FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman was my vote for Super Bowl LIII Most Valuable Player, which I think is a strong choice based on the guidelines in place: essentially picking the one player who had the greatest impact on the game.
At the same time, I wonder if I and the other 15 voters for the award (along with fans voting at home) missed an opportunity to make a larger statement, similar to the one the Patriots made in their shocking victory over the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Just as the Patriots were introduced as a team that night, a strong case could be made that the MVP of Super Bowl LIII was the entire Patriots defense. To hold the Rams to three points was exemplary.
But the rules don’t allow voters to pick a unit. It has to be a player.
I considered cornerback Stephon Gilmore as MVP in the 13-3 win, with his late-game interception, forced fumble and assignment to cover receiver Brandin Cooks one-on-one when the team was in man coverage. He had a strong case.
I also considered linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, but their low tackle totals (two for Hightower, three for Van Noy) made it hard for me to be that decisive on the spot. While Hightower had two sacks, he also dropped an interception and overpursued on one running play. Van Noy was all over the field in a performance that was much easier to assess and appreciate on film review than in real time.
Even cornerback Jason McCourty, with his touchdown-saving sprint to break up a pass that would have been a Cooks touchdown, was considered with the defense in mind.
But in the end I kept coming back to Edelman, because I believed his individual performance was the most decisive, and quite frankly, the easiest to assess when asked to make a judgment as the game was ending. Of his 10 catches, he was wide open on almost all of them -- a result of his shiftiness and precise route-running. He was clearly the best offensive player on the field in a defensive-minded game, so I think it’s a strong choice in that regard.
MVP awards generally favor offensive players, and this year falls into that category as well. But in the future, I’d like to see the door opened to give an entire defense the MVP.
That would have been a powerful statement for voters to make in Super Bowl LIII.
2a. The Patriots will have significant turnover on their coaching staff in 2019, with Brian Flores (defensive play-caller), Chad O’Shea (wide receivers), Josh Boyer (cornerbacks), Brendan Daly (defensive line) and Jerry Schuplinski (assistant quarterbacks) all departing. This has sparked an obvious question: What’s up with the exodus? I think it’s quite straight-forward: Three coaches left for promotions with the Dolphins that weren’t available to them in New England -- Flores as head coach, O’Shea as offensive coordinator and Boyer as defensive passing-game coordinator -- toward which head coach Bill Belichick has long expressed an understanding. Meanwhile, Daly had an expiring contract, and my view is that once he wasn’t the choice to replace Flores as play-caller, the appeal of joining the Chiefs’ staff -- with his wife having strong ties in Kansas City -- grew greater for him despite his affinity for his time in New England.
2b. Belichick is always feeding the pipeline on his coaching staff, and the team has four coaching assistants from 2018 who could be worthy of elevating to position-coach roles: Cole Popovich, Mike Pellegrino, DeMarcus Covington, Brian Belichick. So in addition to Greg Schiano coming aboard in a top defensive role, and possibly another coach or two from outside the organization, it would be consistent with Belichick’s approach to promote from within in a few spots. Although the Patriots are losing excellent coaches, sometimes change like that can bring new energy to the mix while also widening Belichick’s own coaching circle in a positive way.
2c. One of the things you could always count on before games in recent years was Flores, O’Shea and Daly running the stadium steps together. This year, with Flores assuming a larger role, it was often just O’Shea and Daly. So picture this scene: It’s about three hours before Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta and here come O’Shea and Daly up the steps in Section 100, ending up in the concourse as fans are purchasing refreshments and souvenirs. They said of all the stadium steps they scaled, nothing was harder than that day at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta prior to Super Bowl LIII.
3. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised with whatever tight end Rob Gronkowski decides regarding retirement. His answer to Jimmy Fallon on Wednesday night came across as honest and straight to the point: “Right after a season, you can’t make a decision. It’s so emotional, a big win like that. You got to settle down. You got to see how your body responds.” I could see Gronkowski deciding that he doesn’t want to subject himself to the punishment anymore. But at the same time, the pull of spending another season with Tom Brady figures to be significant to his decision-making as well. So I think both options are legitimately in play at this point.
4. When wide receiver Josh Gordon was suspended indefinitely by the NFL in December for violating the terms of his reinstatement, Van Noy told me in the locker room that day it was his hope to send him championship hats and T-shirts. Mission accomplished, and there’s one thing even better than that: Gordon also will receive a Super Bowl ring, from owner Robert Kraft, for his contributions to the team’s success over 11 games.
5. Third-year cornerback Jonathan Jones’ exemplary play in the Patriots’ final two victories shouldn’t be overlooked, and it also serves as a reminder of how much his season-ending foot injury in the divisional round of the playoffs following the 2017 season was more significant than probably advertised in the media in terms of how it affected the team. Jones was assigned Tyreek Hill (with help) in the AFC Championship Game, and he helped limit him to one catch. Then he was a key part of the plan in the Super Bowl as a hybrid safety, with Jason McCourty saying on ESPN’s NFL Live that part of the team’s thinking was to show Rams quarterback Jared Goff something he hadn’t seen before.
6. The Patriots-type influence that Brian Flores will take to the Miami Dolphins as head coach was reflected in these two sound bites from his introductory news conference Monday -- remarks that sounded like they came out of a Bill Belichick news conference:
His philosophy: “I would say the No. 1 thing is putting the team first. Organizationally, from an alignment standpoint, that’s very important to me. I’m about being selfless. I learned this a long time ago: It’s hard for two people to trust each other, let alone 11. So in order to get that, you have to have guys who put the team first and are selfless, and want to work with one another to do what’s best for the outcome of the group.”
Scheme plans: “Each opponent is different. There are strengths and weaknesses every week. So every week you’re coming up with a different plan. A lot of that is tied to who you have personnel-wise -- what we can do versus what they can do. I think in this game, you have to be multiple. If you sit in one thing, coaches are too good. They’ll find a weakness and take advantage of it.”
7. I’ve always viewed the Chiefs as a first-class franchise, and their decisive response to a fan who flashed a laser at Brady in the AFC Championship Game further confirms it. The part of Adam Schefter’s report that stood out to me was that Kansas City police initially wanted to cite the fan with disorderly conduct, but the club pushed for a harsher punishment. That, to me, reflects an organization committed to doing the right thing despite an unfortunate security breakdown that could have happened to anyone.
8. With Greg Schiano set to join the Patriots' coaching staff, it is timely to revisit one of his prior contributions to Belichick: When the Patriots switched their playbooks to iPads about five years ago, Belichick credited Schiano as a catalyst because of his comfort level in having done so during his head-coaching stint with the Buccaneers (2012-13).
9a. One of my favorite post-Super Bowl nuggets was Belichick's detailing the Patriots’ defensive plans to Chris Berman, Steve Young and Randy Moss and comparing it, in part, to what the Matt Patricia-led Lions did against the Rams earlier in the season. Part of the idea was to make them run a lot of plays and have to drive the field, which meant neutralizing the big plays on early downs in the play-action passing game. So Patricia’s influence was felt, and his presence in Atlanta at Super Bowl LIII also was noted in the days leading up to the game.
9b. Another favorite: Hearing Patriots radio play-by-play man Bob Socci’s call of the final moments of Super Bowl LIII and how it paid homage to Gil Santos, the legendary “voice of the Patriots” whom he succeeded. After the Patriots beat the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX, Santos had exclaimed: “Back to back. Three out of four. Yes, it’s a dynasty!” So last Sunday, after the Patriots won their third Super Bowl in five years, Socci’s words had added meaning when he said: “Yes, it’s still a dynasty!” So classy, and reflective of not only an excellent broadcaster, but a very fine man behind the mic.
10. As epic as the Patriots-Chiefs matchup in the AFC Championship Game was, a rematch wouldn’t be my top choice for New England’s 2019 season opener, even though that might be where things are headed if the league continues its tradition of having the defending champion open at home. My top choice? Sign me up for Baker Mayfield and the Browns, who are one of eight teams scheduled to visit the Patriots in 2019.