Super Bowl Sunday is finally here. Before you start dipping, munching and drinking, here’s a final roundup of what the national media are saying about the big game.
I’ve picked out a few of the best analyses, columns and features I found about two hours before kickoff.
First, here are links to The Seattle Times great pregame coverage, and then a late roundup of what the national media are saying. Look for more of what they write Monday morning.
I hate writing this as much as I hate Tom Brady’s smug grin under that silly ski cap, but I have no choice.
Super Bowl XLIX — the game whose Roman numerals make it sound like a laxative — is going to be cleaned out by the New England Patriots.
Sad but sad, Sunday’s game at University of Phoenix Stadium here will be stolen by the most calculating, corner-cutting, coldblooded villains to come out of Boston since that city’s Olympic organizing committee.
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the most unsettling tandem since liver and onions, will win. The Sweet Pete Seattle Seahawks, who are only here because they don’t want to get fined, boss, will lose.
The final score will be 14.5 to 12.5, this being the first football game decided strictly by pounds per square inch, and this being the 1,256th prediction column that is going to squeeze every last bit of air out of the deflated football scandal.
Seriously, did you see who is in charge of the Super Bowl game balls? The equipment manager from the Chicago Bears? The league is placing its most important piece of offensive equipment for its most important game in the hands of the guy who spent the season preparing the football for Jay Cutler. Should be a real shootout.
This game won’t be decided by the inflation of the football, though we can expect at least one Patriots scrub to be placed on the inactive list just before kickoff after injuring his cheek trying to secretly blow one up. And no, the game won’t be decided by Belichick’s monkey hand puppet, though has there ever been a more unsettling optic in organized football history?
But it’s not only that the Seahawks and Patriots are strong teams: They’re just about evenly matched. The Vegas line opened as a pick ’em, and most sports books have the Patriots as mere one-point favorites. Elo, which loves the Seahawks, differs slightly here: It has Seattle as 2.5-point favorites. But that’s partly because the system, in its simplicity, punished the Patriots for their meaningless Week 17 loss against Buffalo. Without that game, the Patriots’ Elo rating would be 1756, which would make Seattle only one-point favorites and which would vault this matchup ahead of Super Bowl XIII into the top slot of all time.
We can place past Super Bowls into four quadrants, as we have in the chart below. The horizontal axis represents the average Elo rating of the two participants; the vertical axis represents the Elo-rating difference between the teams. (The years in the chart correspond to the year of the NFL regular season. For example, Super Bowl XX, played Jan. 26, 1986, is designated as 1985 because that’s the year most of us would associate with the 1985 Chicago Bears.)
There weren’t as many cameras back then, but Charlie McFall never had to worry about whether Russell Wilson could handle them.
It didn’t matter that Wilson was just a sophomore. McFall had been in Richmond, Va., coaching football at Collegiate High School for four decades and he knew Wilson was ready to be a starting quarterback long before Wilson ever got to high school.
He decided it when Wilson was a knee-high ball boy, hanging around on the sidelines while his older brother Harrison was playing wide receiver.
That was the first time McFall saw Wilson throw a football.
“It might’ve been the only time in his life he wasn’t paying attention,” McFall said.
It was Wilson’s job to get the ball to the officials, McFall remembered.
“The referees are kind of going, ‘Where’s the ball boy? Get the ball in!”
“All of a sudden, I saw that ball sail in from the sideline to that official about 35 or 40 yards in the air and everybody kind of looked like, ‘Wow, nice arm Russ.’ And I said, ‘I better hang around for this guy.’ ”
When the waiting was done, McFall didn’t worry if Wilson was ready.
The first game Wilson played, Collegiate put up 307 passing yards and knocked off public school heavyweight Mills Godwin for the first time in five years.
The win sent an early season message about the team and the 15-year-old secret weapon. But the way Wilson handled the win sent McFall a message, too.
McFall was walking down the line to shake hands with Godwin’s coaching staff, when he peeked over and saw Wilson with three cameras surrounding him.
“I looked over and there’s Russell and the three Richmond stations — 6, 8, and 12,” McFall said. “All of them had their cameras on him and even at that age, I never worried.”
Wilson had all the right answers ready. He always has.
The NFL has its “protect the shield” mantra. For the Patriots‘ defense, it’s “defend the field.”
All week long, New England’s coaches and players have been asked — over and over and over again — how they plan to stop Russell Wilson. The answer is, well, that they don’t. At least not in a specific sense, with a revamped game plan designed exclusively to keep Wilson from beating them.
Instead, because so many of the Seahawks‘ big plays come via Wilson’s improvisation and thus are almost impossible to anticipate, the Patriots are hammering home the idea that each defender must be sound in his individual responsibility on every play.
Defend the field and you defend the player.
“As a defense, you can’t just focus on one guy,” said Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich during Wednesday’s media session, from his team’s secluded hotel in Chandler, Ariz. “Every person has a job to do and there’s 11 guys on the field that you have to defend. Russell Wilson’s one of them that’s a very good athlete and very good player.
“It’s true, we’re defending the field. The whole field. Wherever the ball’s located, we’ve got to defend the field. It’s everybody.”
Ninkovich reminded that the Patriots “have faced scrambling type mobile quarterbacks” before, but not in the recent past. The most mobile quarterbacks New England faced in 2014 were guys like Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers and Ryan Tannehill. Luck has scored 12 rushing touchdowns in his three NFL seasons, while Rodgers is one of the better quarterbacks the league has ever seen at throwing on the run.
None of those players presents a challenge identical to Wilson, who not only is adept at the read-option with Marshawn Lynch (and Christine Michael and Robert Turbin) but also creates play upon play outside the pocket. His 849 yards rushing during the regular season ranked 17th-best in the league, running backs included. Wilson also averaged 8.7 yards per pass attempt when defenses blitzed, per Pro Football Focus, compared to 7.4 when no extra rusher attacked. (For comparison’s sake, Tom Brady averaged 7.0 yards per pass when blitzed; 7.1 when not.)
I’ve got this theory about Super Bowl 49 that isn’t exactly breaking news: Rob Gronkowski is the key player. If he blows up, New England wins. If Seattle manages to beat him up in the five-yard bump zone (and a couple of yards beyond, if Bill Vinovich’s officiating crew lets the players play like it’s an NBA playoff game) and keeps the ball from him, Seattle wins.
This Seattle defense last faced a game-changing tight end twice in a six-week span of the 2013 season. New Orleans visited Seattle in Week 13 and in the divisional playoff round, and the Seahawks, using Wright and strong safety Kam Chancellor and both starting corners, manhandled all-world tight end Jimmy Graham for eight long quarters. Wright was particularly effective as Drew Brees tried Graham 15 times in those games, connecting on four passes for a measly 50 yards. So I wanted to know if the preparation for Super Bowl 49, against unanimous AP All-Pro tight end Gronkowski, reminded Wright of that first game against the Saints, when he often was jamming Graham coming off the line.
Wright smiled. “Whenever you have a main target that you know the quarterback loves to go to and you know that you’re gonna be on him, you know you’ve got to stand up,” Wright said. “You know the ball is coming this guy’s way, with everyone watching—you don’t want to get exposed.”
ow, Gronkowski isn’t Graham. Gronkowski is better. He likes the physical stuff. Graham is diminished by the physical stuff. But if Wright plays Gronkowski often, I think his assignment is going to be to slow him down and be sure he doesn’t get the free releases he obviously wants. Throw off his timing. Make him fight through traffic. Occasionally double him near the line with Chancellor. Give corners Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell a shot at him when Gronkowski lines up wide. That’s the challenge for Seattle, and talking to Wright on Thursday, you could see the wheels were in motion, just thinking about it.
“Different players don’t like physicality,” Wright said. “At that time, last season, he [Graham] was one of them. He struggled with press coverage. When you watched film of him, guys would just play off of him and just let him run seven-on-seven routes. You can’t let him get a running start or he’ll just have a field day with you. But I believe Gronk is different. I believe that he excels sometimes in physical coverage. He excels in off-coverage. He does good with both of them. For the most part what I’ve seen is that guys that are up on him have more success than versus off.”
There you have it: The game within the game will be isolating Gronkowski on every Patriots’ snap; you can bet NBC will be ready with a dedicated replay camera on Gronk, to see how he’s treated by the Seattle D. The opportunistic Malcolm Smith made enough plays last year to earn a stunning MVP nod in Super Bowl 48. In a low-scoring game, if defense truly is valued and wins the day, who knows? Wright could be the kind of player who will be in the middle of enough plays to contend.
“[Gronkowski] is a very important piece of the puzzle,” said Wright. “So am I. It’s gonna be a battle out there. I expect to win every matchup I’m out there against him.”
I don’t. I also think the way Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn thinks, the Seahawks will change things up on the Patriots. New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels feels the same way. “I think we’ll probably see a lot of different matchups with Rob in this game because they’re not a team that’s going to play man-to-man coverage the entire game,” McDaniels said Thursday. “Some of that will probably be dependent on where we put Rob. I’m quite certain if he’s outside, there’s going to be some examples of Sherman or Maxwell covering him. There will be some times where Wright or Chancellor or [middle linebacker Bobby] Wagner will definitely be on him. They play a lot of zone defense, so wherever we choose to line Rob, we’re going to see some different matchups there. And, ultimately when they play man to man, K.J. Wright is going to come out and do a good job against most tight ends.”
This is where it ends.
Any nonsensical moniker you want to attach to it, it finishes here in Glendale.
The New England Patriots are going to be Super Bowl champions again, and America will just have to deal with it.
Never has a New England sports franchise carried such vile disdain into its title showdown. The Patriots are a national target of disgust, a team embroiled in constant controversy that carries with it a nonsensical witch hunt. Deflated footballs are only the latest in a constant search for wrongdoing for a team that elicits long-term success.
Our sports-obsessed country hates winners, tired of watching the same story line play out over and over again. Apologies to everyone in the other 44 states, but this is simply the way it is. The Patriots have been the model franchise of the NFL for more than a decade, and that doesn’t seem to be surrendering its claim any time soon.
Phoenix may be awash with fans of the Seattle Seahawks, but New England followers have indeed arrived here in droves to watch their team in Sunday’s Super Bowl. They strolled downtown with a quiet confidence last night. They packed the Arcadia Tavern to the limits of local fire codes. They infiltrated Toso’s Sports Bar and Grill Saturday afternoon, home base for the Arizona Patriots fan club.
If you could possibly gather a collective twinkle from the eye of the fan base, it would be noted for its message in the wake of everything surrounding it. For sure, their team has been the subject off the league’s investigation into something so stupid that the Patriots — the Patriots — normally a buttoned-down shove into banality, have addressed the issue with a force never witnessed from the likes of head coach Bill Belichick, owner Bob Kraft, and quarterback Tom Brady. Deflategate, as this piece so passionately put it, is a ridiculous chase perpetrated by the NFL for nothing less than your eyeballs.
Finally, a football game.
A furious fortnight has passed since the Patriots annihilated the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game. We have lived through two weeks of Deflategate, PSI, “My Cousin Vinny” references, and defiant news conferences by the New England Patriots. The words have all been spoken. We know Tom Brady has a head cold and Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch doesn’t like to talk to the media. We know too much about the physics of football inflation, but never enough about one of the most compelling matchups in the half-century of this ultimate game.
The action returns Sunday night to the playing field at University of Phoenix Stadium as the Patriots take on the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale.
“This is about an opportunity for this team at this time to be special this year,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Friday. “Whatever did or didn’t happen, we don’t really care now. At this point, we care about what happens on Sunday and what we’ll leave as our legacy and what the mark of this team is . . . so it’s not about anything that’s happened. It’s about what’s going to happen Sunday.’’
Deep down, everybody knows that this game is all about the Patriots. Sorry. We tend to get provincial around here, but this game is much more about the Patriots than it is about the worthy champions from the Pacific Northwest.
The Seahawks are a terrific team with a roster stocked with players in their athletic primes. The Seahawks could become the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since the 2003-2004 Patriots. Quarterback Russell Wilson can move onto the platform once occupied by a young Brady. Seattle coach Pete Carroll, now 63 years old, has an opportunity to beat Bob Kraft, the man who fired him all those years ago. Pete has won NCAA championships and a Super Bowl since leaving the Patriots, but his résumé is incomplete until he gets validation from Patriot Nation and a New England media machine that mocked him and drove him from Foxborough at the end of the 20th century.
But the Patriots have so much more at stake. They have come to the desert on a mission to win their first championship in 10 years, and defend a Football Way of Life. Branded as cheaters by much of the nation, they have a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, shake their fists toward the falling confetti, and tell the world, “Deflate this!” It could be the sweetest moment in the history of a franchise that has enjoyed an unprecedented 15-year run of success (170 wins since 2001 — 20 more than any other team).
Stand around the Super Bowl media center for a few hours, and speak on the phone to a few former NFL players, coaches and executives, and you’ll hear plenty of adjectives to describe Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Student of the game.
Future Hall of Famer.
And, yes, there’s one more.
Few doubt the coaching greatness of Belichick as he prepares his team for its sixth Super Bowl appearance in 15 years under his watch against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday in Super Bowl XLIX. He has the most postseason wins in NFL history, the fourth-most regular-season wins and, with a win Sunday, Belichick will tie Pittsburgh’s Chuck Noll as the only coaches with four Super Bowl rings.
But his legacy, and the way he is perceived inside and outside the NFL, has suddenly become more complicated since the DeflateGate scandal broke two weeks ago.
Tie it into his role in the SpyGate scandal of 2007, and Belichick’s many detractors now have plenty of ammunition to downplay his many accomplishments.
Don Shula, the legendary Hall of Fame coach with the Dolphins and Colts, last month called him “Belicheat.” A recent survey by Public Policy Polling found the Patriots to be the NFL’s second-most hated team, behind the Cowboys. Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson said after last week’s Pro Bowl, “If they ain’t winning with controversy, they ain’t winning.” Marty Hurney, the former general manager of the Panthers said, “There isn’t a day that goes by” that he wonders if the Patriots cheated when they won by 3 points over Carolina in Super Bowl XXXVIII. The two scandals — nothing about “DeflateGate” has been proven and the Patriots believe they will be exonerated — will be debated when Belichick eventually comes up for Hall of Fame discussion.
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