and guidance from Brady.” The report says that these breaches of league policy “probably happened”. While action may still be taken against these men, especially Brady, everyone’s interpretation of this report is subject to opinion and objectivity rather than matter of fact.

And that will be interesting to watch over as the “penalty phase” of this investigation plays out.

A series of text messages between McNally and Jastremski suggest that the two were engaged in some form of chicanery. The report lists several profanity-laced exchanges between the two men, where it is inferred that the two men were involved in deflating footballs. What is not clear is how they did it, and what exactly was Brady’s involvement in the process.

The report later mentions that McNally was videotaped taking a bag full of game balls to be used for the AFC Championship Game from the officials’ quarters after referee Walt Anderson approved them for game usage. According to the report, McNally disappears into a bathroom for about a minute and 40 seconds, then emerges. It is not seen what exactly went on in that bathroom, and the video does not directly tie Brady into this situation.

To make a long story short, Wells uses the words “more probably than not” to suggest that McNally and Jastremski did what they did, and Brady “more probably than not” knew about what was going on. In other words, maybe they did it. Maybe Brady knew. Maybe. Not definitely. Just maybe.

So what exactly does this mean for Brady and the aforementioned equipment staff members?

This writer is a 32-year educator in performing arts. Several times during the year, my students perform for the public (usually their parents). One thing students in this academic discipline learn about is responsibility. Public performances place a great amount of responsibility on students. It helps them greatly as they mature and develop into adults. To reinforce the need for responsibility, often times the need for clarity and focus has to be continually presented to the students. If, say in the process of preparing for a performance, a student is unclear about their level of responsibility and their understanding of “Do your job!” is also unclear, I might say this to a student:

I don’t deal in maybes and probablys.

I will probably have my music learned in time. Maybe I will be late for the performance. I lost my music, but I will probably find it in time.

I don’t deal in maybes and probablys. The student grasps the situation, then finds/learns the music and makes it to the gig on time.

This sentence which opened this article might save the day for Brady in the end, or at least lessen the consequences he might face. Absent of concrete evidence against Brady or McNally or Jastremski, meting out punishment from the NFL might prove dicey and open to appeals and/or legal action.

Instead of punishing Brady and these other two “fifteen minutes of fame” guys, here is a better idea. Fix the problem.

Take responsibility of properly inflated footballs away from the home team and place it in the hands of league officials. Hire a few dozen more employees, rotate which stadium they work at to prevent familiarity, and charge them with exclusive handling of both kicking and regular game balls. Keep the footballs away from the home team.

In baseball, the home team supplies the balls (usually 12 dozen), but the umpires take charge of them, rub them up with the Delaware River mud, and keep them in their possession. Let the home teams supply the footballs, but the league oversees them at all times.

If the NFL feels that they can make any punishment stick, let them go ahead and try. Bob Kraft said in a prepared statement that the Patriots “will accept any repercussions handed to the team.” But there may be limits. What if Brady were handed a suspension? Or a very stiff fine?

Patriot detractors will be heard from all over the nation. They cheated again. Take away their Super Bowls. Keep Belichick and Brady away from Canton.

And they can all sit down and shut up. The Patriots won the Super Bowl fair and square. Go back and watch the AFC Championship Game and see if slightly deflated footballs really cost the Colts the game (even the Colt players are on record as saying that they simply got their butts kicked). The Colts need to learn how to stop the run rather than to complain about football inflation.

Just accept the report, thank Wells for his trouble, and fix the problem.

Something probably happened. Maybe. Generally. Whatever. Just fix the problem. Done and done.

Patriots Do All In Draft Except What Was Needed

Say it again, over and over. Bill Belichick knows more about football than you do.

He’s the best. He’s currently the champ. He’s been in the coaching business for 40 years now. If he says that he does something that “is in the best interests of the football team”, that’s the end of it.

So here you are, Joe (or Jane) Average Patriot Fan, sitting at home enjoying your fresh copy of Three Games To Glory IV, wondering if you will ever get another one of these again. It had been ten years since the last one. How long will it be until the next one? Doesn’t it smart somewhat when you see all these film shots of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, knowing that they are no longer Patriots?

And, adding to all the post-Super Bowl angst you might be experiencing, the 2015 NFL Draft came and went without much help for the Patriots in the area of cornerback. Belichick did take one cornerback, someone in round 7 named Darryl Roberts from Marshall. Maybe Troy Brown recommended this guy. The other ten guys selected addressed mostly depth, and, thank goodness, the comforting fact that the long snapper position is safe and secure in 2020 and beyond.

This sort of thing happens all the time. Belichick lets great players walk, preaches the system uber alles, gets these guys you never heard of to replace them, and is still good for at least an AFC Championship Game berth. Members of the media who think they know more than Belichick condemn him for being a better head coach than a GM, castigate him for being curt, disingenuous and vague in press conferences, and predict doom and gloom for what used to be the marquee franchise of the NFL.

Well, we’re at that time again. The Patriots win a Super Bowl about three months ago, and now the destitute Super Bowl champs only have a weak AFC East division going for them. The very thing that brought them their fourth Super Bowl title no longer exists. Revis and Browner delivered on all their promise, but in the end Revis hated not being a Jet (depending upon whom you talk to) and Browner has a skill set that could be replaced with someone who comes with fewer dollars and fewer penalties incurred.

In a nutshell, here is what the Patriots addressed in the 2015 draft.

Offensive line. The second most urgent area of need, Belichick picked up two offensive guards. He snatched Tre’ Jackson from Florida State and Shaquille Mason from Georgia Tech. Both men grade out well, though they are from slightly different offenses; Mason is more into run blocking while Jackson is more into pass blocking. Both men will compete for guard positions with the Patriots though Mason was a center at GT. This gives the Patriots some insulation if Dan Connally is lost as a free agent, and gives Marcus Cannon some competition as well. Cannon and Ryan Wendell are the likely starters at guard if Connally leaves.

Texas defensive lineman Malcom Brown was selected in the first round by the Patriots.
(USA TODAY Images)

Front seven. The first round pick was Malcom Brown, a defensive tackle from Texas who projects as Vince Wilfork’s replacement. Brown was projected to go earlier in the first round, and his selection was viewed by most experts as a positive. Add to that third rounder Geneo Grissom from Oklahoma and fourth rounder Trey Flowers from Arkansas, and the Patriots pick up some more edge rushers to help offset the sharp downtick at cornerback. The Patriots also added linebackers Matthew Wells (Mississippi State, 5th round) and Xzavier Dickson (Alabama, 7th round) for more depth.

No sense at all picks. The other three picks are typical Belichick head scratchers, drafting players where there is no need at all. The Patriots are set at the safety position, but in the second round they took Stanford safety Jordan Richards. Unless they plan to try and teach him cornerback, he projects out as a special teams stud or a nickel/dime package defensive back. Richards received high marks for football smarts and dedication. His ability to cover wide receivers was not listed as a plus, though. He was projected as round 5-6 guy, but he went in round 2.

Tight end A.J. Derby from Arkansas was picked in the sixth round. The Patriots have the best tight end in football and the other three are at worst good to very good. Does this guy cover wideouts?

Then there’s Joe Cardona. He is a long snapper from Navy, and he was selected in the fifth round. Danny Aiken, the current long snapper, is an unrestricted free agent, so this could be a position of need. However, the key word here is “Navy”. Most Midshipmen have to fulfill a five-year military commitment before they can enter the NFL. For example, a Heisman Trophy winner from Navy named Roger Staubach was drafted in 1963 by Dallas. He joined the Cowboys in 1969.

So the Patriots might have to wait up to five years for Cardona. But Belichick won’t mind it one bit. The United States Naval Academy cuts very deep with Belichick, whose father Steve coached there and where Bill the youngster first learned how to break down film, among other things. Midshipmen have been granted service exemptions in recent years; Cardona told the Globe that fellow members of his graduating class have been given their orders, but he has not received his yet. The Patriots might not have to wait five years for the player who was graded out as the best long snapper in the draft.

You could say that except for cornerback, this was a good draft for the Patriots. If Jackson and Mason solidify the interior of the O-line, if Brown clogs up the middle at lease somewhat well as Wilfork did, and if Grissom and Flowers take some of the pass rush load off Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, then the Patriots did well. Not great, but well.

Maybe the next shutdown corner is still on the horizon. Malcolm Butler made a great play, but David Tyree’s ridiculous catch in Super Bowl XLII was the last of his career. There is no certainty in Butler. There was in Revis and Browner. Patriot Nation will simply have to wait and see how this turns out.

Of course, 45-42 games are fun to watch, as long as it’s the Patriots with the 45.

As The Ball Bounces: Post-Super Bowl

Stephen Gostkowski did not need to provide the winning margin in a Super Bowl like Adam Vinatieri did three times prior.  He kicked four extra points and several touchbacks on kickoffs.  It would be nice to see Gostkowski kick a walkoff game winner in the postseason, but a win is a win no matter how you do it.  Vinatieri’s replacement booms one out of the end zone, with lots of gusto as he relishes being a world champ for the first time in his life.

Dave Roberts, meet Malcolm Butler.

Roberts never needs to buy himself a drink in Boston.

After Sunday night, Malcolm, neither do you.

Pete Carroll did all right since leaving the Patriots.  He won national championships at USC and won a Super Bowl with Seattle.

But in listening to him try and justify The Call, you remember what kind of coach he was here.

And why you relish Bill Belichick even more.

But what would everyone be saying if Marshawn Lynch had scored a touchdown and the Patriots were left with almost no time to respond?

Geek of the week:  Rationalize it all you want.  Bad call, Darrell Bevell.  Bad call.  You may never live it down.  Fortunately you are based in Seattle and not Boston or New York.

Geek of the week II:  You are the head coach, Pete Carroll.  That means that everything is ultimately your fault.

Meanwhile, DeflateGate continues.  Do we still await the results with baited breath?

One person who does is Roger Goodell.  If this investigation comes up empty, his name is mud.  So are his reputation and his credibility.

The trophy presentation spoke volumes of Goodell’s stewardship.  Bob Kraft looked at him, took the trophy, and Goodell beat it the heck out of there.

One of these days, this writer will stop bagging on NBC.  That’s two titles now won on NBC since the early 1960s.

But it’s still different and the other networks do it better.  Dan Patrick, who is unlistenable to begin with, looked and sounded annoyed during the trophy presentation, as if he was either sorry Seattle didn’t win or disgusted the Patriots did.  There was an awkward moment during the postgame where Bob Costas was making a point, then suddenly was ordered to cut to a commercial.  They put on Carrie Underwood and never should have gotten rid of Faith Hill.

Give me Terry Bradshaw in a trophy presentation any day.

People are trying to rank Butler’s pick among the biggest plays in the history of Boston sports.  Vinatieri’s kicks in 2001 (Snow Bowl, Super Bowl XXXVI winner) rank higher.  But Butler has become instantly immortal.

He literally has no equal in Boston sports history.  Who else was as non-descript and made such a huge play in such a big situation?  Usually big stars make big plays.

Back to school:  UMass will leave the MAC after this coming season.  Then what?  If some conference won’t take UMass, what do they do?  Go back to the FCS?  No wonder John McCutcheon left UMass for UCSB.

So what do the Patriots do with Darrelle Revis?

Unfortunately, you will have to pick up his option and pay him $20 million.  If you don’t, he will be either a Jet or a Bill.  There will be no negotiating with this guy.  Lock him up before the stupid money comes in.

Not that $20 million is real intelligent.

Bill Belichick won his first Super Bowl since SpyGate.

And his first without Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis.

And his first without Steve Belichick.  When son wants to be just like Dad, sometimes it turns out perfect.

David Tyree.  Mario Manningham.  Now Jermaine Kearse.  Good grief.  What it is with these lucky catches?

The football Gods owed the Patriots one.

Remember him:  For a while, it was the quickest score in Super Bowl history.  Tony Franklin kicked a 36-yard field goal 1:14 into Super Bowl XX for the first score by any Patriot in Super Bowl history.  It came about thanks to an early fumble by Walter Payton.  Of course, it was the only lead of the game for the Patriots.  Franklin, a barefoot kicker from Texas A&M who could connect from beyond 60 yards now and then, kicked for four seasons with the Patriots after five seasons with Philadelphia.  He would also appear in Super Bowl XV with Philadelphia, which like Super Bowl XX was in New Orleans.

So, is this one the best?

No.  XXXVI still is.  The first one for a previously laughingstock franchise against a 17-point favorite.  Winning it the way they did.  To this day, still unbelievable.

XXXVIII was a great game and a brutal struggle with Carolina.  XXXIX featured arguably the best Patriot team ever and officially kicked off all this dynasty talk.

If you want to place XLIX in its proper perspective, let’s simply call it “richly satisfying”.  It was a great matchup, perhaps the best of all Patriot Super Bowls.  It was a seesaw battle, but so were all the previous five SBs.  It had a great finish, but so did XXXVI and XXXVIII.

Butler really sets this Super Bowl apart.  He is Da Man in New England right now.  Tom Brady gave Butler the truck he won as Super Bowl MVP.  That was a totally cool thing to do.

It’s the first title since anything –Gate broke out.  So call it “richly satisfying”.  Enjoy the parade, everyone, and dress warm.


The Fragile Difference Between Winning And Losing

Grady Little, you’re off the hook.

Actually, Little got off the hook the year after he left Pedro Martinez in too long which wound up costing the Red Sox a pennant.  The Red Sox have won three World Series since and shamed the Yankees far worse in 2004 than Little shamed the Red Sox in 2003.  But for many New Englanders, it remains one of the worst manager/coach decisions they have ever seen.

Until Sunday night’s Super Bowl.

Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is right now the biggest goat in the USA.  He might become to Seattle what Steve Bartman became to Chicago (can’t you just see Boston mayor Martin Walsh offering Bevell asylum in Boston?). There are mistakes in sports, and then there are mistakes in sports.  Bevell made one that cost his team a season, a championship, and a precious niche in the history books.

Patriot Nation, on the other hand, is giddy with joy and euphoria.  The duck boats will roll on Tuesday amidst another winter storm and freezing cold.  The Patriots further cemented their stunning NFL legacy, as men like Bob Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady could very well be on the Mount Rushmores of NFL owners, coaches and quarterbacks.

But let’s be real and honest for just a second.  Super Bowl XLIX was a game the Patriots could have, and perhaps should have, lost.  After taking a 28-24 lead with 2:02 left in the contest, Seattle needed to do about ten or so things right to win their second straight Super Bowl.  It turns out that they did nine things right, but the tenth thing they didn’t do right cost them their season and their legacy.

This is a very telling expose on winning in the NFL.  Just like the difference between the best and worst teams in the league is not that much, the difference between winning and losing is even smaller.

Here then is an abridged breakdown of the final 2:02 of Super Bowl XLIX, along with all the things that went Seattle’s way, and the one that didn’t.

First down and ten at the Seattle 20.  Russell Wilson takes the snap and fires a left sideline pass to Marshawn Lynch, the team’s battering ram running back.  With Jamie Collins in near futile pursuit, Lynch takes it to the Patriot 49.  One play, 31 yards.  Lynch was lined up in a wideout left position and put a double move on Collins, then blew past him and made the catch. Collins should never have allowed this kind of long gainer on the first play of what had to be a lockdown drive.  Two minute warning.

Three plays later. First down and ten at the New England 38.  Wilson drops back and lofts a deep right sideline pass to Jermaine Kearse. Malcolm Butler was in coverage.  The ball is deflected up in the air, Kearse falls down, pass appears incomplete.  But the ball falls right on Kearse.  Before the ball hits the ground, Kearse covers the ball and holds on to it.  It was a lucky catch by Kearse, as Butler had good coverage on him.  Patriot Nation was having David Tyree flashbacks.  Duron Harmon was nearby and didn’t quite have the presence of mind to kick the ball away from Kearse before it fell on him. NBC’s Al Michaels could have said “He did what?!” again. It was an awful déjà vu for the Patriots.

First down and goal at the New England five.  Wilson hands off to Lynch, who runs off left tackle.  He is corralled and brought down at the one.  1:06 left in the game.

Belichick elects to let the clock run, instead of taking a timeout to preserve time in case Seattle scores.  Why not call time? Would Belichick consider letting Lynch score, like in Super Bowl XLVI when the Patriots allowed Ahmad Bradshaw to score in the final minute?  The clock ticked down to 25 seconds.  This was really do or die for the Patriots.  If Seattle scores, the game is lost for the Patriots.

Second down and goal at the New England one.  Wilson, lined up in the shotgun, takes the snap and fires a quick right slant pass towards Ricardo Lockette.  Butler jumps the route and makes a bang-bang interception at the goal line.  He is stopped at the three.  A celebration penalty on the Patriots backs the ball up to the one.

The big issue here is that Bevell opted for a pass instead of a Lynch run.  Pete Carroll took the bullet for Bevell, saying that his spread offense didn’t match up with the Patriots’ goal line defense.  Of course, one should say something like “Why in the Sam Hill was your spread offense out there instead of your power package?”  One or two Lynch runs should have done the trick.

Here is what is most fascinating about the interception.  Butler said after the game that he recognized Seattle’s receivers in a stack formation, and knew that a pick play was coming.  He knew just who to cover, where to go, and made a miracle play. In reality, “miracle” was the residue of terrific coaching, and terrific understanding and reaction by a bit player who had an otherwise nondescript season.  If ever there was a masterpiece of “situational football”, you saw it right there.  Butler made perhaps the biggest play by a Patriot in the last ten years.

Patriot ball, first down and ten, ball at the Patriot one.  20 seconds left, Seattle has one timeout.  The game is still not over. Brady cannot simply drop to a knee in a victory formation.  Doing so would result in a safety, a two-point lead instead of a four-point lead, and having to punt the ball back to Seattle with a chance to win the game on a field goal.  The play was tenuous.  Brady had to keep the ball and lunge forward.

Instead, Michael Bennett committed a neutral zone infraction by jumping early and bumping Dan Connally.  This penalty put the ball at the six and took away any chance at a calamitous moment for the Patriots.  On the next snap, a fight broke out, resulting in the ejection of Bruce Irvin and putting the ball at the 21.  Brady takes a victory formation kneel, and the celebration finally begins.

Seattle being the champions they are, did what they had to do to put themselves in a position to win.  The decision to throw at the one was tragic.  But Butler made a great play to bring the Patriots home.  The decision and the interception combined provide dramatic proof of the fine line between winning and losing in the NFL.  The Patriots celebrate while the Seahawks are left with feelings of agony and negative self-examination.

The Patriots now look forward to the conclusion of DeflateGate.  But that will come later.  Right now, it’s about legacy, celebration and duck boats.  Simply stated, they won.

Super Ending To Super Bowl Makes Super Patriots

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Ten points down in the fourth quarter.  Another David Tyree play.  Second and goal at the one.  25 seconds left.  Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson in the backfield.

Pick any of these problematic situations for the Patriots, and you have a Seattle win.  They would be the ones celebrating an epic Super Bowl win, their second straight.  No team in Super Bowl history had ever squandered a ten-point lead.  And even though the Seahawks did just that, they were in prime position to snatch victory away from the Patriots.  They simply had to run Lynch from one yard out.  It was their best chance to win the game.

Instead, Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell called for a quick slant pass to Ricardo Lockette.  It was a bang-bang play, and rookie Malcolm Butler made the interception to shock the Seahawks and seal a richly satisfying Super Bowl win for the Patriots.  All sorts of history was made on Sunday night at University of Phoenix Stadium by the Patriots, but the most overwhelming and joyous fact is that the Patriots beat Seattle to win Super Bowl XLIX, 28-24.

When we say “history”, we aren’t kidding.  You can start and end with Tom Brady, but it goes way beyond that.

Brady won his third Super Bowl MVP, tying Joe Montana with the most in history.  Among the many reasons why Brady won the award over other worthy candidates are his setting records for most pass completions in a Super Bowl with 37, and his setting a record for most career Super Bowl touchdown passes with 13, breaking Montana’s record of 11.  Brady finished 37 of 50 passing for 328 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 101.1.  And his fourth Super Bowl win as starting quarterback ties Montana and Terry Bradshaw for the most ever.

The fourth Super Bowl win by the Patriots ties Green Bay and the Giants for the third most in Super Bowl history.  The Patriots at one point trailed 24-14 in the fourth quarter, making the ten-point rally the biggest fourth quarter deficit ever overcome in Super Bowl history.  Bill Belichick ties the late Steeler coach Chuck Noll for the most wins ever as head coach with four.

The Patriots and Seahawks battled all game long.  New England dominated the first half statistically, but a foolish interception by Brady at the goal line and the quick strike ability of the Seattle offense produced a 14-14 tie at the half.  Seattle won the coin toss, deferred, then pulled on the Patriots what they themselves usually do, scoring on the last drive of the first half and the first drive of the second half.  The Seahawks actually scored on three straight drives to build a 24-14 third quarter lead.  At the time, the Patriots looked tired, beaten, and out of answers as to how to deal with the now former Super Bowl champs.

Two key plays in the first half helped produce the tie game instead of a sizable Patriot lead.  On their second drive of the game, the Patriots drove 58 yards in 13 plays to the Seattle 10-yard line, chewing up 7:41 of the clock.  On third down and six, Michael Bennett induced a hurried throw by Brady into the end zone.  Jeremy (“Gronkowski isn’t that good!”) Lane picked off the pass at the goal line, but was injured on the play and had to leave the game for good.

After taking a 14-7 lead, and with 31 seconds left in the first half, Robert Turbin broke off a 19-yard run thanks to Jamie Collins being caught out of position, setting the Seahawks off on a scoring drive that took only 29 seconds of game clock and covered 80 yards in five plays.

To come back from down ten points, the Patriot defense went into lockdown mode, inducing punts on three straight drives covering only 11 plays.  Brady then caught fire, using Julian Edelman and Shane Vereen to move the ball well.  Danny Amendola caught a five-yard pass to make it 24-21 with 7:55 left.  On the next drive, Vereen and Gronkowski led the way on a 10-play, 74-yard drive.  Edelman hauled in a three-yard scoring pass with 2:02 left to give the Patriots a 28-24 lead.

Keeping in mind what happened to the Green Bay Packers two weeks ago, and given the Patriots’ history for surrendering wacky catches in clutch moments (Tyree, Mario Manningham), the wacky catch happened still again.  Wilson drove Seattle from the 20 to the Patriot 38 in a two-minute drill.  On first and ten, Wilson lofted a deep pass along the right sideline to Jermaine Kearse.  With Butler in good coverage, the ball bounced off Kearse’s fingertips and he fell to the ground.  The ball fell right on Kearse, and with the ball never touching the ground, Kearse cradled the ball at the Patriot five.

Malcolm Butler makes the game-clinching interception at the goal line to seal a 28-24 win by the Patriots over Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX.
(USA TODAY Images)

Lynch ran for four yards to the one-yard line.  The clock was running with less than 30 seconds left.  Patriot Nation was wondering if they should surrender a touchdown like in Super Bowl XLVI to Ahmad Bradshaw just to get the ball back.  Or the Patriots might want to call a timeout to save time.

Instead, perhaps the most ill-advised play call in Super Bowl history happened which will leave Bevell and Pete Carroll answering to for perhaps years to come.

The Seahawks had Lynch, nicknamed “Beast Mode”.  Wilson is the best running quarterback in the league.  But Bevell called for a pick play, wanting to hit Lockette on a quick slant from the right side.  Butler read the play perfectly and jumped the route, making the interception to seal the championship for the Patriots.  Either Lynch or Wilson could have run the ball in.  The Patriots escaped with the Super Bowl win but could have very easily lost it in much the same manner as they did their last Super Bowl loss.

The Patriots finally have their fourth Super Bowl win after a decade wait.  The duck boats will roll again after a year and a half celebrating the Red Sox and Boston Strong.  The amazing run of New England sports prosperity continues with the ninth title since Y2K.

This Super Bowl will go down as a great one, one of the best ever.  Skeptics can question the Patriots all they want about videotaping and game ball air pressure.  In the end, the Patriots rule the pro football world once again, and the beautiful veneer that envelops their franchise is looking very pretty and polished once again.

Seattle didn’t get their second in a row.  Carroll didn’t beat his old team in the big game.  The Patriots are Super Bowl champs.

Feels good.  Rest easy, New England, and get out and cheer those boats.

Patriots Finally Reach Immortal Status

After 10 years, Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots are World Champions once again. (USA TODAY Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – It won’t take you ten years to climb Mount Greylock, Mount Washington, or even Mount Everest.

Unless you’re the New England Patriots.

The Patriots have finally scaled the Mount Everest of the NFL. There is no more rarefied air in the world that at the summit of the world’s highest peak. The Patriots now stand at the top of pro football’s highest peak. Instead of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay waiting for them, men like Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll and Bill Walsh are there to shake Bill Belichick’s hand, congratulating him on his finally successful ascent.

These three gentlemen, of course, would appear in spiritual form. Belichick might be the same if he were to actually attempt to climb the real thing. Instead, we will speak metaphorically and extrapolate to the NFL this supreme and much anticipated ascension to the highest high of pro football.

The Patriots now belong there. Finally.

This was supposed to happen in 2007. But the New York Giants ruined the seemingly inevitable coronation, as well as a perfect season. This was supposed to happen again in 2011. See previous paragraph, minus the perfect season part.

The Patriots have finally won Super Bowl number four. This now pulls them even with Green Bay and the Giants for third all time. San Francisco and Dallas have five, Pittsburgh has six. Other than the Giants, all of these teams are considered to be among the finest dynasties in NFL history, or at least since the birth of the AFL in 1960. Belichick has now won four Super Bowls, pulling him even with Noll for most ever by a head coach.

When you look back on the 54-year history of the Patriots, you won’t immediately think of investigations, unscrupulous game plans and press conference arrogance. You’ll remember what the Patriots used to be perceived as, the many bad years with many bad players and mediocre coaches, and the unruly fans who used to get drunk and turn old Schaefer Stadium into Animal House.

You will instead think of the Patriots as the true gold standard. Everything they were not under Billy Sullivan, they are under Bob Kraft. Belichick will make you forget there was ever a Clive Rush. This 15-year run of excellence will be far more enduring than anything involving Monday Night Football in the 1970s, Lisa Olson or anything with the suffix –gate.

The Bruins were a fun topic earlier this decade, and their Cup win was nice. So was the Ceitlcs’ only title with Paul Pierce. Sorry, Paul and Patrice, but this is much more majestic and awe inspiring.

After a very long time where many thousands of Red Sox fans could have been born, lived and died, the Olde Towne Team has won three World Series since Y2K. What the Patriots have accomplished in the Kraft Era is far more impressive. The 2004 World Series was the biggest emotional heart tug, we all agree. Winning the whole thing at Fenway two years ago in the shadow of Boston Strong was timeless. This run by the Patriots is bigger.

All speculation and thinking to the contrary ended Sunday night. The Patriots are now, without any doubt or preponderance, one of the best teams in NFL history, if not the best.

The Lombardi Packers did win three in a row and five of seven. That was in a smaller league with no free agency and little, if any, player movement. Running the power sweep today would mean navigating your way through faster and bigger linebackers and more powerful safeties. And how would Lombardi deal with the NFL prima donna of today? Could you see what would happen if Lombardi ordered Pacman Jones to swim the Fox River as punishment?

The Steelers won four of six Super Bowls, then won two since Y2K. It’s the Noll Steelers that are the most enduring for that city, not the Roethlisberger Steelers. Yes, they were very good. For six years. Here, it’s been going on 15 years now.

The 49ers have always been Kraft’s role model. He wanted the Patriots to emulate that franchise. Their run of greatness from 1981 to 1994 is much like what the Patriots are doing now. They won five Super Bowls, four with Joe Montana, one with Steve Young, and never lost one. Otherwise, Kraft’s vision of Walsh East came true.

Dallas won three of four Super Bowls in the 1990s. They won two with Roger Staubach and three with Troy Aikman. Owner Jerry Jones fired head coach Jimmy Johnson in a fit of pique, won one more with Barry Switzer, and have won none since. Jones broke up that machine, but it was a good machine when all the parts were in place.

Now you have the Patriots. Three of four Super Bowl wins. A fourth ten years later. Many division championships and AFC Championship Games in between. They now sit at the table.

Or rather, Belichick now stands at the NFL summit with the spirits of the three aforementioned head coaching greats. The Patriots, the same franchise who were called “Patsies”, are now where they have always wanted to be. At the top. The real top.

And for those of you who remember toilets not flushing, transformers blowing out, drunk fans harassing EMTs, female sportswriters being sexually harassed, and a division rival fleecing the Patriots for two stars in return for six draft busts, the climb was worth every minute and every ounce of energy. Sometimes the greatest memories are not in the end result but in the journey. The end result is sweet, but the journey makes the end result even sweeter.

John Madden had it right at the end of Super Bowl XXI: “This is as good as it gets. There is no better feeling!” Patriot Nation would have to agree.

The Evolution Of The Patriot Brand

GLENDALE, Ariz. – So, who exactly are the New England Patriots?

Patsies.  Vagabonds.  Underachievers.  Louts.  Champions.  Cheaters.  Wow, that’s some brand.

If you are alive to have seen all 54 years of the Patriots, when they were based in Boston as well as Foxborough, which of these terms stands out the most?  You young folk will immediately say “champions” and dismiss all the others, as well as “cheaters”.  But there are still many living, breathing New Englanders who do remember all the years, and who do remember both the good and the bad.

Right around now, on Super Bowl Eve, it’s always a good time to sit down and reflect on your team.  It’s still really something for the Patriots to come this far.  It’s especially wonderful for them to have come this far for the eighth time.  Here we are, twenty-four hours from the world championship game of professional football, and the winner could be your team.

In 2004, just after completing the historic comeback against the Yankees, Red Sox owner John Henry had to catch his breath as he said “Wow!  There’s going to be a World Series at Fenway this year!”  He was more overcome with that notion than the rally from down three games to none.  You could say that the Super Bowl feels the same way, even though this is the eighth time.

Wow.  The Patriots are in the Super Bowl on Sunday.

Again, younger Patriot fans don’t pay much heed to the full impact of saying that.  All they know is the Belichick Patriots.  All they know is that Tom Brady needs to get back to winning these things instead of losing them.  All they know is that it’s about time for still another duck boat parade, it’s been a year and a half now since the last one.

Okay.  Here we go again.  Patriot Nation, this is a big deal.  Bigger than you think.  There are many of us still left who fully understand the real impact of this.  Go ahead and find anyone who saw Babe Parilli, Jim Nance, Jim Plunkett, Sam Cunningham, Mike Haynes, Russ Francis and Steve Grogan play that one day the Patriots would be tied with Dallas for the most Super Bowl appearances by any NFL team.

This writer turned one year old the day Billy Sullivan was granted a new AFL franchise.  He ran the team on a shoestring during his and his family’s ownership.  In his 28 years of owning the Patriots, they only had three seasons to really squawk about.  They won a divisional playoff game in 1963 but got blown out by San Diego in the AFL title game.  They should have won Super Bowl XI but got booted by Oakland in the Divisional Round thanks to a bad call by referee Ben Dreith.  They made it to Super Bowl XX but got blasted by the Chicago Bears.

During the Boston days, the team was marked by mediocre to good teams, a low overhead, no certain, reliable home venue, and allowing someone like Clive Rush to coach the team.  If you research the brief history of the old WFL (1974-75), their history mirrors the Boston Patriots in some ways.  The Bruins can play at Fenway Park, certainly not the Patriots.  But that’s where they spent most of their Boston existence.

Moving to Foxborough in 1971, the team cheaped out on a new stadium.  It was known mostly for toilets, power failures, traffic jams and drunken louts long before it became known for a Snow Bowl and the Tuck Rule.  The Patriots got Heisman Trophy winner Plunkett, but became a great team when they traded him to San Francisco for several draft picks.

Greatness finally came to the Patriots in 1976.  But that one year of glory, ruined by that bad call out at Oakland, begat several years of underachievement.  They won their first division title in 1978, but Chuck Fairbanks’ coaching exit strategy resulted in a home playoff loss to Houston (now Tennessee). The Patriots would spend the next seven seasons wasting some very good talent with non-playoff seasons.

Dante Scarnecchia recently retired after having coached the Patriots in all six previous Super Bowls. His long term perspective on the Patriots is perhaps better than most people.
(USA TODAY Images)

Their first Super Bowl was a nightmare.  They had the misfortune of playing perhaps the best one-season defense in NFL history.  Chicago won, 46-10, and totally overwhelmed the Patriots in doing so.  They made the playoffs the next year as division champs, but then went into a ten-year period of mostly lousy teams.

1990 was the worst season in team history.  A 1-15 record was overshadowed by the Lisa Olson scandal.  The sexual harassment of a very good reporter, who managed to resurrect her career in New York, portrayed the Patriots as bigger louts than their drunken, fight-happy fans.

Bill Parcells would come on in 1993, but his one big day in the sun was ruined by his zeal to leave the Patriots and defect to the Jets.  The Patriots lost Super Bowl XXXI to Green Bay, Parcells resigned five days later, and went to the Jets for four first round picks.  Pete Carroll would take over, preside over three lackluster seasons, then get fired in 1999.  The team that Parcells built in the 1990s underachieved much like several good teams from the 1970s and 1980s.

Belichick came in 2000 and brought three Super Bowl wins to the region.  He has been to six of them in all, won three, lost two, and we’ll see about the sixth on Sunday.  The Patriots are now thought of as dynastic.  This is 14 years now of making the playoffs almost every year, featuring nine AFC Championship Games and six Super Bowls.  The Patriots are now mentioned among the best teams in history.

But at what price?  SpyGate.  DeflateGate.  Bending rules.  The owner perceived as too close to the commissioner.  The Patriots are now as hated as the Yankees, called cheaters by everyone outside of this region.

So now, we come to Sunday and Super Bowl XLIX.  The Patriots will try and wrench the title back from the team that owns it at present, the Seattle Seahawks.  It is still another red-letter day for the franchise win or lose, but a major moment in NFL history if they win.

Still, you the Patriot fan need to remember everything about your team.  Yes, that means having to play a home game in Birmingham, Alabama.  Howard Cosell jumping ugly on your team on live national television thanks to the unruly fans.  The Ken Sims Bowl of 1981.  Irving Fryar and his wife settling an argument at knifepoint.  Zeke Mowatt’s utter disregard for female reporters.  Parcells and Curtis Martin for six of the worst draft picks in team history.

Now you can enjoy the game.  And please, if they win, celebrate, but don’t take it for granted and remember what a Super Bowl win really means to the Patriots.

Super Formula: Run The Ball, Stop The Run

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Patriots still have Tom Brady, thank goodness.

And still, if the Patriots want to win Super Bowl XLIX, it shouldn’t be because of Brady.

The Patriots will be locked in a death struggle with the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks on Sunday evening at University of Phoenix Stadium.  It is a fine accomplishment for the Patriots just being here, as it represents the eighth Super Bowl in team history, tying Dallas for the most trips to The Show by one team.

But as Drew Bledsoe said after filling in for Brady just prior to Super Bowl XXXVI, “Gotta win it!”  The Patriots have lost their last two Super Bowls after winning three in a row.  They need to win this one.  It will be easier said than done, as they face a Seattle team much better and tougher than the two Giants teams they lost to in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI.

There really is one way for the Patriots to ensure a win on Sunday night.  Old school coaches have been saying it for decades.  It is how John (thanks, Terrell Davis) Elway finally won the big one after three prior failures.

Run the ball.

Stop the run.

If both of those things happen, the Patriots most likely win their fourth Vince.

The passing game on both sides could turn out to be a push.  The Seahawks’ secondary could shut down the passing game, even Rob Gronkowski.  Brady could find himself under siege once again like he was in the two losses to the Giants.  If he has time to throw, who will be open?  Maybe if no Seattle defender thinks Sebastian Vollmer can catch a pass and they don’t pay him any attention.

On the other side, Seattle doesn’t have scary receivers.  Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse are good, but not fantastic.  Tight end Luke Willson is the same.  Some experts think Darrelle Revis may be a complete non-factor in this game.  Russell Wilson could perhaps find these guys in certain situations, especially in the fourth quarter.  But overall, they don’t strike fear in you.

The one guy the Patriots have to stop?  Marshawn Lynch.

The one guy who has to have a great game for the Patriots?  LeGarrette Blount.  Or Jonas Gray.  Or Brandon Bolden.  Or a combination of two or three of them.

Not Shane Vereen.  He is a situational pass receiving running back who is more like what Kevin Faulk and Danny Woodhead were.  The Patriots need the power running game to work, and Vereen isn’t this type of runner.

A great game on Sunday night by LeGarrette Blount is perhaps the biggest key to a Patriot victory in Super Bowl XLIX.
(USA TODAY Images)

Let’s assume, to shorten this discussion, that it’s Blount that turns out to be the guy who gets fed the most.  Since being re-acquired from Pittsburgh (if DeflateGate isn’t enough, Steeler Nation is crying tampering by the Patriots), Blount has reinvigorated the Patriot running attack, despite being picked up just after Gray’s 201-yard bonanza at Indianapolis.

If Bryan Stork can stay healthy at the center position, then he, guards Dan Connally and Ryan Wendell, and fullback James Develin have to be supreme road graders.  The two worst games of Logan Mankins’ career were his two Super Bowls.  This cannot happen here.  These four guys have to open up holes and get Blount tough yards inside.  Tackles Nate Solder and Vollmer will have to handle outside pressure on Brady.  It is said that you can run up the gut on Seattle, and Josh McDaniels has to commit to the run and work it in accordingly.

As for Lynch, at least he has familiarity with New England.  He played for three full seasons in Buffalo, then was traded during his fourth season to Seattle for two middle round draft picks.  In four games against the Patriots as a Bill, he rushed for 224 yards on 55 carries for a 4.1 yards per carry average.  All four games were Patriot wins.  Lynch was held to less than four yards per carry in three of those games.

What skews these numbers is a September 26, 2010 game at Gillette Stadium, his last against the Patriots as a Bill.  He rushed for 79 yards on 13 carries, averaging just over six yards a carry.  But Brady was terrific, hitting on 21 of 27 passing for 252 yards and three touchdowns.  And the key to the win?  BenJarvus Green-Ellis outdid Lynch with 98 yards on 16 carries and an average just higher than Lynch’s.  The Patriots won, 38-30.

Super Bowl XLIX won’t be a 38-30 game.  It could be a one-score game.  The Patriots must win the running back battle to win the game.  Lynch must be controlled.  If Jamie Collins is used as a spy for Wilson, either Patrick Chung or Devin McCourty could come up and help with run stoppage if Revis and Brandon Browner can hold their own in man coverage.  The Patriots might be able to get away with not having to use cover two.  If this be the case, it will help the Patriots greatly.

The line on this Super Bowl is still pick ‘em.  The game promises to be a great one.  The reigning champs versus the dynasty.  The current coach versus the previous coach.  The 12th man versus the Patriot Way, or what’s left of it.

But in the end, it’s really Blount versus Lynch.  If Blount wins, as Bruins radio man Dave Goucher once said, “Get the duck boats ready!”

And that’s putting it rather Blount-ly.