Don’t overlook the contributions of these Patriots to championship No. 6
In the aftermath of the Super Bowl, one thing that’s been clear is that this sixth championship for the Patriots was sweetened by the path they took to a place where they could win it. It was, by players’ own admission, a more difficult season than some of the others that ended in parades down Boylston Street. There were times when the Patriots did not look like a team that could finish the way it did.
There were reasons for that, some perfectly justifiable. Some important part of the offense was always hurting until the very end of the season and the playoffs, and before then, it was impossible to know whether those players would get better before it was too late. Other reasons are tougher to defend, such as players and units whose strength was overlooked.
Here are a few examples of unsung people who contributed to this championship:
■ James Develin
Develin was the lead blocker on all nine of the Patriots’ rushing touchdowns in the playoffs. In an era when most teams don’t use a fullback, he and the offensive line powered a ground game that in turn powered the offense as a whole.
Develin was a factor in the Patriots’ use of the “21” personnel (two backs, one tight end) that was effective for them most of the season, as he was when they turned to the “22” (two backs, two tight ends) on their touchdown drive in the Super Bowl.
The thing that makes Develin such a valuable chess piece is that he doesn’t give away whether the Patriots are going to run or pass, even out of those heavy sets.
■ Kyle Van Noy
Has Van Noy been sung? Maybe. It’s hard to keep track. He took a weird amount of undeserved criticism for a while that was rightfully corrected, but it still seems as though he hasn’t gotten his due.
Van Noy is a smart player and one of the key communicators on defense, but he also was an impact playmaker. He finished the regular season with an interception, two fumble recoveries, a touchdown, 3.5 sacks, five tackles for losses, and 10 quarterback hits. In the playoffs, he totaled three sacks in as many games.
■ Bill Belichick (the general manager) and Nick Caserio
Jason McCourty, a starting-caliber cornerback on a $1.6 million base salary, cost a seventh-round draft pick. The Patriots let Nate Solder walk to become the highest-paid offensive lineman in the league, then replaced him seamlessly by flipping a low-cost right tackle, Trent Brown, to the other side.
The Patriots essentially moved down 48 spots in the draft (sending a third-rounder to the 49ers for a fifth-rounder and Brown to the 49ers) to get Brown on a $1.9 million base salary. The decision to break the bank (and usual team protocol) for Stephon Gilmore continued to pay off. And somehow, they got value out of a first-round running back.
Earlier this season, it seemed as if Belichick the GM was actually having a tough go of it, with the team shuffling receivers and most of the 2018 draft class on IR. It wasn’t perfect — Adrian Clayborn and Danny Shelton had inconsistent seasons — but, as usual, there were a few shrewd decisions that paid off when it counted.
■ The offensive line
Good offensive lines are almost always unsung, and the Patriots’ tight-lipped group was no different. The Patriots ranked third in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards, which measures an offensive line’s impact on the running game by eliminating huge runs that are more about the runner and downfield blocking. They also were first in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Sack Rate, and Brady was barely bothered all season.
In the playoffs, the running game was dominant, and against three teams with excellent pass rushers in the Chargers, Chiefs, and Rams, Brady was sacked a grand total of one time.
Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Marcus Cannon are an elite group, and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia deserves a ton of credit, too.
■ Josh McDaniels
No, the Super Bowl was not a brilliant display of offense, but it was a prophetic adjustment by the offensive coordinator to start running two-tight-end sets late in the game on the drive that ended in the only touchdown of the night. It wasn’t something the Patriots had worked on much before the game, but it worked.
It’s a credit to Belichick, McDaniels, and the rest of the staff that the Patriots were able to make that switch seamlessly, and a brilliant decision by McDaniels to do it in the first place.
Overall, McDaniels deserves credit for envisioning the Patriots — in 2018 — as a ground-and-pound offense, a choice a lot of coaches working with Brady would have been too stubborn or fearful to make.