I want to start by apologizing for taking so long to write this recap. I wanted to do it right away, but it took me a few days to wrap my head around what happened Sunday night.
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady reached their seventh Super Bowl. Let me say that again. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady reached their SEVENTH Super Bowl. Over the last 15 years, just under half of the Super Bowls played have featured Bill and Tom. Those numbers are absolutely ludicrous, and are a testament to how good those two men have been at their jobs over the course of their careers.
Now look, I’m not asking anyone reading this to like New England. I understand that a lot of people hate the Patriots, and I don’t blame anyone. To put it simply, you hate the Patriots because they constantly win, and have been on top of the league for a decade and a half now. Trust me, I understand that feeling. I am a Red Sox fan, and I can openly admit that one of the reasons that I hate the Yankees is that they are almost always at the top of the league, and have been for the past HUNDRED years. It’s a sickening feeling to hear Yankees fans rub “27 rings” in my face, and I relish in their failure to make the playoffs or the World Series, even if the Sox are already out themselves.
So again, I’m not asking anyone to like the Patriots. But you do have to respect them. Over the past fifteen years they have been to seven Super Bowls and won four. They have thirteen division titles, and only one season of single digit wins. They have won 24 playoff games, which is more than 28 other NFL franchises have in their entire history. They have done all of this in the salary cap era that is essentially designed to prevent extended periods of success. They have also done all of this with only two constants: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Those achievements are remarkable, and hate them or not, you have to respect them for the magnitude of what they have done. And don’t try to argue back with “well they’re cheaters”. That’s a lazy response that is entirely void when you actually do research.
Sorry, had to get all of that out. On to the game:
– The Patriots caught a break early with LeVeon Bell exiting the game due to injury. While I hate injuries playing a factor in games, especially when they happen to players extremely exciting to watch, there is no doubt that Bell going down made the game plan much easier on New England. They were able to pay much more attention to Antonio Brown, and limit his touches rather than worrying about what the running game was doing.
– Foxboro was wet and cold on Sunday, and played a role in the outcome of the game. Malcolm Mitchell dropped a pass on third down in the Patriots opening drive that would have set them up inside the ten yard line. Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman also both dropped passes later on in the game.
– Speaking of Chris Hogan, he had an absolutely monster game, hauling in nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns (the exact same stats as Julio Jones, which is extremely random and pretty cool). The most exciting catch came on a flea flicker in the second quarter that fired up the crowd, and the Patriots’ offense.
– Unfortunately, Chris Hogan can’t receive all of the credit for his great game. He was left completely wide open on a number of plays, including one of his touchdowns. The Steelers defense was dazed and confused all night, and couldn’t seem to keep track of the Patriots receivers. Julian Edelman’s touchdown in the third quarter also came on a play where he ended up all alone in the end zone.
– The Patriots offensive line played outstanding. From start to finish, Brady had more than enough time in the pocket to make his decision and find a receiver down the field. A week after being dominated by the Texans defensive line, Brady’s protective unit was back to playing at an elite level.
– The Patriots defensive backs continue to show intensity and desire. While Ben Roethlisberger did throw for over three hundred yards, New England’s cornerbacks and safeties prevented any big plays over the top and had a number of crucial pass break ups. They also got a turnover in the form of an interception by Eric Rowe early in the fourth quarter that helped put a dagger in Pittsburgh’s hopes.
– Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler specifically have been playing at an elite level throughout these playoffs. Ryan finished as the Patriots leading tackler for the second game in a row, and Butler had solid coverage on Antonio Brown, who only finished with seven catches for 77 yards (pedestrian numbers for him).
– New England’s front seven also proved that they are better than most wanted to give them credit for. They limited the Steelers to just 54 yards on the ground, and marking their 25th game in a row keeping an opposing running back under 100 yards.
– Speaking of the Patriot’s front seven…..the Stop of the Game came at the end of the first half, when the Patriots were only up 17-6. The Steelers were still very much in the game when they drove all the way down to the Patriots half yard line. On three straight plays, New England’s defensive front pushed the Steelers back, and were able to force a field goal. Dont’a Hightower came up with a big stop on first down, and Vincent Valentine burst through the line on second down to push Pittsburgh back. It was a crucial stop, and gave the defense confidence and energy going forward.
– Tom Brady, at 39 years old and in his 16th season, threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns on 32 attempts. I would elaborate, but those numbers speak for themselves. Every time you doubt him, he blows away all of your expectations.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are certainly not a bad team, but they didn’t play their best game and it showed. The Patriots, on the other hand, played at an elite level and proved once again that they are the best team in the AFC. The have a lot to work on going forward as they will be meeting an extremely talented Falcons team in a week and a half.
At this point, it’s still hard for me to predict what’s going to happen come Super Bowl Sunday. But there is one thing that you can count on: Bill Belichick will have his team ready to play, just like he has for the past 16 years.
See you in Houston- B$