February 06, 2017
After the greatest comeback in NFL history, it’s time to make a painful admission. The New England Patriots deserved to win Super Bowl LI last night, and, yes, they also deserved to win Super Bowl XXXIX against the Eagles. They deserve all the praise we can muster. Ugh.
Tom Brady is the best quarterback ever to play the game, Bill Belichick is the NFL’s all-time best coach and Robert Kraft is a far better owner than Jeffrey Lurie. Because the Patriots rallied from 28-3 with just over 17 minutes left and beat the Falcons, 34-28, in overtime, I hold these truths to be self-evident.
Sometimes you just have to acknowledge greatness, and there is no better modern-day sports juggernaut than the Patriots. They have won five Super Bowls since 2001, went to two others, and have mastered the art of overcoming obstacles and winning, often in spectacular fashion.
What they did in Houston last night was their finest single achievement, a feat so improbable that even their own fans in New England had turned off their televisions before the stunning finish. In fact, Boston finished eighth in the country in overnight TV ratings, behind Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Atlanta, among others.
Their fans may have quit, but the Patriots did not. Brady ended the debate over who is the best quarterback ever by scoring on five late drives with no margin for error, by converting two two-point conversions where failure was not an option, and by calmly marching down the field in the first overtime of Super Bowl history.
As for Belichick, what he did – also with not a twinge of emotion – was destroy Atlanta coach Dan Quinn in the latter stages of a heroic comeback. It’s easy to fault Quinn and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan for running the ball only five times after they got that 28-3 lead, but New England still had to respond, time and time again.
If you’re looking for the purest definition of mental toughness, just review those final 17 minutes. Brady kept firing strike after strike – he threw 62 times in all – and seemed unfazed by the dire nature of his situation. When he was the slightest bit off, he had a teammate like Julian Edelman to make a catch for the ages.
The Patriots don’t always have the best players; their defense was ordinary, at best, this season. Last night, they didn’t even have their best offensive weapon, Rob Gronkowski. What they had this year, and in in the 15 seasons before this one, was a unique ability to scare the opponent into fatal mistakes.
Atlanta blew the Super Bowl last night when Shanahan decided to throw the ball even though his offense was well within range of a game-clinching field goal in the last four minutes. Seattle screwed up its chance two years ago with a dumb throw into traffic near the goal line. And the Eagles had a similar brain-lock 12 years ago.
No one will ever forget the slowest hurry-up drill in NFL history that day, a slog down the field that left quarterback Donovan McNabb barfing and no time left for a final score. The Eagles lost, 24-21, but it might as well have been 50-0. They just weren’t good enough.
That’s the painful lesson I took out of New England’s miraculous comeback last night. For years, I’ve been saying the Birds lost because of Spygate, or maybe because of Andy Reid’s dumb strategy, or even McNabb’s queasy stomach. The truth is, the Patriots were better than our team. They would have won anyway.
It’s time to give the devil his due, Philadelphia. The New England Patriots (2001-17) are the best dynasty in NFL history. Ugh.
Carson Wentz, the quarterback who represents the future of the Eagles, has found a coach to help him improve his mechanics before next season. With the hiring of Adam Dedeaux, the young player will now have four alleged experts telling him what to do.
This is not a good idea. Not a good idea at all.
Even before Wentz turned to Dedeaux, a biomechanics specialist who is the grandson of baseball coaching legend Rod Dedeaux, a strong argument could have been made that there were already too many coaches working with the talented kid from North Dakota. Now, well, what’s that old saying about too many cooks?
Wentz already has a head coach, Doug Pederson, who was once a quarterback and has taken a special interest in maximizing the skills of his protégé. Then there’s offensive coordinator Frank Reich, another former quarterback with much to say about playing the position in the NFL.
And let’s not forget John DiFillippo, whose position as quarterbacks coach was deemed so important by Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie that the team blocked the assistant from interviewing last month for the Jets’ offensive coordinator’s job. Wentz applauded that decision just last week.
Now let’s apply basic logic to the situation. What are the odds that all four of these coaches are going to agree on how best to alter the mechanics of Wentz, whose tendency to throw high became a chronic problem as his rookie season evolved?
For that matter, what are the odds that four experts, anywhere, on any subject would ever agree on everything? Whose advice should Wentz follow? Whose feelings are going to be hurt when their opinions are discarded? And here’s the best question: Why does Wentz need four coaches?
He doesn’t. This is a classic case of trying too hard to fix something that requires far less attention than it’s getting. Wentz is smart enough to figure out for himself what works best, and, over time, he will. The only thing all of these experts whispering in his ear will accomplish is creating a confusion that could set him back.
Carson Wentz is a hunting enthusiast, and this is the off-season – a perfect time to stalk eight-point bucks rather than tracking down yet another person to tell him what to do.
Brett Brown is 14 games under .500, and he is having a terrific season. In fact, the coach is performing miracles with a dysfunctional Sixers team this year. He may be the NBA coach of the year.
Now, before you think I’ve lost my mind, hear me out. Sometimes you can’t judge a coach by his record. Sometimes you have to consider the obstacles he is facing. And when it comes to obstacles, the Sixers are leading the NBA.
First of all, there’s the roster, a hodgepodge of players that looks like it was put together on a cocktail napkin at closing time. Yes, there’s a young star in Joel Embiid, but then there are three other incompatible centers, two power forwards from Serbia and Turkey with no NBA pedigree, and a bunch of dubious backcourt types.
Second, there is the Jahlil Okafor problem. In a word, the No. 3 draft pick in 2015 stinks. He is much, much more than a disappointment. He is a disaster. All you really need to know is that the Sixers are 4-14 when he starts, and they are -201 when he is on the court.
And third, there are the people above Brown, starting with GM
Bryan Colangelo, who believe that Brown doesn’t have enough to do figuring out a lineup every game, coaching players who speak a half-dozen different languages and devising strategies against teams that generally have far better players.
Brown also has the responsibility for dealing with every off-court issue involving his team. When a game had to be postponed because there was moisture on the court, Brown had to deal with it. When Noel went public with his trade demands, it was Brown who handled all the questions, not Colangelo.
Brett Brown waited his whole career for a chance to coach an NBA team, and the truth is, he’s still waiting. Last Saturday night in Miami was a perfect example. The mysterious team doctor from Australia benched Embiid, Okafor and Robert Covington, all for minor injuries. Imagine trying to coach in that environment?
That’s why what Brown has done this season – putting a team on the court that entertains more times than not and often transcends its own limitations – is remarkable. He deserves an acclaim that has eluded him since he left San Antonio to come here four years ago.
No NBA coach with a losing record has ever won the coach of the year award.
Brett Brown deserves serious consideration for it this year.
And finally . . . .
• The responses to Hall of Fame snubs by ex-Eagles Terrell Owens and Brian Dawkins over the weekend said all you need to know about the two players. Owens reacted bitterly, saying he no longer cares if he ever gets to Canton. Dawkins merely called it “disappointing.” Both deserve to get in, but the only real injustice will be if Dawkins doesn’t make it.
• At least the voters got it right by denying Paul Tagliabue entry into the Hall. By his own admission last week, the former commissioner said he erred when he called the number of concussions in 1994 “relatively small” and blamed the media for focusing on it. Some of the players who were part of that “relatively small” group are dead now. Giving the ultimate honor to a commissioner who ignored this huge issue would be a disgrace.
• Dave Hakstol’s main job as Flyers coach is to bring along the promising young talent, isn’t it? Then what does it say about the way he’s fulfilling his responsibility by repeatedly healthy-scratching Travis Konecny and Shayne Gostisbehere? Hakstol’s effectiveness has taken a dramatic drop in recent weeks. And let’s face it. If he’s hoping to get by on personality, he’s doomed.
• The second-best thing about Charles Barkley calling out LeBron James as a whiner is that it was true. The best part of it was that a TV sports analyst actually challenged the best player in his sport. Most superstars are devoid of criticism because of the business relationship between the networks and the league. Barkley doesn’t care about that. He took no personal shots; he just did his job. James’ angry response simply proved the point.
• Believe it or not, the Super-Bowl champion Patriots have moved ahead of the Cowboys as the most hated team in America, according to the latest nationwide fan poll. The disparity is only two percent (21-19), but I still don’t believe it. Jerry Jones, Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders, Dez Bryant, Tom Landry’s Stetson hats, etc. Oh, come on. I demand a recount.