Patriots

Bill Belichick's masterstoke with Patriots: Getting them to move past anger of Malcolm Butler situation

Bill Belichick's masterstoke with Patriots: Getting them to move past anger of Malcolm Butler situation

Nobody was sweeping up confetti at this time last year, or complaining about the public using public transportation to get to another dangblasted parade.

We were taking the measure of how much damage the decision to bench Malcolm Butler would have on Bill Belichick’s coaching legacy.  

Scratched? Dented? Crumpled? Totaled?

It was going to leave some kind of mark. It had to. That’s what we thought.

We thought wrong. There’s been nary a mention that the Patriots, had it not been for the Butler benching, could very well be the first team to win three straight Super Bowls.

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There was barely a Butler mention in the days leading up to the Super Bowl.

That’s not because people didn’t want to be the turd in the punch bowl -- God knows there’s no reluctance to be that around here -- it’s because the Patriots’ Super Bowl return signified that, no matter what the Butler decision may have cost the Patriots last season, the agitation was eventually pocketed.

Why? Because, in the end, it wasn’t worth it to keep pulling out the grievance, staring at it, fixating on it, rolling it over in your hand, examining it and getting pissed off about it all over again.

Would it have been the same had Belichick gone through every facet of the decision to not use Butler? Opened the floor to questions? Solicited each player’s feelings?

Somehow, I doubt it.

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It’s ironic that the man who preceded Belichick, Pete Carroll, went about things very differently in Seattle after SB49. Everybody got to add their two cents on what the decision to throw instead of run cost them personally. Everybody got to hear explanation after explanation for why it happened.

Everybody got to pull out any other grudge they’d been holding prior to (again, ironically) Malcolm Butler’s interception and slap that on the table, too.

The sniping and bitterness never went away because it was allowed to get traction.

With the Patriots, it was Belichick the father taking the question, “Why?” from the family and saying, “Because I said so.”

And that was that.

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This highlights again a unique aspect of the Patriots dynasty that will be hard for another team to replicate. The ability to get buy-in from a team even when there is unresolved bitterness.

The ability to not just take a loss but take a preventable loss in the biggest game when players and coaches had the opportunity to reach the goal they’d worked for all season or their entire football lives.

Take it. Process it. Pocket it. Then start again.

Before Sunday, the last time a team lost the Super Bowl then returned the next season and won it was the 1972 Miami Dolphins. A team hadn’t even returned to the Super Bowl the season following a Super Bowl loss since the 1993 Buffalo Bills.

But this Patriots team, even after the agitations, even after losing three incredibly important skill position players from their offense (Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis), even after losing five times on the road and putting up non-competitive losses three times, this team which had every right to kick rocks about not winning last year and letting it carry over into this year . . . this team didn’t just get back to the Super Bowl, it won it.

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In the end, in a weird way, that actually burnishes Belichick’s legacy. It shows what an outlier he is as a leader, coach, team-builder and reader of team psychology.

Regardless of how poorly Butler practiced that week or played all season, when the Patriots had no answers in SB52, leaving him rotting on the bench after he’d played over 95 percent of the team’s snaps all season seemed an abomination. It was the polar opposite of “doing what’s best for the team.”

It didn’t make sense. Not just to the fans and media, to the players too. How could it not linger into this season?

The Malcolm Butler Decision is never going to disappear. It’s part of the New England Patriots’ story.

But what happened in the season after a Super Bowl win after a Super Bowl loss -- something that hadn’t occurred in almost 50 years -- that’s the rest of the story.

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Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast: Dissecting the offense with the addition of Antonio Brown

Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast: Dissecting the offense with the addition of Antonio Brown

1:36 - Tom Curran starts off by asking a simple question: 'What keeps Antonio Brown on this team?' As of now, it's the fact that he's valuable enough on the gridiron, but when will that not be enough?

7:09 - Matt Cassel joins Tom to talk about a variety of topics: Antonio Brown's explosiveness making the Patriots offense look like that of the 2007 team; (14:38) How the offense attacks man vs. zone coverage; (21:41) How to approach Greg Williams' defense next week against the Jets; (27:25) and a pair of Hall of Fame debates.

32:26 - Tom catches up with Kyle Van Noy after his season debut in Miami, talking about the linebacker's newborn son, the dominance of the Patriots defense and how Josh Gordon is getting more comfortable in New England.

LISTEN HERE AND SUBSCRIBE:

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Bill Belichick praises Joe Thuney's versatility amid Patriots' o-line injuries

Bill Belichick praises Joe Thuney's versatility amid Patriots' o-line injuries

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has found several quality offensive lineman in the middle to late rounds of the NFL Draft, and Joe Thuney is one of the best examples.

Thuney has established himself as a key member of the Patriots o-line as the starting left guard for all of his three seasons in New England. The 2016 third-round pick was one of the Patriots' most important players in their Super Bowl LIII victory, where he helped slow down elite Los Angeles Rams pass rusher Aaron Donald.

You cannot explain Thuney's true value without mentioning his versatility. The North Carolina State product is able to play just about every position along the offensive line, and with the Patriots losing both starting tackles to injuries over the last two weeks, Thuney's versatility has become a huge asset for Belichick.

"Very valuable. Somebody has to have versatility on that group," Belichick told reporters Tuesday. "If you take seven linemen to the game, you can't have a backup for every position, so somebody has to move. Either one of your starters has to move or your two backups have to cover all five spots in some combination of that. We need somebody that can do that and Joe's our most versatile lineman on the team, so that is an important role for us to have in terms of maintaining our depth with the group."

The latest blow to the Patriots offensive line came Tuesday, when starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury. He isn't eligible to return for eight weeks. New England also lost starting right tackle Marcus Cannon to a shoulder injury in Week 1, and he missed Sunday's win over the Miami Dolphins.

The Patriots signed free agent offensive linemen Marshall Newhouse and Caleb Benenoch over the last two weeks to bolster their depth, and both of them are options at the tackles spots.

Left tackle is one of the most important positions on the field. This player protects quarterback Tom Brady's blind side and regularly goes up against the league's best pass rushers. Thuney's familiarity with the offense and overall skill set make him a logical fit at left tackle while Wynn is out, and the Patriots could always shift guys around once Newhouse and Benenoch are more comfortable with the playbook.

Replacing a player like Wynn is going to be difficult for the Patriots, but it's nice to have lineman such as Thuney who can fill in at several spots and perform at a high level playing out of position. He's one of the most valuable Patriots players not named Tom Brady.

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