America’s Real Pastime (Super Bowl XLIX Recap)

Shoutout Missy.

Games like last nights are the reason we love the NFL. They’re the reason we keep tuning in despite a seemingly endless cycle of off-field scandals. They’re the reason we religiously follow a league that gets everything wrong, from defining what a catch actually is to handling internal investigations about deflated footballs. They’re the reason we cheer every time a dude gets lit up despite all the studies regarding retired players developing CTE. The NFL reigns supreme. The 1st round of the draft gets better TV ratings than the championships series’ in other sports. The NFL is not a perfect league. We could talk for hours about the institutional dysfunction, ludicrous rules, and shameful PR blunders. But that doesn’t matter, because when the lights go on and clock starts, the NFL is just great fucking theatre.

I’m going to share some thoughts on the NFL as a whole and last nights epic game. Forgive me for any grammatical errors, I’ve consumed enough beer over the last 48 hours to make Rob Gronkowski seem like Tim Tebow, and it’s still working its way out of my system.

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Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to sports. Personally, I can’t watch five minutes of a soccer game without nodding off. Many would say the same thing except about baseball, a sport that I love and could watch on any given night. But FOOTBALL is the ultimate athletic test, and it’s not really debatable. No other sport requires the amount of strategy, physical prowess, and group unison that football does. We see it time and time again. One second of weakness in the trenches, one miscommunication between the QB and WR, or one bad play call (more on this further down) can be the difference in a game. How many human beings on the planet can be an NFL nose tackle? (shoutout Vince Wilfork) You need to be 330 lbs but move with the grace of a ballet dancer. Everyone has thrown the pigskin around the backyard. But there are less than 15 people on the planet who can play QB in the NFL at a consistently high level (shoutout Andy Dalt-err, nevermind). What about the overall athleticism of a Richard Sherman or Dez Bryant?

Last nights Super Bowl brought the two best teams (and two best rosters) together. It set up a clash of perhaps the two best coaches in the league as well. Both franchises have a lot of “haters”. Some folks hate the Seahawks because they’re brash and just won it all last year. Some folks hate the Patriots because of Spygate/DeflateGate/AaronHernandezMurkingDudesGate and they’re sustained dominance. But if you’re a neutral fan who doesn’t buy into any of that crap, last nights Super Bowl was a dream matchup. And it more than lived up to the hype.

7 Game-related thoughts that I’m pretty sure I think 

1. Bill Belichick and Seahawks GM John Schneider continue to find great players in the most unexpected of places.

Patriots CB Malcom Butler (an undrafted rookie of West Alabama) and Seahawks WR Chris Matthews (an undrafted rookie out of Kentucky who played in both the Arena and Canadian leagues who was working at Foot Locker less than a year ago) were the two breakout stars of last nights game.

bill belichick short shortsButler will go down as a Pats legend for his game-winning INT, but he actually played a great all-around game. He was thrust into more action than usual due to regular slot CB Kyle Arrington struggling, and Butler did a nice job playing inside and out wide. His versatility allowed the Pats to move Revis and Browner around based on matchups and not have to worry about gaping holes in their secondary. On the ridiculous (and lucky) Jermaine Kearse catch, the 5′ 11″ Butler made a GREAT play to tip a jump ball to the 6′ 5″ Kearse. Sure, Kearse ending up getting the football due some ridiculous bouncing, but it was a phenomenal play by Butler that would’ve gotten a ton of attention had things played out differently.

There was talk all weak about how the Seahawks starting WRs (Kearse and Doug Baldwin) would struggle against the Pats corners…and they did. The Seahawks will surely look to upgrade the position this offseason. But Chris Matthews, who didn’t have an NFL reception prior to last night, exploded for 109 yards and a TD. He was the only WR on Seattle who showed the ability to get any separation and catch the ball at its highest point. If Seattle had won the game, he very easily could’ve been MVP.

2. Vince Wilfork, the other Patriots legend.

Do people realize how amazing of a season Vince Wilfork had? This is a guy who, at 33 years old (very old by NFL standards) and 330 lbs, bounced back from a TORN ACHILLES and reclaimed his spot at the NFL’s premier space-eater. He dominated the game last night. Max Unger, one of the leagues best centers, had no chance against him. Wilfork was in the backfield with 2 lineman with him on seemingly every play. This allowed athletes like Jaime Collins, Rob Ninkovich, and Dont’a Hightower to make plays.

I’ll have more on the Seahawks controversial decision to throw the ball down at the goal line in a bit, but that decision was certainly made in part because of Wilfork clogging up the middle. Wilfork is a 5-time All-Pro and now a 2-time Super Bowl champion. You probably won’t see him working in TV like Tedy Bruschi or Rodney Harrison, but if I’m ranking the most important Patriots of the last 15 years other than Brady and Belichick; Wilfork tops my list.

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He should be a Hall of Famer. But then again, the Hall of Fame is a joke. Jerome Bettis and his career 3.9 YPC made it in.

3. Despite the final score, the Seattle defense came to play, and deserves to be mentioned amongst the best units in NFL history.

Hybrid lineman Michael Bennett was all over the place last night. He pressured Brady, shut down the run game, and drew double teams. He certainly had a case for MVP had the Seahawks prevailed. He hit Tom Brady 4 times, the rest of the Seattle defense hit Brady just 3 times. Bennett is simply one of the best players in the NFL, and he balled out in the Super Bowl.

The Patriots did what most teams do and avoided Richard Sherman. Now, having a WR like Julian Edelman who can make plays out wide, in the slot, and in motion means they could move him around and find favorable matchups, but they wanted nothing to do with Sherman. He eliminated an entire side of the field. Nothing notable, seeing as he does that every game.

Bobby Wagner had a couple of big missed tackles on Danny Amendola but had a great game otherwise. He got in the gaps and stopped the run (12 tackles), and made a tremendous read on his interception. He’s truly a do-it-all linebacker. He’s going to get paid this offseason.

4. A Gronking to remember.

Wagner’s interception was also a result of Brady trying to force the ball to Gronk, but other than that, the best TE in the history of the sport had a very positive impact on the game. Not only did he catch a 22-yard TD and have a couple of huge first downs on the Pats final drive, but he drew two defenders towards him on almost every play. The Pats picked their spots with Gronk. When they got him in one-on-one, usually with LB K.J. Wright, Brady threw him the ball. This really is a different team when Gronk is on the field.

Drive-thru

5. Who’s the leagues best CB, Revis or Sherman?

My answer: there is no answer.

It’s all about scheme fit. Revis is the type of guy who follows a man all over the field and shuts him down. He takes the best WR out of the game. This is exactly what a team like the Pats, who like it when their LB’s and safeties run around, need out of their #1 CB. He allowed just one catch for 3 yards last night and even stepped up to make a play on Russell Wilson beyond the line of scrimmage.

Sherman is a guy who plays both man and zone, locking down a side of the field while also playing a major role in the run game. This is what the Seahawks need out of their #1 CB given their propensity to sit back and play a bend-don’t-break defense. He allowed just one catch for 6 yards.

Sherman and Revis are the two best CB’s in the NFL. Choosing one over the other depends on what type of defense you run and the personnel you have. If the Pats called up the Seahawks offering Revis for Sherman straight up, Seattle would hang up the phone, and vice versa.

6. The Legacy of Tom Brady.

Over the last few years, when people claimed Tom Brady was the best QB of all-time I would always bring up names like Manning, Montana, and Marino just to keep the discussion open. Personally, I felt it was too close to call and there were just too many factors (can’t go solely off rings, can’t go solely of stats, etc). Depending on what you deem most valuable in a historical context, I think you could argue for any of those “three M’s” over Brady.

But then last night happened. Brady won his first Super Bowl MVP at the age of 24. He just won another at 37. That sort of sustained individual and team success is matched in the modern sports era only by Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. Brady owns nearly every postseason passing record, and is right near the top in most regular career-statistics as well. He’s won as a game manager with a great defense. He’s commandeered the most dominant single-season offense of all-time. And now, he’s won a Super Bowl less than a calendar removed from everyone from ESPN to Patriots fans proclaiming he was “finished”.

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Brady doesn’t throw a great deep ball, and he never really did. But the throws that make up 90% of the playbook he fires in with as much zip and pinpoint accuracy as anybody. Tom Brady is still one of the 2 or 3 best QB’s in the NFL, and unlike Manning, he really hasn’t shown any physical signs of slowing down.

1. Tom Brady

2 (tie). Manning/Montana/Marino

7. My thoughts on the already infamous quick slant call at the end of the game.

After Russell Wilson threw an INT on a quick slant at the goal line, the internet immediately exploded with “You have Marshawn Lynch, the best goal line runner in the NFL, why are you throwing?!?!?!?!”. Here’s a fact for you…

Marshawn Lynch had 5 “goal line” carries this season. He only scored a TD on ONE of them. 2 of them he was stuffed at the line, and on the other 2 he was pushed back for a loss. Now this certainly is his lines, an average unit in terms of getting initial push, fault and not his. But to the people acting like Marshawn Lynch running up the middle is a sure thing against Vince Wilfork, Alan Branch, and Dont’a Hightower…what sport have you been watching?

My opinion: Calling a pass on 1st down was a fine decision, but calling a quick slant to Ricardo freakin’ Lockette was not.

downloadThe Pats were stacking the box and the Seahawks could live with running a couple extra plays and killing time. A lot of factors pointed to a pass there. In todays NFL, it’s harder than ever to score conventionally on the goal line. Seriously, how often to you see teams run play action or throw a fade there? Especially on 1st down? (the answer is very often). Mike McCarthy would’ve probably trotted out the field goal unit.

But a quick slant, a timing route that can easily be intercepted if the throw is off (which it wasn’t) or if the WR isn’t physical enough to at least get in position (which is what happened), is a dumb call. OBVIOUSLY Butler was going to try and jump the route. If he jumps it and whiffs, so what? There was a 90% Seattle was scoring there anyways. Why not roll Wilson out and force the defense to cover for more than half a second? Why not throw a corner fade to one of your 6′ 5″ WR’s? Why not run a read-option with a tight end possibly slipping free for lob pass?

Calling a pass on 1st & goal from that close is fine. It happens ALL THE TIME. But a quick slant, unless it’s to a big-bodied TE, makes no sense. Ricardo Lockette is to blame for the interception. He simply HAS to get in the spot there to at least make sure nobody catches it. The throw was actually perfect. But Lockette, a guy with just 18 career catches, never should’ve been put in that position with the Super Bowl on the line.

Again, I have no problem with Seattle passing on 1st down there. But a quick slant? A FUCKING QUICK SLANT?

I’ll leave you with a few more thoughts.

I enjoyed the halftime show. It was entertaining and Missy is basically the greatest person ever so that was a pleasant surprise.

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Both Seattle and New England will be in position to get back to the Super Bowl next year. All they need to do is take care of their own guys. Seattle needs to make a decision one way or the other on Lynch’s future and also needs to lock Wagner up long-term. A Russell Wilson mega-extension will probably come this spring as well. The Pats should have the room to keep both Revis and Devin McCourty.

What a great Super Bowl all-around. Us young NFL fans have been spoiled. It feels like almost every Super Bowl is a classic game, and this one ranks right up there with the best of them.

Peyton Manning retirement watch is even more interesting now seeing as he really has ZERO chance at ever catching Brady on the All-Time list. Does this game impact his decision? I don’t know, but even the biggest Peyton fan (like me) can’t make a case for him over Brady.

Until next season,

Screw Tony Dungy. Shoutout Missy. Go Bengals.

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