x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

New England Patriots down, but not out

They may have lost the Super Bowl, but coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady will help team rise again.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady leaves the field after their loss to the New York Giants
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady leaves the field after their loss to the New York Giants

We interrupt the somewhat deserving idolisation of baby brother Eli Manning, Super Mario Manningham, ol' coach Tom Coughlin and the Giants to pose a rhetorical question.

Which NFL team is best positioned over the next half-dozen seasons to miss the Super Bowl half-time concert while poring over strategy in the locker room?

If you answered the Patriots, congratulations. You are eligible to win the ratty sweatshirt worn on Sunday by Bill Belichick. Oh, he burned it? Then, never mind.

There is no reason for New England to send their methodology up in smoke. The Pats' way works. Otherwise, in this parity-driven sport, they would not have hogged five Super Bowl slots this century.

New England will be back soon, if not next year. Some reasons why:

They care for their boss

No, not crabby Belichick, although some do. It is their relationship with Robert Kraft, the team owner, that impresses.

Kraft's wife, Myra, died last summer of cancer, which explains the "MHK" sewn into the jerseys.

On most teams, players might acknowledge the gesture, then forgot about it five minutes later. They might respect the rich guy sitting up in the stadium suite. Genuinely like him? No.

The Patriots are different. They often pointed to the initials this season - even on Sunday, when Tom Brady touched the MHK patch above his No 12 after a touchdown pass, then pointed to the heavens.

"Certainly, I wish we would have gotten it for him," Brady said afterward of the man for whom the season was an escape from his grief.

"It's for Miss Myra," Deion Branch, the wide receiver, said afterward, "and we feel like we didn't get the job done."

Motivation can flow from a variety of springs. Still, any team propelled by a desire to please the man in charge has a leg up.

Their innovative approach

For the 2010 draft, the Patriots drew up a model for two types of tight ends. One was a supersized blocker-receiver combo stationed at the line of scrimmage. The other was a pass-catcher versatile enough to line up wide or in the backfield.

Nobody would spend two picks in the first four rounds on the position. Nobody but the Patriots, who recognised the scarcity of athletic tight ends places a premium on them.

In his second season, Rob Gronkowski was a breakthrough, blowing over defenders with his blocking and blowing away observers with unprecedented catch statistics for a tight end.

Even with Gronkowski as a teammate, Aaron Hernandez still was the No 4 receiving tight end. He is adroit enough to have been deployed as a running back in the play-off opener.

Gronkowski was restricted by a sore ankle on Sunday. Because the Pats thought out of the box on draft day two years ago, they still could incorporate the tight end into their game plan; Hernandez caught eight balls, one for a touchdown.

And, had a healthy Gronkowski got a better lift-off for the end-zone heave by Brady, well, the victory parade might have swung by Copley Square in Boston instead of Washington Square in New York.

They dare to be different

With a minute remaining and the Giants poised to drain away all but a few seconds before a tap-in field goal to win, coaches ordered the Pats to play pretend defence.

Ahmad Bradshaw, as much as he tried not to, was allowed to score. Although New England then needed a touchdown to go ahead, the extra time available to Brady made it the better option.

Belichick was not the first Super Bowl coach to wilfully give up a score - Mike Holmgren, 1998, with Green Bay, who also lost - but it was no less bold. Defensive coaches, Belichick included, are programmed to stop the other team. To essentially lay down is no comfortable choice.

"It killed me," Brandon Spikes, the linebacker, said. "When the call came in, I was like, 'What?'

"But in that situation, that's what we're taught to do."

Tom Brady

No chance he will kick back with wife/model Gisele Bundchen in the off-season and forget about football, though he might lecture her on disrespecting the Patriots receivers in the presence of recording devices.

Ridiculously competitive, Brady will report for training camp ready to fend off challengers to his place on the Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks. (In case you are wondering: Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and whoever slides in for Peyton Manning.)

So will his teammates, some of whom donned sunglasses after Sunday's game to hide their tears. They took this defeat gut-punching hard, none more than the wide receiver Wes Welker, who was distraught after his drop.

"In the most critical situation, I let the team down," he said, showing admirable accountability.

The Patriots, as they always seem to do, will reload with two first-round picks. Those surely will be spent wisely.

Bravo, Giants, for two Super Bowl wins in four seasons. They are a model franchise. The supermodel - the Gisele Bundchen of the NFL - remains the Patriots.

sports@thenational.ae