Julian Edelman calls ex-Patriots teammate Malcolm Butler a 'stud' despite his 2018 struggles

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Julian Edelman calls ex-Patriots teammate Malcolm Butler a 'stud' despite his 2018 struggles

FOXBORO -- Malcolm Butler and Julian Edelman have had their battles over the years, but they typically came on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. They'd often be the first in line for one-on-one drills, and they'd see each other in seven-on-seven or 11-on-11 periods.

When they aligned across from one another in training camp workouts, those were some of the most entertaining moments of camp. They didn't hold back, and if they locked horns at the line of scrimmage, you could hear it. Either their pads colliding or their mouths motoring.

"I love playing against him," Edelman said in the build-up to Super Bowl LI in 2017. "Just because of the sheer fact of how competitive and how serious he takes practice. I believe he's one of the premier corners in the league."

The pair may meet up again on Sunday when the Patriots head to Nashville. Yet if and when they meet, they'll be players trending in opposite directions.

Edelman had to miss the first four games of the regular season, but he's hit the ground running. He has 15 catches for 175 yards over his last two games, and he's taken four handoffs for 41 yards.


Butler, meanwhile, could be playing for his job in some respects this weekend. He's statistically one of the worst corners in football this season. The Titans have played eight games in nine weeks after a Week 8 bye, yet he's still last in the league in catches allowed in coverage (39), touchdowns (seven) and yards (618). He hasn't started a game since Week 5.

Still, Edelman is expecting to see his former teammate at his best Sunday.

"Malcolm’s Malcolm," Edelman said Wednesday. "He’s a strong player who plays the ball well in the air. He’s gotten beat a couple times, but that’s the nature of his game. He’s a real aggressive player that competes, plays the ball well through your hands. He’s long, upper body.

"He’s got that ability to make up speed with the ball in the air while looking back. A lot of corners can’t do that. I got a lot of respect for Malcolm. He’s a hard player that competes, and his road to where he’s got shows how hard he works. He’s a stud.”

Butler's road led him to a five-year deal worth $61 million with Tennessee in the offseason. Though last season was his worst as a starter, the Titans clearly liked what they saw. His 2016 season, his second as a starter, was particularly impressive. Yet his on-the-field confidence stretched back much further.

Everyone knows the stories. As an undrafted free agent, he made plays on Tom Brady in practice day after day and frustrated the future Hall of Famer before anyone knew who Butler was -- before he had made the active roster.


The next year, he built upon his big Super Bowl moment.

"Tom came back [the next season] and he was talking trash," Devin McCourty said in 2017, "telling him does he know what it means to be a Super Bowl MVP and never make any plays again? Malcolm went out there that practice, had four pass breakups, an interception and he let Tom know about it every single play."

Hard to imagine Butler will be saying much if Sunday goes the way Monday night went for him. He allowed eight catches for 108 yards and two scores, according to Pro Football Focus.

The better former Patriots corner on the roster might instead be Logan Ryan. Primarily a slot corner, Ryan has missed just two snaps in the last three games, and he could be called upon to run with Edelman.

"Logan’s a real instinctive football player that is fundamentally sound," Edelman said. "If you mess up with Logan, he’s going to run the route for you. That’s the kind of player he is. He’s a very cerebral-type guy that studies everyone, works hard, and the same can be said with Malc. These guys, they’re good football players, really good football players. They showed it here, and they’re showing it now. You can’t mess up with them.”

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Bean: We're allowed to admit this Patriots team is a different type of impressive

Bean: We're allowed to admit this Patriots team is a different type of impressive

It takes an awful lot to impress a Patriots fan. But if you can look at this season and act like it's business as usual, you're doing this ride an incredible disservice.
The Super Bowl is often the Patriots’ birthright -- they’ve now reached the Super Bowl in more than half their seasons with Tom Brady as their starting quarterback --  but it wasn’t their birthright entering this postseason. They weren’t obvious favorites expected to punch down until they got to Georgia. They were just contenders who executed their asses off for two weeks, which should be considered one of the most awe-inspiring feats of the Belichick era.

This is not an all-time Patriots team. You should be proud of what you’re watching without feeling like you Doubted The Boys™️.

Of the eight previous Belichick-led Super Bowl teams, all but two (one winner, one loser) finished top-three in either offense or defense (or both) during the regular season. This group finished top-10 in both (fourth and seventh, respectively), but paled in comparison to groups like the 2004 or 2016 squads. 

But even top-10 finishes in offense and defense and earning a first-round bye felt like a miracle given some of what we saw all season: the play on the road, the awful run defense, an either unavailable or ineffective Rob Gronkowski, a presumably hurt Tom Brady over the second half of the year. 

And with the season on the line in overtime against the No. 1 seed in the conference, you had Brady throwing passes on real routes -- not gadgety stuff -- to Cordarrelle Patterson. 

You don't often get to stop and ask how the hell Brady and Belichick are doing it, because you often know: It's because they're the best and they've got the best group. This is one of those rare moments where you can still be an obnoxious Boston sports fans while legitimately feeling the excitement of any other city's fans seeing their team make a run. 

Raise your hand if you thought the Patriots were going to shut out Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in the first half Sunday at Arrowhead. Now that you have both hands free, ask whether you thought the horrible-on-the-road Patriots would be able to beat the No. 1 offense in Kansas City if Tom Brady threw one touchdown and two picks. 

This is better -- so much better in certain areas -- than what we've seen from this team. The offensive line has kept Brady clean. Sony Michel is putting together one of the best postseasons by an individual player in team history. That ghastly run defense has given up a total of 60 yards through two postseason games. Gronkowski is having a tear-jerking resurgence in what could be the final games of his career. Gifts from the Chargers aside, the Patriots are winning battles left and right. 

So now, the group that was rightfully doubted and questioned has fought its way to the Super Bowl. I think they're going to win because Jared Goff still seems a little green, even if he did have a better regular season than Brady (look it up if you must, but he did).  

The game makes for an exciting matchup. A Patriots offensive line that's probably feeling pretty good about itself is going to have its hands full with Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. A seemingly healthier Brady will be throwing against Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. A run defense that has yet to be torched this offseason will go up against either the highest-paid back in the league (Todd Gurley) or C.J. Anderson, whose performance in the divisional round was as big as . . .C.J. Anderson. 

I didn't think we'd be talking about a third straight Super Bowl appearance for the Patriots right now, not because I'm a "troll" or a "hater" or whatever else, but because this team had so much more than usual to overcome. We're allowed to be pleasantly surprised that it did. 

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Patriots turn back the clock with grind-it-out running game against Chiefs

Patriots turn back the clock with grind-it-out running game against Chiefs

FOXBORO -- The Patriots established an identity late in the season. They went about it deliberately. Steadfastly. They were going to be a we're-going-to-run-when-everyone-knows-we're-going-to-run offense. 

Of course they'd pass. They still had Tom Brady. The play-action passing game was still their best chance at picking up chunks of yardage at a time. Throwing the football was still the most efficient way for them to move their offense. But they were going into the latter portion of their schedule playing a style of football that made them a bit of outlier in 2018.

No way they'd get away from it at Arrowhead Stadium, in the AFC Championship Game, in late January, when the temperatures dipped into the teens. No way. 

Josh McDaniels turned in a smash-mouth masterpiece Sunday, putting up just enough points to beat the Chiefs in overtime, 37-31. 


Consider some of the numbers . . . 

* Sony Michel for 113 yards on a season-high 29 attempts. 
* James Develin played a season-high 41 snaps. 
* As a team, the Patriots ran it a season-high 48 times.
* The Patriots went 13-for-19 on third down for a season-high conversion rate of 68 percent.
* Brady and the Patriots offense controlled possession for a whopping 43:59. 

Their strategy couldn't have been more clear: Set the pace, and keep the Chiefs off the field. 

In so doing -- using I-formations, split-back formations with Brady under center, 21-personnel packages and 22-personnel packages -- the Patriots turned back the clock in a league that seems to be becoming more pass-happy and spread-centric by the week. They ran for just 3.7 yards per carry, but they stuck with it for a reason.

"We kinda slowed the game down a little bit," Develin said. "We got some things going in the run game. Offensive line did an incredible job opening up holes. Our backs were running hard all night. It was really a good team effort . . . We executed tonight."

It started with the first drive of the game. It lasted 15 plays (nine of which included a fullback) and traveled 80 yards. It started with a run for 11 yards out of a 22-personnel package (two backs, two tight ends) and was punctuated by a goal-line score for Michel out of a 23-personnel alignment.

Statement made.

"I definitely was," Marcus Cannon replied when asked if he was excited to know the Patriots would commit to the run the way they did Sunday.  

"I was. And we trust Josh. Whatever he tells us we're gonna do, that's the best thing to do. We got pretty happy we were gonna run. But KC has a very good d-line and it's not very easy to run on 'em so we knew it was gonna be a challenge. Definitely was gonna be a challenge with these guys. But we got pretty excited the first play was gonna be a run."

That the Patriots leaned on their run game came as no surprise. The Chiefs allowed 5.0 yards per carry in 2018, and Michel (113 yards, two touchdowns) cracked the 100-yard mark against Kansas City back in Week 6. As a team, the Patriots ran for 173 yards on 38 attempts and created a whopping 97 yards after contact in their first meeting with the Chiefs. 

Against 21-personnel groupings, the Chiefs were particularly vulnerable. They allowed 6.2 yards per carry against those looks this season and 7.9 yards per pass attempt. Against the Patriots in October, the Chiefs allowed 15.4 yards per pass attempt when McDaniels deployed "21," and 5.1 yards per carry. 

No wonder Develin and Michel were on the field as much as they were throughout the game -- and particularly early on.

"It was gonna be a tough physical game," Andrews said from inside the visitors locker room at Arrowhead. "We wanted to start fast and we were able to do that."

The Patriots had been building to this.

Bill Belichick and his staff challenged players to make yards running the football in Week 12 against the Jets at MetLife Stadium, their first game after the bye. They stuck with it, running more two-back sets than any team in football outside of the Niners since then. 

Part of it was out of necessity as they lost their most explosive passing-game threat in Week 16. But part of it was based on the depth of their roster at running back and the strengths of their offensive line. Part of it was because this is a game played by human beings who can either ride high or feel demoralized based on how well they're physically imposing their will on their opponent.


Look at 'em now. Then they ran all over the Chargers and their defensive back-heavy sets in the Divisional Round. And it was more of the same to open the AFC title game. 

For two weeks, we'll talk about how the Super Bowl will be a clash of offensive styles. The Rams use 11-personnel almost exclusively. They don't employ a fullback. They're built for Los Angeles. They're built for domes. The Patriots are built for fields recently re-sodded and frozen over, apparently. 

They'll be time for that conversation, and it'll be a fascinating one. 

But for now, what can you say? You can't necessarily say that old-school football won. You can't really point out than an anachronistic offense is going to the Super Bowl. The Patriots did, after all, throw...throw...and throw again when faced with three consecutive third-and-10 situations in overtime. 

You can say the Patriots have redefined themselves offensively and ended up back where they've been four times in the last five years. You can say they adjusted to their personnel -- its strengths and limitations -- and still churned out 78 points in two postseason games. You can say they adapted and won. 

That'll always be in vogue. 

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