By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — In what is becoming a tradition around New England, the Patriots are back in the Super Bowl.
The franchise is going for its sixth title, all of which would be under the leadership of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. They’re the two constants from New England’s first five championships, and as long as that Hall of Fame duo is steering the ship, the Patriots are always a threat to add another banner at Gillette Stadium.
But we all already know that Belichick and Brady are going to be a big piece to the puzzle come Sunday evening in Minnesota, when the Patriots take on the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. We also know that it takes a whole lot more than just the coach and quarterback to win it all. Whether it’s Brady’s big-name targets or, as was the case three years ago in Glendale, an undrafted cornerback who fought for a roster spot all season, anyone on the team could step up at the biggest moment.
Here’s a look at some of the Patriots who don’t wear the No. 12 jersey that will play big roles in Sunday’s Super Bowl.
After spending much of the week in the NFL’s concussion protocol, Gronkowski is good to go for Sunday’s title bout.
He missed last year’s comeback against the Falcons, so Gronk will be eager to deliver a monster spike or two on the game’s biggest stage this season. The Eagles have a talented defense that was among the best in the league against running backs and wide receivers, but they struggled mightily against tight ends. They were able to contain Austin Hooper and Kyle Rudolph so far this postseason, but Gronkowski is a whole different beast, and will be a big threat to take over any drive — and possibly the game.
Amendola should legally change his middle name from James to “Playoffs.” He has 18 catches for nearly 200 yards this postseason, and is coming off a two-touchdown performance against the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game. If Brady needs to convert on third down, and Gronk is blanketed with heavy coverage, there’s a good chance he’s going to find Amendola to move the chains.
Cooks is brimming with confidence after his most impactful performance as a Patriot, snagging six of eight targets for 100 yards in the AFC Championship Game against Jacksonville’s talented secondary. He’s always wanted to play on the big stage, and he could take advantage of his matchup with either Ronald Darby or Jalen Mills. Cooks did most of his damage against Jacksonville with A.J. Bouye on him, and Bouye is a much better corner than what Philadelphia has to offer. Cooks, and Chris Hogan, should both be able to take advantage of their matchups if the Pats send them out deep.
Philadelphia was great against running backs during the season, but Dion Lewis is not your average running back. He should be in line for a big game as Brady’s security blanket out of the backfield, and along with Amendola and James White, will put a ton of pressure on Philadelphia’s linebackers.
Brady’s Offensive Line
It’s well documented that the best way to keep Brady out of his rhythm is with pressure up the middle. The quarterback’s offensive line, especially the interior linemen, are going to have their hands full on Sunday, as Philly touts a talented front four that can crush a quarterback’s pocket in a hurry.
It’s led by Fletcher Cox, who is simply a beast. He’s also apparently an off-season luchador.
Cox was second on the team with 5.5 sacks during the regular season, and also had a sack of Matt Ryan just before halftime in the Divisional Round. The Falcons eventually had to punt and the Eagles were able to score a field goal before the break to cut their deficit to 10-9. Center David Andrews and guards Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney are going to have to bring their A games dealing with Philly’s talented rotation of interior linemen.
Tackles Nate Solder and LaAdrian Waddle will also have their work cut out for them with Brandon Graham (9.5 sacks during the regular season), Vinny Curry and Chris Long gunning for the quarterback.
It appears Gilmore has things figured out as his first season in New England winds down, as you can see from his “Air Gilmore” play in the AFC Championship Game.
Now he gets to spend his first Super Bowl Sunday covering his old college roommate, Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery.
Both players came up big for their teams in the conference title games; Gilmore with his pass breakup with the game on the line and and Jeffery with a pair of touchdowns. Sunday will be the first time the two line up across from each other since their days at South Carolina.
Foles does a great job sharing the wealth on offense and Jeffery and Nelson Agholor were pretty even throughout the regular season. But it looks like Foles and Jeffery have some great chemistry brewing heading into the Super Bowl, and he’ll likely be his go-to target when the quarterback looks down field. Hopefully Gilmore has a few more big-money moments left in him.
New England’s safety has a tough assignment in Zach Ertz, who led the Eagles with 74 catches for 824 yards and finished tied for second with eight touchdowns during the regular season. He also has 11 catches for 125 yards in the Eagles’ two postseason wins.
The 5-foot-11 Chung is not one to back down from a challenge and has dealt with bigger players throughout the season, to mixed results. Ertz is one of three tight ends that the Eagles send out there, which sets up their dominant run game, and poses the biggest threat of Foles’ targets. Chung is going to have to have the game of his life to neutralize this threat.
Marquis Flowers & James Harrison
The Eagles offense gives Nick Foles plenty of run-pass options (get ready to hear RPO about 1,000 times during the game broadcast), meaning the quarterback can either hit a receiver short or simply hand it off. The Eagles had loads of success with these plays in the NFC Championship game on first down, and if they weren’t moving the chains, it set up a lot of manageable second-and-short opportunities for their offense. Foles went 10-for-12 on first downs on Philly’s first four drives, before things got really silly in that game, picking up 146 of his 352 passing yards. Six of his eight short passes that picked went for eight or more yards.
It will be important for Matt Patricia’s defense to take those short options away from Foles, and they can use their hybrid linebackers to do so. Flowers and Harrison can line up on the line to discourage a running play and then drop into coverage to take away that short pass, or put them in position to stop Jay Ajayi if he gets the handoff. Their duties will likely change play to play.
This will be one of the more interesting chess matches to watch during the game.
As we’ve come to learn about Patriots Super Bowls, they tend to be fairly close games that leave fans biting their nails to the very end. Most of the time, New England’s kicker has played a pretty important role in their victories.
Luckily they have one of the best in the business in Gostkowski. He missed just three field goals in the regular season, and connected on all four of his tries from 50+ yards.
But his impact goes much further than just putting it through the uprights. Gostkowski’s ability to force opponents to field his kickoffs, along with his angling of those kicks, allow New England’s talented special teams gunners to get to the returner ahead of the 25-yard line pretty often. For a middling Philadelphia special teams squad, one that occasionally had issues holding onto the ball (a special teams fumble in the Divisional Round led to Atlanta’s only touchdown), that could be a problem.
The Patriots hold a big advantage of special teams heading into Sunday, and the right foot of Gostkowski is a big part of it.
Get ready for Sunday’s Super Bowl with a pair of extended editions of Patriots GameDay on WBZ-TV! Tune in to a special 60-minute edition of GameDay on Friday night at 7pm, Patriots All Access at 7pm on Saturday night, and a 90-minute Patriots GameDay on Sunday morning at 11:30am!