“Whenever you’re at the top like that, people just make up stuff, just saying the Patriots dynasty is done. They said it every year, and one year they will be right. But they’ve never been right yet.”
By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots won the Super Bowl in February. You remember that, yeah? Lots of confetti and smiles and whatnot on the New England sideline after a 13-3 victory over the Rams. It was a regular old ballyhoo.
Anyway, even though the 2019 season is juuuust about ready to kick off, Patriots fans were treated to one last hurrah to celebrate the Super Bowl LIII victory with a pair of NFL Films specials that debuted on NFL Network on Wednesday night.
The first was “Do Your Job Part III: Bill Belichick and the 2018 Patriots,” and it featured Belichick and Josh McDaniels breaking down some key coaching decisions throughout the year and throughout the postseason. The second was “America’s Game: 2018 Patriots,” which featured interviews with the McCourty twins, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman to help tell the story of the run to the Super Bowl.
Of course, a flood of mic’d up specials hit the airwaves immediately after the Super Bowl, and we broke all of those down here, here, and here. Naturally, there was quite a bit of overlap. But there was also plenty of new material. So, without further ado, here are some of the best, most interesting, and most noteworthy parts that stood out in the two new NFL Films specials.
–Loser rings. That’s not a term most coaches hold dearly. Yet Bill Belichick, upon greeting Tom Brady at this year’s ring ceremony, shared that he brought his “loser rings” with him to complete the collection.
We knew from previous ceremonies that Belichick will bust out his rings from the Super Bowls he lost. Now we know he just refers to them as his “loser rings.”
–Belichick also addressed the team at this year’s ring ceremony, and he admitted quite frankly, “I know it’s not easy to play for me.” A few seconds later, he followed it up with, “It’s worth it.”
When you talk about a time and a place to deliver the right message, I do believe the time to make that declaration is when everybody is mere minutes away from opening up their shiny new bazillion-dollar ring.
–Early in “Do Your Job,” we got a better understanding of what makes the Patriots different from a coaching perspective. McDaniels reflected back on his early days with the organization, when it would be his job to draw a play, write all the details of that play, and then enter all of that data into a computer. Often, he’d find sticky notes with messages from Belichick, informing him that he drew the splits wrong. If a receiver was supposed to line up four yards outside the numbers but was drawn as being two yards outside the numbers, then Belichick would let McDaniels know that the work was not acceptable. Then, it was literally back to the drawing board for McDaniels, until he got it perfect.
“He was basically teaching me how to work at his level,” McDaniels said. “‘No, it’s not OK to be good. It’s not OK to be detailed most of the time. What I want is as close to perfect as you can be.'”
It was one peek behind the curtain to help show why all of this winning does not happen by accident. That was a common theme throughout the program.
–A locker room message from Belichick to his players late in the year: “Don’t believe all the other s— out there about how bad we are and how bad we suck and all that and how old we are. Just keep doing what we’re doing.”
Thriving off the doubters was another common theme throughout both films. And while some naysayers in the local media have held tightly to a claim that nobody ever doubted the Patriots, the films did a good job of showing montages of loud and prominent voices in the sports media declaring not only that the Patriots would lose in the playoffs but that it would be the official end of the Patriots dynasty as we know it.
(That being said, putting Rob Parker in the film stole some credibility from such moments. He is a real life clown. At least Max Kellerman is moderately entertaining.)
–In breaking down the AFC Championship Game, Belichick was still so steamed about the missed call on a pick by Chris Conley on J.C. Jackson — illegal contact which sprung Sammy Watkins for a huge gain to set up a touchdown — that he legitimately could not even talk about it. He and McDaniels were at their touch screen breaking down film, and Belichick asked the producers if they had to discuss that play. He couldn’t do it. He essentially had to self-censor himself so as not to get fined by the NFL for comments made in a documentary about winning the Super Bowl.
Say whatever you want about Bill — and we know that you do say whatever you want about Bill — but you have to appreciate that the fire and competitiveness is still coursing through those veins, despite 1,100 years spent coaching in the NFL.
–A key part of that AFC title game was the trio of third-and-10’s converted by Tom Brady’s offense. As you likely have heard, the Chiefs tried to change the overtime rules after losing that game in overtime, because they felt it was unfair that Patrick Mahomes “never got the chance” to touch the football in overtime. That is such a farcical statement, because in fact the Chiefs had three big (and, frankly, easy) opportunities to put the ball between precious Patrick’s palms. Those opportunities came on a third-and-10 from the New England 35, a third-and-10 from the K.C. 45, and a third-and-10 from the K.C. 30. (They also had three more chances after that to hold New England to a field goal, but Andy Reid didn’t know that he could have called a timeout and maybe tried to figure something out on defense and/or give his gassed players a breather. NEVERTHELESS.)
McDaniels broke down the three third-and-10 plays, which was interesting. (Other sage football minds did the same many moons ago, if you’re interested in such things.) But to me, two quotes stood out the most from McDaniels when discussing this overtime drive.
“I don’t know that we ever converted three third-and-10s in a GAME … you know, all year. Which most teams don’t.”
“Same … this is the same call.”
The first quote spoke to how ridiculous it is for a defense to allow three third-and-10’s to be converted on the same drive (let alone in overtime, with a trip to the Super Bowl hanging in the balance), while the second quote speaks to … just how easy it was for the Patriots to do it. The Chiefs were so perplexed by the first instance of Julian Edelman motioning behind Phillip Dorsett and then running free over the middle, that McDaniels figured, “Why the heck not … run it again.” And it worked. Both times.
Belichick and McDaniels breaking down the Patriots’ three 3rd and 10 conversions in the AFCCG 🤩🤩 pic.twitter.com/oU83vPDCGT
— Tucker Boynton (@Tucker_TnL) September 5, 2019
That portion of the program should be required viewing for anyone who tries to mention “fairness” with regard to the outcome of the AFC Championship Game. To win football games, you must play football. That simple fact was reinforced in “Do Your Job.”
–“Do Your Job” spent a few minutes showing Belichick’s utter disgust at the unknown and unexpected wind factor at Super Bowl LIII, because the roof was open for pregame festivities. We could laugh and say, well, a very slight wind in a building with a tiny opening in the roof is probably not a reason to go into a pregame crisis. But also … that’s precisely what makes Belichick Belichick.
When referee John Parry was explaining that the NFL wanted the roof open for the flyover, you would have thought he was telling Belichick that he’d have to eat nails while walking on hot coals, based on Belichick’s facial reaction:
–The little details that went into how the Patriots put themselves in position to make the game-sealing interception against Jared Goff were fascinating. “Do Your Job” spotlighted a play earlier in the game, when the Patriots looked as if they’d blitz, only for the defenders near the line of scrimmage to drop back into coverage. Showing blitz forced the Rams to keep a running back and tight end in to protect, thus leading to a number of plays where the Rams didn’t have enough receivers running routes to get open against the New England secondary.
On the interception, the Rams didn’t bring in extra protection from a tight end, which led to too many rushers for L.A. to block. C.J. Anderson picked up Devin McCourty, which gave a free lane to Duron Harmon at Goff.
That forced Goff to get rid of the ball early, but that wasn’t the only part of New England’s design that contributed to the game-changing play. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore was playing 10 yards off the line of scrimmage against Brandin Cooks, giving Gilmore a clear and easy view of Goff for the entirety of the play.
“This is really a difficult situation. The quarterback, he knows he has a free player as a blitzer, plus he knows that he has Gilmore playing off, with the vision on him,” McDaniels said. “If Gilmore was pressed, this would be a lot simpler on the quarterback.”
–As for the ensuing drive to actually put the Super Bowl away, there was nothing complicated about that.
“Nothing fancy,” McDaniels explained of the ground attack. “It was zero that was schematic about that. It was let’s technique and fundamental the right way. Let’s get to be physical and aggressive.”
Sony Michel gained 65 yards on seven carries, setting up a Stephen Gostkowski field goal that put the game out of reach for the Rams.
Earlier, that was the same method they relied upon to score the game-winning touchdown:
Hey and that’s also how they won the AFC Championship Game:
–Sony Michel’s work stood out in both films. He is really good. He ran hard, he ran fast, he ran downhill, and when needed, he ran through human bodies. He probably hasn’t gotten proper credit. Or maybe he has. In any event, his 336 rushing yards and six touchdowns in three playoff games was a pretty impressive way for a first-round pick to end a rookie season.
Devin McCourty said in “America’s Game” how Belichick always says that he doesn’t care about “playoff experience” in players. He just wants them to play good football, because having experience guarantees nothing.
“And I thought Sony was a great example of that,” McCourty said.
–The Patriots ran the same play three times in a row to set up the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl (not dissimilar to the AFC title game’s third-and-10’s), but that part’s generally been well-discussed by now. What was interesting in this film was how the Patriots opened up the field to make those plays work. They did it by putting Rex Burkhead, James Develin, and Dwayne Allen all on the field at the same time, leaving Edelman as the only receiver. As a result, Wade Phillips kept his defense big, as if the Patriots would be running the ball. That led to Edelman absolutely killing zone coverage on the first play, followed by Burkhead winning against man coverage on a hitch route on the next play, and then followed with Gronkowski and Brady doing their finest work on a seam route that they knew would work.
In a game that was a massive offensive struggle, McDaniels and Brady looked like boxers setting up their opponent for a knockout blow on that drive.
–Belichick’s reaction to Gronkowski making a diving catch near the goal line in a 3-3 Super Bowl in the fourth quarter?
“2 yard line, 2-yard line,” he calmly told McDaniels on the sideline.
That was all. No fist pump. No smile. No “yeah!” Just, “2-yard line.”
There aren’t many like Bill.
–Overall, “Do Your Job” should be required viewing for the … lesser-intelligent football fans who believe the only reason the Patriots win so often is because of luck or cheating or whatever other fantasy fills their brain. Really, it’s not all that complicated, and frankly, other teams should have been able to emulate it. But the NFL Films specials help show a little bit about how wise football minds combined with excessive preparation can lead to highly successful results. You watch those films, and you just might learn something about how and why the Patriots manage to win more than anyone else. If you’re open to that sort of thing.
ODDS AND ENDS
–Tyreek Hill expressed some on-field frustration with getting double-covered throughout the AFC Championship Game. Devin McCourty didn’t understand why the speedy receiver was so upset: “You don’t like this D? You should love this defense. This probably the best defense ever. You gotta love this one.”
–On the Dee Ford offside play, Gronkowski let a pass bounce off his mitts and into the hands of a defender. Everyone thought the Patriots’ season was over, including the Patriots. But the yellow flag saved them. Gronkowski knew that Brady would go right back to him right away.
“I just know Tom,” Gronkowski said. “In that situation, I just knew the ball was gonna come to me no matter what.”
Sure enough, on the resulting third-and-5, Brady threw up a jump ball for Gronkowski to catch over Eric Berry. It was good for a 25-yard gain, and the Patriots were in the end zone one play later.
–Gronkowski was able to laugh at his terrible tackling form on the “Miracle In Miami.”
“I missed that tackle. Even though I’m a spectacular tackler, I missed that one,” Gronkowski said with a smile. “All right?”
–“America’s Game” also focused on Gronkowski paying extra attention in training camp to not extending his arms to make a catch too early, thus allowing defenders to swat his arms away when the ball arrives. Maybe that ended up making a difference in Gronkowski’s 12 receptions for 166 yards in the final two playoff games of the season, or maybe he would have made them anyway. But it did show how even a Hall of Famer in his ninth season was dedicated to improving one aspect of his game.
–McCourty explained the pressure that Patriots players feel to not be a part of the team that ends the current run of success.
“You win so many games around here in New England, like no one wants to be a part of that year where you don’t win games and have a chance at the playoffs,” he said.
McCourty has played in the AFC Championship Game or Super Bowl for eight of his nine NFL seasons, only missing out in his rookie year of 2010.
–McCourty also offered up some unique perspective on how often pundits discuss Tom Brady’s age.
“I don’t know if people realize he can’t go backwards,” McCourty said. “It’s not about him getting old; it’s about if he’s ever gonna suck.”
–“America’s Game” ended on the perfect note, with a clear and direct comment from Julian Edelman.
“Happy but not satisfied. That’s definitely, that’s how it goes,” the Super Bow MVP said. “Now we gotta go do it again.”
That much is, as always, true. That quest begins Sunday night in Foxboro.