Wilfork: 'It's a tough pill to swallow'

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Wilfork: 'It's a tough pill to swallow'

FOXBORO -- Vince Wilfork can be a sore loser. 
More than once the Patriots nose tackle has barreled out the back door rather than deal with the media. Sometimes, when he does talk after a loss, he simply hurls non-answers over a wall of mulishness: 'They made more plays than we did.'   
Sunday night was different. 
Wilfork stood up behind the podium after New England's 28-13 AFC Championship loss to the Ravens. He opened himself up to the questions that were due. With the biggest letdown of the 2012 season looming above, Wilfork let it settle onto his shoulders. 
"When you lose in this game, its tough, because you put so much into it all year: the offseason, the practice, the conditioning, the weight lifting, everything, time away from your family, training camp where you dont see your family but a little bit of the time. 
"So you put a lot into it, so for it to come to an end like this, it hurts. It does hurt, but it happens, you know? We cant do anything now but to get better from this. Its a tough pill to swallow."
The Patriots defense allowed 356 total yards to Baltimore. Quarterback Joe Flacco completed 21 of 36 passes for 240 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. He completed four passes of 22 or more yards. The Ravens were a perfect 4-for-4 in the red zone. 
Sure, some injuries played a part. Starting defensive tackle Kyle Love left with a knee injury and left cornerback Aqib Talib was sidelined after two series after hurting his thigh. A third starter, rookie defensive end Chandler Jones, played only in goal line situations as he has a bad ankle. 
But what about that 'Next Man Up' gospel the Patriots preach? Talib's absence can't account for 15 unanswered points after the break, can it? 
Wilfork credited some of the defense's second half struggles to Baltimore coming back up-tempo and with some different personnel. He and his teammates didn't adjust, he said. 
"I think at times we had a pretty decent rush and at times we didn't. I don't think we hit them enough. I don't think we pressured them enough."
Not good enough all around. The Patriots defense bent, and bent, and finally broke. And this unit is better than last year's.  
2011 Yards surrendered per game: 411.1 2012 Yards surrendered per game: 373.3.
2011 Passing yards surrendered per game: 293.9 2012 Passing yards surrendered per game: 271.4
2011 Rushing yards surrendered per game: 117.1 2012 Rushing yards surrendered per game: 101.9
2011 Points allowed per game: 21.4 2012 Points allowed per game: 20.7
New England improved, however slightly, in every category of team defense. To fall shorter than last season's Super Bowl appearance had to be crushing. 
Yet Wilfork was surprisingly buoyant. The departure did not escape him: "Im pretty bummed right now. I might not seem like it, but I am."
Maybe the anger can't compete with the playoffs' finality. 
During the regular season, a loss means going back to the war room to reconfigure the battle plan. Frustration is channeled into problem solving; there is a chance to rebound. 
But this Sunday marked the end of it all. The Patriots will have to simmer in their heartbreak and then let it go. There is no next fight. 
Wilfork has been around long enough to know. 
"Taking a loss like this kind of makes you question how long you want to play. But it's just the moment; Ill get over it," Wilfork said. "It's tough, but Ill get over it after the Super Bowl and go through my little spells. My wife will get pissed off at me and throw things at me and Ill get over it and Ill be back to playing and wanting to play, cant wait for the season to start. 
"I love football. I love my teammates. I love the organization, the coaches. I think we have what it takes to be a championship team. When I dont feel that way anymore, Ill call it quits. But I feel good about this team, so Im looking forward to next year and getting this thing rolling again and starting from ground zero and moving forward and trying to get it done the right way."

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.