Super Bowl LI provides a long awaited meeting: The Patriots and Roger Goodell
Each week, The Washington Post’s Mark Maske provides in-depth Monday morning NFL analysis with “First and 10,” a dissection of the league’s most important developments from a weekend of action.
First and 10: Jan. 23
1. Big Ben praises Steelers | 2. Quick thoughts from the playoffs
3. Jim Irsay’s mistake(s) | 4. Niners betting on Kyle Shanahan
5. Ranking this season’s head coaching hires | 6. The free agent market for Kirk Cousins
7. Redskins’ D-coordinator job not exactly coveted | 8. Your Super Bowl Ref is …
9. Raiders’ vote | 10. What’s next for the Cowboys?
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — As the Super Bowl LI matchup was falling into place Sunday night — a compelling matchup pitting the New england patriots against the Atlanta falcons — the fans in Gillette Stadium made clear what the NFL’s main subplot will be over the next two weeks.
“Ro-ger! Ro-ger!” they chanted in the third quarter before switching to “Where is Roger?” in the fourth.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who was suspended by Commissioner Roger Goodell for the first four games of this regular season, will take what many have branded as his Deflategate Revenge Tour to the season’s final game, Feb. 5 in Houston.
But late Sunday night, Brady was not playing along.
“I didn’t hear that chant,” Brady said following the Patriots’ 36-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in an AFC championship game to forget. “I did hear them singing to Bon Jovi, though. That was pretty cool.”
A season that began with Brady serving a four-game Deflategate suspension could conclude with Goodell handing the Patriots the trophy for what would be their fifth Super Bowl triumph engineered by Brady and Coach Bill Belichick. But Brady was not acknowledging Sunday that there was any unusual sense of personal accomplishment accompanying this latest trip to the sport’s biggest stage, the Patriots seventh Super Bowl appearance with Brady and Belichick.
“Well, I think that’s because of the hard work of a lot of people, you know, from my coaches to my teammates to our families who support us,” Brady said. “It takes a lot of people and a lot of effort, a lot of hard work over the course of many months. This didn’t start at 6:40 tonight. This thing started in April. It really started before that. In free agency we were picking up guys like [Chris] Hogan and drafting guys like Malcolm Mitchell . . . It’s a lot of hard work. It’s only two teams left standing and I’m happy we’re one of them. That’s what our goal is. And it’s nice to be able to achieve that.”
Belichick wasn’t going there, either.
“Every year has its own challenges,” he said. “Whatever they are, they are. Every team faces them. Every team has to deal with them. We dealt with them. Other teams have dealt with them . . . It’s a special year because it’s a special team. It’s a special group and they’ve all worked together. But there are always challenges that we have to overcome.”
The challenge now for the Patriots will be dealing with quarterback Matt Ryan and the revved-up Atlanta offense. The Falcons were every bit as dominant earlier Sunday in beating the Green Bay Packers, 44-21, in the NFC title game.
“We ran into a buzz saw and we didn’t have enough to keep up with them,” Packers Coach Mike McCarthy said.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense could not keep pace with the Falcons, who led the NFL in scoring offense during the regular season. Now it’s up to Brady and the Patriots to try.
New England’s defense should present more obstacles for Ryan and the Atlanta offense. The Patriots led the league in scoring defense during the regular season. It is a defense that improved steadily throughout the season after once being regarded as a potential postseason liability.
“I think there’s a lot of noise, always,” Brady said. “Sometimes you don’t always have it figured out four games into the year. And there’s a lot of moving parts. The second half of the year . . . I practiced against those guys every day and it’s hard to complete passes against them. I know if I can complete them against our defense, then we should be fine on Sunday because our guys do a great job in the passing game . . . We’ve got a good defense.”
Patriots cornerback and former Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler was not quite ready to switch gears in the postgame locker room and begin thinking about defending the Falcons’ standout wide receiver, Julio Jones, in the Super Bowl.
“You’re going too far,” Butler said. “I’m enjoying the moment, man.”
Even so, Butler acknowledged that this victory will not be that satisfying ultimately if the Patriots do not finish the task in Houston.
“It don’t mean anything unless you win,” he said. “We’re just enjoying it, man. We’re glad to have the opportunity to go. Hard work pays off.”
… AND TEN
1. Roethlisberger proud: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger fell short in his bid for a third career Super bowl triumph with the Steelers. But he said he remained proud of a season in which the Steelers reached the AFC title game after their record dipped at one point to 4-5.
“Only one team is going to end the season the way they want to,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s not us this year. But I told the guys afterward I was proud of them. We went from 4-5 to the championship game. If there’s going to be any silver lining, it’s that. But we’ll just have to evaluate this and the offseason and what we have coming back. I’m just really proud of the guys. There’s just a lot of love…. It’s disappointing that we couldn’t get this one for Mr. [owner Dan] Rooney. I really wanted to do it for him. But we’ll evaluate.”
2. Bad playoffs: Home teams went 2-0 Sunday and had a record of 8-2 during the playoffs. The only two road wins came on the same day during the conference semifinals, by the Packers at Dallas and by the Steelers at Kansas City. Those were also the only two competitive games during the playoffs.
Other quick thoughts from Sunday’s games…
• The Patriots almost always defer when winning the pregame coin toss. But when they won the toss Sunday, they opted for possession of the football.
“That surprised me, too,” Brady said. “I was thinking, ‘We won the toss. Great.’ And I was gonna sit down. And he goes, ‘We got the ball.’ I said, ‘What? I thought we won the toss.’ I wasn’t sure how it all worked.”
• Goodell wasn’t in Foxborough on Sunday, having attended the game in Atlanta earlier in the day instead. But Johnny Manziel was there, according to a Snapchat post, wearing a Brady jersey. Manziel’s ticket was supplied by Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett.
• So much for the notion that wide receiver Michael Floyd, added by the Patriots after he was released by the Arizona Cardinals, would end up being a significant contributor. He was on the inactive list Sunday.
• Falcons Coach Dan Quinn will be coaching in the Super Bowl for the third time in four seasons, although for the first time as a head coach. He got there twice as defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks.
3. Irsay’s mistake(s): It was apparent to many people within the league after the 2015 season that Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay had to move on from Ryan Grigson as his general manager or Chuck Pagano as his coach, or both. The strained working relationship between Grigson and Pagano was well known and well documented publicly. The team was on its…