Patriots

Curran: Colts and Patriots a win away from Irony Bowl

Curran: Colts and Patriots a win away from Irony Bowl

It had been a tough week for Colts GM Chris Ballard, so when he ended his left-at-the-altar press conference last February 7, his parting words seemed like a pithy but understandable effort to save face.

“The rivalry is back on,” he said.

Yeah OK, Chris. Good luck with that. You have no head coach and your franchise quarterback will spend June minicamp throwing high school-sized footballs because of a “mental block” with regulation footballs. You just went 4-12. Appreciate the irritation but tugging on the Patriots’ pant leg, waving a fist up at them and promising payback is more cute than threatening.

Eleven months later, the Colts and Patriots are one win away from meeting in the AFC Championship. Working title for that game? The Irony Bowl.

It’s been a remarkable reversal of fortune for the Colts who started 1-5 under Frank Reich and are now heading to Kansas City having won 10 of 11.

Two of their rookies – linebacker Darius Leonard and guard Quenton Nelson – were named All-Pro. Luck is likely going to be named Comeback Player of the Year.

Under defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus – who McDaniels hired – the Colts defense has undergone a drastic improvement. Same with the Indianapolis special teams under former Patriots player and coach Bubba Ventrone, another McDaniels hire. Same with the Indy defensive line under Mike Phair. Also hired by … you get the point.

McDaniels’ cold feet were caused by a reluctance to uproot his family but also by creeping unease with the situation he was stepping into in Indy.

Regardless of the reason, the decision to back out did undeniable damage to McDaniels’ reputation. And that’s been borne out in this season’s round of head coaching interviews.

There were eight vacancies. Only the Bengals and Packers made official requests to interview McDaniels. He rebuffed the Bengals. On Monday, the Packers agreed to make Matt LaFleur their head coach.

Maybe something will break with the Browns.

A report last week stated McDaniels is “enthusiastically interested” in interviewing with Cleveland. Makes sense. He’s from Ohio. The Browns are the most attractive landing spot in the NFL with a bona fide franchise QB in the making with Baker Mayfield. It’s a perfect fit.

But so far, there’s been nothing official from Cleveland which has so far met with Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores, Browns interim coach Gregg Williams, former Indianapolis and Detroit coach Jim Caldwell, Minnesota interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and New Orleans tight ends coach Dan Campbell. The Browns are also expected to meet with their interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens and former Packers coach Mike McCarthy sometime this week. They interviewed Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus on Sunday.

Maybe the Browns and owner Jimmy Haslam feel they’re already up to speed on McDaniels having twice interviewed him before when they had openings in 2013 and 2014.

Or maybe GM John Dorsey, a close friend of Ballard’s from their time spent working together in Kansas City, has a hair across his ass about the way McDaniels made his guy look bad and wants no part of working alongside McDaniels.

Maybe teams around the league presume McDaniels is a lock to succeed Bill Belichick. Not only is that not etched in stone, but Belichick isn’t really giving off the vibe he’s about to hang it up.

Or maybe after 14 head coaching interviews of McDaniels dating back to 2009 (Broncos, Browns, Rams, Browns, Browns, 49ers, Falcons, 49ers, Rams, Jaguars, Bears, Giants, Colts, Packers), teams have grown tired of the epididymal hypertension that a McDaniels courtship seems to invite.

Whatever the case, the chance that Kansas City throws up on itself and the Colts wind up in Foxboro with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line is very real.

The story of the Patriots can’t be written without devoting a few chapters to the layers of interpersonal and inter-franchise intrigue and bitterness their run of greatness spawned.

But the rivalry with the Colts may be the most consistently bitter. From Peyton and Polian through Grigson and DeflateGate, it’s been almost two decades of unabated toxicity.

Now, all the two teams need to do is hold up their end this weekend to prove Ballard was a prophet.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Don't proclaim Patriots' dynasty over, even with Cam Newton replacing Tom Brady

Don't proclaim Patriots' dynasty over, even with Cam Newton replacing Tom Brady

You haven’t truly arrived as a member of the Boston sports media until you’ve picked up your pen or microphone and declared the Patriots' dynasty dead.

Lots of people you know and love have done this, but I believe I hold the record. And it can’t be broken: In January 2000, before Bill Belichick was even hired, I said there would be no dynasty if Belichick got the job.

So there. See if you can top that.

Over the last 20 years, there have been numerous warnings, in the media and beyond, of big trouble on the Patriots’ horizon. Trades, defections, defeats, retirements, scandals, new and talented challengers. One of those things had to provide the last and final word for this historic run.

Right?

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

We already know what didn’t do it: The Drew Bledsoe trade; the Lawyer Milloy release; Adam Vinatieri signing with the Colts; Spygate and the almost-perfect season; Tom Brady, age 31, tearing his ACL and MCL; the 2009 exodus (Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Josh McDaniels, Scott Pioli); the two seasons of New York Jets contention (feel free to place laughing emojis and memes here); Deflategate; the drafting, anointing, and eventual trade of Jimmy Garoppolo; the Super Bowl disappearance of Malcolm Butler; and Brady, age 41, pleading the Fifth when asked if Belichick and Robert Kraft appreciate him enough.

And so here we are, at yet another tension point on this two-decades-long ride. Brady, who will be 43 next month, is gone. Cam Newton, a dozen years younger, is here.

You tell me: Is the dynasty finally over now?

Teams aren’t supposed to be able to survive this. Brady, the best quarterback to ever play, took a lot of championship hard drive with him to Florida. The Brady-to-Newton transfer seems like the work of a rookie scriptwriter: The quarterback who has passed for more touchdowns than anyone (regular season and playoffs) is replaced by the quarterback who has rushed for more touchdowns than anyone at the position… and he’s on New England’s books for fewer dollars than Brian Hoyer.

I don’t know if Newton will be able to overcome his shoulder and foot injuries. But what should be obvious to anyone watching is that Belichick doesn’t have any “bridge year” in him. We’ll all have to keep waiting for his dynasty concession speech. It’s never going to happen.

Really, we all should have seen this one coming. Player restoration is something Belichick is always trying to do. Especially at bargain prices. He’s done it at almost every position except for quarterback, and that’s because this was his first opportunity to do it there in 20 years.

If you use Belichick’s history as a guide, you should also be expecting something else when the preseason begins. Change. Newton is not going to be asked to run the same offense as Brady. In fact, I won’t be surprised if the Patriots’ attack looks, at times, like the Patriots of the late 1970s. That is, a team whose identity is tied to a fierce running game, including the quarterback.

This is where the combination of Belichick’s experience and willingness to adapt makes his year-to-year team vision so interesting and impossible to duplicate.

I’m not just talking about schemes, but players, too. For those who wonder if he and Newton can coexist, just consider the two best players he’s coached, Lawrence Taylor and Brady. Now think about all the different personalities, styles, and societal changes he’s seen between 1981 — when LT was a rookie — and now.

Show me a great coach and I’ll show you a great teacher. Show me a great teacher and I’ll show you someone who knows how to reach the so-called unreachable.

Listen and subscribe to Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast:

Frankly, I think Belichick loves what’s happened this spring. The Bills have been installed as division favorites, and Patriots departures — Brady and several others — have forced Belichick and his staff to reimagine what they’re doing. Keep in mind, that’s like asking Bruno Mars to perform. You know, that’s just what he does.

What’s so odd about this situation is that no part of it is supposed to be positive. How is it possible for Brady to leave and yet people still hesitate when you ask, “Is the dynasty over?” Then again, it shouldn’t be possible to win 78 percent of your games (162-46) during the same period in which the NFL has docked two first-round picks and a fourth. Another third-rounder will vanish in 2021.

It’s totally fair to suggest that none of the annual success can continue without Brady. He’s much older than Newton, yes, but has proven to be more durable in his 40s than Newton in his late 20s/early 30s. He’s won 10 times as many playoff games. You can’t just go from Brady to Newton and expect everything to be fine, can you?

You’re not being unreasonable if you say that Brady-for-Newton is the exchange that will finally bring the whole empire down. Or maybe it’s simply time for the league to belong to Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson now. At some point, the long run of double-digit wins has to end. The last time the Patriots didn’t do that in a season, Newton was 13 years old.

Go ahead and answer. Is it over now? Don’t worry about being wrong. You’ll never break my record.

 

Patriots fans will enjoy Cam Newton's Instagram video of workout with Mohamed Sanu

Patriots fans will enjoy Cam Newton's Instagram video of workout with Mohamed Sanu

Cam Newton is already hard at work preparing for the 2020 NFL season.

Newton and the New England Patriots reportedly have agreed to a one-year contract that could be worth as much as $7.5 million with incentives.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

The 31-year-old quarterback was on the free agent market for several months after being released by the Carolina Panthers in March. The whole league passed on him until the Patriots finally took the chance on signing him. Therefore, we should expect a highly motivated Newton entering the 2020 season. Not only does he want to prove his doubters wrong, a strong 2020 campaign would also give him a better chance to land a more lucrative contract next offseason.

Motivation was among the themes of Newton's latest Instagram video, which includes footage from his recent workout with Patriots wide receiver Mohamed Sanu in Los Angeles. 

Check it out in the post below (WARNING: the video contains some NSFW language).

Newton is not guaranteed to win the starting quarterback job for the Patriots. He should receive tough competition from 2019 fourth-round draft pick Jarrett Stidham, who impressed in last year's training camp and preseason.

It's still hard to bet against Newton, though. The former league MVP is clearly determined to show he's still one of the top 12 or 15 quarterbacks in pro football and get his career back on track.