FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots may have lost Super Bowl XLVI to the Giants, but as the saying goes, sometimes things happen for a reason.
Maybe that reason is Chandler Jones.
Before the Super Bowl, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, and what followed was the type of reverence Belichick normally showers on veterans such as Ravens safety Ed Reed.
Only Pierre-Paul was finishing his second season, in which he totaled 16 1/2 sacks and finished fourth in voting for defensive player of the year.
“He’s very rare,’’ Belichick said of Pierre-Paul.
Rare was a word Belichick used four times when talking about the 15th overall pick in the 2010 draft, and his “athleticism, size, and explosiveness.’’
Did Pierre-Paul ever make Belichick say, “Wow,’’ on film?
“Probably about five times a game he has plays like that,’’ Belichick said. “He comes out of nowhere and makes a tackle. Or jumps 10 feet in the air and bats down a ball. Or makes an athletic move at the line of scrimmage while keeping his balance. He’s a rare athlete.’’
Maybe you remember the NFL Films footage from the Super Bowl when Tom Brady, after having two passes batted down by Pierre-Paul, turned to Wes Welker.
“It’s like throwing in a forest - those guys’ arms,’’ Brady said.
Jones could be the Patriots’ sequoia.
After trading up six spots to No. 21 in Thursday’s first round of the draft, Belichick might just have his own Pierre-Paul.
Finally, the Patriots have the type of rare athlete that defenses have to game plan around and who can flip a game with one athletic play in a key spot.
It’s the type of athlete Belichick has looked into acquiring before. The Patriots explored signing Julius Peppers before the Bears gave him the world.
Belichick tried multiple times to sign former Dolphins and Jets defensive end Jason Taylor.
Maybe Belichick figured the only way he could get one of those athletes was to draft one.
He did that, finally, with Jones.
It’s hard not to see the comparisons.
Pierre-Paul was considered a raw prospect out of the University of South Florida, and many teams thought the Giants took him too high.
“Jason Pierre-Paul was really an easy pick for us because his skill set was so superior to most players that you see at his position or any position,’’ Giants general manager Jerry Reese said. “We thought he had the highest ceiling of any player at any position in the draft. So why wouldn’t you want to coach a guy like that? His football instincts, for a young player who hadn’t played a lot at a high level, he was really an easy pick for us. The skill set, the football instincts, just his physical attributes were superior.’’
Can’t you see Belichick having the same reasons for trading up to get Jones?
Pierre-Paul was 6 feet 5 inches, 270 pounds, with 4.71 speed in the 40-yard dash. His vertical jump was 31 1/2 inches, and his broad jump was 9-9. His arms were 34 3/4 inches and his hands measured 10 1/2 inches.
Outside of Jones’s slower 40 time, he’s a better tested athlete than Pierre-Paul was.
Jones is 6-5 1/2, 266, with 4.82 speed. His vertical jump was 35 inches, and he went 10 feet in the broad jump. He has longer arms (35 1/2) and smaller hands (9 3/4) than Pierre-Paul.
“I’ve heard that comparison a lot, going through this whole draft process, a lot of guys, ‘Hey, this guy’s another JPP, he’s the second Jason Pierre-Paul,’ ’’ Jones said.
“I definitely know who Jason Pierre-Paul is, JPP. He’s a great player. He’s a freakish athlete, a physical specimen. I definitely watched him and I watched his game. He’s a phenomenal player.’’
But Jones said he’s different.
“I feel we’re two different type of athletes, but we have the same exact body type,’’ he said. “The way I’m different than him? I don’t know. It’s two different styles of football. He’s an all-around player, he’s a pass rusher and a run stopper. I’m not going to say that’s not what I am, but I don’t feel like me and Jason Pierre-Paul are the same player.’’
What fans need to keep in mind is that the Pierre-Paul that wreaked havoc last season and helped ruin the Patriots’ Super Bowl party was not the same Pierre-Paul as a rookie.
He only played 40 percent of the snaps and tallied 4 1/2 sacks as a rookie. Some Giants fans grumbled that it wasn’t enough of an impact for a 15th overall pick. Reese even took some heat, especially after the Giants missed the playoffs.
It takes time for players like Pierre-Paul and Jones, who come out early and are still growing into their bodies, to adjust mentally and physically to the NFL game. When Jones appeared before the media on Friday, he looked more like a Celtics draft pick, with his skinny frame and long fingers, than one for the Patriots.
In his second season, Pierre-Paul played 86 percent of the snaps so effectively that he made perennial Pro Bowler Osi Umenyiora a situational pass rusher.
All it took was a year’s worth of seasoning in the weight room and film room and on the practice field.
Jones could well be on the same quick career arc, and fans should be prepared for that. Jones is.
“My main goal is to come here and gain a trust with the veterans and the rest of the rookies,’’ he said. “What I’m going to do is learn this defense, learn this system, and get the coach’s trust and then we’ll see what happens from there.’’
Belichick finally has his rare athlete.
Give him time to mold Jones into something, and the Patriots could have a Pierre-Paul of their very own.Greg A. Bedard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GregABedard