BOSTON – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – Thousands of Patriots fans packed the streets of Boston on a cold, snowy Tuesday to catch a glimpse of Tom Brady, coach Bill Belichick and New England’s fifth Vince Lombardi Trophy during the team’s championship parade. Riding in the city’s signature duck boats, the Patriots slowly made their way down Boylston Street in downtown Boston before making a left turn onto Tremont Street on the way to Boston City Hall.
As the procession reached Copley Square, fans chanted “Brady!” as the smiling quarterback pumped his fist in the air. Once the celebration reached Tremont Street, Brady caught a football from WBZ-TV sports anchor Steve Burton and tossed back a perfect spiral as fans chanted “MVP!”
“One more!,” Brady screamed during a post-parade rally at City Hall. “I told you we were going to bring this sucker (the trophy) home and we brought it home.
Thank you guys. We do it for you. You do it for us. Let’s go! Let’s go!”
Brady added, “These aren’t easy to do, but this team gave everything it had and it took — damn, that game was hard. That game was real hard, but you know what we’re going to remember this moment for the rest of our lives.”
Brady threw for a Super Bowl-record 466 yards, two touchdowns and one interception as New England overcame a 25-point deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime on Sunday night.
“There’s been a lot of talk over the last couple weeks about goats,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said, referring to the acronym for the phrase “greatest of all time” (G.O.A.T.). “And you all know we have the G.O.A.T. when it comes to players in Tom Brady. We have the G.O.A.T. when it comes to coaches in Bill Belichick.
“And I (want) you to know that my family and our organization feel that we have the G.O.A.T. of fans on the planet.”
Belichick led fans in chants of “No days off!” and ended his brief address to the crowd by screaming “Let’s go Pats!”
“These players, they work harder than any team I’ve ever coached,” Belichick said. “They came to work everyday and there were no days off!”
Massachusetts governer Charlie Baker, a Republican, was meet with a smattering of boos as he addressed the crowd, but the boos turned into cheers when Baker officially declared Feb. 7 as “New England Patriots Day.”
Kraft said he was inspired by the impact the Patriots’ success has had on the region.
“I’m happy, I think this team is a rallying point for a lot of people,” Kraft told NBC Boston before the parade began.
Kraft spoke about a young electrician who told him before the parade that he suffered from depression and has identified with the Patriots.
“What we’ve done over the last two, three years has made a difference in his life, and that makes me feel good,” Kraft said.
Before the parade, injured Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was pictured holding a customized WWE championship belt with Patriots logos on it. Video later showed Gronkowski catching a can of beer that was thrown to him while riding on a duck boat.
After missing the Patriots’ final eight games with a, Gronkowski said he didn’t plan to ride on the duck boat in the parade but was convinced by the fans, saying “I party for the fans.”
Another popular chant from fans was “Roger That!”, a nod to the strained relationship between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Brady. Goodell suspended Brady four games for his role in the Deflategate scandal.
On Monday, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia was photographed wearing a shirt with a red clown nose on Roger Goodell’s face as he exited the team plane on the tarmac.
HOUSTON – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – Let’s get this out of the way first, so there is no misunderstanding. The New England Patriots are the greatest NFL dynasty of the Super Bowl era, the best since the Green Bay Packers of the 1960s, and they are doing it in an era where the rules are specifically tailored to prevent a dynasty. No one can question that, not the ’70s Steelers, the ’80s 49ers or the ’90s Cowboys.
But achieving that level, much as baseball’s New York Yankees used to use the Kansas City A’s almost as a farm team when they needed to obtain another player, involves something more than a team’s own greatness.
It frequently involves the acquiescence of an opponent that, in the face of greatness, does just enough dumb things to help the dynasty continue along.
Surely, you have to think the Atlanta Falcons, not the Patriots, would have won Super Bowl LI if they had played smarter once they got a big lead. If, with a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter, they were satisfied to run for a first down on third-and-1 instead of having Matt Ryan drop way back, exposing him to a sack and a fumble that led to an easy New England touchdown.
Or, if the Falcons, still ahead by eight points, had played for a field goal later in the fourth quarter after reaching the Patriots’ 22-yard line, instead of having Ryan again drop way back, exposing him to another sack that took Atlanta out of field-goal range.
You have to wonder how long it will take Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons’ offensive coordinator, to get those play calls out of his mind as he begins his new gig with the San Francisco 49ers, who are about to name him as their head coach.
Maybe somebody in San Francisco can tell him what happens when you go up against a dynastic team. That dynasty does not have superhuman powers, but it sometimes seems to acquire them in the way an opponent goes about its business. The 49ers’ dynasty that won five Super Bowls between 1981 and 1994 surely benefitted from what, for better or worse, could be termed brain lock by an opponent.
Matt Ryan (2)
Atlanta, of course, was not the first team to suffer that problem. In Seattle, they will never forget the interception Russell Wilson threw from the 1-yard line in the final minute of the Super Bowl two years ago, when logic dictated a run by Marshawn Lynch that likely would have won the game. That play handed the Patriots their fourth Super Bowl trophy.
In the immediate aftermath of Super Bowl LI, in which the Patriots won their fifth Super Bowl trophy, Dan Quinn, the Falcons’ head coach (and, coincidentally, formerly an assistant coach with the 49ers), defended the way his team attacked New England. He didn’t seem to have a problem with the play calls that exposed
Ryan to the critical sacks at a time when the Falcons should have been protecting a comfortable lead.
Neither did Ryan, who said, “We played the way that we play. We always play aggressive and play to win.”
Of course, there is a difference between being aggressive and being smart.
Although there is probably no one left in the 49ers’ building who remembers the great days that franchise used to enjoy, the fact is the San Francisco mystique was built in part by the same kind of brain lock that helped the Patriots beat the Falcons.
For example, there was the time the New Orleans Saints could have just about run out the clock to beat the 49ers, but rather than going with the ground game, but they called for quarterback Bobby Hebert to pass. The ball fell incomplete, leaving Joe Montana 15 seconds deep in his own territory. Although the 49ers were out of timeouts, the clock stoppage left San Francisco enough time to work downfield and kick a winning field goal.
Or there was the time in Green Bay, before the Packers’ revival began, that the Packers decided a short kickoff was in order late in the second quarter. The result was that the 49ers had such good field position, they scored that time, too.
The explanation, of course, was simply that opponents did not want to give Montana the ball. Instead, they not only gave him the ball but gave it to him in position where he could do some damage.
In fact, the mystique was so strong that after the Saints beat the 49ers once at Candlestick Park in a game Montana did not play due to injury, the late Jim Finks, then the Saints’ general manager, said San Francisco would have won if it simply had Montana stand on the sideline during the game.
Yes, the mystique of a great team and great player is that strong.
And the Patriots and Brady are, without question, really great.
Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than five decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston
HOUSTON – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – Tom Brady added another chapter to his storybook legend Sunday night, leading the New England Patriots to the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, a 34-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, decided on James White’s 2-yard touchdown run after 3:52 of overtime.
It was the first overtime game in Super Bowl history, and the Patriots’ comeback from a 25-point deficit, 28-3, was more than double the largest previous comeback (10 points) in the game’s 51-year history.
Brady, who struggled early under a surprisingly strong Atlanta pass rush, completed 43 of 62 passes for a Super Bowl-record 466 yards. He threw two touchdown passes and one interception, which was returned for a second-quarter touchdown.
He captured a record fourth Super Bowl MVP honor, breaking a tie with Joe Montana. Brady and New England’s Bill Belichick became the first quarterback and head coach, respectively, to win five Super Bowls.
White caught a Super Bowl-record 14 passes (for 110 yards), and he added 29 yards and two touchdowns on six carries.
Brady, suspended for the first four games of the season for his involvement in Deflategate, wound up on top of the pro football world again. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, whose handling of the case against Brady sparked controversy, was loudly booed as he handed the Lombardi Trophy to Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
“Two years ago we won our fourth Super Bowl down in Arizona and I told our fans that was the sweetest one of all,” Kraft said. “But a lot has transpired over the last two years, and I don’t think that needs any explanation. I want to say to our fans, brilliant coaching staff and players who are so spectacular, this is unequivocally the sweetest. I’m proud to say for the fifth time, we are all Patriots.”
Goodell approached Brady on the field immediately after the game and initiated a handshake.
In overtime, the Patriots got the ball first and Brady completed five consecutive passes for 50 yards. A 10-yard run by White and a pass-interference penalty moved the ball to the 2-yard line before White’s winning run.
New England, still behind 28-9 when the fourth quarter began, started its late surge on a Stephen Gostkowski field goal with 9:44 remaining.
Shortly after the kickoff, Dont’a Hightower sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, forcing a fumble that Alan Branch recovered at the Atlanta 25-yard line. Five plays later, Brady threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola. When White ran in a two-point conversion, the score was 28-20 with 5:56 remaining.
Atlanta got a chance to put the game away when it drove to the New England 22 after the kickoff, but the Falcons inexplicably had Ryan take a deep dropback to pass, and he was sacked. A holding penalty followed, knocking Atlanta out of range for a game-clinching field goal and forcing a punt.
The Patriots then drive 91 yards in 10 plays, the key play a circus catch by Julian Edelman, who was on the ground to grab a pass that had been tipped by Falcons cornerback Robert Alford. Edelman cradled the ball against a defender’s leg and gained 23 yards.
“That’s one of the greatest catches I’ve ever seen,” Brady said. “I don’t know how the hell he caught it.”
A 20-yarder to Amendola followed. White scored the touchdown on a 1-yard run with 57 seconds to go, and Brady then threw a two-point PAT to Amendola.
Until Brady’s late heroics, Atlanta had surprisingly controlled the game with its defense, which ultimately ran out of gas as it was on the field for most of the game. New England ran 93 plays on offense to Atlanta’s 46, and the Patriots had more than 40 minutes of possession time.
Brady was under early pressure from an Atlanta defense, which was ranked near the bottom of the NFL during the regular season but nonetheless easily handled the New England offensive line, and the veteran quarterback made several uncharacteristic poor passes.
One of them, thrown into double coverage, was returned 82 yards for a touchdown by Alford, Atlanta’s third TD of the second quarter.
Brady also badly overthrew a wide open Edelman later in the second quarter and underthrew another receiver before the Patriots finally scored on a 41-yard field goal by Gostkowski with two seconds remaining in the first half.
Atlanta’s three offensive touchdown drives were 71 yards in five plays, 62 yards in five plays and 85 yards in eight plays. Devonta Freeman scored the first TD on a 5-yard run, and Ryan completed touchdown passes of 19 yards to Austin Hooper and 6 yards to Tevin Coleman.
Ryan wound up 17 of 23 for 284 yards. Atlanta’s Julio Jones caught four passes for 87 yards.
NOTES: The Patriots failed to score a first-quarter point in any of their seven Super Bowls with the combination of coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady. … Pro Bowl C Alex Mack was active and in the starting lineup for the Falcons. Mack did not practice this week because of a left fibula injury, reportedly a chip fracture, which could have limited a player considered vital to Atlanta’s zone-running scheme. … WR Michael Floyd was inactive for the Patriots, who listed the same players who did not play in the AFC Championship Game on their pregame inactive list: third QB Jacoby Brissett, DB Cyrus Jones, OL LaAdrian Waddle, RB D.J. Foster and DB Justin Coleman and S Jordan Richards … WR Nick Williams. RB Terron Ward, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, LB Josh Keyes, S Dashon Goldson, OL Wes Schwetzer and TE D.J. Tialavea were inactive for the Falcons.
KICKOFF: Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, NRG Stadium, Houston. TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews.
SERIES HISTORY: 14th meeting. The Patriots lead the series, 7-6. They won the last meeting, 30-23 on Sept. 29, 2013, at the Georgia Dome.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Falcons’ high-scoring offense will need wide receiver Julio Jones (toe) and center Alex Mack (fibula) to step up big time to have a chance against the Patriots.
“You’d like to have everybody out there practicing, but it’s not realistic at this time of year,” Atlanta quarterback Ryan said. “Both those guys, to me, are guys who have played so many snaps for us this year they’ll be ready to go.”
Mack calls the signals for the line and Jones, who had nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns in the NFC Championship Game, powers the passing attack.
The Patriots’ offense will try to keep the momentum going from an impressive AFC title game in which they sliced up the Steelers’ suspect zone coverages. Tom Brady really didn’t need to use his full depth of weapons in that win, with Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan combining for 17 receptions and 298 yards. The Falcons’ defense has been better over the second half of the season, but Dan Quinn’s zone-based scheme is susceptible to spread sets.
Look for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to open with such looks, including Dion Lewis in the backfield. He may even go with some of the four-receiver formations New England used against Pittsburgh, taking advantage of a now-healthy corps of receivers. That approach will be balanced out with just enough LeGarrette Blount running at a speed-based Falcons front and the team’s nickel packages.
Really, the only question is whether the New England offensive line produces at the level that has been more than good enough nearly all season or if it struggles like it did in the playoff opener against Houston. If the line is up to the task against Vic Beasley (league-best 15.5 sacks) and an otherwise lackluster rush, Brady should like what he sees.
Defensively, the Patriots face their biggest test of the season for the second straight week. While the talk heading into the AFC title battle with Pittsburgh surrounded the Steelers’ trio of elite playmakers — Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown — Atlanta’s No. 1 scoring offense is even more dangerous. The Falcons have elite talent in likely MVP Ryan and Jones, but it’s the overall depth — Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Mohamed Sanu and others — that drives this offense.
The first goal will be to keep Jones — fresh off his 180 yards and two touchdowns in the NFC title game — from going off. That could include double coverage with a safety over the top of either Malcolm Butler or Logan Ryan, some style of the Cover 2 approach that has served New England well much of the season.
The Patriots also will need to tackle well on underneath throws from Ryan to Freeman and Coleman, who combined for 85 catches during the season.
The key could be how Ryan works the middle of the field against the Patriots’ linebackers and safeties. On paper, that matchup would seem to favor the Falcons, so it’s up to Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to find a way to keep Ryan from getting too comfortable with his outlet options as New England’s No. 3 third-down defense deals with the No. 11 third-down offense.
The No. 1 scoring defense continues to play with a chip on its shoulder as the group faces one final opportunity to prove its mettle and win a Super Bowl ring.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Falcons WR Julio Jones vs. Patriots FS Devin McCourty. While there is a question regarding which cornerback the playmaking Jones will see — New England could go with Malcolm Butler or Logan Ryan — the scheme will definitely involve a lot of help from Pro Bowl safety McCourty. Jones is the key to the big plays in the Falcons’ passing attack, as he showed against the Packers to get to the Super Bowl. McCourty has been the key to New England avoiding giving up big plays all season.
–Patriots C David Andrews vs. Falcons DT Grady Jarrett. The Texans were able to get some pressure on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Andrews and left guard Joe Thuney were the main victims. Andrews and his crew tightened things up against the Steelers. Jarrett, a quick and penetrating tackle, will need to win his share of battles with Andrews. The Falcons need to mount an interior pass rush, and Jarrett can lead it.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Falcons C Ben Garland. A converted defensive lineman, Garland is the backup center who played six snaps against the Packers. Garland, 6-foot-5 and 308 pounds, has been more helpful playing on the defensive line this season. He recorded a safety against the Seahawks in the divisional round. Garland has played 42 snaps on offense, 42 on defense and 160 on special teams. He’s considered a potential future starter at center or guard. If starting C Alex Mack is hampered or shut down by his fibula injury, Garland would be thrust into the biggest spotlight any player can imagine.
FAST FACTS: Patriots QB Tom Brady threw for 4,225 yards and completed 67 percent of his passes despite missing the first four games of the season for his role in “Deflategate” during the 2015 playoffs. Brady had 33 TD passes and four interceptions. … Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount hasn’t played as big a role in the playoffs, but he rushed for a franchise-record 19 TDs and 1,239 yards this season. … DE Tyler Flowers, a classic Patriots value pick, notched seven sacks to lead the team. … Falcons QB Matt Ryan threw for 5,674 yards and hit on about 70 percent of his passes, with a 45-7 TD-interception ratio. … Falcons WR Julio Jones overcame a nagging toe injury to catch 98 passes for 1,656 yards and nine TDs this season. He’ll likely see some version of double coverage from the Patriots. … Falcons DE Vic Beasley Jr. led the NFL with 15.5 sacks, blossoming as the Falcons played often with leads. Many feel the presence of legendary pass rusher Dwight Freeney, who can still bring it from time to time at age 37, was a factor in Beasley’s breakout season.
PREDICTION: The highest-scoring team in the league has reached the Super Bowl six times since 2000 and won just once. This doesn’t bode well for the Falcons, nor does it bode well that its young defense will have to find a way to neutralize Brady and a Patriots offense that can change from week-to-week and beat you in many ways. The big key could be how Jones is officiated by Carl Cheffers’ crew. The talk is that the Patriots will play him physically, much like they played the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf in Super Bowl XXXVI. That game was loosely officiated, and it benefited the Patriots greatly. If Jones is taken out of the attack by a physical defense, it’s hard to see a scenario in which the Falcons can win. Look for Brady and Co. to win their fifth Super Bowl and create the most awkward Lombardi Trophy presentation since Pete Rozelle handed it to Al Davis after Super Bowl XV.
(Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange)
HOUSTON – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – Just about every historical measure tells us the New England Patriots will beat the Atlanta Falcons and Tom Brady will become the first quarterback to win five Super Bowl championships. Of course, yes, they still have to play the game. Instinct tells us the team with the better quarterback and better defense almost always wins the Super Bowl, but first consider all the other trends that have developed in the previous half-century of this championship:
–No Super Bowl champion ever allowed more than 400 points in the regular season. The Falcons gave up 406.
–No Super Bowl champion ever ranked worse than 25th in the league on defense, based on points allowed during the season. The Falcons ranked 27th.
–The team allowing the fewest points in the NFL during the regular season has a 13-5 record in the Super Bowl. New England allowed the fewest points in the league this season.
–The team scoring the most points in the NFL during the regular season has a 10-11 record in the Super Bowl. Atlanta scored the most points in the league this season.
Now, about those two major threads: quarterback and defense.
Defense first. There is no question the Patriots’ defense is better than the Falcons’ defense. New England allowed the fewest points and the eighth fewest yards. Atlanta was 27th based on points allowed and 25th based on yards allowed.
New England allowed more than 30 points just once and held 11 of 16 opponents under 20. Atlanta gave up more than 30 points six times and held just five of 16 opponents under 20.
Of course, the Patriots have not faced an offense as dynamic as the Falcons. But what happens when the Atlanta offense faces a terrific defense, or when the New England defense faces a terrific offense?
During the season, the Falcons played three games against teams who ranked among the top 10 in fewest points allowed — Seattle (3rd), Denver (4th) and Minnesota (6th). Atlanta, which averaged 36.1 points in its other 13 games, did not score more than 24 in any of those three.
The Patriots played three games against teams that ranked among the top 10 in most points scored — Arizona (6th) and Buffalo (two games, tied 10th). New England, which allowed an average of 14.5 points in its other 13 games, allowed an average of 20.7 in those three.
Which brings us to the quarterbacks and the respective offenses.
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is the league’s likely MVP and its top-rated passer. But it’s not exactly like Brady had a miserable year. He finished second to Ryan in passer rating, threw only two interceptions the entire regular season and was within 13 yards per game of Ryan’s passing yardage total.
We know that numbers can be twisted any combination of ways to achieved a desired result — at least until the game is actually played — so we must remember the outcome of the Super Bowl is not a foregone conclusion.
Yet, it is hard, very hard, to find a flaw in Brady’s big game performance, especially since there is so much evidence in his favor.
Joe Montana always has been considered the gold standard of Super Bowl quarterbacks since he went 4-0 in the game, won three Super Bowl MVP awards, and did not throw a single interception in any of those four. His Super Bowl passer rating, 127.8, also is a record.
Brady also has won three Super Bowl MVP awards, and while he threw four interceptions in his six previous appearances (with a 4-2 record), he has thrown more than twice as many Super Bowl passes than Montana did (247 to 122).
Further, Brady rallied the Patriots from a tie or from behind to win in the fourth quarter in each of his four victories, and in the two Super Bowl games he lost, he had his team ahead with two minutes remaining only to have New England’s defense allow the game-deciding touchdown.
The flip side is that Brady’s fourth Super Bowl victory occurred in some degree because, two years ago, Seattle elected to have Russell Wilson pass on second down from the 1-yard line in the final half-minute, rather than have Marshawn Lynch run, and Malcolm Butler intercepted the pass to save the game for the Patriots.
Seattle’s defensive coordinator in that game was Dan Quinn, who is now the Atlanta coach, which adds a degree of intrigue to this Super Bowl matchup. Then again, maybe the Seattle interception was the makeup for the two Super Bowls Brady thought he had won only to lose at the end.
History is rife with such ironies.
One that many remember involved Bill Parcells, who might not be in the Hall of Fame today if Buffalo’s Scott Norwood had not missed a potential game-winning field goal against Parcells’ Giants at the end of the Super Bowl following the 1990 season. And Marv Levy, the former Bills coach who is also in the Hall of Fame, would nonetheless be viewed on a higher plane if Norwood had made that kick.
History, however, serves only as a guide, not as a formula. It’s simply reasonable to expect the Patriots to win because, well, we always expect the Patriots to win. With Brady, we are seeing a remarkable career play out.
Just think about how hard it really is to even get to a Super Bowl, let alone win one. Dan Fouts never got to one. Dan Marino got to just one, and lost it. Brett Favre got to only two, and won just one. And when Marino and Favre lost the Super Bowl, they lost it to other Hall of Famers, Montana and John Elway.
So bear it in mind. No matter how the game plays out, in the end, the better quarterback and better defense usually prevails.
–Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than five decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.
By Peter King, NFL pool reporter
Special to Digital Sports Desk provided by The Sports Xchange
HOUSTON — Pro Bowl center Alex Mack had his struggles in the Atlanta Falcons’ last full-speed practice of Super Bowl week on Thursday afternoon at Rice University and coach Dan Quinn said he was “concerned, yes” about Mack’s injured left fibula as the clock ticks down to Sunday’s game against New England.
“I just know his toughness and strength is so great,” Quinn said after another brisk and quick (88 minutes) practice on a grass practice field adjacent to Rice Stadium. “The good thing is I know he’s feeling better than he did in the NFC Championship Game. But yeah, I’m concerned. I’m not panicked, but I’m concerned.”
Mack and wide receiver Julio Jones (sprained toe) were listed as limited in practice. Pass-rusher Dwight Freeney (calf) sat out practice in what was more of a veteran maintenance day. Freeney, who turns 37 two weeks after the Super Bowl, is expected to be ready to play against the Patriots on Sunday evening.
“Dwight’s played with (minor injuries) this year,” Quinn said.
It’s quite likely Mack will play too. But he’s clearly the Falcons’ biggest issue entering the game. A couple of times during Thursday’s practice — on a 72-degree partly cloudy afternoon, with light northerly winds — Mack was seen coaching backup Ben Garland off to the side on technique work.
That’s a mark of how the Falcons practice; often, receivers are seen coaching receivers, or quarterback Matt Ryan discusses technique or positioning with receivers and backs, or linemen coach linemen. Garland, a studious type, has been working overtime on New England tape with Mack in the past week.
“This game, because of the multiple fronts by New England, requires a lot of prep work by the center,” Quinn said. Identifying this look, this front, this player’s positioning, they (Mack and Garland) spend a lot of time in the film room together normally … and I would say it’s been even more these two weeks because this opponent requires even more.”
Quinn said he was pleased with the overall tempo of the fast-paced practice. The Falcons did a lot of scout-team third-down work, and other than two dropped passes in team drills by the first unit, they looked crisp and ready.
The second-year head coach said, “Man, was I pleased with the work today. This was a full-speed practice, with a lot of third-down work, and that’s where you make you. I like the way we executed our plan today.
“New England’s got a big playbook, and we threw a lot at the guys. Oftentimes we make it as hard as we can on them, like today. It’ll never be as hard as the game, but we’re gonna try to simulate the toughest looks we can. I was pleased with how they reacted today.”
Several members of the FOX TV crew — including Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews and Chris Myers from the game crew and Jimmy Johnson from the studio show — were on hand to watch practice.
Also watching was Westwood One radio’s Tony Boselli, who will work the Atlanta sidelines for the radio call of the game. Boselli is one of the 15 finalists for Saturday’s Pro Football Hall of Fame voting.
Atlanta continues prep work with a Friday practice, this one earlier in the afternoon, at Rice.
By Jarrett Bell, NFL Pool Reporter
Content provided to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange
HOUSTON — The New England Patriots practiced in shells and shorts for roughly two hours at the University of Houston, with extensive time allotted for a multitude of situational special teams plays as they prepare for Super Bowl LI.
On Wednesday, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Ryan Allen worked only briefly with the team before heading to NRG Stadium to kick. On Thursday, Gostkowski and Allen were on hand for the entire practice, with special teams drills sprinkled in throughout the session.
“Yeah, we kind of cleaned up some of those situations,” coach Bill Belichick said.
Every player on the roster again participated in the Thursday practice, with no apparent setbacks for any of the various players nursing injuries. Nate Ebner, the safety and special teams ace who is returning from a concussion, again worked in a red jersey that signals the need to avoid contact.
That Ebner was back on the field after returning to practice on Wednesday was a positive sign as he seeks final clearance from the concussion protocol.
Said Belichick, “I expect him to be ready to play in the game.”
Belichick also expects that his team could have its hands full with Atlanta Falcons All-Pro receiver Julio Jones. That explains why multiple receivers — including Michael Floyd and Matthew Slater — have been wearing the two No. 11 gold jerseys that the Patriots use to designate Jones for snaps against the first-team defense. Other key Falcons are represented by just one jersey.
Why two jerseys for Julio?
“That’s such a key guy for us, the routes and all that,” Belichick said. “We have two guys doing it so we won’t wear one guy out.”
This underscores an important objective.
“You’ve got to know where he is on every play,” Belichick said.
The Patriots worked amid a humid 75 degrees on Thursday, similar to conditions the previous day. After practicing in recent weeks in New England’s wintry mix, Belichick embraces the opportunity for his team to get acclimated to the Texas heat to impact conditioning.
“For this game, it’s absolutely a factor,” Belichick said. “It’s a long game. It’s going to be hot, one way or another. Either they’ll open the roof and it’ll be warm or they’ll close the roof and all the lights and TV and people in there, it will be warm.”
Belichick said that regardless of the heat, the conditioning level of players is uniquely tested during a Super Bowl because of the length of the event.
“You’re taking a game that’s three hours and it’s going to be closer to four,” he said. “You’ve got to sustain that a lot longer. Mentally, you just understand how slow the game is, how long the halftime is, what breaks are in between. It’s going to take a lot more staying power in this game than in a normal game. With pregame warmups and all that, you’re looking at 5 1/2 hours. It just makes for a long day.”
At least one key Patriots player was seen putting in some conditioning work to prepare for just that.
When the first-team offense had a break, Tom Brady worked in a far end zone, running sprints across the field against the resistance of a band, pulling along a conditioning coach.
HOUSTON – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – Malcolm Butler was on a priority free agent list, a designation that earns a barrage of phone calls in the latter rounds of the NFL draft.
One of those calls came from the New England Patriots. And did Butler ever answer the call.
A virtual no-name from Division II West Alabama, Butler picked the Patriots because they were offering the cornerback a tryout along with other rookies. A tryout — not a contract — meaning Butler was being invited to prove himself.
“When the draft was over, there was a number of players that were not signed that we still were interested in. We invited Malcolm up for rookie-minicamp,” coach Bill Belichick said. “We had probably 10 to 15 players like that. Players that finished their college careers but were not signed by a team.
“They were essentially there for a tryout, an extended tryout during that period. They were there along with our draft choices and players that we had signed during that draft. We also had a couple of veteran-type players that weren’t with a team that fell under a certain category. ”
Butler worked his way into the lineup during Super Bowl XLIX and the world was moving faster than the rookie’s mind could process information in the third quarter. On Seattle’s final offensive snap, with a chance to score a game-winning touchdown just outside the 1-yard line, Butler’s instincts caught up.
“I did not know what was going on. Everything was going fast,” Butler said. “I was just a rookie, and I did not know what to expect. This year, it is the complete opposite. I have a role in the game. I am expected to play. People kind of have an idea of who I am, and I will be able to prepare better because I know what is coming. I am just looking forward to Sunday.”
The play, a slant pass intended for Ricardo Lockette from Russell Wilson, showed up on film study done by Patriots researcher Ernie Adams. Adams relayed the information to defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and Belichick late in the week during Super Bowl preparations and on Saturday night before the game, during a walkthrough at the team hotel conference room, Butler saw the precise formation and execution that played out the next night.
Butler jumped the route, with help identifying the play call and formation from veteran Brandon Browner, and made the Super Bowl-clinching pick.
“I’d say once we saw Malcolm on the field after the first workout, it was pretty obvious that we felt like this was the type of kid that we want to work with,” Belichick said. “He was raw technique-wise and all of that. He had a good training camp and got a little bit of playing time during the year. We saw him firsthand when we actually saw him in our building in that rookie minicamp three years ago.”
Butler said he entered his first Super Bowl not knowing if he’d be on the field.
By the start of the following season, he had every idea of what his role would be, with starting corner Darrelle Revis gone to the New York Jets and the Week 1 game plan in his hands. His assignment? All-Pro Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“(Belichick) tells guys, leadership is attitude and performance,” defensive back Devin McCourty said. “I think guys take that in stride, work their butt off to get on the field. Two years ago, Malcolm sealed the game.”
Safety Patrick Chung said teammates learned all about Butler’s ability and potential before the rest of the world was let it on the secret two years ago.
“It’s definitely evolved. He’s one of the best corners in the NFL,” Chung said. “We saw that during training camp when he was practicing and not playing, we saw that. We saw glimpses of his athletic ability and things he can do. Now the whole world gets to see it. His role has definitely gotten bigger — you can see that — but that just comes from hard work and doing what he has to do.”
Sunday, what he has to do is check Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones, who is four inches taller and about 35 pounds heavier than Butler. Just As Belichick infamously asked him during the team celebration on the field at Glendale, Ariz., a long way from West Alabama.