Apparently, everyone was wrong. The Patriots don’t "suck" after all.
In fact, quite the contrary. They’re going to the Super Bowl. And if that sounds familiar, it's only because it should. It’s their third straight trip there and fourth Super Bowl in the last five years … and talk about defying logic.
Their quarterback is 41. They lost their only deep threat late in the season. Their defense couldn’t rush the passer. They produced their worst regular-season record since 2009. And they’re the first team since the 2010 Green Bay Packers to have a losing road record (they were 3-5 this year) and still make it to the NFL championship game.
So what does all that tell you? Well, that Tom Brady is still the best quarterback anywhere … that Bill Belichick may have pulled off his greatest coaching feat yet … and that all those haters who claim Brady is finished and the team is “falling off the cliff” can get off the bus.
It should also tell you to celebrate these Patriots for what they are: The greatest dynasty since the Cleveland Browns of the late 1940s and early-to-mid 1950s. Only there's an asterisk there. Because that was pre-salary cap, and it wasn’t all in the NFL.
Yes, the Browns were in 10 straight championship games and 11 in 12 years, but the first four were in the All-America Football Conference, while the seven that followed were in the NFL. To have a run like this – with 10 straight division titles, eight consecutive conference championship games and nine Super Bowls – in a salary-cap era that is supposed to be fatal to dynasties is more than extraordinary.
Pure and simple, the New England Patriots are the greatest dynasty of the Super Bowl era with the greatest quarterback of the Super Bowl era.
Brady might be accurate when he says most of America roots against them and thinks they “suck.” And maybe most of America will get it right one of these years.
But not here. Not now.
TIME FOR LEAGUE TO ADMIT IT HAS A PROBLEM
Shame on the NFL.
Where we should be talking today about the L.A. Rams going to the Super Bowl on Greg Zuerlein’s 57-yard field goal in overtime, we’re not. Instead, we’re talking about the league’s officiating problem and how to correct it.
And blame the league.
The reason? Simple. Referee Bill Vinovich. It was his crew that didn’t make the call on an obvious pass interference at the end of the fourth quarter – in effect, costing the Saints a first down and, in all probability, the ball game.
Losing coach Sean Payton later said the league office acknowledged that the non-call was “a mistake,” that a penalty should’ve been called and that it was not only pass interference but a helmet-to-helmet foul, too.
OK, so mistakes happen. But it’s the second time in the past seven weeks they happened to Vinovich and Co. And it’s the second time he and his crew cost a team a big game.
Rewind the videotape to the Dec. 2 contest between the Chargers and Pittsburgh, and you’ll find Vinovich’s outfit blowing an obvious false start against L.A. and then missing a blatant block in the back on a Chargers’ punt return.
So what? So both plays resulted in touchdown, costing the Steelers 15 points (there was a two-point conversion after one TD). Final score: Chargers 33, Steelers 30, and don’t tell me officials didn’t play a part in the outcome of the game. Because they did.
Worse, that one loss cost the Steelers the playoffs.
The result? Vinovich was awarded the NFC championship game.
And that deserves an explanation. Because when an official earlier this year blew a visible false start in a Chargers’ game vs. Cleveland – a play where, again, the Chargers scored a touchdown – the NFL fired the line judge the next week.
So what happens here? I can’t wait to hear. For far too long the league has ignored inconsistent and illogical officiating. But those days are over.
“All the more reason why we need more replay,” a subdued Payton said afterward.
No we don’t. There’s already too much of it. But the NFL has a gargantuan problem that needs to be addressed … and needs to be fixed. And now it knows it. Because what happened in New Orleans Sunday was more than an embarrassment. It was a disgrace.
1. How appropriate. Seventeen years ago next month, the Patriots’ dynasty started with a last-minute defeat of the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. Now the two are at it again, only this time the Rams aren’t in St. Louis; they’re in L.A. Their quarterback isn’t in the huddle; he’s in the Hall of Fame. And Tom Brady isn’t a first-year starter; he’s a five-time Super Bowl winner.
2. With the Patriots opening as a 1-1/2- point underdog, get ready for New England to play the “disrespect” card next week.
3. Can’t wait to hear what Al Riveron, the league’s senior VP in charge of officiating, has to say about that egregious non-call. It took him all night to think up a response. Also want to know this: Why was Vinovich’s crew chosen for the game? If it’s because it graded out as one of the best this season, then what does that say about the rest of the league’s officials?
4. Vinovich told a pool reporter afterward that he didn’t see the play. Sorry, but that won’t cut it. He has to know he’ll be interviewed. So look at the play before talking. And, by the way, make the guy who didn’t make the call available, too.
5. On second thought, maybe the divisional round of the playoffs isn’t the best weekend.
6. Gotta believe the NFL is happy with this Super Bowl: With the L.A. and New England audiences, they have two of the biggest markets in the country.
7. Class move by Brady: After the game, he had a security guard escort him into the Chiefs’ locker room so he could visit briefly with Patrick Mahomes.
8. Can only imagine what kind of reception Brady and Co. get in Atlanta. It's only been two years since they stunned the Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
9. In case you’re wondering, that was the first time in six years that one road team won in the conference championship game. As a matter of fact, it was the first time in six years that two did, too. The last time it happened was the 2012 playoffs when the Ravens and 49ers each won. Prior to Sunday, road teams were 0-10 the past five years in conference championship games and 4-16 the past 10.
10. Not a good day to be Dee Ford. All he had to do was not line up offsides and the Chiefs, not the Patriots, are in the Super Bowl. Got all offseason to think about that, too.
11. Don’t tell me Andy Reid blew that game because he didn’t. In the end, the Chiefs couldn’t make the stops that mattered. New England was 13 of 19 on third downs and produced 36 first downs. Bob Sutton, please report to the principal’s office.
12. Did I hear Boomer Esiason say that Julian Edelman should be a Hall-of-Fame candidate? Really?
13. Unsung heroes for New England: The offensive linemen. Tom Brady wasn’t sacked once by a defense that tied for the league lead in that department. And he wasn't sacked last week, either. In fact, the guy's been dumped just five times in the last eight games. Time to recognize OL coach Dante Scarnecchia for what he is: A treasure.
14. Really was hoping to see a Brees-Brady Super Bowl, where the combined ages of the two quarterbacks (81) equaled Hall-of-Fame finalist Tom Flores. Then we could call it … One for the Aged.
15. Someone put out an APB on the Saints’ Michael Thomas. He had one catch for nine yards in the second half.
16. Now the question: If New England wins in two weeks, does Brady retire? Perfect way to punctuate his career … start it with one Super Bowl defeat of the Rams and end it with another.
17. Credit Sean Payton for keeping his cool in the post-game interview. I can only imagine what he wanted to say. But he didn't.
18. Not really sure why so many people are upset with the NFL’s OT rules. You want to go to what the NCAA has where you play until midnight and run up basketball scores? No, thank you.
19. C. J. Anderson won’t be the “freshest running back” at the Super Bowl. Todd Gurley will.
20. For all the heat Vinovich (deservedly) takes, I will say this: Sean Payton did his part to keep the Rams in the game with some of the worst play-calling at the worst time. Go back to the last two minutes of the fourth quarter, and you find him throwing from the L.A. 13 when he should’ve been running. He could’ve forced the Rams to use all their timeouts, worked the clock, kicked the go-ahead field goal and left precious little time for L.A. to catch up. He didn’t, and you see what happened.
21. And while we’re on the subject: What was with that third-and-goal pass from the 1 that New England called in the first half? The Chiefs couldn’t stop the run, their defense was gassed and the Patriots were 12 inches from a 14-0 lead. Worse, the Pats know first-hand what happens when you throw there because Pete Carroll offered a demonstration in Super Bowl XLIX.
22. Yes, Patrick Mahomes is a terrific talent … yes, he’s only 23 … and yes, he’s the presumptive league MVP with a promising future. But be careful about predicting multiple Super Bowls for the guy. People said the same thing about a 23-year-old Dan Marino, and he got to one. Period. With Don Shula. And he lost. It’s a grind to get there, which makes Brady’s accomplishments all the more astonishing.
23. For all the talk about Jared Goff's heroics Sunday, he didn’t make the biggest pass to get the Rams this far. Punter Johnny Hekker did.
24. Get ready to hear a lot more in the next two weeks from Eric Dickerson and other former Rams about the Patriots “cheating” in Super Bowl XXXVI … mostly because they can’t fathom why Marshall Faulk wasn’t more of a factor. One suggestion: Talk to Mike Martz.
25. I guess Rob Gronkowski isn’t ready to retire after all. But my guess is he will after one more game.
Tom Brady is 3-0 in OT in the playoffs. His opponents didn’t touch the ball in any of those victories
FIVE THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED
1. That was only the second AFC championship game to go to OT. The previous one was the 1986 game between Cleveland and Denver.
2. Damien Williams is the first Chiefs’ player to score three touchdowns in one playoff game.
3. Sunday was the first time in Tom Brady’s career that he led a touchdown-scoring drive on the opening series of a road playoff game.
4. Sony Michel is the only rookie in NFL history to score five rushing touchdowns in the playoffs. The last player to run for five TDs in a single postseason was Hall-of-Famer Terrell Davis, and he did it in 1997**.**
5. That was the first time in NFL history that both championship games went to OT.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET QUOTE
“It’s tough to get over it. We’ll probably never get over it.” – Saints’ coach Sean Payton.
“Ah, hell, yeah, that was PI. I did my part. Referee made the call.” – Rams’ defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman.
SUNDAY’S BIGGEST WINNER
CBS ANALYST TONY ROMO. There is no analyst who’s better or more animated. He sees formations, envisions plays, then makes the call. And he’s dead. Solid. Perfect. He kept telling the Patriots to split Gronkowski wide, then get the ball to him. And they did. As Andrew Brandt tweeted, “The Chiefs should just watch TV and defend Romo’s calls.”
SUNDAY’S BIGGEST LOSER
LEAGUE OFFICE. The Rams-Saints game revealed the dirty little secret that the NFL’s been trying to ignore for years … and that is that its officials play too large a role in the outcomes of games with inconsistent and illogical calls. The league wants fans to talk about players and games, but they're not. Not today they're not. They're talking about the refs. Look, I don’t know what the NFL does to Bill Vinovich and his crew, but there has to be some penalty. Telling the Saints they blew the call just ain’t good enough.