ATLANTA — Ten minutes left in Super Bowl LIII. (Or, as John Legend called it, the Super Bore.) Rams 3, Pats 3. New England had managed one field goal in 10 possessions. On the New England sideline, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had seen enough. He gathered his offensive players around him and explained that, in crunch time in the NFL championship game, he was ripping up the game plan.
Patriots tight end Dwayne Allen told me the story at 2 this morning, at the Patriots’ team party in the Atlanta Hyatt Regency, trying to be heard above the Snoop Dogg concert thumping in a nearby ballroom. “One of the things Bill Belichick preaches,” Allen told me, “is he wants a smart, tough, disciplined, unselfish football team that performs well under pressure. And that’s what we did tonight.”
The Rams’ defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, had matched McDaniels’ calls all night. Mostly, the Patriots could do nothing against the Los Angeles sub defenses. Because the Rams’ front was so formidable with pile-pushers Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, they could afford to play one or two extra men in the back end and limit Tom Brady’s passing options with three strong corners. So McDaniels told his men they were just going jumbo, which would force Phillips out of his sub packages and put linebackers on receivers the Patriots trusted could beat them.
McDaniels would keep only one small player on the field—Julian Edelman. And on the next series, he’d play two tight ends (the lightly used Allen and Rob Gronkowski), a fullback (James Devlin), a big back (Rex Burkhead) and Edelman.
“It was a pretty amazing thing,’’ said Allen, one of the beneficiaries of McDaniels’ invention. “Hats off to the Rams. They really knew us. They played us great. But football’s about in-game adjustments. Josh told us on the sideline, ‘We did not practice this at all coming into this game, and I realize that, but this is going off in my head, and it’s something I think we need to do.’ “
The Patriots had averaged 4.9 yards per play in the first 50 minutes of the game. On this drive, they averaged 13.8. New England played what it considers its athletic big offense, and it worked. Gronkowski beat linebacker Samson Ebukam up the right flank for 18 on first down, then hit Edelman on linebacker Cory Littleton for 13, then Burkhead in the left flat for seven, then Gronkowski between Littleton and Mark Barron down the left seam for 29. Sony Michel subbed in for a two-yard touchdown run. Five plays, 69 yards, TD. Pats, 10-3.
In the lowest-scoring game in Super Bowl history, New England bested the surprisingly toothless Rams—the second-highest scoring in football this year—for their sixth title in 18 years. Pats 13, Rams 3. Afterward, Bill Belichick praised McDaniels as much as I’d heard him praise any of his coaches. Belichick called the McDaniels change a “real key breakthrough,” and said McDaniels “made a great adjustment,” and called his play-calling “outstanding, as usual.”
With this victory, Belichick and the Patriots tied the Steelers for the most Super Bowl titles—six. Brady played, for him, a mediocre game. But he was absolutely effervescent after the game, thrilled that the Patriots’ defense played a Steel Curtain kind of game (first eight Rams possessions: eight punts). People who saw him early this morning at the party—I did not—told me he was unusually thrilled and pumped because, as one teammate said, “he loves a team win and couldn’t give a s— about stats.”
“This game,” Allen said, competing with the Snoop Dogg din, “is the difference between the New England Patriots and 31 other teams in the National Football League. We figure it out, and we have no ego when we have to change things.”
This was a wonderful game for the Patriots’ legacy. They’d won (and lost) Super Bowls mostly with bludgeoning offensive performances. Never had the defense and special teams outshone the offense. Never, of course, till Sunday. “A throwback game,” Richard Seymour said. I saw the mountainous defensive tackle of the early dynasty at the party this morning. New England forced the Rams—the NFC’s highest-scoring team—to punt on their first eight series. L.A. hadn’t punted eight times in any of coach Sean McVay’s first 35 games atop the Rams.
Credit will go to Belichick, as it should, for the smart, tough, disciplined and unselfish team, as he preaches. The football world has been slapped in the face by the genius of the young McVay, who is 33, half Belichick’s age. But he was just another speedbump to the Belichick Patriots on Sunday, and McVay’s quarterback, once upon a time a strong MVP candidate this season, was pitiful for most of the Rams’ 260-total-yard day. Belichick, surely, belongs on the Mount Rushmore of all-time coaches. He might sit above the mount before he’s done—and he shows no signs of wanting out after his 19th season as Patriots coach. With 292 career regular-season and post-season victories, Belichick stands 56 victories away from becoming the winningest coach ever. He’s a young 66, and relatively stress-free. As of this morning, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t coach five more years, likely long enough to pass Don Shula’s 347 wins.
The great leader coaches his assistants, and Belichick has done that. Outgoing defensive play-caller Brian Flores orchestrated a great game against Goff, confusing him through the game and bringing pressure through more line stunts than the Rams had expected to see. Flores will be named coach of the Miami Dolphins today, so Belichick will have to break in a new defensive boss. (Smart money is on Greg Schiano, the former Bucs and Rutgers coach, and a confidant of Belichick’s.) But don’t expect the Patriots to change much of what they do. On both sides of the ball, every game, the game plans are snowflakes. Always different.
That’s one of the reasons McDaniels wasn’t concerned at halftime, when the Patriots stumbled to a 3-0 lead halfway through. In the locker room post-game, talk was that McDaniels went to the board to talk to his team and he drew the number “44.” That’s how many plays the Patriots ran in the first half—and how many plays the Rams D was on the field. “That’s got to count for something,” McDaniels told his players. “That’s gonna pay off in the second half.”
Maybe it did. When New England changed its offensive approach to a heavy look with 10 minutes left, the Patriots went 69 yards for a TD and 72 yards for a field goal on their next two drives. On New England’s 61st snap of the game, Sony Michel busted over right tackle for 26 yards. On the 64th, Rex Burkhead ran behind left tackle for 26. That was the ballgame.
This is the team, of course, that America loves to loathe. But I think if America hung around the locker room, it would like this edition of the Patriots. Around the Patriots last week, the coaches and players spoke of a selflessness—even among the stars like Rob Gronkowski and Edelman and Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty and Stephon Gilmore—that exceeded prior championship teams in Foxboro. “It’s not easy to be a Patriot,” Gilmore told me last night. “It’s a grind every day. Even when we win games, it feels like we lose sometimes because it’s hard. We want to be perfect and sometimes we’re not. But it’s worth it. Everything is worth it.”
After the game, I spent a few minutes with Robert Kraft in the out-of-the-way trainers’ room in the Patriots’ locker room. Kraft, impeccable in a three-piece blue suit, was bushed, talked out after his 10th Super Bowl appearance in his quarter-century as owner. “I want to get out of this suit,” he said.
But first, the Bostonian who had Patriots season-tickets as a kid put this team in perspective.
“Well,” he said, “this team is a different team than any of the others we’ve been with. It has a certain sense of character and maturity about it that I don’t ever remember. And I saw it the last two weeks in this locker room. There was a quiet air of confidence. They worked hard. There was a good attitude. I don’t think we had the most Pro Bowl players. Matter of fact, how many did we have? One? And what they did on defense today was unbelievable. Just going back to the start of the season, with all the turmoil and tension and then we started, what, 2-3? (It was 2-2.) And then we came to December and we lost two games in a row which we usually don’t do. And because of that, we didn’t have the home field advantage through the playoffs and we had to go on the road in the championship game to a place we got beaten badly the last time we played there. And they probably have the best young team in all of football. And our guys found a way to get the job done. And then today, the same thing.
“I just pinch myself because you know I’m still a fan. Especially when I’m sitting in my box, I’m thinking as a fan and thinking back to being in the stands and dreaming about owning the team.”
I said: “You’re a New Englander. You love the local sports teams. So how does nine Super Bowls in 18 seasons, unheard of in NFL history, rate versus the great franchises in the history of Boston?”
“I’m gonna let you rate that,” he said. “The only one that I really remember growing up was the Celtics and I was a big fan. They really sustained success. I don’t know how many teams were in the NBA. They had nowhere near the 32 teams we had.”
He was about talked out now, but he had one last thing for me:
“I honestly don’t believe what our team and Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have done will ever be replicated in the age of the salary cap.”
Back in the locker room, a mountain man, totally spent, was getting briefed by Patriots PR chief Stacey James at his locker. Julian Edelman, an option quarterback at Kent State a decade ago, joined the pantheon of all-time greats by turning in a Super Bowl MVP performance. Ten catches, 141 yards, and, for a time, the only weapon New England had. James was explaining how his life was about to change—starting with the MVP press conference Monday morning in no sleep.
No emotion from Edelman. He did say to locker-mate Matthew Slater: “Dude, we held ‘em without a touchdown.”
Then Edelman finished getting dressed. Before he left into the Atlanta night, he said: “Offense sells tickets. Defense wins championships. This was a sign of a great team today.”
One of the greatest ever, and no one’s putting up much of an argument anymore if you call the Patriots the best sustained franchise in league history.
Moral of the story to the eight-man class for the 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame: We’re finally catching up to how the game of this new century is being played. In the last three classes, the Hall’s 48 selectors (I am one) have elected six defensive backs (safeties Kenny Easley, Brian Dawkins, Ed Reed, Johnny Robinson, and corners Ty Law and Champ Bailey) who have played in the modern era, which we define as post-1960. In the previous four classes, only one DB (Aeneas Williams) was enshrined. That’s progress … and I thought Denver safety Steve Atwater had a heck of a shot to make it after our discussions in the 7-hour, 41-minute meeting Saturday in downtown Atlanta.
It’s the first time in Hall history that a class has included four men who played the defensive backfield exclusively. I saw Williams, class of 2014, Sunday morning at my hotel, and asked him his reaction to the DB-heavy class of 2019. “You mean besides jumping up and down, celebrating?” he said. “I love it. It shows the recognition of what an arduous task it is to play in the defensive backfield, and how important it is to winning in modern football.”
Speaking of arduous tasks, this year’s election process was brutal. I thought at least 13 of the 15 modern-era candidates were excellent candidates. Takeaways from a long and rewarding day in the voting room at the Georgia World Congress Center:
• The offensive line logjam got busted up. As a group, I got the sense that we went into the room trying to get in at least one of the four deserving offensive lineman (Tony Boselli, Alan Faneca, Steve Hutchinson, Kevin Mawae), and I hoped they wouldn’t all cannibalize each other. Mawae made it—confirming the respect the committee has for all-decade players; he was the first-team all-decade center for the 2000s, and each of the previous four first-team all-decade centers had previously been elected. An ironman, he played every game in 12 of his 16 seasons, and he was a Pro Bowler at 37 and 38. I do think Boselli will make it, despite playing only 97 games (recent inductees Kenny Easley and Terrell Davis played fewer), and I also think it’s a matter of time for Faneca and Hutchinson. No zits on their records.
• Just a guess, but I think Law edged Atwater. Both players have Hall of Fame résumés. I feel for Atwater, who failed in his 15th year of eligibility but had tremendous support in the room. It was Law’s fifth year, and I think his big plays in huge games in the early Patriots dynasty (his 47-yard pick-six in the first New England Super Bowl win, over St. Louis, and his three interceptions of Peyton Manning in the AFC title game prior to the second Super Bowl win) propelled him. We are not privy to vote counts, but I bet Atwater was quite close to Law.
• Tony Gonzalez and Ed Reed, as suspected, were easy. Combined time of discussion for Reed and Gonzalez: eight minutes.
• Rick Gosselin is a big impact player in the progress of defensive players. You may not know Gosselin, a longtime sports columnist, NFL writer and Hall of Fame voter based in Dallas. But for years, he’s kept exacting statistics about the Hall, and he’s harped on the imbalance between offense and defense in Canton. He was thrilled Saturday night that the defensive numbers of modern-era candidates have now crept up over 40 percent. (There have been 236 modern-era players enshrined, 138 on offense, 95 on defense and three on special teams … which continues to shrink the offensive edge. Now it’s 58.5 percent offense and 40.2 percent defense. That includes 30 defensive backs now and 27 wide receivers. Kudos to Gosselin for harping on this, and making us keep it in mind as we vote. We can’t discuss outside the room what is said inside the room, but suffice to say Gosselin was superb in the case of Seniors candidate Johnny Robinson—who became only the third AFL-era defensive back to make the Hall.
• Love fest for Gil Brandt. I wasn’t positive Brandt would make it; as a Contributors subcommittee nominee, he wasn’t competing against the 15 modern era candidates, but rather needed a simple 80 percent of the room (at least 38 of 48 voters) to say yes for him to make it. This was the one time I felt, sitting there listening to the Brandt discussions, “I wish someone was recording this and could play it for Brandt, just to realize the impact he’s has on so many aspects of football.” To me, Brandt has spanned 75 percent of the NFL’s 99-year history: He got his first job in football, a part-time scouting job with the Rams, in 1955 at the urging of Rams star Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, who knew Brandt from shared acquaintances in their Wisconsin home area. Hirsch was a first-round NFL pick in 1945, a Hall of Famer who got Brandt his start in scouting/writing/combine-czaring/radio-hosting, a career now entering its 64th year.
• On Tom Flores. Lots of online queries from Tom Flores fans. A few things: The two Super Bowl victories are a major plus in his candidacy and could get him enshrined one day. But I think he’s hurt by his three-year record in Seattle (14-34) and the perception that he was a caretaker with the Raiders, took over a team that was 33-11 in the three seasons preceding him—and did an excellent job piloting a ship between Oakland and Los Angeles, but that it wasn’t enough, particularly with the strong modern-era class he was competing against. The Hall may consider a separate coaches category at some point, which also could help Flores.
• My ballots. The voting system works this way: We vote yes or no on Seniors and Contributors candidates. I voted yes on Pat Bowlen, Gil Brandt and Johnny Robinson. On the 15 modern-era candidates, we first cut to 10 by secret ballot. Then the top 10 is tabulated, and we cut to five by secret ballot. Then the top five are tabulated, and we vote yes or no in secret on each of the five, one by one. My cut to 10: Atwater, Bailey, Boselli, Faneca, Gonzalez, Edgerrin James, Law, John Lynch, Mawae, Reed. My cut to five: Atwater, Bailey, Gonzalez, Law, Reed. I voted yes on all five of the finalists.
If you missed the TV advertisement with all the NFL players at the NFL Formal just before the halftime concert last night, here it is:
The story behind it, from the NFL’s new chief marketing officer, Tim Ellis, who came to the league from the video game industry last September:
“When I came on board, I felt we needed to take a new communications direction. I had the best agencies in the country compete for our business, and [full-service ad agency] 72 And Sunny won the business. We said we wanted a big ad to kick off the NFL’s 100th season, and they said they could get this ready for next fall. I said no, that’s the Super Bowl spot. We want it for the Super Bowl.
“The turnaround was incredibly fast. There’s almost 50 stars in it, and we didn’t start contacting people till last December … and we taped it in mid-January. The reason we were able to pull it off is because it felt genuine and authentic to the players. The players said, ‘Whoever put this together knows football.’ “
It’s a two-minute spot. In brief: At a black-tie banquet celebrating football, with Roger Goodell at the podium, and the camera panning the room to show Dick Butkus, Joe Green, Ndamukong Suh, Peyton Manning, Orlando Pace, Alvin Kamara, Drew Brees, Michael Strahan, Rob Gronkowski, and Brian Urlacher, and Ninja, the biggest video-game influencer in the world, serves the (supposedly) best video-game player in the NFL, JuJu Smith-Schuster, who gives him a double-take look …
… There’s a gigantic cake in the middle of the room, a golden football on top, and mischievous Marshawn Lynch (in a Beast Mode sweatsuit), leans over in his chair to swipe a taste of the icing and the chair tips over and Lynch smashes the cake and the golden football skitters to the ground, and Mike Singletary screams “Fumble!!!!” and Singletary and Christian McCaffrey and a couple of others dive for the ball, and it ends up in Joe Montana’s hands, and Montana bypasses Michael Irvin to throw to Jerry Rice, but Deion Sanders intercepts and struts down the middle of the ballroom, and Urlacher smashes him into a table, which collapses, and Larry Little and Paul Warfield and Larry Csonka (of the ’72 Dolphins) look on admiringly, and Kamara and Suh enter the fray but Barry Sanders ends up with the ball and makes a pirouetting move, admired by Emmitt Smith, and Peyton Manning ends up with the ball and throws to LaDainian Tomlinson and Ed Reed destroys Tomlinson, and Jim Brown is cool with that, and then Baker Mayfield and Tom Brady, sitting at a side table, chat and Brady hands Mayfield his five Super Bowl rings and then enters the game, and somehow Terry Bradshaw has the ball and fades back to pass and Aaron Donald destroys a table to get at Bradshaw, and Bradshaw throw it high to Larry Fitzgerald with Jalen Ramsey and Derwin James in coverage, and the ball bounces high and far away …
… And Franco Harris makes an Immaculate Reception, admired by Joe Greene, and JuJu ends up with the ball and he twinkle-toes across a table, and Odell Beckham goes out for a pass and Goodell tells Patrick Mahomes (yes, he’s in it) that Beckham is open, and Mayfield no-look-passes to Beckham, who reprises his one-hand end-zone catch against Dallas while landing on a table …
… And this is a very cool moment—down judge Sarah Thomas eagle-eyes the Odell catch, and referee Ronald Torbert makes the “catch is good” signal and Thomas signals and calls “First down!” And then Tony Gonzalez catches a pass, tackled hard by Von Miller, and that viral-video adolescent female running back, Sam Gordon, has the ball, and Richard Sherman tries to steal it, and she jukes him, and laterals to Saquon Barkley, and he leads a cadre of young stars out of the frame.
All in two minutes.
“I felt in my gut this would be a big commercial and a big way to launch our 100th season,’’ said Ellis.
Logistics were fun. With the spot being taped in the middle of the playoffs, Ellis had some faux banquet rooms, with tight shots, built with the same décor as the L.A. venue. Mayfield flew to Boston and did his piece with Brady there. Mahomes flew to Orlando and did his piece with Wilson there, making a throw that was “caught” on the L.A. set by Beckham. Extra credit to Brees and Kamara for doing their piece in New Orleans a couple of days after the bitter loss in the NFL title game.
Peyton Manning was booked solid on the days it was being taped in L.A. But he found a way to make it to the set and did his part in 90 minutes.
And that’s how this breakneck commercial happened.
Offensive Players of the Week
Julian Edelman, wide receiver, New England. He’ll always be known for his beard, but Sunday’s performance cemented that he’ll forever be remembered as a Super Bowl MVP. In a game dominated by defense, Edelman stood out as the offensive star. Edelman had 10 catches for 141 yards and was the man Tom Brady turned to just about every time the team needed a first down—eight of his grabs moved the chains. Edelman now sits second in NFL playoff history with 115 postseason receptions, with only Jerry Rice ahead of him. Nice company.
Defensive Player of the Week
Stephon Gilmore, cornerback, New England. From potential goat to hero in 10 minutes. With 12 minutes left in a 3-3 game, Jared Goff threw incomplete on third-and-11 deep in Ram territory … and there was a flag. On the backside of the play, away from the action, Gilmore got called for grabbing Brandin Cooks’ jersey, extending the Ram drive. Luckily the penalty didn’t kill New England. With the Pats up 10-3 and the Rams driving with 4:24 left, Goff went for the gold on a zero blitz by New England, Gilmore singled against Cooks. Goff underthrew it, and Gilmore picked it at the Pats’ 4-yard line, and the Patriots were able to run out the clock. Gilmore made the play of the game in the AFC Championship last season, and he made the biggest play in this game too.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Johnny Hekker, punter, Rams. It was a dangerous time of game for the Rams … Inside of nine minutes left in the third quarter, New England up 3-0, and Hekker lining up for his eighth punt of the night already deep in his end zone. The punt came off Hekker’s foot as a line-drive sort of knuckler, and Julian Edelman let the ball go near midfield. Big mistake. It bounced and rolled and rolled some more, ending up at the Patriots’ 29. The 65-yard punt, longest in Super Bowl history, wasn’t the prettiest one—at all—but it got the job done, reversing the field at a vital time when his offense was just putrid.
Coach of the Week
Brian Flores, defensive coordinator, New England. Miami Dolphins fans had to be giddy watching their new head coach put on a clinic Sunday in Atlanta. Flores put together one of the best defensive game plans in Super Bowl history, with his Patriots defense limiting the Rams offense to three feeble points. Flores had an answer for everything offensive wunderkind Sean McVay threw at the Patriots. And quarterback Jared Goff’s terrible game can be credited to Flores and the Patriots defensive front.
Goat of the Week
Jared Goff, quarterback, Rams. Picked the worst time to have a clunker of a game. Though Goff was good on a couple of late drives, he underthrew Brandin Cooks near the New England goal line, down seven, with 4:24 left in the game. Stephon Gilmore picked it off, and the Patriots hung on. If Goff played a C-plus game, the Rams likely would have won. But he was a D player in the biggest game of his career, and his line let him down too, and New England was just good enough to win.
“There’s no other way to say it: I got out-coached tonight.”
—Rams coach Sean McVay.
“It’s shocking. We have to go back and look at the tape to see where things really fell apart. It’s just embarrassing.”
—Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth, on the abysmal performance of the Rams offense.
“I was the Michael Jordan of my position.”
—Ravens safety Ed Reed, newly elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, to Ed Werder of Westwood One radio.
“You are the face of the league. You have the responsibility to come out and address issues when they come about. On Monday or Tuesday after that game we all deserved a response of some kind. It’s the commissioner’s responsibility … and yet we don’t hear a peep for 10 days.”
—Saints quarterback Drew Brees, on “The Dan Patrick Show,” about commissioner Roger Goodell’s reticence to discuss the most controversial officiating decision of his 12-and-a-half-year tenure.
“Football is a lot like life. It’s not always going to be like you planned it. Sometimes you get punched and you get up and there’s that grit element with this game that fascinates us all.”
—Saints coach Sean Payton.
“For all the evils in the world, I see apathy as the most dangerous.”
—2018 NFL Man of the Year Chris Long.
Gil Brandt, elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday after a 63-year history scouting for teams and running the Dallas scouting operation and then covering the NFL and honchoing the Scouting Combine, desperately wanted a bust in Canton. When I ran into him last week and wished him luck Saturday, I said he should be optimistic about his chances. “That’s what Hillary Clinton thought entering her election a couple years ago,” he said, “and look what happened.” But when he got the good news Saturday, he reflected on all the people who’ve reached out to him, and what the game, and those in it, have taught him.
“My emotions have run the gamut since last night. I didn’t know I knew so many people. Mike Nolan [former Niners head coach, and son of former Cowboys assistant Dick Nolan] called to congratulate me. You know how I met him? I used to go over to the Nolans’ house at Christmas and put his toys together at Christmas.”
Brandt had a call on the other line.
“Dak Prescott!” he said. “How you doing?” … “Yeah.” … “Hey, well, give me some of that Campbells Soup money.” … “Thanks a lot for calling.”
“That’s what it’s been like. It’s kind of like Churchill, taking off his bowler, and saying, ‘Never give up.’ That’s what my life’s been like. I’m so proud of what I’ve done to contribute to the game. I got a message from Bill Belichick last night, maybe a two-minute message telling me how many people I’ve helped along the way—coaches, scouts, players, and how this was long overdue. That was nice to hear. Did you know when Rick Forzano died this season [former mentor of Belichick] during the playoffs, Bill took a plane out one night to go to the wake, spent an hour with the family, and then flew back. No one knows those things about Bill, but they should.
“I guess this has been a dream of mine for a long time, but I wanted to be a good person too. I wanted to treat people right. I wanted to help people. When Tex Schramm called me and offered me the job running scouting with the Cowboys, it was such a great opportunity, because teams weren’t really scouting then. Scouting then was the scout saying to the team, ‘This dog can hunt.’ There was a lot of room to succeed, and I think I set up a scouting system that was 40 years ahead of its time.
“So what I learned mostly is if you’re a good person, and you’re disciplined, and you work hard and you’re good to people, you can succeed in this business. Discipline’s so important, because you’ve got to work, and you’ve got to get people to respect how you work. I think that’s what I’ve been able to do.”
From the home office of Pro Football Focus, on the New England defensive keys to smothering the Rams Sunday night
- Jared Goff did not have a completion more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage.
- Stunts were key for the Patriots. They used them on 18 of 42 Ram passing plays. New England pressured Goff on nine of the 18 stunts.
- Blitzes were key for the Patriots too. Sending extra rushes on 48 percent of the L.A. pass plays, it was the Pats’ third-heaviest blitzing game out of 19 this year. Clearly, they thought Goff would be bothered by them, and he was.
- Goff didn’t handle the pressure this week as well as he did in the NFC title game. Goff versus pressure in the NFC title game: 9.1 yards per attempt. Goff versus pressure in the Super Bowl: 3.6 yards per attempt.
In general: Goff will have to prove he can handle the heat. He didn’t do well against it Sunday.
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The time of discussion for each of the 18 nominees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday:
Gil Brandt: 34 minutes
Ty Law: 27
Tony Boselli: 26
Kevin Mawae: 25
Don Coryell: 23
Pat Bowlen: 19
Tom Flores: 18
Steve Hutchinson: 14
Steve Atwater: 13
John Lynch: 13
Champ Bailey: 11
Edgerrin James: 10
Alan Faneca: 10
Johnny Robinson: 9
Isaac Bruce: 8
Richard Seymour: 8
Tony Gonzalez: 6
Ed Reed: 2
The Denver Broncos are 59 seasons old.
They have had 29 winning seasons.
On Saturday, Champ Bailey became the franchise’s first defensive Hall of Famer.
The press box announcer in Mercedes Benz Stadium let out what sounded like a lengthy belch with one minute left in the game. His mic was live. Not sure I’ve heard a press box with hundreds on deadline in the Super Bowl laugh that uproariously.
In nine Super Bowls this century, the Patriots have scored three points, total, in first quarters.
In honor of the late Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman, I did something for the first time in my life Sunday evening. In his memory, I clocked the National Anthem. Got Gladys Knight in 1 minute, 59.10 seconds.
The NFL remembered him too, as you can see, in the press box … directly in front of The MMQB staff at the game. Fitting. Nice tribute.
Zim died Nov. 1, almost a decade after suffering a series of three strokes in New Jersey.
Wait a second! Who said you could be reasonable while discussing officiating? From John D.: “I thought the no-call in the Saints-Rams game illustrated how tough it is to get officiating done right. The call on the field was made in real time, so the officials did not have the benefit of slow motion, or the proper angle. But replay would also need to check whether the ball was tipped. But when you look at the line play from behind the quarterback (to see if the ball was tipped) you also see two possible Saints penalties that were not called. Hands to the face on the left, and holding on the right. Would the replay check for all that when it is in view? Could the Rams then challenge no-calls as well? I could see a possible scenario where there were offsetting fouls, with the Saints replaying the down. These plays could be complicated when you start pulling threads.”
Excellent point, John. I addressed it in my officiating section below in No. 4 of 10 Things. I am sure the league, if it ever allowed a challenge of a judgment call, would mandate that the challenge be about one specific thing, so it would not be, as you smartly say, a situation of officials pulling threads and finding another foul or two on the same play.
The fate of Gronk. From Jeffrey F. of Grand Rapids, Mich.: “If Rob Gronkowski does indeed retire, is he a possible Hall of Famer? A probable Hall of Famer? Too hard to say at this point?”
Last year, I saw Gronkowski’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, in Indianapolis at the combine. I told him I wished Gronkowski the best and, in my opinion, if he’d retired then, I felt he had done enough to be a Hall of Famer. So yes, I think Gronkowski would get my vote.
The fate of Belichick. From Kevin M.: “You think this is maybe it for Bill? Few things this week that were out of character: family time at the Saturday walk-through, much more sentimental after the win, saying he’d party with Gronk.”
I doubt it sincerely, Kevin. As I said above, my gut feeling is he’ll coach multiple more years. Coaching, I believe, brings him very little stress, and he loves it, and he’s doesn’t seem to have health problems.
1. I think the performance has to be a crushing one for Goff and a humbling one for McVay. I put a lot more of the blame on Goff, because he’s got to make more plays than he did, and he took some sacks he shouldn’t have and just didn’t respond to the New England pressure as the game went on. But I wouldn’t worry much about either man. Goff had some shaky games down the stretch—Bears, Eagles and Patriots most notably. But he’s got the rare gift to forget when he stinks, like a great cornerback. McVay is too smart to be crushed by this. He won’t say it, but he needs his quarterback to be his general on the field and to make enough plays to keep his team in the game. He could have the best game plan he’d ever choreographed Sunday, but it the quarterback can’t execute it and make more plays, it would be for naught.
2. I think I’d have named a defensive player—either Dont’a Hightower or Stephone Gilmore—the MVP if I had a vote. (I did not.) I thought this was the defense’s day.
3. I think, regarding the 2019 regular-season opener, the Patriots have no shortage of logical foes. My best guess for the Thursday night lidlifter on Sept. 5 at Gillette Stadium:
• Cleveland at Patriots. This would be my pick, but the NFL may be hesitant to put a team that hasn’t proven it yet in the opener.
• Pittsburgh at Patriots. Drama Queens at the Model Franchise.
• Kansas City at Patriots. Doubt they’d waste this mega-game on opening night. NFL usually saves matchups such as this AFC title game rematch for a big midseason game.
• Dallas at Patriots. America’s (Competitive) Team is another game I wonder if the NFL would waste on opening night.
4. I think, after hearing some early discussion about officiating from key people in and around the Super Bowl, I know a few things about officiating, and what is likely to happen between now and the start of the regular season Sept. 5:
a. The eight-man Competition Committee begins meeting in earnest about any new rules to be added at the NFL Scouting Combine beginning Feb. 26 in Indianapolis. There, the committee and league officials (Roger Goodell, Troy Vincent, Al Riveron among them) will discuss agenda officiating items; occasionally, the committee has a good feel for what’s going to pass at the league’s March or May meetings in advance of the season. Not this year. All ideas will be on the table in Indy, but I look for nothing to be decided coming out of there.
b. Having said that, I think the most likely scenario is keeping the current replay and challenge system mostly intact. I don’t sense an appetite for blowing up the current system—at all. I see a new tributary or two of rules changes being possible, but nothing revolutionary.
c. Though some in the league, including Denver GM John Elway, have said there’s no way the league can institute a rule for challenging a judgment call like pass interference, I don’t think he’s right. Not only will all ideas be on the table this spring regarding officiating, but, as Adam Schefter reported last week, it’s conceivable that teams could challenge a judgment call, with an as-yet unidentified potentially onerous penalty against a team challenging a judgment call and being wrong.
d. Though Mike Pereira and Mike Florio have eloquently pushed for an extra official in each crew—a proverbial eye-in-the-sky official sitting upstairs and monitoring the game with every replay angle from the network telecast—I think that has very little chance of happening. The NFL already has a team of replay technicians inside the officiating command center in New York monitoring each game, with Riveron and his staff looking over their shoulders and consulting with the officials on the field when necessary. How many cooks do you need in the kitchen? I can’t see any way a press-box official will be added.
e. This piece of knowledge is important: If the league does allow a judgment call to be challenged at any point during a game, the mandate very likely will be limited to only the disputed play a coach is protesting. If you force the replay-reviewer to look at potential fouls on all 22 players on the play, that’s a Pandora’s Box the NFL has no interest in opening, from my reporting.
f. The current sentiment—which could change—is for there to be no increase in the number of coaches’ challenges. Coaches would still be able to ask for a maximum of two reviewed plays per game. That’s one of the reasons the games aren’t likely to be much longer if a new replay rule is added in 2019. A coach is unlikely to challenge a six-yard completion in the second quarter, because he knows he would want to save a challenge for a crucial spot late in the game.
g. One of the details that’s particularly devilish: If plays in the last two minutes of the half or the game continue to be challengeable only by the officiating observer upstairs, would all potential judgment-call fouls be reviewable then? That’s what I mean about how hard this is going to be—the play in New Orleans put so many potentially divisive elements of replay discussion on the table.
h. One NFL person with an interest in this cause told me there’s already a cadre of owners who think replay is too intrusive and won’t want to add more potential mayhem to the game. So several teams are probably going to be knee-jerk in saying, “No changes whatsoever.” That makes the margin for approval tough. What can you get passed? More than one person told me something similar to this: “The biggest challenge will be, ‘What rules change can get 24 votes?’ “
i. There’s a legitimate chance that nothing changes, for that last sentiment alone. The best chance for change, I think, is for a respected voice like Bill Belichick to speak authoritatively on the issue, along with others the decision-makers in the room will respect—Mike Tomlin and Andy Reid, for instance.
5. I think this is my guess for the Aug. 1 Hall of Fame Game: Denver and the New York Jets. Three Hall of Fame enshrinees (Champ Bailey, Pat Bowlen, Kevin Mawae) between the two franchises and two first-year coaches (Vic Fangio and Adam Gase) who likely would want the extra week of camp to better analyze their young players and make roster decisions.
6. I think the vote for the MVP (Patrick Mahomes 41, Drew Brees 9) seemed absolutely spot-on to me. It became obvious in the last few weeks, with the Saints offense falling to earth (19 points per game in the last six weeks) and Mahomes staying hot, that it wasn’t going to be close.
7. I think I like Arizona president Michael Bidwill, and the Fritz Pollard Alliance has done some very good and very important work for the advancement of minority coaches. But for the alliance to give Bidwill an award for integrity and leadership in diversity in a team’s hiring practices is a little tone-deaf (maybe a lot tone-deaf) after a season in which Arizona fired its African-American head coach after one season … replacing Steve Wilks with a white college coach fired at Texas Tech after compiling a sub-.500 record. There will be a good year to honor Michael Bidwill. This was not it.
8. I think, on the other hand, the Fritz Pollard Alliance did it right in honoring the contributions of longtime Giants trainer Ronnie Barnes, who is selfless, bright, progressive, extremely smart about the human body and an honest man in the business of being the arbiter of when a player can play and when he cannot.
9. I think the best thing I experienced in the 7-hour, 41-minute Hall of Fame selection meeting Saturday was selector Dan Fouts’ intelligent and impassioned nine-minute advocacy for his former coach, Don Coryell, during the debate over Coryell’s worthiness. So impressive, so smart. I said to him afterward how great it was—and a I realized when it was over, I was actually sitting at the edge of my seat. I’m not allowed to be specific about any of his points, or to say anything other that he spoke, but Fouts’ reasoned, thought-out argument for Coryell should be a model for all speakers defending the cases of Hall of Fame finalists.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Special Section of the Week: The New York Times work on the life and times and Jackie Robinson—his 100th birthday would have been last week—was beautiful.
b. “He made the whole country better.”
c. Great Super Bowl ad by the Washington Post.
d. Plus great narration by Tom Hanks.
e. For the 39th straight year, Rick Gosselin has compiled his ranking of NFL special teams, a tradition established and novice coaches eat up. Guess who’s number one? Clue: Fireman Ed.
f. Coffeenerdness: Man, that’s some grim Marriott coffee in Atlanta.
g. Beernerdness: Thank you, Monday Night Brewery in Atlanta, for giving The MMQB alumni association (me, mostly) a pleasant evening last Monday.
h. RIP, Wade Wilson, one of the nicest men I’ve met covering the NFL.
i. The Knicks are a franchise adrift, as illustrated by the trade of Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas Thursday. That is putting it nicely.
j. The Knicks traded the best player they’ve drafted in this century for cap space.
k. FOR CAP SPACE.
l. AND I BARELY CARE ABOUT BASKETBALL.
m. I get the fact that it’s great in modern basketball to have a lot of cap money so you can pay players max contracts. This deal accomplishes that—the Knicks could lure two megastars to the team now. But how is it good for basketball to have so many excellent players leave losing teams? How is it good for multiple teams to tank to try to get high draft choices and, in many cases, put their hopes in signing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving when (and if) they enter free agency?
n. There’s only one Durant, one Irving. You can’t split them in sevenths and have them sign with seven teams.
o. I am old enough to remember when Knicks fans begin willing the team stink for two years for a prayer of a chance to sign LeBron James. Why do teams, and fans of those teams, over and over think longshot prayers are worth losing? Why don’t teams like the Knicks draft and develop players, and sign and coach underrated players, to try to build a good team?
p. The media feeds into it. The back page of the New York Post had Zion Williamson, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Knicks uniforms Friday. Even though it’s clearly a dream scenario, after seeing that and listening to talk shows talk about landing two or three of the best players in basketball this summer, I mean, the media and the Knicks are setting up fans for a ginormous fall.
q. We all should have the class and dignity and ethos of Kendall Coyne Schofield.
Brady bludgeons you,
or the D dominates you.
Pick your Pat poison.