Patriots

Tom E. Curran: Patriots' imminent reboot seems less ominous now

Tom E. Curran: Patriots' imminent reboot seems less ominous now

The goal is to win the final game of the year. The 2018 New England Patriots did that.

They did it with heavier doses of guile, smarts, scheming and versatility than we’ve seen since the 2001 Super Bowl champs knocked off -- coincidentally -- another Rams team with a mastermind head coach who never figured out how to adjust in the biggest game of his life.

Like that 2001 team, these Patriots went 11-5 and peaked at the very end as they embraced a different way of doing business. Both the ’01 team and the ’18 team relied on smart, efficient, ball-control offense and aggressive, physical defense that forced mistakes.

Their coaching and game-planning over their final five games (six games, if you want to include the defensive performance against the Steelers) was outstanding and -- again -- it hit its apex in the playoffs.

When you have a 66-year-old head coach who’s chasing his eighth Super Bowl ring, a 42-year-old offensive coordinator who’s after his sixth, a 41-year-old quarterback who’s seen and knows more than almost every head coach in the league, a defense led by a couple of on-field Einsteins (Dont'a Hightower and Devin McCourty) and a defensive playcaller who’s dying to release the hounds, you’re in a great position to overcome any roster shortcomings you may have.

MORE PATRIOTS

And there were roster shortcomings in 2018. Especially on offense, where the passing game developed an outsized reliance on Julian Edelman and didn’t get enough from its outside players or -- until the final stretch -- tight end.

In November, I wrote about bills coming due and the reboot the Patriots would face after the season. I wrote it with an air of foreboding because -- at that point -- they were 9-3, on their bye and fresh off an ass-booting by the Titans.

But all the tumblers fell neatly into their slots in the final five games and the safe opened to reveal another Lombardi. And now from the outside and --– more importantly -- within the organization there is a huge sense of optimism that the Patriots are ready for the reboot.

Even though there will be attrition -- Rob Gronkowski could retire, as could Devin and Jason McCourty. Trey Flowers and Trent Brown are pending free agents and losing either means there will be big shoes to fill.

But the Patriots not only have the draft capital and cap space to fill holes, they also have a pack of guys who “redshirted” in 2018.

MORE PATRIOTS

For instance, if Trent Brown parlays his season at left tackle into a huge payday -- and it would be a stunner if he didn’t -- Isaiah Wynn, a first-round pick who tore his Achilles in August. is in the bullpen. He didn’t play a snap in 2018.

Neither did Duke Dawson, a second-round pick from Florida. He hurt his hamstring, landed on IR, was elevated to the 53-man roster in November but was too far behind the other corners to get on the field.

Ja’Whaun Bentley, a fifth-round pick from Purdue, started the season brilliantly at linebacker but wound up on IR as well after three games.

Sixth-round picks Christian Sam (speed linebacker), Braxton Berrios (slot receiver) and seventh-round pick Ryan Izzo (tight end) also ended the year on IR. These three are bigger question marks than Wynn, Dawson and Sam, but at least they are in the mix. And they will be challenged because the Patriots have a pile of draft picks.

The Patriots currently have four in the first three rounds. When the compensatory picks for losing free agents Malcolm Butler and Nate Solder are doled out, they will likely have six in the first three.

That gives them a ton of collateral if they want to jump up and get a tight end (there’s a good crop) or wideout, or if they want to package picks and pick some sad-sack team who’ll probably be at the top of the draft in 2020 and fleece them of their first-round pick so they can take a top-10 quarterback.

It will be fascinating to see which course the Patriots choose. It’s likely they don’t even know what it will be yet, given so many things have to happen in the course of the next two months between free agency and the draft.

But one thing is certain. Whether we call it a rebuild, a reload or a reboot, it’s a lot less ominous now than it seemed in mid-November.

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.

Steelers reportedly not open to trading Antonio Brown to Patriots

Steelers reportedly not open to trading Antonio Brown to Patriots

It's never a good idea to trade your best player to a rival team. The Pittsburgh Steelers apparently are operating as such.

The Steelers will listen to trade offers from 27 NFL clubs for wide receiver Antonio Brown, the MMQB's Albert Breer reported Thursday. The four teams they won't do business with: their three other AFC North competitors ... and the New England Patriots.

Pittsburgh's stance should surprise no one, but it's a reminder the team still views New England as its biggest threat in the AFC. While the Steelers upset the Patriots in 2018, the Pats won the teams' previous five meetings and have had a stranglehold on the conference for the last several years.

The downside of that success: Patriots fans can stop dreaming about Tom Brady throwing touchdown passes to the best receiver in the NFL.

New England spending big on Brown seemed like a long shot anyway, but the 30-year-old apparently is getting serious about his trade request: He plans to meet with Steelers owner Art Rooney II to iron things out, per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport.

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown will meet with team owner Art Rooney II to discuss his trade request, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported Friday.

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.

Kyle Van Noy still baffled by Rams' vanilla Super Bowl LIII game plan

Kyle Van Noy still baffled by Rams' vanilla Super Bowl LIII game plan

The New England Patriots held the Los Angeles Rams to just three points in Super Bowl LIII thanks in part to excellent preparation and defensive game-planning.

But it's easier to be well-prepared when your opponent doesn't show you anything new.

Speaking Thursday on Barstool Sports' "Pardon My Take" podcast, Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy shared a pretty damning assessment of the Rams' offensive game plan and the lack of new twists it threw at New England.

Yeah. I couldn’t believe that, either. Like, they really didn’t do not one wrinkle. I was like, what the hell? They've got so many good players, they’ve got so many things they’ve done all year, and the one play they gave us which was a wrinkle was the [Brandin Cooks] screen that hit for a little bit. And that was it.

Cooks' 19-yard gain was the third-longest play for an L.A. offense that mustered just 260 total yards.

Pro Bowl running back Todd Gurley was a virtual non-factor -- 35 rushing yards on 10 carries -- as a unit that averaged an NFC-best 32.9 points per game during the regular season slowed to a crawl.

Rams head coach Sean McVay, who called the plays in the absence of a traditional offensive coordinator, admitted he got out-coached in the loss, and Van Noy's comments suggest he's right.

"We weren’t necessarily a zone team -- we didn’t play zone very much all year -- and in the Super Bowl, we were predominantly a zone team," Van Noy added.

"And that kind of probably threw him off. Like, I saw a clip of Sean McVay reading the clip, and he said, like ‘Oh [shoot]’ in his head, ‘they’re running the Bears’ thing,’ or whatever the Bears did. Shout-out to the Bears, baby.”

McVay led the Rams to the Super Bowl at age 33 in just his second season as head coach, which is no small feat. But he learned rather quickly there's another level of preparation required to beat Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

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.