FOXBORO -- The Patriots know what's coming from the Jets defense Sunday night. Cornerbacks up in the faces of New England's wide receivers, one safety playing centerfield and an intense effort to mess up the timing of every single pass play. Meet the press (coverage). "We been playing them for a long (time)," said Deion Branch. "We know exactly what they're gonna do. That's the game. They play Cover-1 (one deep safety), that's what they do, that's where we gotta be." As the season's worn on and opposing defenses have seen the nature of the Patriots' offensive leanings -- bang it to Welker and Branch on underneath and routes in the flat and hit tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the seam -- the counter has been to apply more pressure. The Patriots haven't shown an ability yet to have a receiver beat the press and run past that one deep safety to make defenses pay. So the press coverage continues. But Branch bristles at the suggestion the New England offense is struggling the past few weeks. "I'm trying to understand what you mean (about struggling the past few weeks)," he said in response to a reporter's question about diminishing passing yards. "Where are we ranked? Our offense? What do we rank? Our job is to go out and execute our plays. Somebody pressing, that don't make any difference. Everybody press. Every game. That's what it is."For the record, the Pariots are second in total offense, averaging 437.3 yards per game.They have the most productivepassing attack by yards per game (325.6). But the Jets are going to be a tough matchup. They've won three straight since the Patriots beat them a month ago. They harassed the face off of Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick last week, forcing him into a 15 for 31 day with 191 yards and two picks. The key is corner Darrelle Revis who will probably be asked to mark Welker frequently. "He's a great player," said Welker."Fast, patient, strong. He does a lot of good things and he's a smart football player. You have to come up with creative ways to attack him."Jets corner Antonio Cromartie pointed out this week that thekey to slowing the Patriots is knocking Welker around. Every team is starting to notice that if you bang him around, their timing is knocked off, Cromartie said."It's a physical game," Welker said Friday. "That's the way it's supposed to be played. You just gotta be ready for it and make sure you're being physical out there and playing the way you need to."Welker says there's an art to breaking free of jams. "A lot of the routes are won at the line of scrimmage so you're always trying to find little things about a guy that he does and really be on top of it and that you're attacking what he's trying to do to you," said Welker. The Patriots wideout studies both the corners and what other wideouts do. There's a lot to process. "You just watch film on different guys and pick up different stuff and see things," said Welker. "You try it, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Inside releases, outside releases, inside leverage, outside leverage. (You need to combine all the factors). You're not going to be 100 percent (in beating it)."Said Brady, "The Jets have done this for years against every team so it's probably the thing they do best. Get up to the line of scrimmage and force your guys to get off the line of scrimmage and into their route. It's important this week, it's important every week they decide to do it and if they do, you gotta make them pay."We'll see what the cost ends up being on Sunday night.
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.
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.