Patriots

Quick thoughts: Eagles 41, Patriots 33

Quick thoughts: Eagles 41, Patriots 33

MINNEAPOLIS -- Here are some quick-hitting takeaways from what went down at US Bank Stadium in Super Bowl LII . . . 

1) The Patriots made their transition away from Malcolm Butler (No. 21 above) at corner one game earlier than anticipated. Eric Rowe (No. 25) got the start over the hero of Super Bowl XLIX and impending free agent, and the Eagles went after him. The results were . . . mixed. Rowe was targeted three times on the game's opening drive. He gave up big gains to Alshon Jeffery (on a whip route) and Torrey Smith (on a play that was reminiscent of David Tyree's helmet catch from 10 years ago). On the third pass, he broke up a third-down throw in the end zone to force a Philly field goal. On the next drive, Nick Foles threw a jump ball to Jeffery with Rowe all over him. Rowe was in position but was out-jumped and gave up a 34-yard score. Rowe had two more pass breakups in the first half -- one on a two-point conversion -- but it was clear the Eagles liked the matchup wherever Rowe was situated. Why was he playing over Butler? His size allowed him and Stephon Gilmore to play sides in the first half and not worry about where Jeffery, Philly's biggest receiver, would align. Butler seemed to be a decent matchup for Nelson Agholor or Smith, but the Patriots clearly wanted to keep him off the field through the game's first 30 minutes. The fact that Johnson Bademosi saw playing time over Butler in the second half indicated that Butler's benching was not matchup-based. We'll try to find out what happened postgame. Butler did not travel with the Patriots to Minneapolis, arriving on Tuesday instead of Monday with the team. He was listed on the injury report this week with an illness.

2) Brandin Cooks left the game in the second quarter with a concussion, and was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the contest. Cooks caught a Tom Brady pass near the left hash and worked his way back toward the Patriots sideline. He never saw Malcolm Jenkins coming and took a head-to-head shot that seemed to knock him unconscious on the field. Cooks lay motionless for several moments before being helped to his feet by Patriots staffers and helped to the locker room. The Patriots called Cooks' injury a "head" injury, but players who exhibit a loss of consciousness are considered to have suffered a concussion and are not permitted to return to action, per the NFL's concussion protocol. Losing Cooks changes the game for the Patriots. Without their best deep threat, they weren't able to stress the deep defenders in Philly's zone defense quite as effectively. Phillip Dorsett didn't serve as Cooks' one-for-one replacement, but he took the field for the Patriots in three-receiver sets.

3) The first half of play was marred by Patriots special-teams miscues. Stephen Gostkowski booted a low line-drive kick to start the game, usually a sign that he's looking for a touchback. The liner headed right into the arms of Eagles return man Corey Clement, though, and he took it to the Philly 26-yard line. Gostkowski missed a chip-shot field goal in the second quarter when Joe Cardona's low snap sailed through Ryan Allen's hands, and then Gostkowski hooked an extra point after what appeared to be a sound snap and hold. 

4) Doug Pederson's most courageous call may have been his best. Late in the first half, facing a fourth-and-goal situation from the Patriots' 1-yard line, he called for some trickery. And it worked. Foles feigned calling out signals to his linemen as the ball was snapped directly to Corey Clement. The ball was then flipped to former college quarterback (and current Eagles tight end) Trey Burton, and he found Foles wide open in the end zone for the touchdown. Hard to know who should have been in the area for the Patriots on that type of play, but Kyle Van Noy seemed to be in no man's land in the middle of the field as the ball bounced back and forth in the Eagles backfield. It was a tremendous call and extremely well-executed by Pederson's players. "We had just gotten all the way down the field," Pederson told NBC at halftime, "and I wasn't going to stop . . . It was a play we'd been working on the last couple weeks and our guys executed brilliantly." Pederson went for it on fourth down again in the fourth quarter, facing a fourth-and-one from near midfield. Foles found Zach Ertz for two yards and a first down. 

5) The Eagles simply had no answer for Rob Gronkowski in the second half. On New England's first drive of the third quarter, Gronkowski caught four passes for 68 yards and he reeled in a touchdown near the goal line after selling a back-corner fade with corner Ronald Darby on him. Early in the fourth quarter, he caught the go-ahead touchdown. Darby was on him again. This time Gronkowski did run the fade, and Darby played it well . . . but he simply couldn't compete with Gronkowski at the catch point. Gronkoski spiked the football five or six rows into the stands and the Patriots led, 33-32, after Gostkowski's kick. 

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Jesse James relieved Patriots didn't win Super Bowl LII

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File Photo

Jesse James relieved Patriots didn't win Super Bowl LII

Steelers tight end Jesse James is glad the Patriots' Super Bowl pursuit is done -- mostly because he played a big part in helping accelerate it.

In the final moments of the game, James failed to catch the ball during a Week 15 contest between the Steelers and the Patriots. The non-catch was a controversial one.

James told Centre Daily Times' Josh Moyer he finally felt relief on the morning after the Super Bowl when the Patriots fell to the Eagles, 41-33.

“I don’t feel like I gave them a Super Bowl with that,” James told the Daily Times. “So I’m over it now, but it’s going to be a topic of conversation until the rule gets changed — or it doesn’t.”

James' play was initially ruled a touchdown before the referees overturned the play, and took the lead away from the Steelers in the final moments of the game. Ben Roethlisberger then threw an interception a few plays later. By winning, the Patriots took a huge step in locking themselves into the AFC's top seed with a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, which they rode into the Super Bowl.

But of course, they couldn't finish their Super Bowl pursuit -- to James' satisfaction.

Patriots get Edelman back, but what about Amendola?

Patriots get Edelman back, but what about Amendola?

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today, we're looking at a position where the Patriots have numbers but could see two key veterans depart via free agency: Receiver. 

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED:


Danny Amendola was a machine in the postseason. Chris Hogan was dynamite in the Super Bowl after a midseason shoulder injury that limited him to nine regular-season games. Brandin Cooks was very good throughout the majority of the regular season, putting up numbers that made him one of the league's most productive deep threats - and that's without the penalty yardage he drew. It wasn't a dominant season from this unit, but the group lost its most consistent performer when Julian Edelman tore his ACL in the preseason. Malcolm Mitchell's year-long knee injury also sapped this group of some depth. Despite some regular-season hiccups - it was a forgettable final month of the before the Wild-Card Round bye -- what Chad O'Shea's group did in the playoffs showed just how valuable it was for Tom Brady to have a handful of trustworthy receivers at his disposal. They checked in with a "B" in our final grades for 2017.

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt, Malcolm Mitchell, Cody Hollister, Riley McCarron

WHO ISN'T?
Danny Amendola, Bernard Reedy, Matthew Slater

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?


Brady should have his top three options back for 2018 so the need here can't be considered more than a 5 out of 10 on the Gary Tanguay Memorial "How Concerned Are You?!?" Meter. That said, the group needs some trustworthy depth. Especially if Amendola, 32, who has been willing to take less to remain in New England, decides he'd like to max out his value elsewhere. He's right there with Edelman, who turns 32 in May, as the most clutch postseason receiver Brady's had since Troy Brown. Dorsett and Britt are physically-gifted options who could benefit from a full offseason in the offense, but are they strong enough candidates to serve as the No. 4? And what about Mitchell? What does his future hold after missing his entire sophomore season? Moreover, and this wouldn't impact the offense so much as it would the kicking game and the level of leadership in the locker room, but Slater's loss would be monumental. If both Slater and Amendola return, the need here can't be considered close to dire. But a young option in the draft - either a burner who could provide insurance if Cooks opts for free agency next offseason, or someone who profiles as a true slot - would be a wise investment. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?


There's a potpourri of pass-catching talent available on the market this offseason. The biggest names available are receivers the Patriots know well from their time in the AFC East: Jarvis Landry and Sammy Watkins. One's a slot. The other's a jack-of-all-trades but master of none, who struggled to put up numbers in a highly-productive Rams offense in 2017. Then there's Jacksonville's physical outside-the-numbers option Allen Robinson (coming off an ACL tear) and Arizona speedster John Brown. Other field-stretchers who could be had include Seattle's Paul Richardson, Atlanta's Taylor Gabriel and Arizona's Jaron Brown. Buffalo's Jordan Matthews (25 years old) is a bigger slot, sort of a younger version of Eric Decker (31), who also happens to be a free agent this offseason. Keep an eye on Denver's Emmanuel Sanders, who could become available as a cap casualty. The Patriots tried to bring him aboard as a restricted free agent years ago and it would make sense if they were still interested. He caught six passes for 137 yards in a Week 10 loss to New England last season. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?


After Alabama's Calvin Ridley, there seems to be some confusion as to which draft-eligible receivers deserve to take their place at the top of the class. Clemson's Deon Cain (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) has the size and speed to be a starter at the next level, but he was plagued by lapses in concentration that led to drops and false-start penalties. Courtland Sutton of SMU has an NFL-ready frame (6-4, 218), but probably doesn't have the athleticism to threaten defenses deep down the field as a pro. For teams interested in slot options, Texas A&M's Christian Kirk and Maryland's DJ Moore look like two of the best available. 

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


There may be little to address here if Amendola is back in the fold. If the Patriots are looking for young depth, though, there are plenty of options. Miami's Braxton Berrios could probably be had on Day 3, and he's already drawing comparisons to Amendola for his work in the slot, his toughness, and his ability to contribute as a returner. The Patriots could also dip into the Texas Tech pool after missing on both Amendola and Wes Welker in the draft in years past by taking Keke Coutee. He's slight (5-11, 180) but can play inside and out, has speed to burn, and could return kicks. If Belichick and Nick Caserio want to go with a bigger slot who will be a good character guy, Penn State's four-year starter Daesean Hamilton (6-1, 205) would make sense in the middle rounds. 

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