Patriots

Quick thoughts: Eagles 41, Patriots 33

Quick thoughts: Eagles 41, Patriots 33

MINNEAPOLIS -- Here are some quick-hitting takeaways from what went down at US Bank Stadium in Super Bowl LII . . . 

1) The Patriots made their transition away from Malcolm Butler (No. 21 above) at corner one game earlier than anticipated. Eric Rowe (No. 25) got the start over the hero of Super Bowl XLIX and impending free agent, and the Eagles went after him. The results were . . . mixed. Rowe was targeted three times on the game's opening drive. He gave up big gains to Alshon Jeffery (on a whip route) and Torrey Smith (on a play that was reminiscent of David Tyree's helmet catch from 10 years ago). On the third pass, he broke up a third-down throw in the end zone to force a Philly field goal. On the next drive, Nick Foles threw a jump ball to Jeffery with Rowe all over him. Rowe was in position but was out-jumped and gave up a 34-yard score. Rowe had two more pass breakups in the first half -- one on a two-point conversion -- but it was clear the Eagles liked the matchup wherever Rowe was situated. Why was he playing over Butler? His size allowed him and Stephon Gilmore to play sides in the first half and not worry about where Jeffery, Philly's biggest receiver, would align. Butler seemed to be a decent matchup for Nelson Agholor or Smith, but the Patriots clearly wanted to keep him off the field through the game's first 30 minutes. The fact that Johnson Bademosi saw playing time over Butler in the second half indicated that Butler's benching was not matchup-based. We'll try to find out what happened postgame. Butler did not travel with the Patriots to Minneapolis, arriving on Tuesday instead of Monday with the team. He was listed on the injury report this week with an illness.

2) Brandin Cooks left the game in the second quarter with a concussion, and was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the contest. Cooks caught a Tom Brady pass near the left hash and worked his way back toward the Patriots sideline. He never saw Malcolm Jenkins coming and took a head-to-head shot that seemed to knock him unconscious on the field. Cooks lay motionless for several moments before being helped to his feet by Patriots staffers and helped to the locker room. The Patriots called Cooks' injury a "head" injury, but players who exhibit a loss of consciousness are considered to have suffered a concussion and are not permitted to return to action, per the NFL's concussion protocol. Losing Cooks changes the game for the Patriots. Without their best deep threat, they weren't able to stress the deep defenders in Philly's zone defense quite as effectively. Phillip Dorsett didn't serve as Cooks' one-for-one replacement, but he took the field for the Patriots in three-receiver sets.

3) The first half of play was marred by Patriots special-teams miscues. Stephen Gostkowski booted a low line-drive kick to start the game, usually a sign that he's looking for a touchback. The liner headed right into the arms of Eagles return man Corey Clement, though, and he took it to the Philly 26-yard line. Gostkowski missed a chip-shot field goal in the second quarter when Joe Cardona's low snap sailed through Ryan Allen's hands, and then Gostkowski hooked an extra point after what appeared to be a sound snap and hold. 

4) Doug Pederson's most courageous call may have been his best. Late in the first half, facing a fourth-and-goal situation from the Patriots' 1-yard line, he called for some trickery. And it worked. Foles feigned calling out signals to his linemen as the ball was snapped directly to Corey Clement. The ball was then flipped to former college quarterback (and current Eagles tight end) Trey Burton, and he found Foles wide open in the end zone for the touchdown. Hard to know who should have been in the area for the Patriots on that type of play, but Kyle Van Noy seemed to be in no man's land in the middle of the field as the ball bounced back and forth in the Eagles backfield. It was a tremendous call and extremely well-executed by Pederson's players. "We had just gotten all the way down the field," Pederson told NBC at halftime, "and I wasn't going to stop . . . It was a play we'd been working on the last couple weeks and our guys executed brilliantly." Pederson went for it on fourth down again in the fourth quarter, facing a fourth-and-one from near midfield. Foles found Zach Ertz for two yards and a first down. 

5) The Eagles simply had no answer for Rob Gronkowski in the second half. On New England's first drive of the third quarter, Gronkowski caught four passes for 68 yards and he reeled in a touchdown near the goal line after selling a back-corner fade with corner Ronald Darby on him. Early in the fourth quarter, he caught the go-ahead touchdown. Darby was on him again. This time Gronkowski did run the fade, and Darby played it well . . . but he simply couldn't compete with Gronkowski at the catch point. Gronkoski spiked the football five or six rows into the stands and the Patriots led, 33-32, after Gostkowski's kick. 

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Georgia the new Rutgers? Contingent of Bulldogs growing in New England

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AP Photo

Georgia the new Rutgers? Contingent of Bulldogs growing in New England

FOXBORO -- David Andrews was excited. He just had a hard time showing it.

The Patriots center stayed up long enough to see his team pick at No. 23 in the first round of the NFL Draft, long enough to see his Georgia teammate Isaiah Wynn have his name called.

But the Thursday night prime time event isn't for everyone, and so Andrews wasn't fully conscious by the time the Patriots picked a second Bulldog, Sony Michel, at No. 31.

"I was in bed. My wife stayed up and watched it," Andrews said last week. "I was in bed and I saw Isaiah get drafted, and then I passed out. She came busting in th'.;e room about Sony getting drafted, and at that point, I really didn’t care. I was just trying to get to sleep, but . . . No, I was very happy for them. It was awesome to talk to them. They were here the next day. I didn’t really get to see them, but it’s good to see them around, see some familiar faces"

Suddenly, with five Georgia players on the roster -- Andrews, Wynn, Michel, Malcolm Mitchell and undrafted free agent John Atkins -- they now make up one of the largest contingents of players from one school in Bill Belichick's locker room.

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Iowa is right there with Georgia at five players (Aidrian Clayborn, Cole Croston, James Ferentz, Riley McCarron, Matt Tobin). Vanderbilt is next on the list with four (Adam Butler, Andrew Jelks, Jordan Matthews, Ralph Webb), even with Rutgers (Devin and Jason McCourty, Duron Harmon, Kenny Britt). Arkansas follows closely behind with three (Trey Flowers, Dietrich Wise, Cody Hollister).

If you look at the coaches involved in helping certain groups of players develop, the Patriots connections become even a little more clear.

At Iowa, it's Kirk Ferentz, who served as a Belichick assistant in Cleveland back in the 90s. At Vanderbilt, Belichick thinks highly enough of Derek Mason that he gave Mason and the Vandy coaching staff a behind-the-scenes look at spring workouts in New England last year. At Rutgers, Belichick's relationship with former Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano has been well-documented.

Then there are the coaches who've bounced around a bit and impacted multiple players on the Patriots roster at different spots.

Bret Bielema, who's been helping the Patriots this offseason (and was spotted with Belichick at The Preakness this weekend), coached all three Arkansas products as well as James White during his time at Wisconsin. Bo Pellini has coached three Patriots (Vincent Valentine and Rex Burkhead at Nebraska, Derek Rivers at Youngstown State).

Then there's that Georgia connection. Kirby Smart coached all three Bulldog rookies as well as the two Alabama products on the Patriots roster (Dont'a Hightower, Cyrus Jones) when Smart was coaching defense for the Crimson Tide. Former Georgia coach and current Miami sideline boss Mark Richt recruited all five Georgia players currently on the Patriots roster, and he coached both Miami rookies now in New England (Braxton Berrios, Trent Harris).

Asked why Belichick and the Patriots front office would be so interested in acquiring so many players from the same school, Andrews replied, "That’s a psychology question. Man, I don’t know . . .  

"You know, no, I don’t think there’s really like one thing. I think those are some great guys. They all work really hard. They’ve been great teammates to me, so that’s something you can always respect, and it’s guys like that you love having in your locker room and playing with.

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No matter how you look at it, the Georgia connection in New England is as strong as ever.

"Georgia the new Rutgers? Oh, I’m going to have to talk to Dev and Du about that and all those guys," Andrews said with a smile. "We might be now. We’ll have to see."

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Johnny Manziel signing with Hamilton of the CFL

Johnny Manziel signing with Hamilton of the CFL

Johnny Manziel won't be in the Patriots' plans at quarterback anytime soon.

The former Browns QB, Heisman winner in 2012 and first-round pick in 2014 announced on Saturday morning that he had decided to sign a contract to play in the CFL in order to "further my football career after a long break."

"I believe this is the best opportunity for me moving forward and I'm eager for what the future holds," Manziel tweeted. 

Manziel also announced that he'll be co-hosting the "Comeback Szn" podcast for Barstool Sports alongside his agent Erik Burkhardt and our buddy, former "Boston Sports Tonight" and "Football Fix" co-host, Kayce Smith.

"It's just a really good fit," Burkhardt said on "Comeback Szn." "Good offense. It's a really good league. It's been around forever, we vetted it well, and at the end of the day, like Johnny said, he wants to play ball."

Manziel, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems, has battled bipolar disorder. He will play for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats under head coach June Jones, who has also coached in the NCAA and NFL ranks. Jones served as offensive coordinator of the Falcons (1991-93) before becoming their head coach (1994-96). He was also quarterbacks coach and interim head coach for the Chargers in 1998 before heading to the college ranks. Jones coached at Hawaii then at SMU, where he was the first person to offer Manziel a college scholarship. 

CFL rookie contracts are for two years, meaning the Tiger-Cats will have his rights through the end of the 2019 CFL season. 

Earlier this year, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie reiterated the league's stance that they're not in the business of letting players break their contracts to pursue NFL opportunities.

The Patriots took a look at him this spring, but even if they had interest, the possibility of which we discussed on Quick Slants the Podcast last month, any marriage will have to wait. 

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