Tag Archives: 2017 Super Bowl

Today in Pats History: Happy Birthday Chris Long

John Morgan
March 28, 2017 at 7:00 am ET

Happy Birthday to Chris Long, who headlines March 28 in New England Patriots’ history.

 

Chris Long, 32 (3/28/1985)
Patriot DE, 2016
Uniform #95

The Longs are one of the premier NFL football families. Chris’ father Howie is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and his brother Kyle is a starting RG for the Bears. At Virginia Chris Long was a unanimous All-American and first team All-ACC. He was also the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and won the Ted Hendricks Award for the nation’s best defensive end. The St. Louis Rams selected Long with the second overall pick of the 2008 draft.

Long was a steady starter on a solid Ram defense for several years. However he missed ten games in 2014 with an ankle injury and four more in 2015 due to a knee injury. Upon his return Jeff Fisher kept William Hayes as his starter, leaving Long as a situational reserve. The Rams had previously restructured Long’s contract which created a cap number of $14 million for 2016. Not surprisingly he was cut as one of several cap saving moves.

Long visited with Dallas, Washington and Atlanta, and then signed a one-year deal for $2 million with the Patriots on March 18, 2016. Having previously cashed in with two large contracts, Long was secure with leaving some money on the table in order to play for a Superbowl contender.

After eight years of wallowing in St. Louis Ram mediocrity, Long finally not only experienced a winning season but also the playoffs and a Superbowl victory. Though it did not show up in the stat sheet Long did have key plays in the improbable comeback victory over Atlanta. On one key play his bull rush over Jake Matthews applied pressure from the right, so Matt Ryan could not turn that way. This was on Dont’a Hightower’s oft-replayed strip sack and fumble recovered by Alan Branch. That play may have been a big reason why Long was able to draw Matthews into a holding penalty on the subsequent drive. That flag resulted in a loss of ten yards and kept Atlanta out of field goal range. It was one of several plays that was the difference between a Superbowl win or loss.

Long played in every Pats game in 2016, with seven starts. However his playing time decreased as the season progressed. In the first eight games Long was in for about 70% of the defensive plays, averaging 49 snaps per game. Down the stretch that dropped to just over 50%, averaging 34 snaps in the final six games of the regular season. In the playoffs Long had 27 snaps versus Houston, 20 plays (29%) against Pittsburgh and then only 15 snaps in the Superbowl. With that in mind it is understandable that he has elected to explore other options in free agency. Long finished the season with 35 combined tackles (22 solo), four sacks, three passes defensed and one forced fumble. Despite his short time in Foxboro all of Patriot Nation is grateful for his hard work and contribution.

Off the field the Chris Long Foundation’s signature project is The Waterboys. It unites NFL players and fans to raise awareness and funds with a goal to install 32 deep borehole wells in East Africa. Each well costs $45,000 and serves up to 7,500 people.

3/28 12:05 pm update: Long has reportedly signed a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.

 

Reche Caldwell – Patriot WR, 2006

Reche Caldwell, 38 (3/28/1979)
Uniform #87

Like many pro athletes, Caldwell excelled in multiple sports as a youth. In high school he threw 77 touchdown passes and also set several school records in baseball. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1998 but opted to play football instead. Caldwell stayed in state and went to the University of Florida. There he played for Steve Spurrier at the end of the Fun-n-Gun era. On offense he played alongside future NFL players such as Rex Grossman, Jabar Gaffney and Earnest Graham.

Caldwell finished his junior year with 65 receptions for 1,059 yards and ten touchdowns. San Diego then selected him in the second round of the 2002 draft, 48th overall. He spent four years with the Chargers, never quite living up to his draft status. Over that span Caldwell had 76 catches for 950 yards and seven touchdowns.

Following the 2005 season Patriot free agent David Givens signed with Tennessee. Troy Brown would soon turn 35. Depth at the wide receiver position needed to be replenished, and the Pats signed UFA Caldwell. At the same time Deion Branch was in the last year of his rookie contract. He held out and was eventually traded after lengthy and bitter negotiations. Rookie Chad Jackson injured his hamstring in training camp. Rather than being a third or fourth option at WR, Caldwell was suddenly by default forced to be the primary receiver.

In that 2006 season Caldwell had 61 receptions (on 101 targets) for 760 yards and four touchdowns. The playoffs started well as he caught 12 of the 15 passes thrown his way over two games, for 130 yards. That included a TD against his old team in a 24-21 victory at San Diego.

2006 AFCCG at Indianapolis

Reche Caldwell Eyes

Caldwell was targeted nine times against Indy, catching just four passes. At one point Caldwell muffed a perfectly thrown pass in the corner of the end zone. Then with under ten minutes to go and the score tied, Caldwell was left uncovered on a botched Colt defensive assignment. Brady threw to Caldwell for what should have been an easy catch and an 18 yard waltz into the end zone. Caldwell became overanxious and turned too soon – even though no defender was remotely close to him – and dropped the ball. Two plays later he was unable to catch another pass and the Patriots had to settle for a field goal. The Colts came back to win the AFCCG 38-34. The NFC was weak that year; the winner of that game was the defacto Superbowl champion. It was a huge missed opportunity for the Patriots.

Bill Belichick retooled his offense the following season with the additions of Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Caldwell was cut on September 3, 2007 and spent one final NFL season with Washington. His post-NFL career did not go well.

Caldwell returned to his old Tampa neighborhood and opened up a gambling parlor. His problem was that it was successful, and he never considered that perhaps he should keep a low profile. After the inevitable arrest for bookmaking and running a gambling house, Caldwell posted bond. He kept hanging out with his old crew and saw how popular Ecstasy was at the clubs. Caldwell made the absurdly foolish decision to buy some Molly over the internet as his next business venture. That resulted in a 27-month prison sentence.

How Reche Caldwell Googled his way from the Patriots to prison | ABC News

 

Greg ‘Truck’ Moore – Patriot LB, 1987

Greg Moore, 52 (3/28/1965)
Uniform #54

The 6’1, 240 lb linebacker went to college at Tennessee-Chattanooga. He was one of the replacement players in 1987 when the NFLPA went on strike. Moore started in all three of those replacement games, with one fumble recovery.

With his brief NFL career over, Moore returned to his native Georgia. He is the owner of Elite Realty Specialists.

Greg Moore

 

Bryan Wagner – Patriot P, 1991 and 1995

Bryan Wagner, 55 (3/28/1962)
Uniform #8 and #9

Wagner was with five different teams over nine season in the NFL. With the Browns in 1997 he led the league in number of punts with 97; the following season he led the NFL with four punts blocked. He signed with the Patriots in 1991 but was released after three games. Wagner was averaging a mere 29.1 net yards on his 14 punts.

The Patriots re-signed him in 1995. He punted 37 times over eight games, with a carer-high 42.1 yards per punt. He now teaches phys ed and is a high school football coach in Ohio.

1/12/1986: Bryan Wagner Is Alive and Hopes to Be Kicking in the NFL

1/25/1995: Super Bowl XXIX : Persistence Lands Him on His Feet

5/31/2005: Ex-punter lands coaching job

 

Steve Doig – Patriot LB, 1986-87

Steve Doig, 57 (3/28/1960)
Uniform #59

Doig is a New England native. He was born in Melrose, played hockey at North Reading High School and went to the University of New Hampshire. At UNH he was the ECAC player of the year. Detroit selected Doig in the third round of the 1982 draft, 69th overall. Over three seasons with the Lions he appeared in 34 games with four starts.

The Patriots signed Doig in 1986, after he had not played at all the previous season. He played in five games for the Pats in ’86, and one more in 1987. Doig also appeared in the playoff loss to Denver following the 1986 season. The Pats waived Doig on September 8, 1987.

Doig’s biggest highlight came in the last game played at the Orange Bowl. In the ’86 season finale Doig recovered a fumbled kickoff to give the Patriots the ball at the Miami 24. On the next play Craig James fumbled the ball away, and Tony Eason injured his shoulder making the tackle. Steve Grogan replaced Eason and later threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Stanley Morgan with 44 seconds remaining. That gave the Patriots a 34-27 victory, and the AFC East title.

 

Lonnie Farmer – Patriot LB, 1964-66

Lonnie Farmer, 77 (3/28/1940)
Uniform #55

Farmer played in 31 games over three seasons for the Pats, but his carer was cut short by a knee injury. This is from the 1966 Patriots Media Guide:

This rebel belter from Lookout Mountain, Tenn., enters his third pro season with best prospects ever … lost last season with a knee injury … otherwise would have been a regular … is one of the surest, toughest tacklers on Patriots team … is one of Coach Holovak’s best on the suicide squad … was brought to Boston’s pros by fellow Chattanooga alumnus Charley Long … was Williamson All-American and AP second team All-American in ’63 … has a real taste for action … intense competitor … injury free season could give Lonnie a shot at All-Star honors.

Lonnie Farmer
Left to right: defensive tackle Jim Lee Hunt, safety Ron Hall, and linebacker Lonnie Farmer.

 

Other NFL notables born on March 28 include:
Geno Atkins (29), five-time Pro Bowl DT for Cincinnati Bengals.
NaVorro Bowman (29), four-time All Pro LB for San Francisco 49ers.
Derek Carr (26), two-time Pro Bowl QB for the Oakland  Las Vegas Raiders.
Jim Turner (76), AFL-AFC kicker for the Jets and Broncos

 

There is only one March 29 Patriot birthday, so I will insert it here.

Chris Calloway – Patriot WR, 2000

Chris Calloway, 49 (3/29/1968)
Uniform #82

Calloway is most well known for seven years with the Giants. He was their leading receiver for four straight years. Calloway had receptions in a team record 47 straight games, and at the time he ranked third in franchise history with 334 receptions. He was originally drafted by Pittsburgh in 1990, but only spent two seasons with the Steelers.

In 1999 the Giants released Calloway, attempting to get younger and also save money. Calloway signed a $4 million contract with Atlanta, which was very big money at that time. He caught only 22 passes and the Falcons let him go after one season.

During training camp in 2000 Bill Belichick axed Vincent Brisby and signed Calloway. By that time though he was 32 and his best days were behind him. Calloway appeared in seven games with two starts for New England. He had only five receptions for 95 yards while with the Patriots. The Pats cut him on October 21, 2000. Calloway finished his NFL career with 386 receptions for 5497 yards and 30 touchdowns.

11/28/2009: Former New York Giants wide receiver Chris Calloway trying to hang on

Chris Calloway

 

Other NFL notables born on March 29 include:
Earl Campbell (62), Houston Oiler Hall of Fame running back.
Ryan Kalil (32), Carolina Panther five time Pro Bowl center.
Justin Tuck (34), two time Pro Bowl defensive end.

 

New England Patriots Free Agent Profile Duron Harmon

Steve Balestrieri
February 21, 2017 at 7:34 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2017 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has the third most salary cap room in the NFL this season, they have a slew of free agents including several who are either starters or important role players.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the players that is an important role player is safety, Duron Harmon.

The Patriots’ 26-year old safety from Rutgers has been a valuable member of the secondary. Harmon is kind of a closer for the team. Time and again, he’s shown the knack for making the big interception to close out games as the Patriots third safety. He had an interception against the Houston Texans in the Divisional Round and nearly had another in the Super Bowl against Matt Ryan. It was a play he normally comes down with.

Everyone remembers his interception against Joe Flacco and the Ravens in the 2014 Divisional Round that sealed the Patriots comeback win. It is typical of the play that we’ve come to expect from Harmon in big situations.

When the team goes to their “Big Nickel” look with three safeties, Harmon comes in and plays the deep centerfield role, something he’s excelled in. He’s almost a starter, logging about 49 percent of the defensive snaps in 2016.


Duron Harmon intercepts Joe Flacco in the 2014 Divisional Round of the playoffs. (USA TODAY Images)

The Patriots drafted Harmon in the 3rd Round, 91st overall in the 2013 NFL Draft.  His role has steadily evolved since then and he’s now a trusted integral part of the defense. Harmon finished his fourth year with a second Super Bowl ring, and he’s in line to get a nice pay increase. While the Patriots would surely be willing to increase his pay, the question now becomes, will another swoop in and wow Harmon with a big money contract and a chance to be a starter?

Why Harmon Will Return: The Patriots and Bill Belichick know that you can never have enough defensive backs, especially ones with the big play ability that Harmon has. He’s proven that the big moments of games aren’t too big for him, he has a knack for always being in the right place at the right time.

He knows the system, the coaches, and his fellow players. He’s a de facto starter with Devin McCourty and Pat Chung, the three work extremely well together. He’s the insurance for McCourty in the case of injury, something the Patriots no doubt recognize.

He shouldn’t break the bank to re-sign and given a nice pay raise, he could continue in his role with the team and provide them with solid play on the back end and insurance for McCourty. There is the subject of winning also. Harmon has two Super Bowl Rings in just four years. In his other two years, the Patriots went to the conference championship game. By now, he’s met several other players who’ve come to New England after toiling for years without a sniff of the playoffs. That is a draw that can’t be discounted.

Why Harmon Won’t Return: There is a very real possibility that another team will recognize Harmon’s talents for what they are and pay him much more than the Patriots would. While the money is one thing, the opportunity to go from being a de facto starter to becoming a starter and playing in 90 percent + of the reps is another.

While he’s not a household name with casual fans around the NFL, the scouts and GMs of opposing teams know his worth. And one of them may feel he’s ready to assume the mantle of leadership that McCourty enjoys here as the centerfielder and leader of the secondary.

Money is always an issue in free agency. One of the reasons the Patriots have enjoyed such success under Bill Belichick is because they won’t fall into the trap of overpaying for players, either their own or others who have hit the market. If another team offers Harmon more than the Pats deem his value is, then he’ll be gone.

Bottom Line: The Patriots have an eclectic group of safeties. The three ostensible starters, McCourty, Chung, and Harmon all have varying skill sets that makes them click so well. McCourty is the centerfielder who can move down into the box and cover the slot receivers like a cornerback.

Chung is an in-the-box safety who is outstanding in run support and can cover in the short areas of the field. He plays the role of a linebacker in the Patriots big nickel formations.

Harmon doesn’t have the versatility of McCourty and while not a detriment in run support, that isn’t a position of strength. But he’s a fantastic deep cover safety with excellent ball skills and anticipation. The other three safeties on the roster, Nate Ebner, Brandon King and Jordan Richards are mainly special teams’ mavens.

Together the three make a fantastic trio that locks down the deep part of the field and provides good support underneath. When was the last time, you saw the safeties get burned on a deep ball?

That’s why the Patriots should make a concerted effort to retain Harmon preferably before the March 9th, 4:00 p.m. deadline when free agency begins. They probably can convince him to stay put with a nice increase in pay. An added incentive is always the chance to play deep into the playoffs every year, something that can’t be discounted.

However, the chances of that happening are going to be low. There should be a decent amount of interest for Harmon’s services once free agency begins in earnest. Therefore, the chances of his returning are only about 50-50 in a Patriots uniform in 2017.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots Free Agent Profile Malcolm Butler

Steve Balestrieri
February 15, 2017 at 8:49 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2017 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has the third most salary cap room in the NFL this season, they have a slew of free agents including several who are either starters or important role players.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the starters and in our opinion the 2nd most imperative to re-sign is cornerback Malcolm Butler.

The Patriots and Butler will forever be linked by the one play in Super Bowl XLIX where he intercepted Russell Wilson at the goal line and sealed the win for the Patriots. He was an UDFA out of West Alabama but we saw all that summer in training camp that he was a tenacious, physical defender who made plays every time he got on the field.

CB Malcolm Butler talks to the media after practice during the summer of 2016. (SBalestrieri photo)

That earned him a roster spot but the rookie corner didn’t see the field much because the Pats in 2014 had Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. But he earned the coaches’ trust and when the Super Bowl was on the line, they didn’t hesitate to put him in there, having practiced the specific play the Seahawks would run. We know the rest.

Determined not to be known as a one-play wonder, Butler became a starter in 2015 with Revis and Browner now having moved on. He became the starter at left corner and turned in a very solid 2015. This season, he was easily the Patriots best and most-trusted corner and earned Pro Bowl and 2nd Team All-Pro honors.

Frequently matched up with an opponent’s best wide receiver, Butler proved that he was no flash in the pan and has turned into an excellent cornerback. Not the biggest guy at 5’11, 190-pounds, he more than makes up for it with a physical, aggressive style where he broke up 13 passes between the regular and postseason.

He allowed fewer than 20 yards receiving in seven of the Patriots 19 games this season. Now it is no longer a question of if he’ll get paid, but how much? Butler is a restricted free agent in 2017 and is in line to get a nice payday.

Why Butler Will Return: The Patriots will most likely put a 1st round tender on Butler, being a restricted free agent. What does that mean? If a team signs Butler to an offer sheet, the Patriots would have the option of either matching the offer or receiving that team’s first round draft choice.

The first-round tender will guarantee a salary this season of about $4 million and give the Patriots the opportunity to sign the 26-year old to a long-term deal. PatsFans.com salary cap guru Miguel Benzan (@Patscap), worked out a likely scenario where the Patriots can lock up Butler for the next five years for about $52,500,000.

That would place him among the top 8-9 highest paid cornerbacks in the league. Butler has been a bargain for the Patriots thus far in his career, earning around $2 million in his first three years. His salary will double that in 2017 alone and then he’ll be ready to truly cash in 2018.

With a first-round tender, will another team sign him to an offer sheet? While conventional wisdom says no…it will bear watching. Unlike their unrestricted free agents, the Patriots have the advantage here of getting either a first round pick or being able to match any offer.

With unrestricted free agent cornerback Logan Ryan expected to draw big interest and probably signing elsewhere, it will be imperative for the Patriots to keep Butler in the fold.

Why Butler Won’t Return: Butler is a proven, battle-tested cornerback playing one of the toughest positions in a league where the passing game is the king. A two-time Super Bowl winner, he’s proven that he’s got what it takes when the game is on the line.

The Patriots tried to lock him up with an extension during the 2016 season it has been reported. But according to those same reports, he turned them down.

While unlikely, it is possible that there will be a team that wants him bad enough to sign him to an offer big enough for the Patriots to wash their hands and wish him well. We’ve seen teams do some crazy things in free agency, so this wouldn’t exactly be uncharted waters.

The caveat is that whatever team signs him would have to pony up their first-round draft pick in return.

Bottom Line: The Patriots know what they have in Butler. He’s been in their system for three years and has the coaches’ trust. While he can be beaten on occasion, he’s shown that he has a short memory and will keep that aggressive, tenacious style on every play. He never takes a play off, is very good in run support and at the age of 26 is in the prime of his NFL career. He’s been durable and hasn’t missed any practice or game time, something that is important to every team.

With the Patriots having the advantage of Butler being a restricted free agent, they have the advantage of either matching or taking a draft pick. In this case, a first round tender is what we expect the Patriots to place on him. With that in mind, the chances of Butler returning increase significantly. However, it would be in both the team’s and Butler’s best interest to work out a long-term deal sooner rather than later.

The only sticking point should be the guaranteed money. That is something that can be worked out and the above-mentioned scenario by @Patscap has the particulars down well in a deal that may work for both parties.

Butler, because he is a restricted free agent should return for at least the 2017 season. The chances of seeing him in uniform when training camp begins are better than 75 percent in our opinion.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots Free Agent Profile Dont’a Hightower

Steve Balestrieri
February 14, 2017 at 6:41 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2017 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has the third most salary cap room in the NFL this season, they have a slew of free agents including several who are either starters or important role players. We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the starters and in our opinion, the most imperative to re-sign is linebacker Dont’a Hightower.

The Patriots unquestioned best linebacker and arguably their most indispensable player on the front seven is Hightower. He makes the calls for the defense, is a Pro Bowl and 2nd team All-Pro for the first time this season and is a big, physical, down-hill style player who produces when the chips are on the line.

Flashback to Super Bowl XLIX, right after the crazy catch by Jermaine Kearse down the right sideline, giving the Seahawks the ball on the Patriots five-yard line. Hightower stops Marshawn Lynch at the one setting up Malcolm Butler’s game saving interception.

Eight days ago, in Super Bowl LI, the Patriots have kicked a field goal to cut Atlanta’s lead to 28-12 late in the fourth quarter. They need two scores and a pair of two-point conversions to tie the game. But first, they must stop the Falcons with a three and out and get the ball back. Hightower blitzes off the edge on 3rd down and a short two. Devonta Freeman misses his block and Hightower strip sacks Matt Ryan.

Hightower stuffs a goal line attempt by LeGarrette Blount in training camp. (SBalestrieri photo)

Tom Brady and the offense quickly capitalize on the great field position and the Patriots stage the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history by scoring 31 unanswered points to win in overtime. With Hightower’s strip sack, it probably doesn’t happen.

Why Hightower Will Return: Hightower is big, 6’3, 265-pounds and is versatile, something Bill Belichick loves in his players. He’s a downhill, run-stuffing sledgehammer in the running game. But he’s very effective at blitzing when his number is called and can either come off the edge or up one of the A-gaps. And for a man of his size, he’s good in coverage.

He calls the defenses and was named a team captain by his peers. His respect in the locker room is evident and he was given the all-important locker of former great Willie McGinest. That’s in the spot where he can keep an eye on things and players as they come and go during the day. That location is no small matter to the Patriots players and coaches.

The sure tackling Hightower has no peer in the Patriots linebacking corps. His size and speed are a unique part of the makeup of the team. He can cover well for a man of his size and the Patriots really have no one that could replace him on the roster. He’s the glue that holds the defense together and sets the tone for the others to follow.

Why Hightower Won’t Return: Money would be the sticking point. Reportedly the Patriots offered him in the neighborhood of $10 million during the season and he turned it down. His former teammate, Jamie Collins just signed a four-year $50-million-dollar deal with Cleveland that may be a bit rich for the Patriots to take on.

Another reason that the Patriots may balk is injuries. Because of his style of play, he’s been pretty nicked up. Hightower missed three games this season and hasn’t played a full season since the 2013 season.

He seems intent on testing the market and seeing what his worth is. He plays in both the middle but is particularly effective as the SAM.

Bottom Line: The Patriots know the value of having Hightower in the lineup. His contributions were greatly responsible for the last two Super Bowl wins. He gets the respect on the defense that players like Willie McGinest and Vince Wilfork used to get.

Something to consider, although he’s been dinged up and missed some games in the past three seasons, he’s never missed a playoff game and has been at his best when the games went into crunch time.

Another option in the Patriots favor is that, if they can’t work on a deal right away with Hightower, they can use the Franchise tag on him and keep him for at least another season. That would be costly (around $15 million), but at least they’d keep him around for the 2017 season and allow the two sides to come to a long-term deal.

For that reason, I think the chances are better than 70 percent that Hightower returns for at least next season. It would be a best-case scenario, however, to see the two sides hammer out a deal for a player that the Patriots absolutely must re-sign this spring.

Look for Hightower to be back in Foxboro when training camp hits this July.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 2-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
February 12, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 2-12, and AFC East Notes and what a week it was, for the 5th Super Bowl win was really a comeback for the ages. Tom Brady put on a show in the second half of the game and won his 4th Super Bowl MVP trophy, (more to that later). And yes, the Patriots WON the game. Many of the same people that forever try to minimize their victories have fallen all over themselves saying Atlanta lost, New England didn’t win…bull.

A lot of things had to go right for the Patriots to pull off a comeback from 25 points down to win the game. And they made the plays to generate the comeback. Look at the sack by Trey Flowers and the strip sack by Dont’a Hightower. The 4th and 3-yard pass from Brady to Amendola. The 3rd and 10 pass from the end zone under pressure to Chris Hogan from Brady was, his best throw of the game. The two-point conversions to James White and Danny Amendola.

And of course, the catch from Julian Edelman. More luck than anything there, but I don’t hear many Giants fans belittling the Velcro catch from David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII. They made the plays they needed to and held the high-scoring Atlanta offense to 21 points and only 7 in the second half.

Julio Jones had just one catch, that incredible sideline grab in the 4th quarter from the nine-minute mark of the second quarter. The Patriots defense stepped up and in a big, big way.  Did things bounce their way? Absolutely, but they made the plays they needed to and forced the issue. So ignore the noise and the revisionist history that the naysayers start with every New England Super Bowl victory and enjoy this one for a while.

Situational Football? Check: The Patriots made only 1 of 2 two-point conversions this season but nailed both in the Super Bowl. Think they were prepared for those? Yes, indeed. Former Patriots assistant to Bill Belichick, Mike Lombardi was on a podcast this week and said that they were prepared.

Lombardi was on The Ringer podcast this week and stated that Belichick put in a two-point conversion period into practices both Thursday and Friday leading up to the big game. He also expects that they’ll probably trade Jimmy Garoppolo and that Jimmy G will be a good starting NFL QB.

Must see video:
Patriots fans have been posting all kinds of Super Bowl highlight films all week. The pieces with the players wired have been gold. Perhaps the best is the one put out by NFL Films, called the Turning Point. They always do such a superior job of not only showing the key plays but giving you the up close and personal look that takes the viewer into the huddle or on the Patriots and Falcons sidelines.

Quote of the Week: after the Super Bowl, ESPN’s Mike Reiss did a video segment with many of the beat writers and television commentators talking about the player’s reactions to the Super Bowl win.

Reiss asked DE Chris Long his opinion on Tom Brady. Long’s response, “He’s the GOAT, he’s the King of the Petting Zoo.” Classic

Belichick the GM? He’s Done Just Fine Thank You:
Last week in this column we wrote that Bill Belichick had pushed all the right buttons during the season. After watching the Super Bowl, it is amazing how Belichick the GM has developed his players, especially the ones who played such a key role in the 5th Super Bowl win.

Logan Ryan was a 3rd round draft pick and came on to play some of his best football down the stretch and into the playoffs this season. He was frequently tasked with covering an opponent’s top WR with over the top safety help. He’s a free agent now and in line for a big payday.

James White who caught an NFL-record 14 passes in the SB, was a 4th round draft pick out of Wisconsin. Despite being thought of as a second fiddle to Dion Lewis in the passing game, we wrote back in midseason, that White’s talents weren’t going anywhere, that he’d remain an integral part of the offense.  White’s contributions in the big game surpassed Shane Vereen’s in SB XLIX. Vereen replaced Danny Woodhead in the passing game. And so it goes…

Trey Flowers was a 4th round draft pick last year who flashed in preseason but was limited to only a few snaps in his rookie campaign due to injuries. He caught on in the second half of the season and was the Patriots best defensive lineman down the stretch. He logged 9.5 sacks since the bye, including 2.5 in the Super Bowl.

Marcus Cannon was a steal (yes, we can now state that easily), in the 5th round of the draft due to his cancer diagnosis. In reality, he probably would’ve gone in the 2nd round but the Patriots always believed in him and he rewarded them with an outstanding season. Cannon faced the top two sack leaders in the NFL in Vic Beasley and Von Miller this year and gave up 0 sacks and 1 QB hit…combined.

Malcolm Butler was a UDFA out of West Alabama and has been making plays since his first training camp. While some were not buying into his playmaking ability, he parlayed the coaches trust into Super Bowl heroics and back-to-back outstanding seasons as the team’s top cornerback.

Belichick and the coaches showed tremendous patience and faith in these players and allowed them to work and develop themselves into important pieces of the puzzle. Perhaps we can now put to bed the adage that the GM Bill was hurting the Head Coach Bill. And BTW, that 6th round QB taken in 2000 isn’t doing too badly either.

Belichick and Brady’s Legacy, Alone at the Top:
Sunday’s dramatic win marked the 9th time that the Patriots have gone to the big game, most in the NFL. But for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, it was their seventh time in 16 seasons to reach the Super Bowl. That in itself is a ridiculous stat that shows how dominant this team has been. Reaching the Super Bowl nearly every other year?

With the win, they now stand alone at the top with 5 Super Bowl wins together surpassing Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw and Bill Walsh and Joe Montana who have four wins each. At age 39, Brady shows no sign of slowing down and the Patriots should be competitive again next year to end up right back in the Super Bowl.

Could a contemporary QB break or tie Brady’s record of five Super Bowls? The two closest QB’s are Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning with two SB wins each. Roethlisberger will be 35 in March and would have to win three in the next four years to match Brady. But his physical style has taken its toll and he’s hinted that he may retire.

Manning is 36 and would have to win the next three Super Bowls to tie Brady at the age of 39. Aaron Rodgers is just 33 years old but has just one Super Bowl win. He’d need to win four of the next six to tie. It is doubtful that any of the QBs of this era match.

Deion Sanders Calls Out Dungy and the Colts:
One of the stranger episodes in the Super Bowl aftermath took place between Deion Sanders, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Tony Dungy. Tomlinson, still bitter over the 2006 playoff game suggested the Patriots will get an asterisk over their exploits. Sanders wasn’t having any of that and lashed back, targeting the Indianapolis Colts.

“Those same critics [who say the Patriots dynasty has an asterisk], did they say anything about the wins that the Indianapolis Colts had?” Sanders said. “You want to talk about that too? Because they were getting everybody’s signals. Come on, you don’t walk up to the line and look over here and the man on the sideline giving you the defense that they’ve stolen the plays of. We all knew. L.T. knew. Everybody in the NFL knew. We just didn’t let the fans know. That was real and that was happening in Indy.”

Tony Dungy answered the charge by stating that yes, Indy stole signals, but it was ok because “everyone else did it” and that it wasn’t illegal because they didn’t tape the signals.

I think we have to go back to what is cheating,” Dungy said. “People accusing us of cheating? I don’t think that’s the case. Stealing signals? You can go back to the 1800s in baseball, you can go anywhere there were signals done, and people were looking and watching and trying to get signals. Back in the early days of football the quarterbacks called the plays and the middle linebackers called the defenses and there was no signaling. When coaches decided they wanted to call plays you had to find ways to get the information in, and there were people watching. My coach, Chuck Noll, was a messenger guard for Paul Brown in the ’50s because Paul Brown didn’t want to have to signal because people are going to watch them. So, that’s what happens and it’s been done legally for years.”

Dungy added, “That’s all part of the game, but doing it legally and illegally, that’s the difference,” Dungy said. “I hope Deion is not saying we did something illegally. Of course, we got signals when we had an opportunity to do that, and so did Deion.”

Sounds like a lot of splitting hairs… so they’re clean because they wrote down the signals and the Patriots wore the black hats because they filmed them?

Goodell Peeved At New England? What Did He Expect?
Think Deflategate is over now? Not hardly. After Roger Goodell told Patriots fans last week to basically shut up and get over it, the celebration by the Patriots and comments from Robert Kraft have seemingly touched a nerve with the suits at Park Avenue and the 31 other owners who wanted New England punished two years ago …. For basically winning too much.

CBS Sports has published a story by Jason La Canfora that states that the brass at NFL HQs, Roger Goodell, and the other owners are steaming at the Patriots again. Goodell has misplaced his anger when he reportedly was mad because he was loudly booed when handing the Lombardi Trophy to Kraft by NFL fans.

Kraft then touched a nerve when he called the latest title “the sweetest” and mentioned what the team had been thru the past two years. NFL officials are hopping mad over Matt Patricia’s decision to fly home from Houston wearing a Goodell t-shirt that depicts him as a clown. And he can’t be happy with Brady’s new commercial where he pops the 5th ring out of his pocket to the tune of “Roger that.”

But seriously, what did Goodell expect? After he took victory laps around his manufactured evidence during Super Bowl week, did he expect Kraft and the Patriots to take the high road? Follow your own advice Roger…move on.

Brady, Goodell Share Awkward Moment:
Goodell stated a week ago prior to the Super Bowl that he’d be happy to hand the trophy over to Tom Brady in the event that the Patriots won the Super Bowl. Well as fate would play out, the Patriots did win and Brady won the Super Bowl MVP trophy.

Neither one looked comfortable and each had fake smiles plastered on their faces. Goodell muttered something under his breath to Brady and each smiled briefly and then he was gone, as he zipped off the stage. Brady smiled for the cameras legitimately and thanked the crowd in attendance.

But this isn’t over…not by a long shot.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills in a Difficult Spot with Taylor and Limited Options:
The news out of Buffalo is that QB Tyrod Taylor won’t accept a restructured deal with the Bills…and why should he? If the Bills who owe him $30 million in guaranteed money if they pick up his option don’t like the deal signed just a year ago, that isn’t Taylor’s problem. Because if they decline it, Taylor will have plenty of options, the Bills won’t.

Many teams are looking for a quarterback and Taylor would quickly find a home, possibly in-state with their rivals the Jets. But there are many teams in the hunt for a QB, and the problem is, the draft isn’t stocked with NFL ready QBs.

Mitch Trubisky from UNC may be there but his throwing mechanics are suspect. They could opt for the costly decision to move up for Deshaun Watson but with many holes to fill, that may be too expensive. Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer is thought to be a 2nd round possibility but he too has holes in his game and there’s no guarantee he’ll be there.

Cardale Jones? Last year’s 4th round draft pick is a question mark as he didn’t play in 2016. Forget Jimmy Garoppolo. There is no way Bill Belichick trades him to any team in the AFC East. After that, the options are dwindled down to Mike Glennon, Colin Kaepernick, Jay Cutler, Josh McCown, or Matt McGloin. Tony Romo will want to go somewhere where he can compete for a playoff game right away. There aren’t any easy answers for the Bills.

Miami’s Schedule Is a Tough One in 2017:
One thing about making the playoffs is that while it is nice, especially if a team hasn’t been there for a while, like the Dolphins, then the reality sets in. Miami’s schedule is on par with teams that made the playoffs in 2016 and it won’t be an easy one.

The Dolphins play this year’s Super Bowl teams three times with two tilts against New England in the division and a road tilt against Atlanta. Miami’s home schedule includes the Patriots, Oakland, Tampa Bay, Denver, and Tennessee, all of whom had winning records. Another “home” game is slated for London against the Saints.

Road games include New England, Atlanta, Kansas City, Baltimore, and Carolina. If the Dolphins make it back to the postseason in 2017, they will have earned it. That schedule is not a cream puff. There will be plenty of good games to watch this season.

Jets Back to Square One at QB:
With Ryan Fitzpatrick’s deal done in NY and Geno Smith a free agent, the Jets, like Buffalo has a big, big question heading into 2017. Who is going to be the QB for Gang Green this year?

Bryce Petty was a 4th round pick a few seasons ago, and showed flashes here and there before landing on IR but is hardly a lock for the job. Christian Hackenberg was a 2nd round pick in 2016 but never took the field and has never taken an NFL snap in the regular season. Many in the Jets organization believe he’ll never be an NFL QB.

So, what’s in store for the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets Jets, this season? Either dip into free agency or go back into the draft. Ditto the comment above about Jimmy G., the chances Belichick trades him to the Jets are less than zero. If Tyrod Taylor is cut loose by Buffalo he would be an intriguing choice. Stay tuned.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots End of Season Positional Report Card

Steve Balestrieri
February 8, 2017 at 11:20 am ET

Strong finish in the playoffs Nets Super Bowl Trophy #5

The Patriots finished the 2016-17 season in style with an incredible and improbable come from behind 34-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons. The Patriots scored 31 unanswered points to bring home the Lombardi Trophy for the fifth time in the Brady- Belichick era.

Now is the time to take a look at the roster and give our end of season grades by position. In the coming days, we’ll also begin to take a look at where the roster is terms of 2017 and where the team will begin to look where they can add depth during the free agency period. The NFL Combine and the draft are right around the corner. As Bill Belichick said on Monday, they’re five weeks behind the rest of the league in terms of preparation for next season, but here’s a final look at how the 2016 team graded out.

We’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets

Quarterback: A
What more can be said about Tom Brady? After an MVP-type season where he ended up finishing 2nd behind Matt Ryan, he topped it off with the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history by throwing for 466 yards and leading the Patriots to their fifth championship under his watch.

In 15 regular season and playoff games, Brady threw for 4691 yards 35 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He averaged 379 yards per game in the playoffs and all at the age of 39. And yet still despite his fourth SB MVP trophy, the dweebs and naysayers rush to marginalize his accomplishments in a lame attempt to get spots on Boston sports radio. And they will. Signs of the times.

Tom Brady continues to defy Father Time with an outstanding season at age 39. (SBalestrieri photo)

Jimmy Garoppolo’s spot next to Brady on the duck boat in the parade may be our last look at him as a member of the Patriots. With the Patriots rumored to be looking to extend Brady for three more years, the time may be right to trade Jimmy G. while the interest for him is at its peak. If the reported interest includes a first round draft pick, there is no way that the Patriots could turn that down. In the two games, he was the starter (really a game and a half), he played very well, completing 68 percent of his throws with 4 TDs and 0 INTs.

Rookie Jacoby Brissett was forced into action when Garoppolo injured his shoulder. He played 2 full games before Brady came back from his suspension and played well considering how few snaps he got as the third QB during training camp. If indeed Jimmy G. is traded this spring, he’ll become the heir apparent to Brady and will have much more thrust on his plate. It is interesting to note that neither Brissett nor Garoppolo threw an interception this season.

Running Backs: B
LeGarrette Blount had a career-best 1161 yards and a league-leading 18 rushing touchdowns on the season. The team tried to limit his workload down the stretch but it seemed he wore down a bit by the playoffs, adding just 109 yards and a touchdown in three playoff games. He did a very good job of providing the team with a big back presence, especially early in the season when Brady was serving his suspension.

Dion Lewis missed the first half of the season, recovering from his torn ACL suffered in 2015 but was a valuable piece in both the running and passing game down the stretch and into the playoffs. It is interesting to note, that the Patriots have never lost when he’s on the field.

James White ably filled the third-down back role all season and he responded with his best year. He chipped in the running game a bit all season but his value is highest in the passing game as both a receiver and a pass blocker. He set a Super Bowl record with 14 receptions for 110 yards and three touchdowns both rushing and receiving.

James Develin really boosted the running game with his presence after missing 2015 with a broken leg. He’s a tremendous blocking fullback who can add the occasional run or catch. Being healthy for 16 games, he was a big factor in the running game being a true complimentary piece this season.

UDFA rookie D.J. Foster appeared in three games and got his feet wet. He does possess the shifty ability to make people miss.

Wide Receivers: B+
Julian Edelman had a fantastic 2016 regular season logging 98 catches for 1106 yards and three TDs. He topped that off with a terrific playoff run catching 21 passes for 342 yards (16.3 yards per catch average) and a score.

After starting slowly in training camp with a tweak of his injured foot, his status was a bit of a question mark entering the season. He not only answered the bell every week but continued to do the dirty work underneath providing Tom Brady with his most reliable receiver.

Combined regular season and playoff totals of 119 catches for 1448 yards with four TDs are up there at the elite level of wide receivers. Not bad for a guy who wouldn’t make another team’s 53-man roster, eh Keyshawn?

Chris Hogan was a steal for the Patriots during free agency. The Patriots signed the restricted free agent away from Buffalo and he immediately fit in seamlessly into the offense. Although he was moved around both inside and outside there, he was mainly an outside the numbers guy for the Pats.

His numbers were a solid 38 catches for 680 yards (17.9-yard average), with 4 TDs in the regular season. He capped that off with 17 catches for 332 yards (19.5-yard average) and 2 TDs in the postseason. With a combined regular and postseason total of 1012 yards and an 18.4-yard average, Hogan is set up for even more success in 2017.

Danny Amendola missed the final 4 regular season games but was on hand for the playoff run and as always provides tough, reliable, and sure hands when the game reaches crunch time. Although he caught no more than 4 passes in any game during the regular season, his catches always seem to be of the biggest.

When the Patriots were down in the Super Bowl, Amendola stepped up with his biggest game of the season. He had eight catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. He also added the two-point conversion that tied the game.

Malcolm Mitchell had a very solid rookie season in 2016. After shining early in training camp he injured his elbow during the preseason and missed some valuable time. After starting slowly in the regular season, he got better down the stretch and became a trusted member of the offense. He logged 26 of his 32 catches in the second half of the season. In the Super Bowl, he added six catches for 70 yards and is in the great position to make a big 2nd-year jump in production.

Michael Floyd was picked up late in the season after being released by Arizona and played sparingly down the stretch but was a healthy scratch for the final two playoff games. He’s a free agent this season and has mentioned that he’d like to come back. He has the size (6’3, 225) and speed that the Pats would love to keep on the roster but we’ll see how that plays out.

Tight Ends: B
Martellus Bennett was a great addition both on and off the field this season. Despite being banged up for most of the season, the physical and tough Bennett answered the bell every week and provided good production in the passing game and outstanding blocking in both the running game and in pass protection.

He logged 55 catches for 701 yards and 7 TDs during 2016 and added 11 more catches in the postseason, including five for 62 yards in the Super Bowl.

Rob Gronkowski played in eight games but really was himself for less than four. His season was one of injuries piled on top of one another. The Patriots most prolific receiver, he was missed down the stretch and into the playoffs. However, his absence forced them to find other ways to win, and they did. In limited action in 2016, Gronk caught 25 passes for 540 yards (21.6 average) and three TDs.

Matt Lengel was plucked off the Cincinnati practice squad and played sparingly.

Offensive Line: B+
The Patriots offensive line welcomed back Dante Scarnecchia this season and what a difference it made. Of course, the health of the unit and getting Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon all season on the edge was huge.

Cannon was easily the biggest and best surprise of the season. No one expected him to perform anywhere near what he did this season. Solder, back from a torn biceps in 2015 was very solid at left tackle. The interior of the line with C David Andrews, and guards Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney was solid.

Having the unit together all season cut down on the number of sacks allowed and the running game was much more effective. Thuney needs to get a bit stronger and I expect with the offseason strength and conditioning program he will do just that.

Next up is the Defense:

Defensive Line: B
The Patriots defensive line was a position of strength in 2016. Alan Branch and Malcolm Brown were fantastic in run support all season. They provided the consistent solid front that stopped opponents at the point of attack and frequently penetrated which greatly aided in bringing the Patriots to the #3 rush defense in the NFL. Vincent Valentine was their relief and played well if sparingly in his rookie season.

Trey Flowers has become an impact player both on the edge and as an interior pass rusher in 2016. He was arguably the best Patriots defensive lineman down the stretch and into the playoffs. Lost in the shuffle of the SB comeback was his 2.5 sacks, which greatly increased the Pats chances of winning.

Trey Flowers was outstanding in the second half of the season and into the playoffs for the Pats defense. (SBalestrieri photo)

Chris Long did the little things all season long and was a great veteran presence along the defensive line. He did a little bit of everything and frequently dropped into the passing lanes which greatly helped the defense.

Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich didn’t execute up to what we projected for them in the preseason. Sheard was the Pats best pass rusher in 2015. But he found himself a healthy scratch at times this season. He had his moments and had a sneaky good performance in the Super Bowl that went under the radar. Ninkovich bounced between the edge and linebacker this season and never quite got untracked after missing the first four games.

Linebackers: B-
Dont’a Hightower was the glue that held the unit together and was outstanding in both run support and as a blitzer when tasked to get after the QB. For a man of his size, he moves extremely well. His strip sack of Matt Ryan in the Super Bowl was the turning point.  His play led to the team trading Jamie Collins to Cleveland. He’s going to get paid.

Elandon Roberts is an undersized if very physical down-hill style player that is at his best in run support. He proved to be a liability in coverage and that will be something the rookie will have to work on this off-season.

Kyle Van Noy was a nice pickup from the Lions and he did a little bit of everything at linebacker. He played the run fairly well and was generally good in coverage. He also provided some nice blitzes off the edge on passing downs.

Shea McClellin was signed from the Bears and the Patriots used him much like Van Noy and he provided good run support, some coverage and was occasionally effective coming on blitzes.

Barkevious Mingo, much to people’s surprise, played very little defense in 2016, contributing mainly on Special Teams. The uber-athletic freak has the speed to rush off the edge, something they may opt to use more of in the future.

Secondary: B+
The Patriots secondary had a pretty, solid season in 2016. Despite being looked upon as a weak spot, they are better than what they’ve been given credit for.

Malcolm Butler played solid all season long. He is the guy that should prove to be a mainstay at the left cornerback position for the conceivable future. He was usually matched up with the opponent’s best receiver. He’s a free agent and will get paid.

Logan Ryan had a strong second half of the season, where he just got better and better. Ryan was particularly strong in the postseason and he too is a free agent. The Patriots should try to re-sign him if the price is right.

Eric Rowe was picked up from Philadelphia and played well for most of 2016. The third corner in the Pats rotation, he’s also the biggest CB on the roster. Justin Coleman, Cyrus Jones, and Jonathan Jones didn’t see the field much on defense this season and are, right now strictly depth players.

Devin McCourty had another outstanding season at safety for the Patriots. He’s the QB for the secondary and provides excellent deep help as the centerfielder in the secondary.

Pat Chung was solid once again for NE as the in-the-box safety who plays close to the line of scrimmage. Chung was very good in run support and his work against the tight ends and backs on the short routes was solid.

Duron Harmon is the third safety in the rotation when they go to their big nickel alignment. He excels in the role and has a great nose for the football. Jordan Richards is strictly depth and Nate Ebner and Brandon King are ST mavens.

Next up are the Special Teams and Coaches

Special Teams: B-
Stephen Gostkowski had a season that for him was well off from what we’ve come to expect after a decade of near perfection. He missed three extra points in the regular season and then missed two more in the playoffs. His miss in the Super Bowl nearly cost the team as dearly as 2015. But unlike the 2015 AFC Championship Game, the Patriots made the two-point conversion that sent the game into overtime.

His 84 percent on FGs was down slightly as well. But his short, mortar-style kickoffs were extremely effective this season, especially so in the Super Bowl, where the Patriots pinned Atlanta back time and again.

Ryan Allen had his best season in 2016 punting for the Pats. The 4th year pro was outstanding at pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line and had a career-best net punting average of 41.4 yards per punt.

Cyrus Jones was supposed to elevate the Patriots return game this season. The rookie from Alabama had 4 return TDs in his last season with the Crimson Tide and is electric with the ball in his hands. Instead, much of his season was a nightmare. His issues at holding onto the ball began back in minicamp and went right thru the regular season. He fumbled five times on the season.

Edelman and Amendola were forced back into returning punts and kicks because of this and that wasn’t in the cards when the team selected Jones. Dion Lewis was electric on kickoffs with a TD and a fumble in the playoffs. The return game was a disappointment in 2016 and needs an upgrade.

Coaches: A
Bill Belichick did another masterful performance leading the team to a 14-2 record, the best in the NFL and followed that up with three excellent game plans for the playoffs which resulted in the Patriots securing their fifth Super Bowl win in their seventh game with Belichick as the head coach.

This was despite not having Brady for the first four game of the season due to his suspension and being forced to use three QBs. The Patriots went 3-1 to start the season without Brady and never looked back.

And once again, as it happens every season, Belichick was snubbed as the NFL Coach of the Year. It is amazing that this has become the yearly rewarding of the coach du jour when Belichick is clearly far ahead of his peers. Far…far ahead. (Semi-Star Wars ref.)

Josh McDaniels had an outstanding season as the Patriots offensive coordinator. He was the coach most affected by Brady’s early absence but he was able to play to his player’s strengths, going to a power running attack early in the season with LeGarrette Blount and seamlessly transitioned over from Garoppolo to Brissett to Brady without missing a beat.

He utilized his personnel to the best of their abilities and was consistently keeping the opponents off-balance and in a reactive mode, rather than allowing them to dictate the pace and the tempo of games. In the postseason, the Patriots averaged 33.3 points per game and 451 yards of offense per game.

Matt Patricia and his defense struggled early in the season, something that was unexpected when the season began. The defense with the additions early in the season was thought to be a Top 10 unit, but they struggled.

Patricia tinkered with the personnel groupings, finally finding a unit that played well not only individually but collectively. He had them playing excellent team defense and the team fundamentally was extremely sound. The Patriots defense was one of the best tackling units in the league and ended up as the #1 scoring defense in the NFL.

Despite what many pundits will say about the defense, the one thing they did all season was adjusting very effectively during the game. It was evident in the Super Bowl, where the defense stiffened in the second half and overall held the high-scoring Atlanta offense to 21 points. Patricia gets high marks as the defense performed greater than the sum of their parts.

Special Team’s coach Joe Judge had an up and down year. There were some struggles especially with ball security in the return game, and with the kicking game but his coverage units were very solid all season long. The Patriots have a number of standout players on the STs that totally buy into his approach including Matthew Slater, Mingo, Geneo Grissom, Ebner, and King.

Overall Judge gets solid marks for the season, despite the struggles at times. Expect the team to look to increase their level of play next season.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

 

Patriots’ Defense Made Adjustments, Got the Stops When It Mattered

Steve Balestrieri
February 7, 2017 at 9:01 am ET

“They Haven’t played anybody…”

Well, now they have.

The Patriots defense, perhaps the most-maligned #1 scoring defense in NFL history, had its issues in the first half but did what they accomplished so often in 2016. Between Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick, they made their adjustments, played good overall team defense and smart situational football and made the plays at crunch time to allow the offense to make their comeback. The result was the Patriots are gearing up for their Super Bowl parade on Tuesday morning.

Since the halfway point of the season, this is a unit that kept getting better, despite the usual suspects who looked to denigrate everything the team accomplished and marginalize every victory. While the list of opposing QBs was hardly a “Murderer’s Row”, the team focused on getting things right and playing better, regardless of who was lined up opposite of them. And they did.

Allowing the fewest points in the NFL isn’t a fluke after a 16-game schedule, regardless of what some would have you believe. Was the defense, the best in the NFL? No, and no one is making that argument. But they were better than what some would have you believe and no longer can it be said, “they haven’t faced a top QB.”

Points Not Yards are Bottom-line: One can argue all day long about yards allowed, the Patriots will never lead the league in that category. Because their defensive philosophy is such that they’ll allow the short plays underneath because they won’t allow opponents to get the big chunk plays down the field. And they did that in the playoffs again.

In three playoff games, the Patriots defense allowed a total of 54 points. With 16 against the Texans and then just 17 against the Steelers’ offense and 21 against the #1 offense in the league against Atlanta. That’s allowing just 18 points per game.  And the final two games were against some high-powered offenses with Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan.

In the second half of their three postseason games, the defense allowed just 18 points with seven of them coming on a garbage time touchdown by the Steelers. The Falcons scored just seven points in the second half and most importantly none in the fourth quarter.

First Half in Houston was hardly super, but their finish was: Atlanta’s first play from scrimmage was a huge 37-yard run by Devonta Freeman. The play was perfectly executed by the Falcons with outstanding blocking from the offensive line and especially Julio Jones that sprung Freeman on his jaunt to get Atlanta out of a deep hole.

Freeman and Tevin Coleman were very effective in the first half, rushing for 86 yards, which is just 2.6 yards less than the Patriots were allowing for an entire game. But after halftime, it was a different story. Atlanta rushed for just 18 yards after the break.

Freeman ended up with 75 yards rushing on 11 carries which comes out to a stellar 6.8-yards per rush. But after that big run (which coincidentally netted zero points), he carried 10 times for 38 yards. Atlanta had scored on their opening possession for the previous nine games prior to the Super Bowl. That streak ended on Sunday.

So, while Kyle Shanahan is under fire for not running the ball more, especially in the fourth quarter (see Victory-Marginalization Pt1), there was a reason why he didn’t. And a lot of that had to do with the Patriots defense.

In the passing game, Freeman and Coleman combined for just three catches. While two of them were big plays, a 39-yarder to Freeman where he broke a few ankles making people miss and the TD to Coleman where it was another perfectly executed play where Ninkovich was caught up in the wash inside. They weren’t the consistent targets in the passing game that we envisioned Atlanta planning on prior to the game.

Ryan’s Performance Was Outstanding: Falcon’s QB Matt Ryan was the NFL’s MVP this year and his performance on Sunday night showed why that was so deserved. He completed 17-23 for 284 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

But a second look at some of his big throws, especially to Julio Jones shows that the Patriots couldn’t have defended many of those any better. Several of the throws were of the very low-percentage variety that Ryan just threw dimes on. And the plays by Jones on a few of those were just ridiculous.

Rather than find fault with the defense, those were some plays where one must tip their hat to the opposition.

Third Down Defense Outstanding: A key area that the Patriots like to stress with the defense under Belichick is getting off the field on third down. Atlanta only converted 1 of 8 third-down opportunities. They got a second one on a close call on Malcolm Butler who was flagged for pass interference.

But in the second half, the Falcons offense was 0-5 on third down. And that wasn’t against Brock Osweiler and the Texans. Atlanta was the #1 scoring offense in the NFL this season and Ryan was the MVP. Without a solid defensive effort in the 2nd half, there was no comeback in the cards.

“Where are the PlayMakers?” Right Here: Another knock that we constantly hear about the Patriots defense is the lack of playmakers. In reality, it is more about the lack of name recognition than actual playmakers.

When they needed big plays the defense got them. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower who is indispensable to the Pats defense came up with a huge strip sack on Ryan which flipped the game’s momentum to the Patriots.

Facing a 3rd and 1, Ryan and the Falcons were going for the homerun ball, Hightower blitzed off the edge and blew past a very half-hearted block attempt of Freeman and blasted Ryan just as he was about to release the ball. The Patriots took over at the Atlanta 25-yard line and soon scored to make it 28-20 and the Pats were right back in the game. Pay the man.

Trey Flowers continued his outstanding second half of the season with a super performance in the Super Bowl. Flowers led the team with 2.5 sacks of Matt Ryan as they piled up five sacks in just 23 pass attempts by the Falcons’ QB.

None were bigger than his fourth-quarter sack of Ryan which helped push Atlanta out of field goal range. Facing a 2nd and 11 at the Patriots 23, Flowers sacked Ryan for a loss of 12 yards back to the 35-yard line. The next play was a holding penalty on Atlanta that pushed the ball back to the 45-yard line.

There his third down pass was incomplete forcing a punt rather than a field goal attempt and Brady drove the ball 91 yards in 2:33 for his own “John Candy” moment to tie up the Super Bowl.

The Patriots defense held Atlanta’s high scoring offense to just 21 total points with seven in the second half with none in the fourth quarter. They held them to 1-8 on third downs including 0-5 in the second half. I think Ryan and the Falcons’ offense qualify as “having faced somebody.”  It was a tough game but they passed their test.

Now let’s go to a Super Bowl parade…

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Brady Wills Patriots to Incredible Comeback Super Bowl Win

Steve Balestrieri
February 6, 2017 at 1:26 am ET

 Some quick observations on the Patriots thrilling come-from-behind Super Bowl win.

Sorry World, we all know you are sick of seeing the Patriots win but you’ve got to put up with another Super Bowl win. And this one was one for the ages.

After being down 21-0 and 28-3, Tom Brady led an epic comeback to push the Patriots to an overtime win over the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in what had to be one of the best Super Bowls in the 51-year history of the game. James White ran the ball in from the 2-yard line with just over 11 minutes left in OT, his third TD of the game to finish the most improbable of comebacks.

The Patriots seemed dead in the water late in the third quarter, the Falcons had everything going their way, the high-flying offense was clicking and their young, fast and athletic defense was all over the field and doing a tremendous job of disrupting the timing of the NE-wide receivers. Tom Brady was being hit, more and more often as the Patriots had to abandon the running game.

Brady Incredible 4th Qtr/OT: But Tom Brady has the heart of a lion and he never quit, never got frustrated and kept grinding. His fourth quarter was one for the ages. The drive to send the game to extra time was a Brady classic, a 91-yard drive in 10 plays in 2:33 followed by a two-point conversion, a pass from Brady to Danny Amendola to tie things up.

The Patriots won the toss in OT and promptly drove down the field 75 yards in 8 plays where White sent New England home with its fifth Lombardi Trophy.

Brady finished 43-62 for an NFL record 466 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT. After his fourth-quarter heroics in the Super Bowl two years ago against Seattle, I thought his place in NFL history was cemented. But this one was even bigger, this was a comeback for all time greatness and even his harshest critics will be left scrambling for answers now. He stands alone with 5 SB wins, 4 SB MVPs and IS the greatest QB of all time.

With the game seemingly lost, Brady rallied the team and caught fire. He finished 26-33 for 283 yards as the Patriots scored on their last five possessions in regulation and overtime combined.

Matt Ryan continued the trend of the regular season MVP losing the Super Bowl despite playing very well. Ryan finished 17 of 23 for 284 yards and two touchdowns. But the Falcons only scored seven points in the second half, something that will haunt Ryan over the summer.

James White had a phenomenal game and caught an NFL record 14 passes for 110 yards and a score. He added six carries for 29 yards and two more scores.

Uncharacteristic Mistakes Hurt Early: The Patriots were victimized by a LeGarrette Blount fumble, something he rarely does and a terrible decision by Brady where he was picked off for his first pick-six in his playoff career.

Blount hadn’t fumbled since Week 2 but great credit has to go to Deion Jones the Falcons linebacker who stripped the ball.  The Falcons quickly turned that turnover into seven points.

Brady made a poor decision under pressure and attempted to go to Danny Amendola while Julian Edelman was wide open across the middle. The ball was expertly picked off by Robert Alford who returned it 81 yards for a touchdown that made the score 21-0.

Run Defense Settled Down After Being Gashed Early: On the Falcons first run of the night, Devonta Freeman burst 37 yards for a tremendous run to get them out of a deep hole in their own zone. But after that, he carried 10 more times for 38 yards. He finished with an impressive 5.8-yard average but after that big first carry, the defensive line did a better job of buckling down.

Tevin Coleman had seven rushes for 29 yards. But the two backs only caught 3 passes out of the backfield, although one from Freeman went for 39 yards.

The Patriots defense wasn’t great… but they regrouped and made some really big stops in the second half, allowing Brady and the offense the time they needed to engineer the comeback. Atlanta was just 1-8 on third down.

When the team really needed a turnover, Dont’a Hightower delivered, a strip sack of Ryan that set-up Brady in the offense in great field position to score in the fourth quarter. When the smoke clears, the defense allowed Ryan and the high-flying Atlanta offense only 21 points.

So, the Patriots broke the NFL record for the largest deficit ever, no one had ever come back from a deficit larger than 10 points and the 25-point differential was easily the biggest ever in Super Bowl history. Brady set a plethora of individual records but the bottom line is, this was a fantastic team win. Bill Belichick as always, deflected all of the praise to his assistant coaches and the players but this one is a feather in his cap.

Cue up the Duck Boats Boston, the Champs are coming home! And they now have a ring for the thumb.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 2-5, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
February 5, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 2-5. No AFC East Notes for this week as we’re on to the Super Bowl. We’ll have them back next week.

Well, the Super Bowl is finally here and the Patriots and Falcons square off later today for the right to lift the Lombardi Trophy as Champions of SB LI.

This is a good time to look back at the journey that the 2016 season truly was. It began in the spring workouts of the OTAs and minicamp and continued right thru the preseason and into the regular season and the playoffs.

It seems like ages ago when we made the trek down to Gillette for the first real look at the team during the minicamp workouts. From our first looks at free agent signing Chris Hogan and Martellus Bennett, then the scramble for a second look at photos because Tom Brady wasn’t wearing an NFL sticker on his helmet…. Yes, we’ve come that far.

Tom Brady raised a stir in mini-camp and training camp for not having an NFL sticker on his helmet. (SBalestrieri photo)

Ty Law Comes up Short in NFL HOF Vote:
Former Patriot great CB Ty Law won’t be getting fitted for his gold jacket just yet. Although we here feel that Law is more than qualified, he came up short in his bid for the NFL Hall of Fame released on Saturday night.

He wasn’t alone, along with Law, Terrell Owens, John Lynch, and Brian Dawkins all failed to generate enough votes for induction in 2017. Hopefully, Law will get the votes and have someone like Ron Borges advocate for him in 2018.

Belichick Again Pushed the Right Buttons:
Every season, as soon as a big move is made, writers and fans can’t wait to jump all over the “GM Bill is hurting the Coach Bill” in regards to Bill Belichick. By now, you’d think that Belichick would gain a little bit of leeway in these matters but you’d be mistaken.

At the first sign of letting players go, the lines begin at the Tobin Bridge as “this is the year they fall” begins in earnest. The Patriots traded Chandler Jones to the Cardinals and later released former top draft pick, Dominique Easley. The defense was going to fail, “where’s the pass rush coming from”… you remember?

Conventional thinking was, Jones was all that was needed to push a Cardinals team over the top in the NFC. Belichick was roasted for this one. But although Jonathan Cooper was released and benefitted nothing in return there, the draft pick turned into two and the Patriots got both Joe Thuney and Malcolm Mitchell in the draft. And the money they saved on the salary cap allowed them to sign Chris Long in free agency.

Next Bill traded LB Jamie Collins to the NFL equivalent of Siberia in the Cleveland Browns in an attempt to shake up the defense. This WAS surely the death knell for the defense in 2016, right? Wrong. The team turned it around and finished as the #1 defense in terms of points allowed in the NFL. Still, the naysayers had to find a dark cloud in there and feel compelled to point out the slate of opposing QBs wasn’t a Murderer’s Row. Even after holding the Steelers offense to essentially nine points in the conference championship game.

Bringing in Hogan and Bennett were tremendous acquisitions for the team. Each has fit seamlessly into the offense and have been great additions to the team. Bill brought back Dante Scarnecchia this season, and that is arguably the best move of all. He brought around Marcus Cannon when no one and I mean no one thought that would be possible. You remember?

The under-the-radar depth moves of bringing in Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy and Eric Rowe were all positive moves. While none of them are world-beaters in themselves, they each have provided good production and have fulfilled a role on the defense.

How fortunate the fan base has been the past 17 years with Belichick at the helm. As a youngster growing up and watching the nomad Pats play in Fenway, BC, Harvard and the old stadium in Foxboro, I used to wonder what it was like to watch the home team go to the playoffs.

Now we’ve come to expect a dozen victories and a deep playoff run as a normal occurrence in these parts. But 7 Super Bowl appearances with Brady and Belichick at the helm for the past 16 seasons is a ridiculous amount of success.

It has been an amazing run and it isn’t over yet… until the draft and the invariable big move(s) comes along…right?

Patriots Going “Over the Wall” to Mexico:
Well to no one’s surprise, the rumor that the Patriots would be playing a game in Mexico City has been confirmed. The league announced that the Pats would be playing the Raiders there in 2017 with Oakland being the ‘home’ team.

Both teams have a large contingent of fans south of the border as the NFL is immensely popular there. The stadium is in a very nice area of Mexico City and anyone who would be making the trip would enjoy it tremendously.

Having lived and worked there in the past, I can tell you first hand that football is huge there and watched first-hand the Super Bowl between the Saints and the Colts. The Patriots Mexico Fan Club should be there in force.

Pats WRs Get the Rodney Dangerfield Treatment from Keyshawn:
The rest of the country is sick of the Patriots winning and want to see them lose. That fact is undeniable and once it comes to the forefront, it gives birth to the stories that invariably follow that the players aren’t really as good as many believe.

This week, former WR Keyshawn Johnson took a shot at the Patriots wide receivers. Not only is Johnson not a fan of their talent, but went so far as to say that if they didn’t play for New England many wouldn’t be in the NFL.

“When you see guys that fail and play for other teams at the receiver position, they can go to New England and excel and everybody goes, “Oh my God, Oh my God, these receivers are top of the game.’ Well, they couldn’t excel with other teams because of the system,” Johnson said. “If they were on other teams right now, they probably wouldn’t be on the 53-man roster.”

Raise your hand if you’ve seen this before, maybe not so bold, but this isn’t new. Julian Edelman had fun with it however, with a wink and grin he said a few times “WHO?” before adding this gem to Mike Giardi of CSNNE.

“I’m not worried about what people are saying, I’m worried about what people are doing,” Edelman said. “Week in and week out, we ignore the noise and just try to hunker down on preparation and on going out and trying to play our best games on Sundays.”

Goodell Responds But Doesn’t Answer Every Question During SB Presser:
With the slickness of a Washington politician, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell held his Super Bowl State of the League press conference and it was noteworthy for what wasn’t said rather than what was.

Goodell responded to every question but in a classic case of deflection, he answered next to nothing. Surprising? No, but in some cases, it was almost hilarious in the ridiculousness that transpired.

One thing is clear, he’s sick of answering questions about Deflategate and told fans of NE basically to shut up and move on. Roger the dodger then said his relationship with the Patriots wasn’t awkward and if invited he’d definitely come back to Foxboro. Really? The Commissioner of the NFL needs an invite?  With a Patriots win tonight, Goodell will most certainly be invited to Foxboro for the season opener. Unless a supermarket giveaway in Peoria or a business meeting in Liechtenstein requires his immediate attention.

But the best of his deflections was on the subject of one website that was denied Super Bowl credentials. Asked by a reporter why Barstool Sports was denied credentialing and in effect didn’t that hit home the thought of the NFL as the “No Fun League”, Goodell jumped at the chance to run in another direction.

Barstool, in a total self-promotional move, staged a sit-in at NFL HQs and was forcibly removed from there. Goodell claimed to have never heard of them and then went on and on about the celebrations that initially marked the “No Fun League” as if that was the burning question… slick move, but we’re not buying that one.

His Fan Forum question and answer session were a carefully selected farce by the league with softball questions fed to him in a manner that would make North Korea proud.

So how was your week?

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.