From limited role to covering Julio Jones, Rowe's wild 2016


From limited role to covering Julio Jones, Rowe's wild 2016

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.”

Patriots Talk Podcast: Youth - that means draft success - will have to fuel Pats' reboot

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Patriots Talk Podcast: Youth - that means draft success - will have to fuel Pats' reboot

It's simple, really. If the Patriots are going to avoid staying home again after the Wild Card Round of the playoffs next season and seasons to come, they've got to get younger.

And to get younger, they've got to be more successful in the draft.

In the latest edition of Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast, Curran and Phil Perry focus on the last time New England was sent home this early in the playoffs a decade ago and if there can be lessons learned from that roster reboot in 2010. 

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The biggest issue confronting the Pats this time around is their age, which averages 31.6 years old (a 42-year-old quarterback skews that a little, of course). By comparison, the Super Bowl 54 opponents, the Kansas City Chiefs (26.8) and the San Francisco 49ers (26.6) are considerably younger.

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The age factor is why, as Perry pointed out, "the pressure is on for them to hit not only in this 2020 draft, where they do have 12 picks, they have no second-round pick, but 12 shots at the dartboard. Last year, they had 10 [picks] and nine guys are still with the team.

"It's clear they have told themselves, 'We need to get younger. We need to start hitting here if we want to sustain this success.' The draft is the lifeblood of any team."

The 2018 team and its victory in the Super Bowl over the Rams last February worked to hide some of those flaws from recent low-yield draft classes.

"They had a great quarterback when they needed him. They had a Hall of Fame quarterback when they needed him. The defense looked tremendous we know how that story played out," Perry said. 

What kind of draft yield are we talking about to fuel the next generation of Patriots' success?

Curran goes on to rattle off the names from 2008-2012 drafts (Mayo, Slater, Edelman, Vollmer, Butler, Chung, Gronkowski, McCourty) that fueled the second half of the Pats dynasty.

"I have upwards of 30 names from 2008 to 2012 who were contributing players to the Patriots. I'm not even talking a little contributing, but massive contributing...," Curran said.  

There's also a discussion of how the uncertainty surrounding Tom Brady will impact the 2020 draft strategy. Listen and subscribe to Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston podcast network.


That 617 Life Podcast: Patriots' ties to a Pats-less Super Bowl

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That 617 Life Podcast: Patriots' ties to a Pats-less Super Bowl

The Patriots may have been missing from the NFL's Championship Sunday, but that didn't stop them from being mentioned and having their former personnel play prominent roles in the AFC and NFC Championship Games.

Whether it was former Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel coaching the Tennessee Titans against the Kansas City Chiefs or former New England quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo helping the San Francisco 49ers beat the Green Bay Packers to reach Super Bowl 54, the Patriots continue to be a talked-about team. 

On the latest edition of the "That 617 Life" podcast, Leroy Irvin, Shanda Foster and Cerrone Battle discussed how the Pats still loomed over the games on Sunday.

"You can not say anything bad about the Patriots because we are always constantly producing talent," Foster said. "I think this is the perfect testament to Bill Belichick."

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Battle said it speaks to the dominance of the Patriots the past two decades that connections to their former players and staff are now all over the league.

"That's what happens when you win," Battle said. "When you win, everybody wants a piece. They want your waterboy. Look at the new head coach of the Giants [Joe Judge, the former Patriots special teams and receivers coach]?... When you're good for 20 years eventually you're going to have your roots all over the league. After years and years of success, I'm not shocked by it."

Irvin and Foster said instead of lamenting a rare NFL Final Four without New England, Pats fans should be grateful.

"I wish Patriot Nation would grow up," Irvin said. "By that I mean I'm tired of seeing on social media people just crying and complaining, 'Oh it's boring without the Patriots.' We've had almost two decades of excellence. We're not there. Get over it."

Said Foster, "I was grateful more than anything. Filled with gratitude. We may never see a run like this again."

In his "Hot Takes and Cold Cuts" segment, Battle says those crowning the Super Bowl 54 opponents as the next dynasties might want to pump the brakes a little. 

"First thing I heard [after the games] is, 'Kansas City they're gonna be around for years and San Francisco they're gonna be around for a long time. They're gonna be contenders forever,' " Battle said. "That was the story all day. 'What is anybody gonna do about these teams next year?' What are they gonna do next year? Not even worry about them. Why? Because this is the Not For Long League. The NFL. Every year, the teams that were hot the year before are never guaranteed to be hot the year after that. Unless you're the Patriots."

The crew also gives their reactions to the new Aaron Hernandez Netflix documentary. It's all in this week's "That 617 Life" podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast network. Click here to listen and subscribe.