For more than a month, Eric Rowe was a non-factor for this New England Patriots team. Yet on Super Sunday, all signs point to him getting the first crack at All-Pro Julio Jones. What a trip.
“Definitely,” Rowe told me earlier in the week. “For me, it actually started off back in OTAs last year (with Philadelphia). A lot of ups and down there, then getting traded here, trying to figure out my role. Now -- shoot -- we’re in the Super Bowl. It’s real cool.”
Acquired in early September from Philadelphia some 18 months after the Eagles drafted him in the second round, Rowe had a number of obstacles to overcome before he eventually found the field. There was the playbook, some nagging injuries and proving that he did in fact belong. Rowe finally earned that chance against the Bengals in Week 6. What a debut it was. In the second half, Rowe matching up at times 1-on-1 with A.J. Green, limiting him to just one catch and breaking up a touchdown pass in the end zone.
“That was huge for us,” recalled Devin McCourty. “We knew he could play. We’d seen it in practice, but it’s always nice to see it actually happen in a game.”
Green is one of the best receivers in the league. Atlanta’s Jones is the best. Rowe wisely has been bathing in tape, trying to figure out a way to defend the usually indefensible.
“He can do it all,” said Rowe. “The short routes, the intermediate routes, the deep routes. He can run. He’s got long strides. Great route running skills. Great hands. Strong. I mean, you pick it. I’ve seen it all from him on film. We just gotta slow him down.”
Sounds like a tall task, made even taller because Atlanta wisely decided to let Jones hit you from any and everywhere.
“Oh yeah, they’re going to move him around,” said Rowe. “They aren’t going to keep him in one place to make our job easier. He’s going to inside, outside, out wide, in tight. We’ve gotta find him on every play.”
I asked Rowe if there were any similarities between Jones and Green. The biggest takeaway: both are the go-to-guys. But Rowe has had some success against players of that ilk as well. He handled the Jets Brandon Marshall twice, frustrated Demaryius Thomas in Denver, holding him to just 2 catches on 5 targets. And we can’t forget what Rowe did to Green. This will be his greatest challenge yet, but one Rowe is relishing as he returns to the place he grew up.
“It feels great just to go home for a good reason,” he smiled. “I don’t know the odds of playing a Super Bowl in your hometown. They’re like nothing to nothing but it feels great.”