Curran: Pats manhandled by Lions


Curran: Pats manhandled by Lions

By Tom E. Curran Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran DETROIT - A porous offensive line and a permissive secondary were a bad combination for the Patriots in Detroit Saturday night. In what's normally the showcase preseason - or at least the one taken most seriously - the Lions riddled New England's secondary for 272 first-half passing yards and took a 27-10 lead into halftime en route to a 34-10 whipping of the Pats. Matthew Stafford went 12-for-14 for 200 yards with two touchdown passes and backup Shaun Hill came on to go 5-of-9 for 80 yards and another touchdown. And it wasn't all Calvin Johnson. He had one catch for 30 yards. The rest of the Lions wideouts took advantage of a muted Patriots pass rush, some brilliantly placed throws by Stafford and some miscommunications and bad play in the secondary. Corner Kyle Arrington was beaten for two scores - one on a missed jam on tight end Tony Scheffler, another on a slant to Nate Burleson. Corner Devin McCourty was beaten three times on completions (one was a terrific adjustment by Johnson) and was also beaten on an end-zone fade that was dropped. Linebacker Jerod Mayo got beaten on back-to-back completions at the end of the half. The first, he was singled up on a running back. On the second, he appeared to think safety Patrick Chung should have been giving support. Bad as the secondary was, the work of the Patriots offensive line was more troubling. It was a half-long jailbreak in front of Tom Brady who went 11 of 20 for 142 yards and one 44-yard touchdown to Wes Welker. Brady was sacked twice and hit several other times. Right guard Sebastian Vollmer had a loooong half dealing with a rotation of rushers off the right side. Nate Solder, in at left tackle after Matt Light got the start, got bull-rushed and tossed at Brady's feet on the quarterback's one pick. Brady had no time to complete any passes to outside receivers. Chad Ochocinco was targeted once. That was the pick. Deion Branch saw no passes his way. Taylor Price had two balls thrown to him. Welker actually appeared to suffer a shoulder or neck injury when making the tackle after the pick. Trainers checked him out when he came to the sidelines. Welker didn't make it back in the second half with what was described as a neck injury. It wasn't a great half for Ocho who also had an offensive hold that wiped out a 15-yard completion to Rob Gronkowski. He also had a drop in the third quarter on a simple in-cut thrown by Brian Hoyer who came on in the third. Even when not pressured, Brady wasn't especially sharp. He missed Welker on a seam route that he normally makes with ease. Right guard Dan Connolly left after two series with an apparent injury. His replacement, Rich Ohrnberger was turnstiled time after time. Among the missing for the Patriots on Saturday night were corners Leigh Bodden and Ras-I Dowling, defensive linemen Mike Wright, Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis, linebackers Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher and running back Shane Vereen. Brandon Tate, back after missing last week's game in Tampa, had two kickoff returns for a total of 27 yards. James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather got the start at the safety spots. The Patriots opened with a 4-2 set with five defensive backs.
Tom E. Curran can be reached at Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

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.