Patriots

How to process ESPN piece on Pats 'dysfunction'

How to process ESPN piece on Pats 'dysfunction'

On Friday, ESPN offered up its take on the current atmosphere in Foxboro. The upshot of the Seth Wickersham story is that -- after 18 years together -- there’s friction between Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Robert Kraft.

The story cites tension over Alex Guerrero and an assertion that Belichick was given a “mandate” by Kraft to trade Jimmy Garoppolo after Brady met with Kraft multiple times to talk about playing into his mid-40s. Additionally, Brady is reportedly weary of Belichick’s “cold coaching style.”

Their conclusion is that this may be the trio’s last year together. The impending doom ESPN is forecasting feels forced.

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News that the story would be posted in the morning was first reported by Bruce Allen from Boston Sports Media Watch . 

I wrote a similar story last Friday because, after talking to sources on all sides of various issues, I sensed uneasiness over simmering tensions and uncertainty about the future. This bit of palace intrigue that’s developed is, in my opinion, an outgrowth of three things.

-- First, nobody knows what Belichick is thinking -- including his players, staff and bosses -- because he isn’t real loose with the lips. What’s Bill thinking? Nobody knows. So speculation fills the void. Some of it may be informed. Some of it may be deduced. Some of it may come from people he knows well. But when speculation gets traction and there’s no pushback, it soon becomes fact.

-- Second, the Patriots are the most compelling team in American sports. It’s not even close. Between the run of success, the rarefied air Belichick and Brady occupy, Kraft’s role as one of the NFL’s leading owners, the controversies (contrived and otherwise) that have cropped up over 18 seasons and the relative banality around the rest of the country’s favorite sport, they are a golden content goose.

-- Finally, it really is the end of days. Even as the Patriots push toward what would be their third Super Bowl appearance in four seasons, the specter of a post-Belichick, post-Brady NFL bears down.  Love them or hate them, nobody wants to miss the end. Everyone will want to know why it ended.

Here -- in easy-to-digest format -- are the things I’ve learned and been told about where things are right now with the Patriots.

No mandate

I was told more than once that Robert Kraft didn't tell Bill Belichick he wasn’t allowed to trade or release Tom Brady. However, I was also told that if Belichick had brought it up, he would have been discouraged from doing so. So either a) the conversation never happened but Belichick knew which way the wind was blowing and moved Garoppolo, or b) the conversation did happen and I’m being misled. Third option, the one nobody gives any credence to? The Patriots couldn’t figure a way to work it out. In his press conference after trading Garoppolo, Belichick said, “It’s just not sustainable given the way that things are set up. It’s definitely not something we wanted to walk away from and I felt like we rode it out as long as we could. We over a period of time explored every option possible to sustain it but just at this point felt like we had to make a decision. It’s a very complex situation on multiple levels and this is really the last window we had.”

That last bit -- “a very complex situation on multiple levels” -- I’m taking as Belichick’s acknowledgment of the Brady Conundrum. You have the best quarterback in league history playing at an MVP level and he, more than any other player, has ensured your place in the American sports pantheon (as you did for him). And he’s a regional deity. And the owner is sentimental. So you can’t trade him. It’s not like you're stuck with Elvis Grbac. It’s Brady.

The whispers are . . . 

There are people within the Patriots organization who believe Belichick got bigfooted by Kraft on this and are proceeding under the assumption that Belichick may be so miffed that he’ll leave. They also believe the Patriots made a mistake gambling that Brady will be able to produce for as long as he thinks while moving on from the obviously-gifted Garoppolo.

No offer to Garoppolo

The Patriots never extended a new contract offer to Garoppolo. No question they discussed it and spitballed about what it would look like -- great pay as a backup escalating to starter money when Brady left -- but the offer was never formalized. Why? Because it was clear Garoppolo wasn’t staying another year as a backup. The Patriots had no workable solution for solving a win-win problem (the greatest ever or a future franchise QB) that would have kept them both here.

Same as always

Brady and Belichick’s relationship is strictly business. As I was told, if someone looked at it from the outside and saw them interacting, they may think there was a coolness between them. But that’s not remarkable. It’s always been that way.

No changes

Expect both Belichick and Brady to be with the Patriots when the 2018 season starts. Brady isn’t going anywhere. And, regardless of how pissed Belichick may or may not be (and I think he’d probably be more exasperated than pissed), walking away in a huff from something he began building 18 years ago would be rash. Belichick doesn’t really do rash.

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Aaron Rodgers describes how 'Belichick effect' has impacted the NFL

Aaron Rodgers describes how 'Belichick effect' has impacted the NFL

The Green Bay Packers are preparing for a battle the San Francisco 49ers on the NFL's championship Sunday. The two will square off in the NFC Championship for the right to advance to the Super Bowl.

While Aaron Rodgers and his teammates are doing what they can to be ready for the game, they still aren't exactly sure what to expect from the 49ers.

And Rodgers credited Bill Belichick's influence for that.

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Rodgers explained in a post-practice interview that not knowing what to expect from opposing defenses is something that has been popularized over the course of the past five years. And he called the defense's ability to change up week to week "the Belichick effect".

"I think that’s the NFL in the last five years, especially, it’s kind of the Belichick effect where teams are more reluctant to really try and scheme up opponents instead of relying on their base defense," Rodgers said to reporters.

"There’s less and less teams like the Lovie Smith Bears defenses over the years that say ‘Hey, screw it, we’re going to play four-man front, play Tampa-2 the entire game and make you go the whole field, and strip the ball and tackle securely and stop the run with a six-man, seven-man front.’

"There’s more teams that are scheming specifically up for teams. I think the tough part is it might be different than you saw on film. The drawback from that is a lot of these teams are used to playing coverages they’re not used to playing, they’re not super-comfortable playing, they don’t have a lot of reps in and that can cause some confusion at times."

Rodgers hit the nail on the head as the NFL's best defenses have become more versatile and game plan-dependent in recent seasons. Having multiple defensive looks is essential to success in the modern NFL and Belichick's ability to adjust week in and week out played a big role in kicking off the trend.

Though the Patriots won't have a chance to out scheme anyone on the defensive side of the ball until next season, they can be thankful that they have a forward-thinking coach at the helm. His ability to adjust on defense as well as Josh McDaniels' ability to change the Patriots offense look to match their best weapons have helped to make the team difficult to figure out.

And that's a big part of the reason that they have been able to make multiple deep postseason runs in recent seasons.

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Packers aiming to match rare playoff feat last accomplished by Patriots in 2001

Packers aiming to match rare playoff feat last accomplished by Patriots in 2001

The Green Bay Packers earned an impressive 13-3 record in the regular season, but they haven't always looked like an elite team.

The NFC North champs ranked 15th in points scored, 18th in yards gained and 18th in yards allowed. These numbers don't exactly jump off the page. The Packers also lacked a signature win, and with a chance to make a statement versus the San Francisco 49ers in Week 12, Green Bay was dominated in a 38-7 loss.

However, if veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers leads his team to an NFC Championship Game victory on the road against the 49ers on Sunday, the Packers will become the first team since the 2001 New England Patriots to reach the Super Bowl after being outgained in the regular season (h/t to NFL Media's Mike Giardi).

The Packers defense gave up 5,642 total yards, while their offense racked up 5,528 total yards, resulting in a difference of minus-114 yards through 16 regular-season games.

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This trend continued in last weekend's NFC Divisional Round matchup against the Seattle Seahawks. The Packers escaped with a 28-23 win at Lambeau Field, but the Seahawks outgained them by 31 yards. It also was the Packers' 10th game of the season decided by one score, and Green Bay owns a 9-1 mark in those matchups.

How have the Packers won so many games despite being outgained on a consistent basis? Well, it sure helps to have a quarterback as talented as Rodgers.

The future Hall of Famer sealed the Packers' victory last week with two clutch third-down conversions late in the fourth quarter. It wasn't an all-time performance from Rodgers, but when it's winning time, he usually steps up and makes a huge play. 

Rodgers' playoff experience and ability to come through in the clutch give the Packers an important advantage at the quarterback position entering Sunday's NFC title game. Oddsmakers, however, have still pegged the 49ers as an overwhelming betting favorite.