Belichick's AFC squad falls in Pro Bowl, 55-41


Belichick's AFC squad falls in Pro Bowl, 55-41

By Phil Perry

Patriots coach Bill Belichick would have liked to have spent Sunday preparing for a trip to Dallas to coach in next week's Super Bowl.

Instead, he spent the day patrolling the AFC sideline during a typically light-hitting, but particularly uninspired, Pro Bowl game in Hawaii.

His AFC squad turned the ball over six times and fell to the NFC, 55-41.

The Belichick-led side -- which fell behind 42-0 in the second quarter -- was short on highlights, but the seven Patriots players involved provided a few relative bright spots:

Cornerback Devin McCourty capped off his accomplished rookie season by mostly holding his own against a slew of the NFL's best receivers. He covered Atlanta's Roddy White, Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Dallas' Miles Austin in the game. He also recorded his first-ever Pro Bowl interception.

On the first play of the second quarter, Atlanta's Matt Ryan tested McCourty and tried to hit Austin deep downfield. McCourty, in single coverage, out-jumped the Cowboys receiver and came down with the AFC's only interception of the game.

McCourty was burned for a touchdown by Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald in the second quarter, but he also recorded four tackles and defended two passes.

Wes Welker couldn't reel in any of the bombs thrown his way in the second half as the AFC attempted a comeback, but he tied for the team lead in receptions with 5 for 34 yards.

Welker had one of the AFC's lowlights of the game when in the second quarter, he was stripped by Washington's DeAngelo Hall at the AFC 34-yard line. Hall scooped up the fumble and scored to put the AFC down, 27-0.

In Jerod Mayo's first Pro Bowl game, the All-Pro linebacker finished with seven tackles, which was the second-most on the team.

Safety Brandon Meriweather chipped in with three tackles.

The game was devoid of hard-nosed play in the trenches, meaning it was a fairly uneventful day for Patriots offensive linemen Matt Light and Logan Mankins and defensive lineman Vince Wilfork.

Wilfork's day was spent mostly leaning lackadaisically into NFC offensive linemen and raising an arm to try to block passes thrown over his head.

Interestingly, Mankins and Light finished the game with as many tackles as Wilfork; each player had one.

Light tackled London Fletcher after the Redskins' linebacker intercepted San Diego's Philip Rivers in the first quarter. Mankins got his name in the box score by tackling Hall, the game's MVP, after he intercepted Rivers on the AFC's next possession.

Rivers started in place of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who was voted in as the AFC's starter. Brady elected not to make the trip to Hawaii, opting instead to have foot surgery Jan. 20 to repair a chronic stress fracture.

Kansas City's Matt Cassel was named to the AFC team in Brady's place. He went 5-12 for 95 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots


Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots

Marcus Cannon has had his run as a piñata. The Patriots offensive lineman is a frequent target when things go wrong up front and, usually, he’s deserved it.

A bit of anecdotal evidence? 

Sunday, I tweeted that every time I watched Cannon, he was making another good play.

On cue, about 10 tweets came back at me with variations of “Keep watching him!”

I asked Bill Belichick if he agreed with the layman’s assessment that Cannon’s playing well.

“I think Marcus [Cannon] has done a good job for us for quite a while,” Belichick began. “I mean he’s stepped in for Sebastian [Vollmer] and then last year when Nate [Solder] was out [and he substituted] for Nate. He has played a lot of good football for us.

“We extended our agreement with him off of his rookie contract which I think speaks to the fact that we want him on the team and we like what he’s doing and so forth and he’s continued to I’d say show with his performance [that he has] validated the confidence that we have in him.”

Cannon’s ending to 2015 – a poor performance (along with the rest of the line) against the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game was followed by a performance against the Cardinals that was marred by late-game holding calls.

But with Sebastian Vollmer injured (and still injured) it was sink or swim with Cannon which had plenty of people rolling their eyes.

But – as I said – every time I see Cannon, he’s either holding off a defensive end in pass protection, steamrolling downfield in the running game or making really athletic second-level or cut blocks in the screen game.

“Like every player, as they gain more experience they do get better,” said Belichick. “I think our offensive line’s certainly improved over the course of the year and playing with more consistency than we did last year. But there’s always room for improvement and the continuity that we’ve had there since (right guard) Shaq [Mason] has gotten in the last few weeks – we had Shaq over on the right side a little bit at the end of the season last year and then this year most all of the year except when Shaq was out for a few weeks there at the end of training camp and the start of the season – but our overall consistency and communication on the offensive line has been better because we’ve had more continuity there so that helps everybody.”

It can’t hurt that the lineman whisperer, Dante Scranecchia, has returned to coach the group. Cannon’s conditioning and physique looks better. He just appears more athletic and explosive. And he’s seemed more relaxed in the limited time the media’s in the locker room.

All off that added up equals nobody really talking about Marcus Cannon.
“Like any lineman, the less you call his name probably the better he’s doing,” said Belichick. “It’s probably a good thing when you guys don’t talk about him. Then that probably means they’re not doing something too noticeably wrong, right?”