Teams continue to give the New England Patriots quality players at discount prices.
It’s been a few hours since we witnessed Super Bowl 51, and it’s still hard to digest. Prior to last night, no team in Super Bowl history had overcome a deficit of more than 10 points to win, but someone forgot to mention that to the New England Patriots.
The Patriots took the field at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texans led by a head coach in Bill Belichick and a quarterback in Tom Brady who combined to win four Super Bowl Titles together as they faced the upstart Atlanta Falcons who were looking for the franchise’s first title.
The Patriots were able to move the football in the first half, but they couldn’t get to the end zone as the Falcons defense forced two turnovers which led to 14 points. Defensively the Patriots didn’t have an answer for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan who appeared well on his way to winning the Super Bowl MVP after being named as the MVP of the National Football League on Saturday night. The Patriots defense also did not have answer for Falcons running back Devonta Freeman and wide receiver Julio Jones whose play making ability was on display for the world to see.
Late in the second quarter, Brady was intercepted by Falcons cornerback Robert Alford who returned it 82 yards for the touchdown to give Atlanta a 21-0 lead. Alford would take his time getting to the end zone as he was “hot dogging” it for the final 20 yards as he like most people though that the game was over.
Patriots kicker Stephen Gostowski would connect on a 41-yard field goal just before the first half ended to get New England on the scoreboard. But even with the longer halftime at the Super Bowl, it appeared that the Patriots weren’t going to be able to make enough adjustments in order to combat the speed of the Falcons.
Midway through the third quarter Ryan connected with running back Tevin Coleman on an eight-yard touchdown pass to give the Falcons the 28-3 lead. And at this point the Super Bowl all but appeared to be over as you began to wonder how a team that was led by Belichick with Brady at quarterback could be dominated in the fashion that they were.
Brady would finally get it going late in the third quarter when he led the Patriots on their first touchdown drive of the game as he found running back James White on a five-yard touchdown pass. But when Gostowski missed the ensuing extra point, it appeared to be another sign from the football gods that it wasn’t going to be in the cards to Patriots to claim the Vince Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl Champions for a fifth time.
The Patriots defense would stiffen as their offense would continue to chip away. And with just under 10 minutes left in the game, Gostowski connected on his second field goal of the game to cut the Patriots deficit to 16 as the score was now 28-12. However the Patriots would still need to score two touchdowns, along with getting a pair of two-point conversions, while also needing to stop the Falcons explosive offense. All of these aspects seemed a bit unlikely for New England which led Falcons owner Arthur Blank to make the trek from his luxury box at NRG Stadium to the field in order to be with his team as it only seemed to be a matter of time before his team would be crowned as champions.
But with just under 9 minutes left in the game, Patriots linebacker Donta Hightower sacked Ryan and forced a fumble that was recovered by defensive tackle Alan Branch which gave New England life. All of a sudden Brady was locked in and he was no longer missing wide open receivers. Brady’s passes were crisp and on target as the Patriots offensive line was able sure up their blocking, while his receivers were doing everything necessary in order for New England to succeed. And with just under six minutes left in the game, Brady connected with wide receiver Danny Amendola on a five-yard touchdown pass, while White scored on the two-point conversion to cut the Patriots deficit to 28-20.
However the Patriots defense would have to step up once more. The Falcons would begin to drive the football as they went back to the combo of Freeman and Jones as they moved the football to the Patriots 22-yard line. And at this point a field goal would have more than likely iced the game for Atlanta. But the Falcons drive would stall when Ryan was sacked by Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers, and a holding call was assessed on offensive tackle Jake Mattews. Now instead of the Falcons making plans to celebrate their first Super Bowl Championship, the butterflies began to rumble in their stomachs as they had to punt the football back to Brady.
Brady had 91 yards to go with under four minutes left in the game in order to lead New England on a game-tying drive, and if he did it, his legacy as the greatest quarterback ever would be cemented. Brady would continue to be locked in against the Falcons defense which at this point was running on fumes. And when wide receiver Julian Edelman made a spectacular catch on a pass that was initially deflected, you knew that the momentum had completely shifted to the Patriots. Brady would lead the Patriots down the field with precision and with 85 seconds remaining, White would score on a one-yard run to make it 28-26. However with New England needing to score another two-point conversion, the odds were in favor of the Falcons defense. But Brady would spread his receivers out in the formation which paved the way for him to find Amendola on a screen pass which knotted the score at 28.
Ryan and the Falcons would get one more chance in order to attempt a game-winning drive. But at this point Mr. Momentum was wearing a white jersey as Blank had a front row seat to watch his team completely come apart at the seams.
Thus we would be treated to the first overtime game in Super Bowl history, and when the Patriots won the coin toss, they and the Falcons alike knew that the game was over.
Like a surgeon, Brady would continue to slice up the Falcons defense as he drove the Patriots down the field. And when a pass interference was called on Falcons outside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell for his coverage of Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett which put the football at the Atlanta two-yard line, the final nail was being hammered in their coffin.
Two plays later White would score the game-winning touchdown, and even a booth review could not save the Falcons as they were ready to go into the history books as the team that blew a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl.
For three quarters Falcons head coach Dan Quinn had done everything right as he appeared to be the man who was putting an end to the Patriots dynasty while turning Belichick into a mere mortal in the process. But by the fourth quarter Quinn’s defense had run out of gas. For the game the Patriots offense ran 93 plays compared to just 46 for Atlanta as New England possessed the football for more than 40 minutes. And as the Falcons defense was all over Brady for the first three quarters like ugly on an ape, he was made of teflon in the fourth quarter and overtime.
The Falcons will head into the off-season in a fashion that will be extremely tough. Getting over this Super Bowl loss will be more excruciating than their 34-19 loss to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 33, or their 28-24 loss at home to the San Francisco 49ers in the 2012 NFC Championship Game as this game was all but over. This will not only sit with the Falcons for the next seven months, but for the rest of their lives as this will indeed be difficult to rebound from. Ryan spent this entire National Football League season washing away the ills of his reputation of being unable to win the big game, but now he’ll be remembered as the quarterback that was unable to hold a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl. Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is set to become the new head coach of the 49ers, and he was looked at as one of the up and coming bright minds on offense in the NFL. However Shanahan will now have to answer questions as to why Jones only had 4 receptions in the Super Bowl, along the fact that he stopped going to Freeman.
The Falcons had a front row seat to see why many people regard Belichick as the best head coach in National Football League history with Brady being the best signal caller to have ever done it as Atlanta’s attempts to stop them were the equivalent of bailing out water on the Titanic once it struck the iceberg.
Even when things were extremely bleak for the Pats, the mood never changed on their sidelines as they simply continued to do everything possible in order to win. And as the Patriots pass rush could not get to Ryan in the first half, they all of a sudden got into a rhythm which led to him hurrying his passes while he was being introduced to the turf which paved the way for New England’s epic comeback.
So once National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell handed the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, it all but solidified the legacies of Belichick and Brady. After the Spygate and Deflategate scandals, the legacies of Belichick and Brady were tarnished. But each time that the NFL comes down on the Patriots, they emerge smelling like a rose.
This Super Bowl Championship wasn’t supposed to happen after Brady was suspended for the first four games of the season, while the Pats were stripped of their first-round pick in 2016. Tight end Rob Gronkowski only appeared in nine games due to a back injury, but New England continued to chug along. The Patriots would go 3-1 without Brady and 11-1 with him. And as Belichick attempted to down play Brady having extra motivation this season, it was hard for anyone to deny after what we saw last night.
Now the Patriots have joined the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys with five Super Bowl Championships which barely trails the six of the Pittsburgh Steelers. But Brady and Belichick are each in a class of their own as no head coach or quarterback were able to win five Super Bowl Titles prior to last night. Brady and Belichick have changed the game as it will be hard for anyone to duplicate what they’ve accomplished.
At the age of 39, the timing is perfect for Brady to walk away from the National Football League as he could exit stage right just like quarterback Peyton Manning did last February as a Super Bowl Champ. But unlike Manning, Brady’s physical skills have not diminished as he could continue to rewrite the record books which has already seen him become the only four-time Super Bowl MVP.
And for all of those folks that may have kept watching the Super Bowl for the sole purpose of seeing the Patriots be taken behind the woodshed, it was not to be as they gave the Falcons a brutal lesson in perseverance while giving us a Super Bowl that people will remember for a very long time.
After the 2014 AFC Championship Game, reports began to surface that there was a possibility that the New England Patriots used under inflated footballs during the first half of their 45-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. A media fire storm would swarm over the Patriots leading up to Super Bowl 49 with the main focus being on quarterback Tom Brady for his alleged role. But the Patriots are one of if not the best team in the National Football League when it comes to not allowing distractions to sidetrack them from their goal of winning. And the Patriots would use the allegations as added motivation when they defeated the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl 49 28-24 with Brady being named as the game’s MVP. That off-season would see the National Football League conduct an “investigation” of the Patriots and all that could be found was that there was a “possibility” that Brady knew of the footballs being under inflated. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would drop the hammer which saw the Patriots stripped of multiple draft picks in 2015 and Brady being suspended for the first four games of the season.
But with the help of the National Football League’s Players Association, Brady fought the league tooth and nail over his suspension. The matter would ultimately play out in Federal Court over the summer of 2015 with Brady being exonerated. However Goodell and the NFL would not accept the court’s ruling and last March they would appeal in order to have Brady’s suspension upheld.
Brady would sit out the first four games of this season as he was turned into a martyr over something that nobody really cared about. And for Goodell his once steady relationship with Patriots team owner Robert Kraft who some once deemed as “the assistant commissioner” was now strained at best.
But what was done by the National Football League to hamper the Patriots has only helped them. In four games without Brady, the Patriots went 3-1, and with him back in the lineup they would go 11-1. Overall Pats would go 14-2 in the regular season which paved the way for them to have home-field advantage in the AFC Playoffs.
And home-field advantage really benefited New England as in two playoff contests they outscored the Houston Texans and Pittsburgh Steelers 70-33 which has paved the way for them to appear in the Super Bowl for a record ninth time.
Goodell has gone out of his way to treat the Patriots as the black sheep of his beloved National Football League. Since Brady took the NFL to Federal Court, he doesn’t have the luxury of the same amount of roughing the passer calls that he received in year’s past, while Goodell has acted as if the Patriots organization doesn’t exist.
Goodell has avoided Gillette Stadium all season long like the plague to the point that he made consecutive trips during the postseason to the Georgia Dome in order to watch the Atlanta Falcons which is an oddity since commissioners tend to travel around and observe the entire league.
Under the surface Goodell may have not wanted to cause a distraction by avoiding Foxboro, but he won’t have a choice if the Patriots do what the odds makers in Las expect them to do which is to win the Super Bowl in a few days. Each year following the Super Bowl, the commissioner has handed the winning owner the Vince Lombardi Trophy. And in this era of entertainment, the trophy presentation has been made into a grand spectacle on a podium that includes the winning head coach and the Super Bowl MVP. However if the Patriots are successful against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51, it more than likely will be because of Brady which would mean that Goodell would have to come face-to-face with the owner, head coach, and quarterback whom he threw the book at.
But this isn’t to say that Patriots are faultless in everything which dates back to Spygate. This is simply an issue with Goodell and his inconsistency as a commissioner. When Goodell came down hard on the New Orleans Saints organization for Bountygate, the players that were implemented went the same route that Brady did which led to their suspensions being overturned, and the commissioner simply left the matter alone. However in the case of Deflategate, Goodell blitzed Brady at the request of some of the power brokers in the National Football League such as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in order to make an example out of him.
Kraft merely accepted the National Football League’s punishment towards his franchise due to the fact that his hand was forced by the other billionaires that own teams in the league. And just like Jones and the other NFL team owners are accustomed to getting their way, the same can be said for Kraft who gave a passionate speech this past Sunday when he accepted the Lamar S. Hunt trophy which acknowledges the AFC Champion. Kraft said “For a number of reasons, all of you in this stadium understand how big this win was.”
After everything that has gone down, the Patriots are going to have their fare share of detractors if people allow their thought process to be dictated by what the mass media says. However each time that the Patriots are put on front street, the production as a team only gets better. And just as the Patriots win in Super Bowl 49 over the Seahawks should have been the icing on the cake as far as doubting them, they could add an extra coat of frosting by winning another Lombardi Trophy, while also serving up a huge dosage of humble pie to Goodell.
So in Houston on February 5, there won’t be a hiding place for Goodell if the Patriots are able to win. And whereas the National Football League has been complaining about ratings being down for the entire season, everyone will be tuning in should New England win as Goodell would have no choice but to acknowledge one of the league’s best franchises.
Bill Belichick-New England Patriots
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is a three-time National Football League Coach of the Year and he is in the running to once again win the award here in 2016. The deck was stacked against the Patriots to begin this NFL season as the result of quarterback Tom Brady being suspended by the league for the first four games.
But in typical Patriots fashion, they responded to adversity as only they could by going 3-1 without Brady. New England hasn’t had the services of tight end Rob Gronkowski that much as he has only appeared eight games this season, while he was placed on injured reserved last month. The Patriots also traded outside linebacker Jamie Collins last month and they haven’t skipped a beat.
With just one game remaining in the regular season, the Patriots are 13-2, and a victory this Sunday over the Miami Dolphins, or a loss by the Oakland Raiders will give New England home-field advantage in the AFC Playoffs.
Each of the last five National Football League seasons have seen the Patriots at least reach the AFC Championship Game, and as they’ve already secured a first-round bye, there is a good possibility to see them advance into late January.
In all but two of Belichick’s 17 seasons as the head coach of the Patriots, his team has won at least 10 games in the regular season. And as the Patriots could finish tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the best record in the National Football League, it is a tribute to the culture that Belichick has established in Foxborough.
Adam Gase-Miami Dolphins
For Adam Gase he has walked into a very difficult situation and made the impossible, possible. Prior to this year the Dolphins have only made the playoffs once since 2002, while they hadn’t had a winning season since 2008. But in one year under Gase, the Dolphins are heading to the postseason and in a very improbable fashion.
The Dolphins began the 2016 National Football League season with a record of 1-4 and it appeared to be another lost year in South Florida. But since then the Dolphins are 9-1 as Gase has changed the culture there along with the team’s overall philosophy.
When Gase became the head coach of the Dolphins, he decided to stick with Ryan Tannehill as his starting quarterback. Tannehill was the Dolphins first-round pick in 2012, but he has been up and down during his time with the team. Gase decided to reduce Tannehill’s work load as the Dolphins have rediscovered the running game.
Second year running back Jay Ajayi has become a force for the Dolphins as his 1,213 rushing yards in 2016 are the fourth most in a single-season by a Miami running back. Ajayi’s emergence coincided with the Dolphins resurgence as his 204 rushing yards in Miami’s 30-15 victory in Week 6 over the Pittsburgh Steelers got the ball rolling.
Ajayi has been able to produce behind a Dolphins offensive line that is without the services of a center Mike Pouncey who is a three-time Pro Bowler, but it has been the overall attitude of this unit as well as the commitment to the running game that has turned things around in South Florida.
Overall the Dolphins are ninth in the National Football League in rushing and that will be important in the postseason as they will be without the services of Tannehill who is out with a knee injury. But the Dolphins haven’t skipped a beat with backup quarterback Matt Moore who is 2-0 as a starter.
The Dolphins also possess a ferocious defensive line that features Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Cameron Wake who tend to have a weekly meeting a the quarterback.
And once you factor in Miami’s ability to run the football along with a stout defensive line, they should be a force next month in the playoffs.
Jack Del Rio-Oakland Raiders
A franchise turnaround begins with a culture change and this is very evident with the Oakland Raiders. Once upon a time that Raiders were the gold standard of success in the National Football League as they were revered. But since 2003, the Raiders became the laughing stock of the NFL as they have had the worst winning percentage in the league over that stretch without a playoff appearance, or a winning campaign. But things have changed on the watch of head coach Jack Del Rio.
Del Rio in his second season as the head coach of the Raiders, and under him the team has returned to glory. The Raiders record of 12-3 this season is the second best in the AFC, while it is their best mark since they went 12-4 in 2000.
Del Rio has changed the culture in Oakland which wasn’t an easy task and in the process he has woken a sleeping giant in the National Football League. But Del Rio’s biggest task is still ahead of him as the Raiders will enter the postseason without the services of Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Carr.
Carr suffered a fractured fibula this past Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts which really put a damper on the Raiders postseason chances. Carr was in the running to be the National Football League’s MVP and now the Raiders will go into the postseason relying on backup quarterback Matt McGloin to get the job done. And if Del Rio and the Raiders find a way to advance in the postseason with McGloin under center, it will arguably be one of the best coaching jobs ever done in the history of the league.
Jason Garrett-Dallas Cowboys
After the Dallas Cowboys went 4-12 in 2015, they were expected to be an improved team here in 2016, but nobody expected what they have become. Through 15 games in 2016, the Cowboys are 13-2 which is tied with the New England Patriots for the best mark in the National Football League and they’ve already sewn up home-field advantage in the NFC.
But things looked bleak for the Cowboys in August when starting quarterback Tony Romo was sidelined with a back injury. And that meant that the Cowboys would go with an unproven rookie at quarterback in Dak Prescott.
Prescott has more than overachieved this season as he is completing 68.1% of his passes, while he has thrown 23 touchdown passes to just 4 interceptions. And typically a season like this would see Prescott as a shoo-in to be the National Football League’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, but he has some very stiff competition from his teammate in running back Ezekiel Elliot.
Whereas much wasn’t expected from Prescott who was selected in the fourth round of the National Football League Draft by the Cowboys, the same cannot be said for Elliot. Elliot was the fourth overall selection of the draft as he was expected to ignite the running game for the Cowboys which is what he has done. Elliot is leading the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards, and he has brought excitement back to that position in Dallas which has not been seen in Dallas since the days of Emmitt Smith.
Prescott and Elliot have benefited from playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the National Football League, while Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett has kept the game plan simple, but effective for his rookie quarterback.
And if Dallas continues on the pace that they are currently on, they could be in line for their first Super Bowl Championship since 1995.
Ben McAdoo-New York Giants
Ben McAdoo spent the last two years as the offensive coordinator of the New York Giants and he found himself being promoted to being the team’s head coach last January. McAdoo’s task was to get things turned around for a Giants franchise that had not reached the postseason since winning the Super Bowl in 2011.
Under McAdoo, the Giants began the season 2-0 for the first time since 2009 and their 10-5 mark has seen them qualify for the postseason. McAdoo’s Giants are the only team to defeat the Dallas Cowboys this season as they’ve done it twice. But it has been the Giants defense that has kept them going this season as they are 11th in the NFL in total defense, but third in points allowed at 18.3 per contest. McAdoo’s specialty is supposed to be offensive football, but New York has been stuck in the mud as they are 24th in the National Football League. However being that the Giants have improved after going just 6-10 in each of the last two seasons has to put McAdoo in the mix as far as being the NFL’s Coach of the Year.
Like it or not, the New England Patriots are the model of consistency in the National Football League. The Patriots just clinched their eighth consecutive AFC East Title, while their last losing season came in 2000. And in the process it’s the way that the Pats have gone about winning. New England just isn’t getting winning seasons as only once over this stretch have they won less than 10 games, while they’ve won at least 12 games in a campaign on 11 occasions. The Patriots have also won four Super Bowl Titles over this stretch, and to top it all off, each of the last five NFL seasons have seen them at least reach the AFC Championship Game. That trend is continuing this year as through 15 games, New England’s 13-2 mark has them with the best record in the AFC as they are once again on the verge of securing home-field advantage. And to give you an idea of how important that this is, eight of the last nine teams that represented the AFC in the Super Bowl at least had a first-round bye entering the postseason.
But if there are any questions as to why the Patriots have been so successful, it begins at three of the most important positions within a football organization which are team owner, head coach, and quarterback.
Since 1994, Robert Kraft has owned the Patriots, and the three head coaches that he has employed have each led his team to the postseason at least twice. But when Kraft fired Pete Carroll as the Patriots head coach following the 1999 National Football League season which paved the way for Bill Belichick to resign as the head coach of the New York Jets after just one day in order to join Kraft in New England, the rest is football history.
Since 2000, Belichick has served as the Patriots head coach and de facto general manager. And whereas Belichick’s wheeling and dealing has rubbed some people the wrong way over the years, the man knows how to build a winner.
Like the Spurs in the NBA who are working on their 20th consecutive winning season, the Patriots continue to succeed as they are the chameleons on the National Football League. When Belichick took over the Patriots, this was a team that was known for its defensive brand of football with stars such as outside linebacker Willie McGinest, middle linebacker Tedy Bruschi, and strong safety Lawyer Milloy. But by the mid-2000’s the focus of the Patriots was shifting to quarterback Tom Brady and the team’s offense which included New England scoring 589 points in 2007 which was an NFL single-season record. The Patriots would do it primarily with the deep pass to wide receiver Randy Moss, but the evolution would continue as by 2010, New England focused more on offensive sets that comprised of two tight end sets, along with smaller wide receivers.
And this philosophy on offense which has seen Brady get the ball out quicker while taking less hits has made their offense the envy of the rest of the National Football League.
Defensively the Patriots still have many interchangeable parts as since the end of last season, Belichick has traded two starting linebackers in Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins due to financial issues, but this team has not skipped a beat.
Belichick always preaches to his players to “do your job” as he never puts his team in a place where they cannot be successful. This philosophy was on center stage when the Patriots began this season without the services of Brady who was suspended by the National Football League for the first four games of the season as the result his role in the use of under-inflated football during the 2014 AFC Championship Game. Without Brady, the Patriots went 3-1 while they got two victories with backup quarterback Jimmy Garropolo, and another with rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett under center. Upon returning to the Patriots, Brady has been motivated to clear his name and in 10 games he is completing 66.7% of his passes while throwing 25 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions.
Brady has done this in spite of the fact that he has not had the services of tight end Rob Gronkowski for the majority of the year as the result of a litany of injuries. But Belichick’s next man up philosophy is why the Pats keep on chugging along.
There are going to be some detractors out there who will want to call the Patriots cheaters as the result of “Spygate” and “Deflategate” which were a pair of incidents that were blown completely out of proportion by the mainstream media. In 2007 when the Patriots were caught recording the Jets signals, they only went on to win their next 17 games before falling to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. And after the 2014 AFC Championship Game where Brady’s character was questioned, he only went out and defeated the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl two weeks later who possessed the best secondary in football.
But because of these two incidents, the Patriots organization won’t get the respect that they fully deserve outside of the New England area in spite of the fact that they do. Brady is once again playing like an MVP while even without Grownkowski, the Patriots have plenty of offensive firepower which includes tight end Martellus Bennett, running backs Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount, along with wide receivers Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan.
What Belichick and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels have done is to sample what was so successful in the National Football League for the likes of the San Diego Chargers of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the Washington Redskins of the early 1980’s, and the St. Louis Rams in 1999. Those teams made offensive football the equivalent of fast break basketball as they put fast athletes at the skill positions on offense which put a ton of stress on a defense. Don Coryell who was the head coach of the Chargers at the time was the godfather of this, while prior to becoming the head coach of the Redskins, Joe Gibbs worked under him in San Diego, as did Dick Vermeil who led the Rams in 1999; albeit Vermeil served under Coryell at San Diego State University.
But offensively the Patriots ask you to pick your poison as Edelman is arguably the most dangerous slot receiver in the National Football League, while Bennett who is not the physical specimen that Gronkowski is can still command respect by keeping safeties as well as linebackers honest in the passing game. Blount is a physical runner; especially in short yardage situations and Lewis is a devastating receiving option out of the back field which can break the backs of opposing defenses.
The Patriots continue to employ a bend but don’t break attitude on defense as they are tenth in the National Football League in yards allowed per game (336), but first in fewest points allowed (16.6). Belichick has entrusted his defense to his defensive coordinator Matt Patricia who has a flexible unit that confuses opposing offenses as players such as defensive end Rob Ninkovich will line up in multiple spots in the front seven of the defense in order to throw the opposing offenses off.
I compare the Patriots to the Spurs simply because each organization has been the most consistent in their respective league over the last two decades. A big reason for that is how both the Spurs and Patriots now how to adapt. The Spurs just bid farewell to a superstar power forward in Tim Duncan who throughout his 19-year NBA career never put himself ahead of the greater good of the team and that philosophy is still on display in San Antonio. The same can be said with the Pats in regards to Brady as he falls in line with everything that Belichick wants done. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t have a problem in shipping a player out of town who doesn’t fit his mold, and the same can be said for Belichick as it is their way or the highway. Both of these organizations are selfless as you don’t hear about wide receivers on the Patriots complaining about not receiving the football, and you don’t hear players on the Spurs being frustrated about not getting touches on offense as it is all about the team to the fullest.
As the Patriots are wrapping up the regular season, they are hitting their stride. And as all of the playoff contenders in the AFC know that they will have to get on a plane and head to Foxboro next month, they’ll once again have a tiger by the tail. The Patriots are itching to get to Houston, Texas for Super Bowl 51 as they want to join the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, and San Francisco 49ers as the only organizations in the National Football League to win at least five Super Bowl Championships. And for Brady and Belichick, they are seeking to become the first quarterback/head combo in the Super Bowl era to win five championships.
Winning never goes out of style, and for the Patriots, success is contagious.
It’s no secret that the last two decades in the National Football League have seen the New England Patriots become the gold standard of the league. Over that span the Patriots have won seven AFC Championships and four Super Bowl Titles. And you have to go back to 2000 to find the last time that New England finished an NFL season with a losing season. The Pats have been successful that even their non-playoff seasons have been amazing as they went 11-5 in 2008, but were unable to advance to the postseason.
The Patriots entered the current National Football League season with a huge cloud of uncertainty hanging over them. Starting quarterback Tom Brady is serving a four-game suspension for his alleged role in “Deflategate” as this was expected to hinder the Patriots chances of success. Aside from Brady, Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski missed the first two games with a hamstring injury, while defensive end Rob Ninkovich is serving a four-game suspension as a result of testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, and middle linebacker Donta Hightower has been slowed by injuries as well. And whereas these issues would slow down most NFL teams, the Patriots continue to go about it as business as usual.
What has helped New England have success is that they know how to begin a season on the right foot as they have not dropped their opener since 2003. However that streak was expected to come to an end when they traveled to meet the Arizona Cardinals to begin the current National Football League season.
After the Cardinals made the NFC Championship Game this past January, they are expected by many people (myself included) to represent the conference this February at Super Bowl 51 which meant that the Patriots were more than likely to be facing an uphill battle when they met a few weeks ago.
However the Patriots would seize control of the game on their very first drive when Brady’s replacement in Jimmy Garoppolo led the offense on an eight play, 74-yard drive that was capped off when he found wide receiver Chris Hogan on a 37-yard touchdown drive to give New England the early 7-0 lead. The Patriots would go on to defeat the Cardinals 23-21, and the offense didn’t skip a beat with Garoppolo as he was 24-of-33 passing for 264 yards and a touchdown. And when it was all said and done, you could see that the Pats were ready to rally around their young quarterback.
This past Sunday the Patriots hosted the Miami Dolphins whom they were eager to put into chase mode. The first two New England drives resulted in touchdowns as Garoppolo connected on scoring passes to wide receiver Danny Amendola, and tight end Martellus Bennett respectively. The Pats jumped out to a 24-0 lead, but all was not good for them as Garoppolo would suffer a sprained shoulder when he was hit by Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso. The Patriots would have to finish the game with rookie Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, but they would hold on to defeat Miami 31-24.
The odds were really against the Patriots heading into Week 3 as they were set to host the Houston Texans and their ferocious defense which is led by defensive end J.J. Watt who is the reigning National Football League’s Defensive Player of the Year. The Pats would have to prepare for the Texans on a short week as this game would be played last night. New England also had to find a way to get Brissett ready for the first start of his professional career with Garoppolo unable to go, and Brady still suspended.
But just like the Patriots did in their first two games of the year, they jumped on the Texans early as they led 10-0 after the first quarter. The Pats first touchdown was the result of Brissett’s legs as he scampered 27 yards on a naked bootleg for the score. The Patriots would go on to dominate the Texans in each phase of the game for the convincing 27-0 victory. Now the Patriots are 3-0, and with Brady set to return in two weeks, the rest of the National Football League is on notice.
The Patriots were supposed to be struggling right now which was the result that National Football League owner Roger Goodell was seeking when some of the team owners forced his hand to drop the hammer on Brady for something that most people don’t care about. Along with Brady’s suspension, the Patriots had to forfeit draft picks, including their first-round pick this past April. But whereas these moves could hinder another organization, the Patriots are the best at making sweet lemonade out of sour lemons.
Bill Belichick has been the Patriots head coach since 2000 and whereas most people think that the main reason for his success has been Brady, it has been due to his ability to adjust. When the Patriots won their first Super Bowl back in January 2002, the backbone of the team was a defense that was led by linebackers Willie McGinest and Tedy Bruschi. Brady would continue to evolve as a quarterback which helped New England win consecutive Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004. En route to becoming the first and only team in National Football League history to go 16-0 in the regular season in 2007, the Patriots employed an offense for the ages which featured wide receivers Wes Welker and Randy Moss. Defenses around the league began to catch up to the Patriots penchant to throw the deep ball and in 2010, New England would go to a different passing game that focused on two tight end sets with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, along smaller wide receivers such as Julian Edelman. And even when Hernandez was arrested in 2013 for murder, the Patriots didn’t skip a beat.
Since 2001, the Patriots regular season record is 185-58, and once you compare that to another National Football League team such as the Cleveland Browns who are 82-160 over the same stretch, it simply comes down to stability within the organization, talent development, putting personnel is the best spot to succeed, and overall execution.
We always hear about the “Patriot Way” under Belichick which simply consists of “doing your job”. Belichick doesn’t put his players in situations where they can’t succeed as he only asks them to do what he assigned them to do. Defensively the Patriots are full of interchangeable parts which is highlighted by Devin McCourty making the move from cornerback to free safety and Ninkovich lining up at numerous positions within the front seven. And as the names may change on the back of the jerseys for the Patriots, the success is still there which is a credit to Belichick. You can also see that on offense for New England as well as Garoppolo wasn’t asked to be Brady, but simply no try to be a hero. And the game plan was altered last night for Brissett who was just 11-of-19 passing for 103 yards, but the most important stat was that he didn’t have any turnovers.
Following last night’s victory over the Texans, Belichick tied Curly Lambeau for fourth place on the National Football League’s all-time wins list for head coaches and he now only trails Don Shula, George Halas, and Tom Landry. But unlike these other legends, Belichick is doing it in an era that has been defined by the salary cap and free agency which comes back to his ability to adjust.
And whereas most people were talking about the Patriots going 1-3 or 2-2 without Brady, they could now be 4-0 without him following their home game against the Buffalo Bills next Sunday in spite of the fact that Brissett suffered a torn ligament in his thumb last night. The Pats are clearly the team to beat in the AFC East and along with the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers, they are the class of the conference. There is a consensus around that doesn’t like the Patriots due to what has been perceived as cheating, but the more that they are accused about it, the better they get, and they are once again about to emerge from another potentially bad situation smelling like a rose.
X-New England Patriots 12-4
There are two opinions on the New England Patriots as they are an organization that you either love or hate. Since 2001, the Patriots have not had a losing season and they’ve only had two seasons over that stretch which have ended without them making the postseason. The Pats have won four Super Bowl Championships as they’ve become the epitome of success in the National Football League. But life isn’t a bed of roses for New England as they’ve dealt with their fair share of controversy which included “Spygate” in 2007, and now “Deflategate”. The most recent controversy has seen NFL commissioner Roger Goodell drop the hammer on the Patriots which included a $1 million fine, a loss of draft picks, and a four-game suspension of quarterback Tom Brady. Now as the Patriots are preparing four life without Brady for the first four games here in 2016, head coach Bill Belichick will once again put on his thinking cap.
Patriots fans need to get used to hearing the name Jimmy Garoppolo as he will be the Patriots starting quarterback while Brady serves his suspension. In Garoppolo’s two years with the Patriots, he has seen some brief mop up duty behind Brady. But now Garoppolo will be charged with keeping Brady’s seat warm until he comes back.
There are still plenty of explosive play makers on the Patriots offense that features the likes of tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Julian Edelman. At 6’6″, Gronkowski is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses as his height and pass catching ability keeps opposing secondaries honest. And it will be much tougher for Patriots opponents to double Gronkowski this season due to the fact that the team acquired tight end Martellus Bennett from the Chicago Bears.
Bennett has spent eight years in the National Football League with stints with the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and the Bears. The majority of Bennett’s career has seen him underutilized in the passing game which could change this year. I expect the Patriots to employ more two tight end packages in the mode of the early 2010’s when New England would create matchup problems for opponents with Gronkowski and former tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Edelman is looking to bounce back after injuries slowed him down in 2015. And once the maestro at quarterback in Brady returns from his suspension the Patriots passing game should really take flight.
Last year the Pats were 30th in the National Football League in rushing and they are one of the few teams that can get away with that due to the ability of Brady. Under offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the Patriots tend to use screen passes, along with short passes to their running backs such as Dion Lewis and James White which turn out to be de facto runs.
The Patriots have a solid offensive line and if left tackle Nate Solder and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer are able to remain healthy, both Garoppolo and Brady should enjoy plenty of time in the pocket. It never worked out for guard Jonathan Cooper in three years with the Arizona Cardinals, but after the Patriots acquired him during the off-season, maybe a change of scenery is just what he needs after being a first-round pick in 2013.
It was shocking when Belichick decided to trade defensive end/outside linebacker Chandler Jones to the Cardinals this off-season, but he did pick up a veteran to replace him in defensive end Chris Long. Long was the second overall pick of the 2008 National Football League Draft by the St. Louis Rams, but injuries have taken away from his effectiveness over the last two years as he has missed 14 games. However Long finally gets the chance to play for a winner and suiting up for the Patriots typically tends to allow veteran players to find the fountain of youth.
Aside from Long on the Patriots defensive line, there are a ton of veterans that includes defensive tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton and defensive end Rob Ninkovich, while second year defensive tackle Malcolm Brown could be ready to take on bigger role in New England’s defense.
The Pats still have a strong group of linebackers which includes middle linebacker Donta Hightower and outside linebacker Jamie Collins, while the secondary is home to some quality veterans in cornerback Malcolm Butler, strong safety Patrick Chung, and free safety Devin McCourty.
If the Patriots are able to weather the storm without Brady, this team should once again be poised to make another run at winning the Super Bowl.
New York Jets 10-6
2015 saw much improvement for the New York Jets, but they fell just short of making the playoffs. After the Jets defeated their arch rival in the New England Patriots in Week 16, they only needed a victory over the Buffalo Bills in Week 17 to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2010. However things fell apart for the Jets as they lost to the Bills which was a bittersweet ending to what had the makings of a storybook season. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick fell 95 yards short of becoming the first Jets quarterback since Joe Namath in 1967 when the team still played in the American Football League to pass for 4,000 yards in a season. Wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker become the first duo of Jets pass catchers since Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet in 1998 to each gain 1,000 yards receiving and New York also had one of the fiercest defensive lines in the National Football League that featured defensive ends Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Leonard Williams. And as all of this should be building blocks for the Jets heading into the 2016 NFL season, this team has a laundry list of question marks that are surrounding them.
After Fitzpatrick’s strong season he became a free agent as he and the Jets had a long dance around the floor before they came to an agreement on a new one-year deal for $12 million. Fitzpatrick has been a journeyman as he has suited up for six different clubs in his 11-year National Football League career. Many folks see Fitzpatrick as a backup quarterback which is one of the reasons why the Jets are not willing to commit on a long-term deal to a 33-year old player that has only made all 16 starts in a season three times in his career. Heading into the 2016 NFL season, the main thing for Fitzpatrick is to do exactly what he did last year which is to simply get the football to the play makers around him such as Marshall and Decker.
After running back Chris Ivory gained 1,070 yards on the ground for the Jets last year, he was allowed to leave in free agency as he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But as one door closed for the Jets, another opened as the team signed veteran running back Matt Forte. In eight years with the Chicago Bears, Forte was a very durable running back as only Walter Payton gained more yards on the ground than him while wearing a Bears uniform.
Forte has also been solid in providing pass protection for quarterbacks, while also being a strong receiver coming out of the backfield which should pay dividends in the Jets offense.
After 11 years of protecting the blindside for Jet quarterbacks, offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson decided to retire. But Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan didn’t waste any time in replacing Ferguson as he acquired offensive tackle Ryan Clady from the Denver Broncos. Ferguson was extremely durable during his career, but the same cannot be said about Clady who after helping the Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl last year must show his worth on the big stage in the shadow of New York City.
As previously mentioned the Jets do have a strong defensive line which sets the tone for the rest of the defense. And if Wilkerson, Richardson, and Williams are able to consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, it could make life much easier for players such as cornerback Darrelle Revis.
For Jets head coach Todd Bowles, he knows that his team won’t be able to sneak up anybody here in 2016. And with road games against the Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers,and Arizona Cardinals, along with divisional tilts against the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots, the Jets are going to have their hands full in they intend on making it to the postseason.
Buffalo Bills 8-8
The Buffalo Bills and head coach Rex Ryan are a match made in heaven. The Bills have not won more than 9 games in a season during this millennium, and Ryan is a head coach that tends to hover around .500 each year. Staying true to form for Ryan and the Bills in 2015, Buffalo went 8-8 as they were a team that competed, but they were an undisciplined team that simply found ways to lose. Ryan has always been known as a player’s coach with teams that shoot themselves in the foot, and we could be looking at the same blueprint for the Bills here in 2016.
Last year Ryan gave Tyrod Taylor the opportunity to be the Bills starting quarterback and he made the most of it by throwing 20 touchdown passes to just 6 interceptions. Taylor began to shed the label of him simply being a scrambler and now it will be interesting to see if he can take the next step and become an elite quarterback in 2016. But if Taylor is going to be able to take the next step as a quarterback, he has the players around him to make it happen.
It hasn’t taken wide receiver Sammy Watkins that long to show that he indeed is a play maker. In just two years, Watkins has displayed the rare combination of blazing speed and pass catching ability which makes him a logical candidate to make the Pro Bowl this season. And if the Bills passing game is going to improve, wide receiver Robert Woods must become consistent as well.
The Bills were the top rushing team last year in the National Football League, and this was without the benefit of having a healthy LeSean McCoy at running back for the entire season. But if McCoy is able to remain healthy and show the explosiveness that made him the Philadelphia Eagles all-time leading rusher, then the Bills offense should be a force to be reckoned with.
Ryan is known as an aggressive defensive coach, but the Bills only managed to muster up 21 sacks last year after having 54 in 2014. The defense could once again be a point of frustration for the Bills due to suspensions of players such as defensive tackle Marcel Dareus which could rob them off a chance to improve and that’ll more than likely hamper their chances of ending the longest current playoff drought in the National Football League.
Suspensions to players such as Dareus’ show that the Bills are still a very undisciplined team. Last year the Bills had 143 accepted penalties against them which was tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for tops in the National Football League, and if Ryan doesn’t get this pattern tempered, Buffalo will once again be stuck in the mud.
More than likely the Bills will be an up and down team again in 2016, and you have to wonder if anything short than a trip to the postseason will mean the end for Ryan in Western New York.
Miami Dolphins 5-11
From 1970-1995, the Miami Dolphins only employed one head coach in Don Shula. But since Shula’s retirement, the Dolphins have had a revolving door at head coach. Adam Gase is set to begin his first season as Dolphins head coach, and he represents the tenth different head coach that the Dolphins have employed since Shula stepped down. The Dolphins coaching carousel is reflective in the team’s record as they have not had a winning record since 2008, while failing to win a playoff game since 2000.
Aside from head coaching issues, the quarterback position has also been a problem for the Dolphins. As Ryan Tannehill is set to begin his fifth year as the Dolphins starting quarterback, it marks the first time since the early 2000’s that Miami will have the same starting quarterback five years in a row.
In four years as the Dolphins starting quarterback, Tannehill has put up impressive numbers which would make a fantasy football owner happy, but he has come up short in the most important category that defines a National Football League quarterback which is victories. Tannehill has a career record of 29-35 and the Dolphins have never finished a season with a winning record with him under center. In May 2015, Tannehill and the Dolphins agreed on a six-year, $96 million extension, and if he’s unable to begin to deliver, the folks in South Florida that follow this team will begin to want another franchise quarterback.
In 2015, the Fins struggled to run the football as they were 23rd in the National Football League in rushing. The Dolphins leading returning rusher is Jay Ajayi who gained just 187 yards on the ground last season. The Dolphins did sign former Houston Texans running back Arian Foster. But Foster has a ton of miles on his legs along with injuries, and it is difficult to expect him to be the play maker that he was a few seasons ago.
The Dolphins lack of a running game will put more pressure on Tannehill and wide receiver Jarvis Landry to carry the offense, and although that the duo will pad their stats, it more than likely won’t lead to that many wins in Miami.
Defensively the Dolphins lost defensive end Olivier Vernon in free agency as he signed with the New York Giants. But Miami is hopeful that veteran defensive end Mario Williams will be able to fill the void. Williams will join a veteran defensive line that includes defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Cameron Wake, but there are plenty of issues in the back seven of the Dolphins defense that will stress the mental of first-year defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
It’s going to be another long year in Miami, but I expect Gase to use this time to assess the talent there as he is hopeful to build a solid foundation.