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Annual reminder of Brady/Belichick Pats 1st-quarter Super Bowl struggles

Annual reminder of Brady/Belichick Pats 1st-quarter Super Bowl struggles

MINNEAPOLIS — Last year in Houston, Tom Brady said that Bill Belichick reminded him daily that he had never led the Patriots offense into the end zone in six Super Bowls. 

Now it’s up to seven. 

Yet what makes this somewhat tired stat a little more interesting is that normally we’d view it as a technically historical issue. The 2001 Patriots are not the same as the 2016 Patriots, the latter of whom had exactly one player from the former. Yet the in-game problem that gives us that stat is the same one that’s troubled this year’s Patriots often. 

Last season, the Patriots had scored in the first quarter of 16 of 18 games heading into Super Bowl LI. This season, they’ve scored in the first quarter of just 12 of 18. Though the Patriots finished fifth in the NFL in first-quarter scoring, the vast majority of their first-quarter points came in three games: 20 in Week 2 against the Saints, 14 in Week 10 against the Broncos and 14 in Week 16 against the Bills. 

Now, add in the fact that the Patriots are going up against that sweet, sweet defense of the Eagles on Sunday. Philadelphia went their first 11 games without allowing a first-quarter touchdown. Yet once they started allowing first-quarter points this season, they kind of didn’t stop. Since Week 13, the Eagles have allowed their opponent to score in the first quarter of five of seven games, including both playoff games.

Of course, the Vikings’ first-quarter touchdown and PAT in the NFC Championship marked the only points the Eagles allowed in that game. Overall, they’ve only allowed 17 combined points for their entire games against the Falcons and Vikings. 

The first-quarter stuff is probably a little silly to dwell on. Players will probably tell you the whole thing about wanting to score every time you have the ball (which is a lie unless kneel-downs are a figment of my imagination), and some quarters obviously have fewer possessions than others depending on a number of factors. 

Plus, and most importantly, there’s that other stat about the Brady Era Patriots not scoring in the first quarter: they’re 5-2 in Super Bowls when they don’t. (This would be an appropriate time to say "scoreboard," but, ya know...)

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LeGarrette Blount: No return, no hard feelings, no regrets

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NBC Sports Boston illustration

LeGarrette Blount: No return, no hard feelings, no regrets

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- LeGarrette Blount wanted to stay in New England. He openly campaigned for a contract. Instead, the Patriots decided to place the rarely-used veteran free-agent tender on the bullish running back just prior to the free agency deadline last May. 

It raised eyebrows across the league but ensured the Pats would get Blount to count toward the league’s compensatory pick formula for the upcoming 2018 draft. That scared a few suitors away, but not the Eagles. They made a deal with the 31-year old and have been satisfied with the results. So has Blount, who says he harbors no ill will toward the Pats for potentially restricting his options.

“It’s a business, man,” he said Thursday from the Super Bowl in Minnesota. “You treat it like any other business. Guys get hired. Guys get fired. Guys get let go. Guys don’t get contracts renewed. It’s like any other business. You just can’t take it personal. I don’t take it personal. I still love Bill [Belichick]. I still love RK [Robert Kraft], you know, Tom [Brady], whatever . . . they handle their business differently than everyone else.”

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Still, with teams like the Giants, Lions and Ravens reportedly all backing away from the table because of that tender, was it hard not to be pissed off at the Pats ‘unique’ way of operating?

“I don’t hold grudges against anybody. I’m a pretty happy guy,” said Blount.

That was evident to his new team. Blount’s energy can be infectious, and center Jason Kelce noticed that right away.

“Just an awesome teammate to have,” he said. “Not only is he a great player, the downhill, physical running style he brings, but he’s also just a great personality a guy that is fun to be around. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really started to appreciate guys like that -- with colorful personalities that always seem like they’re in a good mood. It’s uplifting.”

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Blount said he had no trepidation about coming into a new locker room and wondering how he would fit. 

“I’m not going to change for anyone,” he told me. “Fortunately for me, I was welcomed with open arms. Everybody embraced me and I got close with a lot of guys early.

“I smile all the time. There’s not a lot of times where you catch me not smiling. I don’t know how you couldn’t like me.”

His teammates and the city of Philadelphia will love him even more if he continues to build on a postseason resume that has seen him score in each of the team’s first two playoff games and help lift the Eagles to the first Super Bowl title in franchise history.

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What they're saying: Butler would like to remain a Patriot, 'go out like Kobe'

What they're saying: Butler would like to remain a Patriot, 'go out like Kobe'

BLOOMINGTON, Minnesota -- Malcolm Butler sat in his seat in a nondescript room inside the Mall of America and patiently answered questions about the play that changed his life.

There was a reporter from Germany who was looking for him to re-tell his story. Then another from New York. On and on it went for a few minutes, Butler recounting a moment, his moment, that he's recounted countless times for people holding microphones.

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No one would blame him if he took a pass on telling those stories. Most of them have to be on the record now three years removed from arguably the singular most important individual play in NFL history.

But Butler has a certain level of respect for the play and what it meant. When people ask, he answers, as if he owes it something because it changed his life.

"It most definitely put me on the map," he said. "More attention. More criticism. More responsibility. It changed a lot. Everyone knew who I was. I had to carry myself a certain way. Everyone watching me. Kids looking up to me. It changed a lot. I'm just blessed to be in the NFL. I came a long way, man."

While about the play -- and talking about it, and talking about it, especially this time of year -- is something that Butler is open to discussing, he'd be OK with having it take lesser billing on his NFL resume.

Does he enjoy talking about his Super Bowl XLIX pick?

"Kinda. Somewhat. Not really," he said. "I've been trying to build, build my resume. I've been trying to move on from that. I want to be a good player without that play. I am a good player without that play . . . Might've came up a little short this year, but I always try to put that play behind me and build a whole other resume."

Butler wore a miniature gold boxing glove that dangled from his necklace as he spoke. It was a gift from someone in his family who considers him a fighter. He's had to fight this season. First he didn't get the deal he was looking for. Then the team signed Stephon Gilmore to a deal Butler would've jumped at. Then it became clear Butler, who visited the Saints as a restricted free agent, wasn't going anywhere. Then he was benched in Week 2.

Now he's a starter in the Super Bowl and he has a chance to wipe all memories clean of his at-times rocky performance this year. If he plays well enough, he may create a memory that nestles in the minds of some front-office chiefs who could offer him his next deal. He's scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent affter the season.

"It can be," Butler said when asked if Super Bowl LII could be a cure-all for his 2017. "But this is not about me. Ever since joining the New England Patriots, I just learned that everything is not about you. I play for a team. That's why we win. I play for a team. Everything is not about me. As long as we win, I'll feel great."

Maybe it was because Butler knew his Patriots tenure is likely coming to an end. Maybe it's because he was simply trying to enjoy the moment Wednesday. But Butler was very introspective for about 10 minutes toward the end of the media-availability period. He wasn't rushed. Maybe he was trying to enjoy the moment.

Even when asked about his contract and the uncertainty surrounding his future, Butler was collected.

"At times it was [hard], but we're just living," he said. "We're just living life, and whatever happens is going to happen no matter what. You're life is already mapped out. It's not going to change anything or do any good thinking about it, stressing yourself over anything, man. You just gotta live your life. You're still living. I'm playing the greatest sport in America for the greatest team in America and, just gotta keep moving forward, just live your life."

Butler missed the team flight to Minneapolis on Monday, staying back as he dealt with an illness. He said Wednesday that he was "feeling good."

"I was really down about not being here," Butler said. "I was really down about not being here the same day my team got here because this is a once-in-a-lifetime moment, and I most definitely want to be here with my teammates."

Especially since they may not be his teammates much longer. Although he said, given his choice, he'd like to stick around with the team that gave him a life-changing opportunity. 

"Most definitely. I want to go out like Kobe," he said, referencing the star who spent his entire career with the Lakers. "I'm not Kobe, but I want to go out like Kobe."

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Here's more of what the Patriots were saying on Wednesday . . . 

Tom Brady on being bitten by a dog following a military exercise at Gillette Stadium years ago: "The dog jumped up, and I guess was going for my neck, and the guy grabbed the dog back down, and the dog got my thigh on the way down. I was standing there with a bunch of tough guys and they all saw it. They were like, 'Are you OK?' I'm like, yeah of course I'm ok. But I could feel the cut. But I couldn't say anything . . . Those guys are like the toughest guys in the world."

Danny Amendola on why he was swimming in James Harrison's jersey during Wednesday's media-availability period: "It was my idea. He was very accepting. Mine's a little tight on him, though."

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