Patriots legacy hangs in the balance


Patriots legacy hangs in the balance

INDIANAPOLIS Help me out, because I might be getting this all wrong.

Am I to understand that, if Asante Samuel had closed his hands a little quicker at about 10 oclock on February 3, 2008, then Tom Brady would be the best quarterback that ever played and Bill Belichick would be the greatest coach in NFL history and the Patriots would stand above the '70s Steelers and the '90s Cowboys and the '60s Packers as the greatest dynasty in NFL history?

Because, apparently, thats what it boils down to. Sunday in Indianapolis, the Patriots will play the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI and if the Patriots win, Brady, Belichick and the entire franchise vault into greatest ever with little conversation position.

Four Super Bowl wins and five appearances in 10 seasons. The sixth ring for Belichick in his coaching career, Brady with a 141-40 lifetime record and a 17-5 postseason mark.

If they lose? Then Brady and Belichick go from a pair that won three Super Bowls in a four-year stretch but despite going 86-26 since their last Super Bowl win in 2004 and authoring the only undefeated, 16-game regular-season in NFL history they have had a blemished record since 2004 because . . . well, really because Asante Samuel didnt close his hands fast enough.

If Samuel had done so in Super Bowl 42 and picked off Eli Manning on that second-and-2 play with 80 seconds remaining and the Patriots up on the Giants 14-10, then New England would have won and this game Sunday would be all about adding another layer of icing to the best team ever cake.

But Samuels failure to come up with that pick and the resultant touchdown pass to cap that Giants' drive and the 17-14 New York win, thats what makes the Patriots of 2001-2011 just greatest-ever also-rans?

Apparently so.

Because Sundays game from a Patriots standpoint has been framed as an all-or-nothing proposition. Win and end the argument. Lose and invite being relegated to a lifetime of Yeah, buts . . .

Seems kind of odd, but thats what I gather.

Brady, if he never wins another game, is already a certified Hall of Famer, Bob Costas said last week. If somehow the Patriots had won the game four years ago, and Brady has the epic season he has and then completes a perfect season and then goes and wins this one, then the only real discussion is, Is Tom Brady the greatest quarterback whos ever played? Hes still in that discussion as it is, but it might have been a 'case-closed' discussion if he could have won that one and then added this one.

And the Patriots? Would a win against the Giants make them the greatest team ever?

I think in the estimation of many, they would, said Costas. You have to remember that Walshs 49ers won three, and then won a couple more under George Seifert. Chuck
Noll was a perfect 4-for-4 in Super Bowls (with the '70s Steelers). People will contend that the league was different then and in many ways it may have been more difficult to win. You can also make the opposite case. There are always going to be apples and oranges. I dont think it would establish Bill Belichick and the Patriots as beyond question the greatest coach and the greatest team. But theyd be right there in the argument.

Costas perfectly sums up the prevailing opinion. If the Patriots win Sunday, they are then and only then in the discussion. Lose? No dice.

Which brings us back to Asante Samuel.

Which makes me wonder, is that all there is? Super Bowl wins? Thats the trump card? Even if the difference between a win and a loss in a Super Bowl is a few inches of skin and the head coach and quarterback did all they could?

Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis, every Patriot coach and player had left the field at Lucas Oil Stadium expect for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

After all his teammates had left, Brady stood in one of the end zones, wearing a black jacket and black jeans, a camera dangling from his neck. He gathered in a small informal circle with his parents, Tom Brady Sr., and mother Galynn and three sisters, Maureen, Julie and Nancy. They spoke for a few minutes before Brady kissed them each and left the field.

Belichick left the field just before Brady, having spent his final minutes on the stadium turf talking to boyhood and college friends.

By 10:30 p.m. Sunday on the field they seemed almost reluctant to leave on Saturday their NFL legacies will be altered. For better or worse.

Till death and beyond.

Film review: Burkhead provides Patriots combination of power, quickness

Film review: Burkhead provides Patriots combination of power, quickness

Rex Burkhead knew he was staring at a rare opportunity.

Going into Cincinnati's 2016 season finale, the 5-foot-10, 210-pound back was averaging just three carries per game. But with both Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard injured, the fourth-year player out of Nebraska understood he had a chance to put something on tape that would help him land a job in the offseason. 


"Can't lie," Burkhead told his college teammate Adam Carriker. "Going into free agency, I knew that game was huge. It was a good opportunity for me to show what I could do. I guess it kind of helped me out."

It certainly didn't hurt. 

Burkhead ran 27 times for 119 yards and two scores against the Ravens, showing off an intriguing blend of toughness and elusiveness in the process. 

Burkead was already an accomplished special-teamer -- he led the Bengals in special-teams tackles last season -- but his performance against the NFL's fifth-ranked rushing defense made it clear that he could be leaned upon for more than just a few carries every week.

The Patriots must have taken notice. 

They signed Burkhead earlier this month to a one-year deal that will pay him $1.8 million in base salary and carry what some considered a relatively surprising maximum value of $3.15 million. That's more than the $1 million LeGarrette Blount was offered on his one-year deal last year, and it's enough to make Burkhead the highest-paid running back on the roster. 

What did the Patriots see from Burkhead that made him worth that kind of money? Let's take a closer look at his film -- particularly what he did in Week 17 last season -- to get a sense of what he might be able to do in New England. 

The Patriots have long had a "big back" on their roster. Most recently, that's been Blount, who has been complemented by sub back James White and all-purpose runner Dion Lewis. 

Before Blount it was Stevan Ridley. Before Ridley, it was BenJarvus Green-Ellis. You can go all the way back to Corey Dillon and Antowain Smith. Belichick likes runners who can get what's blocked, protect the football, then create their own yards in the secondary by punishing defensive backs.

Burkhead doesn't quite tip the scales as those players listed above -- though he comes close to Green-Ellis (5-11, 215) -- yet he's currently the biggest back on the Patriots roster, and he seems to run with a bruiser's mentality. 

On his very first carry against the Ravens, when he got through the line of scrimmage and into the secondary, he saw that safety Matt Elam had him lined up. Instead of trying to spin away from Elam or hurdle him, Burkhead lowered his shoulder and became the aggressor. 

Elam, who was thought to be one of the biggest hitters to enter the league four years ago, had to give himself a moment before popping back up to his feet after the collision. 

Statement made. 

Burkhead's strength, it seems, is his strength. Just ask Eric Weddle and the rest of the Ravens how he turned this play into a nine-yard gain to help the Bengals bleed the clock late in the fourth quarter. 

Burkhead consistently fought through first contact and fell forward to pick up maximum yardage snap after snap versus Baltimore's stingy run defense. On his first touchdown of the game, he was tripped up near the line of scrimmage but showed good balance by stumbling into the end zone from five yards away. 

Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of Burkhead's performance against the Ravens was his ability to keep the Bengals out of negative plays. On multiple occasions, he was hit at the line of scrimmage or behind it and consistently made his way back to the line or beyond it. 

Early in the fourth quarter, he was hit for what looked like it would be a three or four-yard loss yet somehow he was able to twist and dive back for no gain. Midway through the second, he was hit at the line and turned it into a four-yard pickup. 

One of the reasons Lewis has been so valuable to the Patriots when healthy the last two seasons is that when things break down up front, and when it looks like Tom Brady is about to be looking at second-and-11, he cuts and knifes forward for a yard or two or more. 

Those aren't big plays in the box score, but they're critical when it comes to extending drives. It seems like Burkhead has the ability to submit the same kinds of small-but-important gains with a hard-charging style all his own.

For someone who seems to enjoy imposing his will on would-be tacklers, Burkhead has a good amount of wiggle to his game. His vision and lateral quickness helped him make Ravens defenders look silly at times. 

As opposed to burrowing into a pile of bodies at the line of scrimmage early in the third quarter, his jump cut to the right helped him find space in the open field for an eye-opening eight-yard run. 

On the very next down, he was stopped a yard behind the line of scrimmage but was able to pick up three thanks to another jump cut that allowed him to stretch the run out wide.

In the fourth, Burkhead showed good patience by stalling behind the block of receiver Brandon LaFell, picking a path, and running decisively once he did. 

Burkhead may not be Lewis when it comes to his elusiveness, but he has the ability to mix in some off-speed stuff in between snaps spent trying to bowl over tacklers. 

Asked by Carriker if he preferred powering through defenders or bouncing around them, Burkhead said he'd actually go with the latter. 

"I think making a guy miss just because I feel like they don't expect that from me a lot of times," Burkhead explained. "But growing up I always took good pride in that. Just my quickness, my ability to make my guy miss."

Part of what makes Burkhead's signing so interesting is that he doesn't fit tightly into the definition of either "big back" or "sub back." He seems somewhat like a larger version of Lewis -- an all-purpose runner who he can be used in a variety of packages and deployed in a variety of positions.

Burkhead has run out of the I-formation and the shotgun. He's caught the ball out of the backfield and lined up as a receiver, where he spent most of Cinci's 2014 Divisional Round game against the Colts. He caught three passes that day for 34 yards and ran a reverse for a gain of 23. 

"He has tremendous short-area quickness," then-Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said during training camp two years ago. "His 10-yard times were off the charts; his three-cone was off the charts. He's very talented [as a receiver]."

However Burkhead is used, he'll very likely continue to see time as a contributor in the kicking game. Not only does he have a wealth of experience when it comes to covering kicks, but he's served as a kick-returner in the past as well. 

So to recap: Running back...receiver...special-teamer.

Sure sounds like someone Belichick would be willing to invest in.

Ohio State LB on Belichick: 'When you first meet him, you're scared'


Ohio State LB on Belichick: 'When you first meet him, you're scared'

Even for some of the nation's top athletes, confident 20-somethings with the rest of their (perhaps very lucrative) lives ahead of them, there's a feeling you just can't shake when Bill Belichick walks into the room. 

"When you first meet him, you're scared," said Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan, per WBZ. "He's quizzing you. It's like a little test. But after you get done with the test, the quiz or whatever, drawing up the defense, it's pretty cool. They're real down to earth people. Really cool."

Belichick was spotted at Ohio State's pro day getting a closer look at McMillan and his teammates on Thursday. He then headed off to Ann Arbor, Michigan for the Wolverines showcase Friday.

During various scouting trips across the country, the Patriots appear to be showing significant interest in the incoming class of linebackers. Belichick spent some extra time with Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham -- who's projected to be a first-rounder -- at his pro day. The team reportedly scheduled a meeting with a speedy linebacker from Cincinnati. And Matt Patricia caught up with Notre Dame linebacker James Onwualu once his workouts finished up on Thursday. 

As for McMillan, the 6-2, 240-pounder was a second-team All-American and a first-team All-Big Ten choice. He's instinctive, but there's some question as to whether or not he has the strength to hold up inside at the next level.