Patriots

Marshall Faulk: 'I'll never be over being cheated out of Super Bowl'

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Marshall Faulk: 'I'll never be over being cheated out of Super Bowl'

NEW ORLEANS -- The Super Bowl is back in New Orleans for the first time since February 2002, when the Patriots upset the mighty St. Louis Rams.

On Tuesday, I asked Marshall Faulk if being back in the Superdome this week conjured up any emotions from that day.

"All of my memories about playing the game is all good feelings," Faulk began. "I only remember the Super Bowl I won in Atlanta (after the 1999 season). I couldn't even conjure up the feelings of what I felt after the game (against the Patriots). I'm sure I was heartbroken and maybe a little upset but when you talk Super Bowl, all of my feelings go directly to winning."

People in New England, Faulk was told, believe he still shows bitterness over the loss. And a dislike of the Patriots in his role as an NFL Network commentator.

"They misunderstand," Faulk corrected. "Am I over the loss? Yeah, I'm over the loss. But I'll never be over being cheated out of the Super Bowl. That's a different story. I can understand losing a Super Bowl, that's fine . . . But how things happened and what took place. Obviously, the commissioner gets to handle things how he wants to handle them but if they wanted us to shut up about what happened, show us the tapes. Don't burn 'em."

Faulk was referring to tapes the Patriots had of opposing coaches sending in defensive signals. It's a story from another epoch, to be sure, but as Faulk spoke, it became obvious the scab is still there. And with just a scratch to the surface, Faulk was soon rolling downhill in accusing the Patriots of having taped the Rams' walkthrough prior to Super Bowl XXXVI.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said back in 2008 that he had no evidence that the Patriots -- and video assistant Matt Walsh in particular -- taped the Rams walkthrough.

In April of 2008, Goodell explained his findings and decision to destroy the tapes he'd confiscated.
"The reason I destroyed the tapes is they were totally consistent with what the team told me," Goodell said during his State of the NFL speech at the NFL Owners Meetings. "It was the appropriate thing to do and I think it sent a message. "The actual effectiveness of taping and taking of signals from opponents -- it is something done widely in many sports. I think it probably had limited, if any effect, on the outcome of games. "That doesn't change my perspective on violating rules and the need to be punished."Goodell said there were six tapes, some from 2007 preseason games and the rest from 2006. Another reason he destroyed them was one tape was leaked to the media just after the Patriots-Jets game. "We wanted to take and destroy that information," he said. "They may have collected it within the rules, but we couldn't determine that. So we felt that it should be destroyed."The NFL did present some tapes at the 2008 NFL Owners Meetings that it hadn't destroyed. The tapes showed the Patriots' taping defensive signals, shots of the scoreboard and even 15 seconds of cheerleaders performing.

Still, Faulk says circumstantial evidence from the game leaves him believing the Patriots gathered intel somehow.

"I understand Bill (Belichick) is a great coach," said Faulk. "But No. 13 (Kurt Warner) will tell you. Mike Martz will tell you. We had some plays in the red zone that we hadn't ran. I think we got to fourth down -- we ran three plays that we hadn't ran, that Mike drew up for that game -- Bill's a helluva coach . . . we hadn't ran them the whole year (and the Patriots were ready for them)."

Faulk said the only time those plays were practiced were at the walkthrough.

"I know, in that game, in the red zone, the plays we ran, most of them we hadn't ran most of those plays that year," Faulk noted. "And a couple of plays on third down that we walked through also . . . Any time that I was offset, I was always stationary. And we had creating motioning in the backfield at the same depth on the other side of the field. And they created a check for it. It's just little things like that. It's either the best coaching in the world when you come up with situations that you had never seen before. Or you'd seen it and knew what to do."

At one point in the conversation, Faulk said, "I don't even know why you brought this up now."

In fact, Faulk was the one who broached it.

Faulk attempted to temper his comments, saying, "Bill has done a great job. I love Mr. Kraft and what he's done. They almost drafted me. I remember (Kraft's) vision for that organization. I respect everything about that organization. But am I bitter about how that went? Am I bitter about how the league handled them taping people? If Bountygate was that bad and Sean got suspended for a whole year? If we want to talk about some unfair assessment of how we're assessing things? Man.

"If you lost a game and your brother cheated you," said Faulk, "you'll remember that."

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

When the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in the offseason and then managed to keep Malcolm Butler around, the consensus was not only might this be the best 1-2 punch at cornerback the team has ever had, but maybe, just maybe, it was the best duo in the NFL this season. 

Newsflash: it hasn’t been. Not even close. 

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The latest example comes from Sunday night in Denver. Gilmore returned from a three-game absence (concussion) to play well against Demaryius Thomas in that 41-16 win. The same can’t be said of Butler. He spent much of his day playing man-to-man versus Emmanuel Sanders and struggled mightily.

Butler’s issues started on the very first play. He got lost along the sidelines and surrendered a 31-yard catch. Butler initially had Sanders blanketed. The two were lined up outside the numbers along the left sideline. Based on the formation, and the alignment of safety Devin McCourty, it was pretty clear Butler was alone on an island. Sanders initially drove inside before straightening out his route. Then he cut sharply, working speedily to the flat. Butler had a good beat on the play but unwisely peeked into the backfield. That’s when Sanders turned up and found nothing but green grass.

“I would just say I’d just tip my hat to him,” said Butler. “It was a great route. He steered me in. Then he went up then went out then went back up so I thought that was it. It was a little more than I expected. You gotta learn from it and play it better next time.”

On the same drive, he was beaten again by Sanders, this time for 13 yards. The Pats defense tightened up and held Denver to a field goal but a pattern had already been established between the Patriots' 27-year-old cornerback and Sanders.

The next big play Butler coughed up came with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler summoned Sanders to come across the formation via motion but then sent him back as the wideout approached the tackle box. Butler overreacted, trying to jump out ahead of the motion while simultaneously looking into the backfield. It was then he realized Sanders had done an about-face. To his credit, Butler recovered and jumped on Sanders shortly after the snap of the ball, actually shoving the receivers’ right shoulder in an attempt to disrupt the pattern. 

As Sanders turned upfield, he appeared well-covered by Butler. But then another old habit that’s been hard for Butler to break appeared. He lost track of the ball once it took flight. Sanders slapped on the brakes and high-pointed the football while Butler watched, helplessly flat-footed. Chalk up another 23-yard gain.

“I would just say he underthrew it and I got pushed by,” said Butler. “I probably burst because I was expected the ball to come too. You just got to play it the best way you can. Things happen. He just made a great play. I was in good position but not good enough.”

Sanders caught one more pass on the drive, and should have had a touchdown in the second quarter, streaking past Butler toward the end zone. But Osweiler made a terrible throw, unable to even keep it in the field of play. Hence another field goal instead of a touchdown. Bullet dodged - and there were a few.

“You can’t win with three all day,” said Butler of the defense’s red-zone efficiency. “They’re very hard on us on protecting the red area and not giving up touchdowns in the red area. Bend but don’t break. That’s been the motto.”

The Patriots would break later and Sanders beating Butler was a part of it. The play coming about five minutes into the third quarter on Denver's only TD-scoring drive. The Broncos came out in trips, employing a bunch formation that had plagued the Patriots so often the first month of the season. Unlike then, the Pats handled communication perfectly and as Sanders worked toward the seam, Butler had good position and help toward the post, with safety Duron Harmon eyeballing Sanders the entire way. So did Butler do? He gave up outside leverage, with Sanders breaking hard to the flag. Butler’s footwork was a mess - he got spun around like he was auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars" - and was unable to recover until Sanders had picked up another 23 yards.

“Another good route,” said Butler. “He got me thinking inside and broke out. He’s a good player. A great receiver.”

There’s no denying Sanders’ talent, but Butler has got to be better and more consistent. He’s too often been lost in coverage or gotten caught gambling, eyeballing a big play that’s rarely come in 2017. With their issues up front, it’s the Pats secondary that’s going to have to lead the way. The corners have only occasionally played to the level expected of them. The clock is ticking. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: this is when the Patriots want to be playing their best football. About time Butler answered the call.