FOXBOROUGH., Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes from around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. A significant reason the 2016 season has been so enjoyable for quarterback Tom Brady is that his three children -- Jack (9), Benjamin (7) and Vivian (4) -- are now old enough to fully understand and embrace being a part of it all. It is something he noted last week when describing why he was so excited after the AFC Championship Game.
“My oldest son, he really knows the game. He had [Falcons running back] Devonta Freeman on his fantasy team, so he knows how good he is,” Brady said with a smile, knowing that could be a fun story line for some leading up to Super Bowl LI. “Benny is getting there, and my daughter wants to go to the games. They’re such a main focus now. It’s been great to be able to share it with them.”
Having his children invested and in attendance at games is a reminder of the passage of time for the 39-year-old Brady. It’s a topic he has discussed with some teammates who will soon be experiencing the same thing.
Fifth-year running back Brandon Bolden, who has developed a close friendship with Brady, explained: “When our kids are a young age, they’re out at practice [in training camp] and it’s all a great time to them. But as they get older, they kind of realize it’s a process and this really is a grind, and the kids even start to show an appreciation for it. For him, all of his kids are starting to get it, and it’s just one of those proud dad moments and it’s a story you share with other dads in the locker room.” Bolden has a 5-year-old son, Brycein, with his wife, Arianna.
Added Bolden: “He’ll say, ‘It can be tough at the start, but the older your kids get, they’ll get it.’ That’s something I got from him. It’s kind of cool to hear stories from him about it and see his kids take that journey with him.”
Special-teams captain Matthew Slater, one of the spiritual leaders in the locker room who has been with the club since 2008, said that watching Brady experience the joys of football and fatherhood has been enjoyable for him. “Tom has been one of the guys around here, when I had my son, who shared a lot about his experience with his kids, and I could really tell he is a great father, the way he interacts with his children and how they love their dad. To see his family grow the way it has, it’s such a loving family, you see a different side of him around his kids,” he said.
“He’s such a competitor on the field, so to see that side of him, it’s great. I know that being a father is something he takes very seriously. I know it gives him, as it does many of us, a different purpose and drive out there on the football field.”
2. When veteran defensive end Chris Long signed a one-year contract with the Patriots in the offseason, one of the people who was most disappointed was Falcons head coach Dan Quinn. “I was recruiting him hard and didn’t get him, but I understood why,” Quinn said, acknowledging the appeal of the Patriots. Quinn said he looks forward to seeing Long this week.
Long was looking for the best chance to play in a Super Bowl, and looking back, he said he couldn’t have gone wrong either way. “I guess I have a good way of reading [things],” he said. “These are two great organizations. Certainly you could feel that when visiting there, too. Coach has a lot of energy, and you can tell the way they play.”
3. Brady made the point Friday that it has been a challenge to study Atlanta's defense because the Falcons are usually playing with a sizable lead. “I mean, they’re ahead by 20 points in so many of these games, it’s tough to really see got-to-have-it-type defenses,” he said.
The Falcons outscored opponents 139-68 in the first quarter of games in the regular season, which means they’ve mostly played games on their terms. The Patriots are similar. They outscored foes 130-32 in the first quarter during the regular season.
4a. Did You Know, Part I: The Patriots haven't scored in the first quarter in any of their previous six Super Bowls during the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era.
4b. Did You Know, Part II: The Patriots and Falcons turned the ball over 11 times apiece in the regular season, which tied them for the lowest total in the NFL. This is the second Super Bowl matching the teams that had the lowest turnover total in the regular season. The first was Super Bowl XVI, in which the San Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals.
5. Patriots starting center David Andrews is a Georgia native and the nephew of longtime NFL coach Dan Reeves, which is one of several notable story lines leading into Super Bowl LI. Andrews, 24, said the first memory he has of the Super Bowl is Reeves leading the Falcons against the Denver Broncos in XXXIII following the 1998 season. “I didn’t get to go, but I was at home watching and I remember that game (34-19 Broncos win). At the time, it’s just a kid watching a game, but now taking a step back and the script and story line, it’s kind of a little crazy,” Andrews said. “Being from Atlanta, playing them, I couldn’t have had a better way to write it.” Uncle and nephew exchanged text messages on that story line Friday night.
6. Belichick has drilled into players that experience means little in the playoffs, with cornerback Malcolm Butler's heroics in Super Bowl XLIX one notable example. And while Belichick makes a strong argument, the Super Bowl is one game in which I put a greater value on experience because of the uniqueness of game day -- a longer time period between the end of warmups to kickoff, a longer halftime, etc. Those who have experience with that can have an edge, as Denver showed last year against Carolina. Along those lines, the Patriots have 23 players who have been on teams that played in a Super Bowl, while the Falcons have five.
7. From the financial side: Players earned a $49,000 share for playing in the conference championship round, and now players on the Super Bowl winner will earn a $107,000 share, while players on the losing team will get $53,000.
8. Two must-see leftovers from the AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers: NFL Films’ review of the game highlights how the Steelers struggled with the Patriots’ tempo and Belichick’s breakdown of key plays from the victory, which led off with an easy-to-overlook nuance of the flea-flicker touchdown pass to Chris Hogan.
9. From the travel files: The Patriots will be headquartered at the JW Marriott Galleria once they arrive in Houston on Monday. That will be familiar surroundings for them. It’s the same hotel they stayed in before one of their best wins of the 2015 season, a 27-6 Sunday Night Football triumph over the Houston Texans.
10. Another family-based storyline from Super Bowl LI: Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, whose return after a two-year retirement has helped stabilize things up front, will look across the sideline and see his son, Steve, who is an assistant on Quinn's staff. Hats off to Angelique Fiske, the lifestyle editor of Patriots.com, for a neat story on Susan Scarnecchia, who will be rooting for her husband and son on Super Bowl Sunday. “Who would ever think of this?” she said. “You couldn’t even write a script of it.”