Curran: Patriots' Super Bowl win is America's nightmare

Curran: Patriots' Super Bowl win is America's nightmare

HOUSTON – At 5:50 p.m. EST, the New England Patriots took the long way down their sideline, all the way to a tunnel leading to their locker room.

The last song they heard as they left the field: “Hate Me Now” by Nas.

It's been a long time, been a long time comin'
Looks like the death of me now
But you know, there's no turning back now
This is what makes me; this is what I am
You can hate me now, but I won't stop now 
Cause I can't stop now, you can hate me now

All season, that song has played during warmups. It’s an embrace of the hate, fear and loathing that turned this franchise from the most beloved champions in NFL history in February, 2002 to one of its most reviled here in February, 2017.

So much revulsion caused by this one team from a little area in the top right corner of the country. All caused by 15 years of the team’s excellence, arrogance, petulance and perfection, the fanbase’s insanity, insufferability and never-ending persecution complex. To say nothing of the media’s catty, smarmy, condescension.

For 37 minutes of football, the country luxuriated in watching the Patriots finally get their nuts stomped in public. A whole damn season of hearing how Roger Goodell would rue the day he suspended Tom Brady and had to hand him the MVP Trophy. HA! The Patriots were on their way to losing by 40.

The rumpled genius Bill Belichick was halfway to being stripped bare. Things were proceeding so that the fanbase and media might even be forced to shut up for 15 minutes about their precious Tawwwwmmmmyyyyy and the miscarriage of justice the NFL visited upon them.

Then America’s dream Super Bowl turned into America’s nightmare.

Brady reached into the mouth of the Falcons, jammed his hand down through their esophagus, fished around until he found their heart, pulled it out in one long, slow tug, let them look at it and squeezed.

The Patriots erased a 28-3 deficit by outscoring Atlanta 31-0 over the last 17 minutes of play plus overtime. The 25-point comeback was the biggest comeback by a Super Bowl winner ever. The next-closest was 10. The Patriots did that too just two years ago when New England was on the winning end of another “Can you believe this?!” Super Bowl win over Seattle.

Belichick and Brady have won five Super Bowls meaning both men are unsurpassed in Super Bowl wins. Brady’s walked past Montana and Bradshaw in Super Bowl wins. The idea that people are even bothering to ask any more if Brady is the greatest quarterback ever is testimony to how much he’s reviled.

The real question? Is Tom Brady the Michael Jordan of the NFL? Or was Jordan the Brady of the NBA?

For the country? For the country this has to be the … Worst. Super Bowl. Ever. Sunday started with SNL’s Michael Che calling Boston the most racist city in America and pledging to cheer his ass off for Atlanta.

It ended with Brady breaking down after James White’s OT touchdown, a flood of emotions buckling him after he’d kept everything boxed up and filed away for months on end. Good job America. That’s the guy you can’t stand.

The Patriots definitely dragged out the drama though in trying to make Matt Ryan the first MVP to win the Super Bowl since Kurt Warner did in 1999.

The first quarter was a scoreless rock fight but the first play of the second quarter was a Brady redirect of Julian Edelman on third-and-1 and the Patriots got 33 and the Patriots were in business. Then they weren’t.

A strip by rookie Deion Jones of LeGarrette Blount got Atlanta the ball and then the Falcons ripped downfield with Julio Jones winning on a deep in-cut against Logan Ryan for 19 followed by a terrific 24-yard throw by Matt Ryan to Jones on the left sideline. Then it was Devonta Freeman ripping off 15 and 9 to put Atlanta down deep with 12:40 left in the half. And Freeman walked in.

The Patriots went three-and-out and then the Falcons did it again. From the Blount fumble on, the Falcons gained 19, 23, 15, 9 and the Freeman touchdown. The next drive had completions of 24, 18, a 1-yard run, an incompletion and then a 19-yard touchdown to tight end Austin Hooper with Pat Chung in coverage.

Then it got really bad. Despite having a drive propped up by three third-down flags against the Falcons, the Patriots weren’t able to cash in as a third-and-6 from the Atlanta 23 was picked by Robert Alford and took it 82 yards the other way to make it 21-0.

A 10-play, 52-yard drive that had the Patriots down inside the Atlanta 5 with fewer than 30 seconds left on the clock but a Martellus Bennett hold wiped out the gain that got them there, and New England had to settle for a field goal that left it at 21-3 going into halftime.

Post-Gaga, it got worse. The Patriots got a three-and-out and had decent field position after an Edelman punt return, but a first down drop by Chris Hogan and a third-down drop by Edelman forced a punt and the Falcons scored again.

And in doing so saw Malcolm Butler turned inside out by wide receiver Taylor Gabriel for a 35-yard gain, and Shanahan outscheme Belichick and Patricia with their touchdown pass to Tevin Coleman who they isolated on defensive end Rob Ninkovich on the perimeter.

The Patriots got themselves downfield to make it 28-9 on a drive that seemed to take longer than it needed to as the Patriots went heavy inside the 20 and took a long time to score. After they did, Stephen Gostkowski shanked the extra point in the direction of San Antonio.

He promptly followed that up with an illegal touch on the ensuing onsides kick. Atlanta recovered and you 35-9 seemed reasonable. But the Falcons luxury liner sprung the tiniest of leaks in the boiler room.

After a 9-yard completion to the Patriots 32, Jake Matthews got called for a hold on second-and-1.  Then Ryan took a 9-yard sack on third-and-11 and Atlanta had to punt.

The Patriots, going shotgun and up-tempo, ripped downfield on a 12-play drive but had to settle for a field goal making it 28-12. Sixteen points was two scores but what were the odds of no Atlanta points, two Patriot touchdowns and two two-point conversions. Almost nil.

They needed a play. They got it. Dont'a Hightower, who saved a Super Bowl before Malcolm Butler really saved it in SB49, got a strip sack of Ryan and the Patriots cashed in five plays later. Amendola got the two-point conversion and it was 28-20.

It took Atlanta three plays to get to the Patriots 22, though. There was 4:40 left. Run the ball, make the Patriots burn timeouts, kick a field goal to go up 11. Done and done. But instead, Ryan dropped to throw and was sacked back at the Patriots 33. Another hold on Matthews and suddenly it was third-and-33 and the Falcons were out of field goal range and Brady was getting the ball again.

The country gulped. The smart ones turned it off then. The rest? They saw the Patriots put it all to bed.

Unselfishness at core of Eagles' balanced, lethal offense

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Unselfishness at core of Eagles' balanced, lethal offense

You look at the stats, and nothing jumps off the page. No running back on pace for 1,000 yards, no wide receiver on pace for 1,000 yards. Heck, even the all-world quarterback hasn't thrown for more than 211 yards in his last three games.

No 100-yard games by a wide out or tight end. Only one 100-yard game by a running back, and that was two months ago.

Four different guys have led the team in rushing, three different guys have led the team in receiving, 11 different guys have scored touchdowns.

Heck, in the win over Dallas Sunday night, the Eagles' longest catch wasn't by one of the speedy free agent wide receivers, and it wasn't by Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins or Zach Ertz. It was by rarely used 11th-year tight end Brent Celek, who turns 33 in January.

You want Pro Bowlers? This is not the offense for you. You want guys to score you a ton of fantasy points? This is definitely not the offense for you. 

You want a Super Bowl contender? Welcome to Philly, where head coach Doug Pederson has found a way to get a bunch of players used to being the guy to suppress their egos and do whatever's necessary to help the team.

LeGarrette Blount led the NFL in rushing touchdowns last year. Jay Ajayi was a Pro Bowler last year. Alshon Jeffery has been a Pro Bowler and was fifth in the NFC in receiving yards per game over the last four years. 

They're used to being stars. They like being stars. They get paid to be stars. And they've all put their egos aside to be part of something special.

Pederson's greatest accomplishment this year has been to get everybody on the roster to buy into the notion of setting aside personal goals to help the team win football games.

These are guys with big-money incentives and tremendous pride in their numbers. They want to be considered the best at what they do. And they want to put up numbers that land them that next big contract.

But Pederson has them all locked into something bigger, something greater. That game in Minnesota in 2 ½ months.

"The bottom line is winning the game," Pederson said. "Bottom line. I don't go into a game saying, ‘Jay, you've got to get 100 yards rushing. LeGarrette or Alshon, you've got to have 100 yards receiving.’ 

"It doesn't work that way. We don't design the offensive plays to work that way. If it happens, great. Alshon a couple weeks ago had an opportunity to be our first 100-yard receiver this year.

"It's just the guys just want to win, and it doesn't matter who's hot in the game. Our quarterback is so prepared and well-prepared, knowing exactly where to go with the ball in the passing situations. We ask him to do so much in the run game. And it's all part of the process, and these guys have bought in 100 percent, and they prepare that way. 

"You see it on game day. They're just all making plays and they're all contributing right now."

The Eagles are an NFL-best 9-1, and a win at home Sunday against the lowly Bears gives them nine straight wins, which would tie a franchise record set in 1960 and matched in 2003.

Their last four wins have all been by double digits, they're averaging 32 points per game, and they're on pace to score the 15th-most points in NFL history.

And they're doing it without anybody on pace for a 1,000-yard season and with just one 100-yard game by a receiver or running back.

Every coach talks about unselfishness, but Pederson genuinely has these guys living it and breathing it.

Why does it work?

"Because we all want to win," Blount said.

And it works because the quarterback is the most unselfish guy of all and legitimately doesn't care about anything other than getting a win.

"Winning is contagious, and the guys feed off of that," Pederson said. "And so it really doesn't matter who makes the play. It's just at the end of the day, just find a way to win the game."

Eagles DE Derek Barnett wreaking havoc as sacks starting to pile up

USA Today Images

Eagles DE Derek Barnett wreaking havoc as sacks starting to pile up

With each passing game, it's starting to become clearer and clearer why the Eagles used their first-round pick on Derek Barnett. 

The rookie defensive end is beginning to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. 

"This guy is very disruptive, explosive," head coach Doug Pederson said. "He's another one of those unselfish guys. He just wants to win and do whatever he can to help the team win."

Barnett, the 14th overall pick in April's draft, had two sacks and a forced fumble in the Eagles' 37-9 win Sunday night over the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. 

In addition to Barnett's two sacks (he forced a fumble on one), he also applied pressure and hit quarterback Dak Prescott on two of his three interceptions. 

It seemed like Sunday was probably Barnett's best NFL game so far. The 21-year-old humbly didn't go along with that assessment. 

"I think I did some good things, but I need to do a better job in the run game," Barnett said. "I didn't do that well in the run game. At the end of the day, we won. That's all that matters. We got a victory and let's all go back to Philly." 

After failing to record a sack in his first five NFL games, Barnett now has 4.5 in his last five games. He is second among all NFL rookies in sacks this season. 

He's already eighth on the Eagles' rookie sack list and could move up that list quickly. Two more sacks would put him third behind just Reggie White (13) and Corey Simon (9.5). 

Sacks sometimes come in bunches. 

"I just think they're coming now," Pederson said. "I think he's getting comfortable in the role. He's developing. He's understanding the game. He studies tackles, he studies his opponent. He's developed a couple of different moves. It's just his willingness. It just clicks for any player. They start to come. I love where he's at right now too." 

Even before the sacks started coming, Barnett was quietly getting pressure. Now, he's getting pressure and finishing the plays. 

Barnett played 51 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps Sunday and is closing on the 50 percent mark on the season. While he hasn't been widely talked about as a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, he could make a case quickly if these numbers keep piling up. 

More importantly, he could offer the Eagles a dangerous pass-rusher as they make their way down the stretch and into the playoffs.

And he's doing it with the same traits that made him attractive to the Eagles in the first place. 

Remember just after he was drafted, when vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas raved about Barnett's "excellent" ankle flexion? 

Well, check out Barnett's bend on his fourth-quarter strip sack: 


He bent around the left tackle and came at Prescott horizontally. 

He did it earlier in the game on the Rodney McLeod interception: 


And remember how much everyone praised his high motor and compete level? 

Check out his first-half sack. He willed his way to a sack and wouldn't let Prescott escape. 

Sunday was Barnett's second career two-sack game; they came less than a month apart. And it looks like there are plenty more sacks in his future. 

"They're starting to come in slowly but surely," Barnett said. "Everybody says to pass rush, you have to keep on rushing. You can't get down. You're going to be in your little slumps and stuff. You have to keep on grinding through it. It's eventually going to break."