Patriots

Despite 'a lot of urgency,' Patriots don't panic before game-winning pick

Despite 'a lot of urgency,' Patriots don't panic before game-winning pick

PITTSBURGH -- Who saw that ending coming? Anyone? Well, if the Patriots are to be believed, they had a pretty good idea that the Steelers were a threat to have something up their sleeve as time wound down on what turned out to be a thrilling 27-24 victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.

The ill-advised ‘fake spike throw a freakin’ slant to a well-covered Eli Rogers’ wasn’t the smartest play ever cooked up in offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s apparently very smokey lab. But that’s what Pittsburgh decided the situation called for, down 3 with 9 ticks left on the clock. They were hell-bent on walking away a winner and instead departed the field slack-jawed and silent, likely having cost themselves a chance at home field throughout the playoffs and maybe, just maybe, a shot at the Super Bowl.

“I think just practice execution turns into game reality,” said an elated Duron Harmon, who intercepted that final throw. “ We’ve seen it before. Everybody didn’t panic. Nobody was out there thinking they didn’t know what to do. We just played our rules, played good football and it turned into a good play for us.”

“The fake spike is something we see all the time,” said Devin McCourty. “I think all great quarterbacks do that. If they catch you sleeping and get an easy play, they’re going to try to do it. You could see us yelling and screaming the coverage, trying to get the guys up and get set because we knew there was a chance. If they spike it, they spike it.”

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The tape told a little something different. Only Trey Flowers actually attempts to play the play up front, eventually jumping in the air to dissuade Ben Roethlisberger from throwing the pass. On the back side of the play, Stephon Gilmore barely moves while Pat Chung appears lost and then lets up. Even Duron Harmon, who ended up with the ball falling into his lap for the game-preserving interception, didn’t react at the snap of the ball. But cornerback Eric Rowe did. The Pats should thank goodness for that. He deflected the ball that ended up in Harmon’s hands.

“A lot of urgency on that last play,” he said, describing the play in detail. “I see ‘em rushing to the ball. I see Matty P (Patricia) giving the call. I’m the star (the nickel cornerback). No one is on the outside. I’m like, forget it, I need to go outside and cover ‘em up. Everybody was in panic mode trying to get lined up and I see Big Ben fake it and I’m like ‘oh they’re running a play.’ I get my eyes back on the receiver and see him doing like a slant or a pop pass. I didn’t really think he was going to throw it because I was on his hip. He threw and I said ‘I just need to break this up’ and then boom, and I honestly like - it tipped off and if they caught ‘oh my god,’ but we came down with it. I was ecstatic.”

Coming down with it was Harmon. One of his nicknames is “The Closer” for good reason. He’s had a knack for sealing games with an interception but this one may have been the biggest of his career.

“Just prepared, man. Like everyone on our team. I just prepare. Credit to the entire defense for playing until the end. To all the guys,” said Harmon.

“It’s not by accident,” said Matthew Slater, who’s seen his share of big plays. “The guy prepares himself in that way. He respects the game of football, gives it everything he has every day and comes in here and he works hard to be in position. When guys are always around the ball, it’s not by accident.”

No, it is not. Never seems to be with this team, who once again have put themselves in position to do special things come January and - they hope - February in Minnesota.

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Scary story: Will left tackle situation put Brady in peril?

Scary story: Will left tackle situation put Brady in peril?

First in our series looking ahead to the opening of Patriots training camp July 26.

It's time for the linemen to get to work. Sure, the Patriots had 10 voluntary practices in the spring and three more mandatory mini-camp sessions. But it's not until training camp arrives that the pads come on and the linemen actually get to hit someone.

The left side of the line will be of particular interest once camp gets going because it will be the first time in almost two decades that the Patriots will go into camp with someone other than Matt Light or Nate Solder as their top tackle on Tom Brady's blind side. 

Will it be Trent Brown, the behemoth blocker the Patriots acquired from San Francisco with a third-round pick on draft weekend? He saw the majority of the reps at on the left side with the first group of linemen at OTAs. 

Will it be Isaiah Wynn, the first-round pick out of Georgia who looks like a guard but has the athleticism to man the edge? He worked at left guard during the spring because Joe Thuney was dealing with an injury. 

Whoever it is, Dante Scarnecchia will have his work cut out for him. It's only the health of the almost-41-year-old-quarterback, and hence the season, that's at stake. 

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Amendola: Pats' turmoil overblown, but Butler benching remains a mystery

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Amendola: Pats' turmoil overblown, but Butler benching remains a mystery

First things first. All that talk about turmoil in Foxboro?

Overblown.

"There's not really much truth to [the rumors that there was a ton of turmoil inside the walls], to tell you the truth," said ex-Patriots and current Miami wide receiver Danny Amendola. "There is always going to be some friction between a coach and a player in a business."

Second things second. The talk that there's been no explanation as to why Malcolm Butler was benched in the Super Bowl, and that the players -- or at least this player -- remain baffled by it?

Not overblown.

"I don't know the answer to [why that happened] to this day . . . " said Amendola. "[For] whatever reason, [Bill Belichick] felt, you know, he's the coach. I can't make that decision. I can only do my job and focus on my job.

"But in hindsight, it's like, 'Really, what agenda are we on?' It's something that I will probably never really understand."

Amendola said all this, and much more, on Barstool Sports' Comeback SZN Podcast with Kayce Smith, formerly of NBC Sports Boston. Amendola -- who played five years in New England before signing as a free agent with the Dolphins this past offseason -- gave a fascinating glimpse behind the Patriots' iron curtain.

Like when he signed with the Pats on March 13, 2013:

The realization he was headed to New England "set in when Bill called . . . and said, 'Get your ass to Foxboro and ink this up . . . we're not having a press conference, we don't give a [crap] about that.' Then I realized [New England] was all work, no glitz. No glamour. It's just about playing good football, the Patriot Way."

And what it was like with the Pats:

"I got to understand what it was like to put the work in and really grind it out . . . and learn how to win. When I was in St. Louis" -- Amendola played for the Rams from 2009-12, when the team went 17-46-1 and was below .500 every year -- "I learned that wins are hard to come by in the NFL . . . but sometimes we'd win in New England and [Belichick] wasn't happy. Tom [Brady] wasn't happy. Or we knew we could play better here or play better there. I learned how to win and how to play and what it meant to play good football."

Did he enjoy it?

"I have mixed feelings about business is done," he admitted.

However . . . 

"I got to play for the greatest coach of time, [with] the greatest quarterback of all time and [for] one of the greatest owners of all time (in Robert Kraft). I got to understand what it was like to put the work in and really grind it out . . . and learn how to win."

Some of the other things he had to say . . 

On the difference between Belichick and his new coach, Adam Gase: "Adam Gase is one of the guys. He's our leader. He's our head coach, but he's also our boy. It's cool. It's refreshing to have that kind of relationship with a coach, which is something that I haven't had in a long time. You want to fight hard [for a coach like that]. Back in New England, it was almost like you've got a principal and a principal's office and [stuff] like that. You know, in a good way. And in a bad way, too."

On how playing with Tom Brady impacted his career: "Tom is not only a great football player, but he makes every one on his team better around him. He's created a lifestyle for himself and diet and the way he approaches the game on and off the field around the clock. . . . he's preparing his body. He's really instilled that in me. I've watched him do it for five years. That's inadvertently changed that way I approach the game."

More on the Patriots' reported turmoil: "Personally, I can't speak for Tom or Bill. But I know that regardless of business -- and I have mixed feelings of how business is done [in New England] -- I know for a fact that Coach Belichick is one of the best coaches of all time. He has all of his players' respect. I know Tom would say that same thing. I know [Rob Gronkowski] would say the same thing, regardless of how they feel about their contracts or certain situation or whatever may be going down." 

On his favorite off-the-field memoires as a Patriot: "[Going] to the [Kentucky] Derby every year after we won the Super Bowl with Tom was fun . . . we'd gas up the jet and we'd get down there and four or five Louisville cops would pick us up. We could literally do whatever we wanted with cops by our side . . . of course, Gronk and [Julian Edelman] being there (spices things) up a bit. And when you're with Brady, every head in the building turns. He changes the energy in any room. It's fun. It's adult fun.

"I went to the Derby twice and I don't think I saw a horse one time. [Wes] Welker, one year, brought in a boombox.. We created our own club vibe in there. Wes brought like $500,000 in fake 20s and 100s stacked it up on the table and everybody thought it was real money . . . Another year, we had a karaoke machine. And this is like in the most distinguished area of the Derby. People are suited and booted . . . and we have a karaoke machine. Travis Tritt was there . . . and he sang 'Sweet Home Alabama'. It was awesome. It was electric."

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