Patriots

Curran: Another brain-dead move by brain-dead organization

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Curran: Another brain-dead move by brain-dead organization

INDIANAPOLIS -- How could the Indianapolis Colts embarrass themselves more fully than they’d done in their past four losses to the Patriots?

They found a way with a play that will live in infamy.

It wasn’t just that the Colts didn’t know how to line up for their fake punt. Or that the coaching staff didn’t adequately prep the guy snapping the ball -- Griff Whalen -- as to whether they wanted him to snap it or not. Or that they were trying to outsmart the most well-prepared team in the NFL. Or that they apparently didn’t speak to the officials and check if their alignment was even legal.

The most appalling aspect of the play was that -- through 43 minutes and 46 seconds of play -- the Colts players had done everything they could to make a game of it against the Patriots. They were DOING IT! They were REALLY DOING IT!!

The score was 27-21 New England, and a field-position war had raged through the third quarter. Punting from their own 37, the Colts were probably going to put the Patriots inside their 20, maybe close to the 10.  

And then Chuck Pagano decided to play “smarter than thou” with the Patriots; a team which really is smarter than thou.

What was the motivation? Give the Patriots a taste of their own medicine? Make them look silly? Take backslaps from fellow coaching staffs around the league who would have reveled in seeing the Patriots get theirs?

Instead, the whole thing blew up in Indy’s face. Whalen snapped the ball to “quarterback” Colts Anderson with Patriot Jon Bostic positioned over center and Brandon Bolden just off the ball to Bostic’s left. When Whalen snapped the ball, there was a pause. Like he just realized he mistakenly pulled the pin on a live grenade. Which he pretty much had. Anderson seemed stunned. Then he was flattened.

Whalen blew up the game. But he was only following what he thought were his orders.

I pray nobody spends Monday framing Pagano’s “it’s all on me” routine as somehow being a noble approach. Because it’s exactly what he should say. And he should have added a public apology to it as well. If Whalen did something he wasn’t supposed to do, it’s because there was enough ambiguity in the instructions given to him to allow him to misinterpret the plan. Pagano and his staff didn’t put the players in a position to execute the play. And -- given the game situation -- it was wholly unnecessary to even call for the play. Not then. Not when the Colts were still very much in it and the only upside would be first-and-10 near your own 40 with 60 yards still to go to take the lead (and the downside being that the Patriots would take possession about five yards from field-goal range with a chance to make it a nine-point game if they barely gained a yard.

Pagano’s explanation after the game was this: “The whole idea there was on a fourth-and-3 or less, shift the alignment to where you either catch them misaligned, they try to sub people in, catch them with more men on the field, 12 men on the field and if you get a certain look you got three yards, two yards and you can make a play. I didn’t do a good enough job of coaching it during the week. Alignment-wise we weren’t lined up correctly and then [there was] a communication breakdown between the quarterback and the snapper and that’s all on me. I didn’t do a good enough job in getting that communicated to the guys. It obviously played a huge factor in this loss, given the field position and the touchdown that resulted from that.”

Whalen was left to try and dissemble the details for a mass of media at his locker.

“There’s a couple options there,” he said. “We can try and draw ‘em offsides or snap it, run a fake. It’s not really up to me (to decide whether to snap the ball), [Anderson] has a couple of decisions to make. We’ll take a look at the film tomorrow and get it figured out. It’s just a miscommunication between us and the coaches and everything. I’m just not sure if we got exactly the look we thought we would. We’ll take a look at it tomorrow and get it figured out. There were different options. I think we all could have done a better job getting on the same page. It’s between the special-teams coach and the head coach and the guys out there. It’s obviously not the way we should have done it.”

The Patriots couldn’t sneer at the Colts during the week leading up to the game, but they had a hard time not showing that they took great satisfaction in the fact the Colts blew the game with a stupid, preventable, arrogant idea.

“I’m glad they did it,” said Julian Edelman. “We got the ball back in great field position so we were alert, our guys went to where they were supposed to go. So shame on them.”

Asked if he was surprised the Colts tried to outsmart them, Edelman said, “You’re not surprised with anything with how they play. They tried to onsides kick, they did (fake punt) and, umm . . . Colts.”

It’s one thing to be beaten badly. It’s an altogether greater indignity that a team you would like to consider your rival looks at a blunder like that as par for the course. Ummm . . . Colts. Maybe the quote of the year.

Former Cowboys and Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson used to say that all but about 10 teams eliminate themselves from Super Bowl contention before the season even begins because they're stupid. There’s probably fewer than 10 these days. And Indy certainly qualifies as one of the brain dead.

From their addled and amateurish owner to their insecure, self-important GM to their overmatched head coach, the Colts are rotten from the top down.

All week long, Patriots fans had their black hearts longing for a monumental beatdown in Indy. Instead, the Colts provided the hated, vile Twitter tormentors back East with something better.

A blunder that was equal parts amusing, arrogant and desperate. A decision that announced how far the Colts coaching staff thinks it is from being able to go toe-to-toe with the Patriots. A play that was so poorly installed that only a staff trying to make a statement of some sort would attempt to run.

The Colts will win some more games. The Colts may make the playoffs. But this was dysfunction writ large in prime time.

Ummm . . . Colts.

Patriots' biggest advantage vs. Chiefs in AFC Championship Game? They have everybody this time

Patriots' biggest advantage vs. Chiefs in AFC Championship Game? They have everybody this time

FOXBORO – The biggest difference between these playoff Patriots and any other this decade? Good health.

Every year since 2012, the Patriots have had at least one major player land on injured reserve during the season and be lost for the playoffs.

IR aside, the Patriots can realistically look at 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015 as seasons that ended with losses almost completely because they took the field for their final game with key players missing or playing at severely reduced levels.

This year? Fresh as a daisy.

The only veteran Patriot the team put on IR this season was cornerback Eric Rowe. He was capably replaced by both Jason McCourty and J.C. Jackson.

The other important guys who landed on IR were newcomers - running back Jeremy Hill, rookie offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn and rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. They were poised to make contributions but their regular-season level with the team wasn’t established.

“I think we’ve stayed away from some of the bigger injuries, which we’re very fortunate to do,” said Tom Brady. “And you’re right, I mean, you know my belief on injuries. I think a lot of them are [preventable]. I try to take as much responsibility and accountability for my injuries as possible so that I can be out there. Sometimes you have bad luck in football. It’s obviously a contact sport. You can take a bad hit and that’s your season. Our team’s been very fortunate in that sense this year to not really take those things. The guys have done a great job staying healthy and trying to go week to week.”

It takes seeing the names to really appreciate the toll injuries exacted on previous teams.

Here are some of the key guys from previous years who were off the active roster when the playoffs came (a nod to my guy Zack Cox at NESN who tweeted the full list here):

2017: Julian Edelman, Donta Hightower, Marcus Cannon, Jonathan Jones, Malcolm Mitchell, Nate Ebner, Martellus Bennett.
2016: Rob Gronkowski, Sebastian Vollmer.
2015: LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, Jerod Mayo, Nate Solder, Ryan Wendell.
2014: Aaron Dobson, Jerod Mayo, Stevan Ridley.
2013: Gronkowski, Tommy Kelly, Jerod Mayo, Sebastian Vollmer
2012: Nobody of consequence
2011: Dan Koppen, Andre Carter, Mike Wright.

Aside from IR, the 2012 season was meat when Gronk broke his arm against Houston in the Divisional Playoff and couldn’t play in the AFC Championship against the Ravens.

The 2011 Super Bowl against the Giants was also hosed by a Gronk injury – that one suffered in the AFC Championship against the Ravens. It left him a shell of himself in the Super Bowl. When Aqib Talib got obliterated in the 2013 AFC Championship by Wes Welker, the Patriots were pretty much cooked.

I’m not recalling all these injuries to play the woulda-coulda-shoulda game. It’s all hypothetical anyway.

The greater point is that, as they enter this AFC Championship Game, everybody’s tip-top. It’s astounding. Nothing wrong with Hightower or Gronk. Edelman is tip-top. Both tackles are good-to-go as is the interior offensive linemen. The secondary’s been healthy for weeks.

That can all change within one series, but if you ask what’s a greater advantage, home field or good health? I’d say good health.

“Obviously, you need your best players out there, and the guys that you expect to deliver, you need them playing well,” said Brady. “The only way to play well is to be healthy. If you have a bad whatever and you can’t do your job – if you’re a runner, run, or if you’re a thrower, throw, or if you’re a blocker, block – I mean, it’s hard to do on one arm or one leg. But, if you can feel good and you can feel like you’re trending always toward feeling your best for Sunday, I think that gives you a lot of confidence. Even some of the games we lost this year, I think you come out of those games and you think, ‘Wow, OK. A positive, we didn’t lose anybody.’ I think we’re at this point this year, and we’ve been pretty healthy to this point.”

As recognizable as Brady is as a diet/nutrition/pliability/training devotee, he didn’t resort to the TB12 Method because the Patriots were lagging behind.

As this story from Phil Perry in February 2015 demonstrated, Bill Belichick is as evangelical as anyone about the vital role nutrition plays 

And sleep (here’s Phil from February 2017 on the Patriots use of flotation tanks for kickass sleep).
 
And in 2016, Belichick went wayyyyy in-depth discussing the efforts the team expended after the 2015 season ended with practically half the team out or on the injury report for the last game.  

Predictably, Belichick didn’t want to get into a mess of salutes for his medical and training staff two days before the game. Probably feels like bad karma.

But he did allow that, given the focus the team has given to keeping their human resources available, the relative health could be a result of that.

“But,” he added. “I think in the end, it’s a combination of a lot of things. Training is like anything – it helps to have a good plan, it helps to follow the plan, and the players have worked extremely hard. There’s no pill we can take to get in condition or get stronger or get faster or anything. You’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to work at it, and you do that day after day, week after week, month after month, in some cases, year after year, and that’s how you improve, just like anything else.

“So, the players have worked really hard as a total team with a lot of consistency,” he reminded. “I think the work that, as you mentioned, the other people behind in those areas have done has been good, but it’s a combination of a lot of people working together and doing a good job. But, I think you can’t take anything away from the players. In the end, players work to get in condition. Certainly, they need a good plan, good structure – I’m not saying that – but if they don’t work hard at it, then you could have the best plan in the world, and probably aren’t going to have great results.” 

Those results have been so good they may have more to do with Sunday’s result than any other factor we whip out.

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Here's where to watch or stream New England Patriots vs. Kansas City Chiefs, AFC Championship Game

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NBC Sports Boston illustration

Here's where to watch or stream New England Patriots vs. Kansas City Chiefs, AFC Championship Game

The New England Patriots play the Chiefs in Kansas City for the AFC Championship and a trip to Super Bowl 53 at 6:40 p.m. on Sunday, January 20. Here's NBC Sports Boston's coverage throughout the day, along with a list of where else you can catch the game. . . 

  • 4 p.m.: Opening Drive
    • with Jade McCarthy and Albert Breer in Burlington, and Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry in Kansas City
    • TV: NBC Sports Boston. STREAMING: NBCSportsBoston.com
       
  • 5 p.m.: McDonald's Pregame Live
    • with Michael Holley, Troy Brown, Jerod Mayo and Rob Ninkovich at Toby Keith's in Patriot Place at Foxboro, Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry in Kansas City, and DJ Bean in Burlington
    • TV: NBC Sports Boston. STREAMING: NBCSportsBoston.com
       
  • 6:40 p.m.: New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs
    • TV: CBS. STREAMING: Game PassRADIO: 98.5 The Sports Hub
    • Live Stream: "Watch Now with fuboTV - Try free trial"
       
  • Halftime Live
    • with Michael Holley, Troy Brown and Ron Ninkovich at Toby Keith's in Patriots Place at Foxboro
    • TV: NBC Sports Boston. STREAMING: NBCSportsBoston.com
       
  • At game's end: Twin River Casino and Hotel Postgame Live
    • with Michael Holley, Troy Brown, Rob Ninkovich and Albert Breer at Toby Keith's in Patriots Place at Foxboro, Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry in Kansas City, and DJ Bean in Burlington
    • TV: NBC Sports Boston. STREAMING: NBCSportsBoston.com

HARD TRUTHS

Tom E. Curran's Hard Truths on the game, presented by Plymouth Rock Assurance:

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