The thrill is gone

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The thrill is gone

By Michael Felger

DALLAS -- I went and stood on the grassy knoll at Dealey Plaza this week.

Suffice it to say, I felt right at home.

Felger,As postseasons go, Ben Roethlisberger is right there with Brady if they win this year. Ben is not a better QB overall, he just isn't. It's just like Jeter isn't better than A-Rod as an overall player. But postseason discussions are a different animal altogether. If Brady had won in 2006 or 2007, he would have cemented himself in Montana's shoes. Now I think with all the competition in the AFC and Brady's age, there is a less than 50 percent chance he wins a Super Bowl again.Two plays for me speak volumes for Brady: The 2005 pick-6 against the Broncos, and the third-and-4 non-conversion to go to the Super Bowl against the Colts. Ben converted his third-and-4, and Tom didn't.As far as that Super Bowl in 2007 goes, while Brady didn't play well, he was just a part of complete choke that included coaching, offensive-line play, Pierre Woods, and the defense's inability to stop the Giants from driving the field against them, while missing a sack and dropping two interceptions. The Patriots did 100 things wrong in that game and lost by three. It shows you how much more talent that team had than the Giants. That Patriot loss was epic, right up with the '86 Red Sox. The only reason why people don't suffer through it every day is because the Pats had won three already.GeorgeWoburn

I agree with nearly everything you just said, George. And while it's not 100 percent, it's still a record. Let's not make this a habit, shall we?

The only part I disagree with is Brady's odds on winning another Super Bowl. I think it's better than 50-50. I'd be surprised if Brady, Belichick and the young defense fails to pull it together for at least one more title.

Hey, Felger,I saw what you wrote about Mankins, it was spot on. It should not have even come down to the end of his contract, and as you pointed out he is not the only Patriot that has been down this road before. I think he is priority number one this offseason. It doesn't take a genius to see how much he means to the offensive line. It wasn't a coincidence how much better the line got after he returned. The line is the key to the offense. If you can give Brady time to throw, 90 percent of the time he's going to find an open receiver. The line also made BJGE and Woodhead look like studs this year. They had gigantic holes to run though.Next priority is an OLBDE, pretty much anyone that can give them any sort of pass rush. Defensive line is a pretty clear need as well. Although Ty Warren was on IR all year and Mike Wright missed some time, the starting defensive line for the playoff game was Kyle Love, Eric Moore and Vince Wilfork. I'd say that needs help.I would like to see a running back added to the team. I would assume that Taylor is definitely retiring and Morris is close to it, so that leaves them with BJGE, Woodhead and Faulk (if he can return). That's two third-down backs and an average starter. I think the Patriots need to go and get a running back that can handle the majority of the carries on first and second down and be a physical back. Seems like the Patriots want to be more balanced on offense, but how can you be balanced when you don't have a fully dependable back?Thoughts? Do you think they will actually address these needs? Or do the usual and trade their two first-round picks for two firsts and a second in 2012?Ryan

I'd be surpriseddisappointed if they didn't stay in the first round with both of their picks this year. The front office has been pointing to this offseason for a while -- on a few different levels -- and I just get the sense they will execute their plan. Again, I think fans would have a right to be frustrated if they didn't. As for the needs to be filled, I agree it's all about o-line, d-line. It wouldn't devote a high pick to a running back or receiver. If they can upgrade those positions with veteran pickups, great. But build the trenches, particularly on defense, in this draft.

Michael,When Belichick took over the Patriots in 2000, he inherited a Parcells-stocked defense. He brought in his own coordinators, and lucked out bringing in a sixth-rounder named Brady, lucked into snatching up Rodney Harrison and a few others. Yes. He drafted a few good players (Seymour and Samuel), but lightning struck quickly. Before you knew it, they won three Super Bowls. Now another six years have gone by where the teams teases you into thinking they are good, until they lose somewhere in the playoffs. I think that the statute of limitations is over on the first five years of Belichick's tenure. The new precedent has been set. Belichick is Marty Schottenheimer now. I predict there will be no more Super Bowl wins under Belichick. The past six years reflects who Belichick really is. All you people who believe the hype need to change your perspective on just who this head coach is. A great regular-season coach and a mediocre playoff coach.RickWinthrop

Again, I'd be stunned if Belichick doesn't break through at least once more and claim another championship. But as of now, if you're just going by the scoreboard (and what else matters?), the record shows the Pats are 5-5 in their last five postseasons. That's not quite Schottenheimer (5-13 career in the postseason), but it's also not what you're looking for.

Hey, Felger,Do you think the Pats will go after Nnamdi Asomugha and Chad Johnson this offseason?PatrickBourne

No and maybe. In other words, forget Asomugha. That's huge, huge money. The Pats have surprised us before, so I'll never say never. But going after a player like that would truly surprise me.

As for Johnson, I can see it. It'd be on the Pats' terms, and they've usually thrived in those situations (the first seasons with Corey Dillon and Randy Moss, for example). Their problems with those kinds of players have usually come with the second contract. If they can be one-and-done with Johnson, I can see him being a great addition.

Felger,1. The Steelers prove that a so-so QB is all you need as long as you have a defense. Do you realize Belichick has NEVER really developed a good, aggressive defense? Oh, yeah, he's had good players, but never his own. You notice how BB will take chances on offense (fourth-down calls) and on special teams (fake punt vs. Jets), but NEVER seems to take chances on defense? I think Belichick is to defense as Brian Billick is to offense. Supposedly they're geniuses in their respective fields, but it never shows.Please put the heat on Belichick if we see that nothing changes next year defensively. It shouldn't take this long to rebuild, whether it's through the draft or free agency or trades.2. Brady has to stop moping ifwhen things aren't going well. RoethlisbergerManning can be down 21-3 in a playoff game and somehow get it together and pull out the win. Brady? I've told you before, Brady doesn't do comebacks. If his first quarter is lousy, you can count on it that his whole game will be lousy.3. This is a small point, but do ya think Matthew Slater can ever make a special-teams play? Let's try this drill, Matthew. I'll put the ball on the 1-yard line, you race down the field and try to touch it without going in to the end zone with it. Think he can handle that? Oh, and speaking of special teams, how come the other teams always successfully onside kick against us, but we can't do the same?Peter

Point by point:

1. Disagree on the so-so QB thing. Roethlisberger isn't average. He's a winner and a terrific competitor. He consistently makes the big play when he has to make it in big games. Don't get me wrong, I can't stand the guy. I don't even like his game. But, again, it's the about the scoreboard. He comes through. He just does. The last truly "mediocre" QB to win it all was Brad Johnson with Tampa in 2002. Other than that, they've all been studs. Okay, Eli Manning might not be a "stud," but he's well above average.

2. He certainly hasn't done it in the postseason in a while, that's true. I think coaching plays a role in this, too. Those magical halftime adjustments don't seem to be quite as prevalent recently.

3. I never saw the fascination with this player.

Felger,What do you think of the Pats making a bid for free agent WR Santonio Holmes? The guy makes plays at every level of the field. I know he's had some substance-abuse issues, but that didn't stop the team from signing Stallworth or Moss. They liked the hippie lettuce too!
KenWhitman
P.S. Look at the first team All-Pro offensive line. Four of them are first-round picks. Do you think the Pats should draft a guard and tackle with two out of the first three picks? It seems to be a position teams don't miss on too often.
If it's between Holmes and Chad Johnson, I see the Pats definitely going in Johnson's direction. Again, money will be a factor. Holmes is a free agent and you'll have to sign him on his terms. The Pats won't do that with a player with his question marks. Belichick knows Johnson and is comfortable with him -- plus the contract would be in the Pats' favor. That's the guy.

Hey, Felger,What's not to understand about your take on the Welker situation? You want the team to regain their toughness, their discipline, their teamwork, their "soul," without enforcing team rules. Makes perfect sense to me.MarkMillis

Ah, sarcasm. I get it.

Look, I was all for Belichick getting his locker room back. It was an important story this season. But that doesn't mean you treat everyone the same. That doesn't mean you impose that kind of discipline in that kind of game for that kind of infraction. It was way too severe, and it hurt the team. It was also half-hearted, since Welker was allowed to start on special teams but not offense. How incredibly stupid. Wouldn't ''enforcing team rules'' entail him sitting out that punt return as well?

And having him called out on national television was just as bad, in my mind. Welker doesn't deserve that.

Mike,Wes Welker made a funny that was so subtle it took some hunchback Jets staffer nearly a week to "get it'' and then explain it to one of the Jets players, and then explain why they should be offended -- and in the end I didn't get the impression the "joke" really was the fire at the heart of the smoke show the Jets 'D'' put on.The Pats "benched" Welker and then had him apologize for it? Talk about being publicly fed salt-peter. That is so much worse than any haircut, shave, dress code or diet that kook Steinbrenner ever imposed.I keep asking the same question that I used to ask when I thought of Steinbrenner having Mattingly benched for facial hair.How did that help you win the game . . . ?Peace,JakeBoston

If you were here I'd kiss you on the lips, Jake. Exactly right. Didn't the Welker thing reek of a team that felt it didn't need to win every play to beat their opponent that day?

Hey, Felger,Savard takes a cheap shot from Cooke and it seems like the NHL doesn't care. Crosby gets hit in the head and the NHL may need to revisit rule. What's up with that? One player's health and career shouldn't be valued more than another's.JohnWorcester

No question. The Penguins have been particularly shameless. They didn't bat an eye when Cooke deliberately tried to hurt Savard last year, and now they're calling for the league to protect the players? Embarrassing.

Hey, Felger,Phil Kessel picked last. How perfect was that?StephenBoston

As I wrote this week, I'm torn on that one.

Kessel made his own bed. His lack of popularity among his peers is well-deserved. But it was still tough to watch.

Felger,Yes, the All-Star Games are useless, but they really are aimed and made for the kids. That said, as an adult I would take time to watch it if they would have Bird and Magic pick the squads and coach them and see what happens. After all, it's just for entertainment.JuanFitchburg

Good point on the kid thing. You're right.

As for the drafts, I hope the Kessel incident didn't ruin it. It worked. It was better than the game. And I think it'd be a huge hit if the NBA andor NFL did it.

Felger, You DB!So I heard you and Mazz talking about the most-hated players in the NFL, and you sounded shocked that Brady was listed third. Frankly I'm disappointed he wasn't listed higher. Because unlike Vick, Rothlisberger or Favre, the only thing Brady has really done to warrant hate is win. If Brady wasn't as good as he is or has been, would people even care about him? Probably not. An above-average QB with a trophy girlfriendwife and postseason failure doesn't inspire vitriol. Just ask Tony Romo. And I know you want to add "Spygate" to the conversation. But if there were no Super Bowl wins to theoretically discredit, would Spygate even matter? Forget the list. I'm more disappointed with the fact that guys like Ben Roethlisberger and Kobe Bryant get more of a public pass on allegations of sexual assault than Brady does on Spygate. My hate for Bryant is pretty much at mythic levels. I would like to think that having his fingerprints immortalized by the Eagle County, Colorado, authorities would preclude Bryant's hand and footprints from becoming Hollywood tourist attractions at Grauman's Chinese Theater. Unless you want to see if the marks on your neck match those on the sidewalk, I don't really see the value. I'm sure a "Room 35" commemorative furniture collection can't be far away. As much as things like this make no sense to you or me, the sad fact is most of the country would eagerly root for Kobe if he was facing LeBron in the finals because in today's sports media, making LeBron a villain for a perceived abuse of his home town is easier than making Bryant a villian for alledged abuse of women.And the same goes for Rothlisberger. Ben reportedly used hired goons to max protect a bathroom where he allegedly assaulted some college co-ed, but the general public hates him less than Brady? Now we're all being spoon feed this tripe about Ben being at inner peace and happily engaged to someone who he obviously met on Piouscatholicsingles.com. I'm sure the diligent Pittsburgh media will expose any more Big Ben sexual slip ups just like they broke the news about him riding his motorcycle without a helmet after giving the windshield of a Chrysler New Yorker a facial. Make no mistake Mike, lists like these aren't about who the public hates, they are about who the media tells them to hate. Based on the way these stories are covered, I bet more people would rather have the Patriots caught with cameras than Kobe and Ben's crimes caught on them. MikeAttleboro
Give the people more credit, Mikey. If the public simply hated those players the media told them to hate -- then how do you explain Favre landing No. 1 on that list? Has anyone, ever, received more fawning coverage from the sports media than that fraud? It took a while, but people finally saw through it. And, trust me, anyone outside the Greg Dickerson NBA ball bag feels the same way about Kobe.

Hey Felger,When the hell is Tanguay's contract over? We've had ENOUGH. Talk about overkill.Paul

Signed up longterm, Paul. But what do you say we take a page from the NFL and lock him out?

Felger's weekly column appears on Mondays. E-mail him HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.