A few leftover thoughts on the Patriots’ loss to the Ravens, and on the season overall:
The big theme from the loss is that just about the entire team (save special teams) did not play well. There were breakdowns of fundamentals all over the place and no one was safe.
That’s a big reason why I can’t join those who would like to put Tom Brady on the hook. If the rest of the team had played well, and Brady played average in a loss then, fine, put it on Brady. But that’s not the way that I saw it.
I saw an entire team underperform and not react well to adversity. So why should that be put on Brady’s head? A great quarterback will win you a lot of games during the regular season, but in a one-game situation, the team that plays the best on that day is usually going to win.
The Ravens played better than the Patriots, and they won. I don’t know why people seem to think that Brady was going to overcome that on his own. This isn’t the Bills in November.
People say, “Well, Joe Flacco was the best quarterback on the field the last two years.” He was. And you know why? Because the Patriots’ defense was terrible last year and had Julian Edelman covering Anquan Boldin. And this year, the Ravens played better overall, and, quite frankly, had more talent last Sunday night.
The Ravens’ offensive line — after it made the postseason switch to, from left to right, Bryant McKinnie, Kelechi Osemele, Matt Birk, Marshal Yanda, and Michael Oher — played better than the Patriots’, and by a pretty good margin. The Ravens are neck and neck with the 49ers for best offensive line of all the postseason teams. They’ve been unreal leading up to the Super Bowl. The Patriots were good, just not as good as the Ravens.
The Ravens running backs are better, and they also have a fullback — something Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels obviously desired but never found. Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson, and Billy Bajema are, as a group, better tight ends than Aaron Hernandez, Michael Hoomanawanui, and Daniel Fells. Actually, it’s not even close. Flacco was making hay in an “11” personnel set that was Boldin, Torrey Smith, Pitta, Jacoby Jones, and Ray Rice. Which group puts more stress on a defense from sideline to sideline, the Ravens’ or Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Hernandez, Deion Branch, and Danny Woodhead/Shane Vereen?
Defensively, without an extraordinary effort from Vince Wilfork and with the injury to Kyle Love, the Ravens were clearly better and deeper up front with Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, and Paul Kruger as starters, and Ma’ake Kemoeatu, Pernell McPhee, Arthur Jones, and Courtney Upshaw in reserve. The Patriots’ group of Rob Ninkovich, Wilfork, Love, and Justin Francis; and Trevor Scott, Jermaine Cunningham, and Brandon Deaderick clearly does not match up.
Dannell Ellerbe was clearly the best cover linebacker on the field. And I’d be willing to argue that, even with a healthy Aqib Talib, the Ravens’ nickel secondary of Cary Williams, Chykie Brown/Jimmy Smith, Corey Graham, Ed Reed, and Bernard Pollard is better top to bottom than Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Devin McCourty, and Steve Gregory.
So Brady doesn’t play his best game with an inferior lineup on that given day. So what? When the Patriots were winning Super Bowl titles with Brady, they were doing it with a team that was better or executed better than their opponents. They are not or have not recently. Brady wasn’t carrying them to victory in 2001, ’03, or ’04. So why do people think the championship formula should be any different now? The Patriots, especially without Rob Gronkowski and Chandler Jones, were not there yet. But I have a feeling it’s coming.
Thanks to legend and NFL Films, you might believe otherwise, but Joe Montana didn’t carry the 49ers to greatness. Not only was the execution of those teams terrific under Bill Walsh, but San Francisco was operating a West Coast offense that really didn’t find a true adversary until Dick LeBeau and Dom Capers dedicated themselves to the zone blitz in 1992. And probably the most important reason why Montana was so good: Most of those 49ers teams were absolutely loaded with talent since the salary cap didn’t exist until 1994, which happened to be Montana’s last NFL season.
So, basically, I think any criticism of Brady is nonsense. His team was less talented than its foe. His team didn’t play well. He didn’t play that well. Nobody in the salary cap era is ever going to be as good as Montana. That’s just the way it is.
To me, if there is a common link between the playoff losses to the Giants, Jets, and Ravens, it’s a lack of execution. This has to be what Bill Belichick is racking his brain about. Why does his team execute so consistently during the regular season — especially in the second half of the season — but fail to do so in the biggest games?
I don’t think there’s a simple answer. I think the Patriots were just as physical as the Ravens.
My fleeting thought: The Patriots seem to play tight in big spots. It seems like, as individuals, they are trying not to make a mistake. Almost robotic.
The Ravens, Giants, and Jets appeared to take the fight to the Patriots with an aggressive, throw-caution-to-the-wind mentality. I could be wrong on that, but I think the Patriots need to find some of that themselves.
VIEW FROM THE TOP
Texans owner McNair throws in his two cents
There were some very interesting portions to the Q&A that Houston Chronicle scribe John McClain conducted with Texans owner Bob McNair in the wake of their two blowout losses to the Patriots.
On what he told coach Gary Kubiak: “I’d like to see him win more games. Whatever we have to do is what we’ll do because we’re all committed to bringing a championship to Houston. I told him we were very happy with him and his staff, but we’re all disappointed right now. He is, too. You know, we had an improvement from 11 wins to 13, but it wasn’t enough.”
On how the Texans can win 15 games: “The challenge for [Kubiak] — and this falls on his shoulders — is to improve our mental toughness. We’ve got to get used to performing on the big stage when the spotlight’s on us. When the pressure goes up, our performance has to go up, too.”
On whether he has any regrets about the extension given to quarterback Matt Schaub: “Not at all. There are a lot of clubs that would love to have him. He had a good year. He’s got to step up his game when we get on the big stage. There’s no room for mental errors. He knows that. We have confidence in him . . . We can’t get where we want to go unless Matt and the offense and defense and special teams step up their game.”
On the losses to the Patriots: “The first time we went up there, we didn’t play well at all. The second time, we played better. We had many opportunities to turn that game around, but we didn’t make the plays. Guys that normally would be making plays weren’t, for whatever reason.”
On what the team needs: “We need another playmaker [at receiver]. We want more speed at receiver. Andre [Johnson] had a great year, but we can’t expect him to carry the load for all the receivers. If we say we’re going to run the ball better, we need to make sure we’ve got depth in our offensive line. We need more depth at linebacker. We can always use another cornerback. We don’t have a glaring weakness.”
GAZING NORTH FOR STARS
Signing of Armstead opens a CFL pipeline
The signing of Canadian Football League defensive lineman Armond Armstead by the Patriots was significant not only because he can bring the interior pass rush the team has been lacking. It marked a slight change in the front office.
According to a high-ranking CFL executive and sources at the Senior Bowl, the Patriots have poured more resources into scouting talent north of the border. The effort has been spearheaded by assistant director of pro personnel Bob Quinn.
“I think the Patriots, for sure since last summer, have probably been as aggressive as any team in the NFL in terms of wanting to add that element to their scouting,” said the CFL executive. “They hadn’t really put any time into it prior to this.”
Armstead will likely be just the first to sign with the Patriots. NFL and CFL sources said the Patriots have reached agreement on a contract with Winnipeg end Jason Vega, who is from Brockton and played at Northeastern. He’s a 6-foot-4-inch, 255-pounder who ran 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash. The move hasn’t been made official because the CFL has to technically release the player before he can sign with the NFL.
Armstead (6-4½, 295) likely would have been drafted right where the Patriots signed him — for top-of-the-third-round money ($650,000 guaranteed, first year base also guaranteed). The Colts and Eagles were offering the same deal.
Armstead, who will be 23 Aug. 3, has sued USC for issuing him pain-killers that triggered a heart attack and scared off NFL teams.
“Quick and sudden penetrator who has improved since college as a run defender,” said an NFL executive. “Will need to develop two-gap ability in that system, but has the potential.”
“He’s not a first-round pick; slow down there,” the CFL executive said. “He dominated in the Grey Cup. He may have been their best defensive player, but he was facing an NFL free agent-type offensive lineman and kind of had his way with him.”
Curious play-calling by Jones in Dallas
Another offseason, more curious decisions by the Cowboys and owner/general manger Jerry Jones. First he hired Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator even though just last offseason Jones spent a boatload of money and picks to beef up on cornerbacks, a position that is basically an afterthought in Kiffin’s Tampa Cover 2 scheme. Then at the Senior Bowl, Jones said that coach Jason Garrett won’t be calling the offensive plays, even though that’s his forte. Offensive line coach/coordinator Bill Callahan will likely call the plays. “It’s not a step back for Jason,” said Jones. “It’s actually a step forward for Jason, in my mind. Make no mistake about it, when I hired Jason to come into the organization as a coach, he was hired specifically for his abilities to call the plays. When he became the head coach, it was at my insistence that he continue to call the plays. It was not at Jason’s insistence. It is not a step back for the Cowboys or a step back individually for him to change the way we basically are putting our game plan together or are calling the plays on the offensive side of the ball. Differences in opinion can frankly be a step in a better direction. Rest assured, this would not be being done if our head coach Jason Garrett was not absolutely all in.” Garrett said this will allow him to concentrate on game situations. Considering that Garrett has been one of the worst at game management in his two years, Jones might be making the right call — if Callahan and Garrett are on the same game-calling page.
1. The season just ended, and people, at least according to my Twitter feed, are already getting delusional about what the Patriots may do in the offseason. Remember that they project to have about $19 million in cap room. The Patriots are not getting Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. New York would never trade him in the division. No chance.
2. Totally agree with the Jets looking to deal Revis. He wants to get paid, the Jets aren’t going to do it, and they have many more problems to address with that money. Might as well start the rebuilding process now by clearing the cap space and getting some picks.
3. Disappointing to see Grafton native Steve Spagnuolo let go as Saints defensive coordinator after just one season of turmoil and a lack of talent. No, he’s not coming to the Patriots; Bill Belichick has hired an outsider just once, Dom Capers, and that was believed to be solely to have an experienced head coach on staff in case Belichick was suspended for Spygate.
4. Spagnuolo’s loss could be a gain for one of two ex-Patriots. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that former Patriots defensive coordinators Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini are among the candidates for Sean Payton, who said he wants to go to a 3-4 scheme. Either guy would be a good choice for the Saints.
5. I don’t really buy the talk from former Raiders that Callahan may have tried to sabotage Super Bowl XXXVII by changing the offensive game plan just days before the 48-21 loss to the Buccaneers. I could believe that late owner Al Davis directed Callahan to change from run-heavy to pass-heavy, because there have been many stories told of that.
Tom Brady was rightfully slapped on the wrist by the NFL for his cleats-up slide into Ravens safety Ed Reed. There was little question that Brady saw Reed coming and was the aggressor. Interesting that it was above the minimum fine of $7,875 for “striking/kicking/kneeing” an opponent . . . Cam Cameron, who was fired as Ravens offensive coordinator after a Week 14 loss to the Redskins, told The New York Times that he thought it was a smart move by coach John Harbaugh. “It was a brilliant move,” Cameron said. “Everyone on the team took a look in the mirror after that. We were inconsistent, and if I’m in charge, I’m saying: ‘Why are we inconsistent? We need to get the team’s attention.’ ” . . . Payton told reporters at the Senior Bowl he never entertained leaving the Saints though his contract extension was voided. “There was no way I was going to another team,” he said. “The issue was a minor technicality. There was a clause in there that wasn’t approved. What became challenging was being out of the building and then trying to work through the specifics to get the contract done. What was hard, at times there were various reports and word coming out. There was never even any attempt with regards to leverage. It’s just the fact that I couldn’t be involved with specifics, it had to go through an agent and back to me. Normally [general manager] Mickey [Loomis] and I [get a contract done] maybe in two dinners. It took maybe another month [with the suspension].” . . . Former Patriots director of pro personnel Jason Licht was promoted to Cardinals vice president of player personnel following Steve Keim’s ascension to general manager . . . We’ll see what happens with the Browns, but coach Rob Chudzinski and general manager Michael Lombardi have to be beyond excited that they landed Norv Turner and Ray Horton as offensive and defensive coordinator, respectively. They are terrific.
Greg A. Bedard can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.