|01.28.12 at 7:04 am ET|
The grocery cart of WEEI.com coverage of Super Bowl XLVI overfloweth:
— “I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats.” No superlative can exaggerate the impact of the first ever Traggies, recognizing the top contributors and moments of the 2011 Patriots season. Mike Petraglia models for and then hands out the hardware, while also taking a look at the ferocious Giants pass rush that he describes as the biggest threat facing the Patriots in ye olde SB two-score-and-six, in the latest Trags Bag.
— More on all things pass rush: Giants defensive end Justin Tuck called Tom Brady a snake, and said that it is the Giants’ top priority to kill the snake. Somehow, this was a compliment rather than a statement that could be interpreted as having criminal intent. Deion Branch denied that Brady is a snake.
— More Brady: NFL analyst Michael Lombardi, in his interview on the Dennis & Callahan show, wondered which Brady will be on display in the Super Bowl, noting that the quarterback’s wildly inconsistent performances in his two playoff games this year suggest that it is Giants counterpart Eli Manning who is currently playing at the higher level. To listen to the complete interview, click here.
— And then there is this fascinating tidbit about Brady: A former Montreal Expos scout who tried to convince Brady to sign with his team (after the Expos selected him out of high school in the 18th round of the 1997 draft) watched him in Super Bowl XXXVI and thought, “Man, I could’ve ruined this guy’s career.” For a remarkable tale of Brady’s baseball career, click here.
— More from Lombardi, who acknowledges that “Rob Lowe might be right” about the future of Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. For what it’s worth, Peyton Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay issued a kiss-and-make-up statement on Friday.
— And more from the chatty Giants defensive line: Osi Umenyiora said that Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light “gets under [his] skin.” Patriots guard Brian Waters dropped an LOL on such a proclamation.
— Evidently, the Patriots also have defensive players. Indeed, Peter King of Sports Illustrated was effusive in his praise of New England’s front seven, while also taking stock of whether Giants coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning are Hall of Fame-bound, in his weekly segment on the Mut & Merloni show. Highlights of King’s interview are here; the whole thing can be heard here.
— The latest on things Gronkable: Rob Gronkowski was the only member of the Patriots who did not practice, and he is listed as “questionable” for the game. (It is an odd thing to be “listed officially as questionable,” if you think about it.) While the Patriots have offered few details on the tight end’s injury, his father was more forthcoming, telling a TV station that he’s very proud of his son and, by the way, he has a high-ankle sprain but expects to play through pain.
— The two best slot receivers in the NFL will face off in the Super Bowl, and Giants receiver Victor Cruz says that he’s dipped into the Wes Welker playbook in an effort to achieve that status.
— Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty, in his interview on the Dennis & Callahan show, said that Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham give the Giants a triple-threat that presents significant matchup problems.
— Is the Lombardi Trophy edible? You’d think so, because Branch and Kevin Faulk are hungry for it.
— A camel named Princess is picking the Giants to win the Super Bowl. Is there bias involved? The camel resides in New Jersey. Has anyone asked the bongos at the Franklin Park Zoo for their picks?
|01.28.12 at 6:16 am ET|
Wide receivers Wes Welker of the Patriots and Victor Cruz of the Giants finished second and third in the NFL, respectively, in receiving yards, with Welker racking up 1,569 yards and Cruz chewing up 1,536 yards of turf. Both had nine touchdowns this season, both had 99-yard receptions for scores and both were the primary receiving options in their offenses, with Welker recording 122 catches (tops in the NFL) and Cruz catching 82 balls (ninth).
The similarities run deeper than just the statistics, it would seem. Cruz, who went to UMass-Amherst, said at a press conference on Thursday that as he was preparing for life as an NFL slot receiver, he used the man who will be on the opposite sideline in Super Bowl XLVI, watching film of Welker in an effort to identify elements of the Patriots wide receiver’s game that he can pick up for his own.
“Yeah, there’s a little bit of stuff that he does very well. Obviously he catches the ball very well. He’s really quick in and out of his routes and that’s something that I try to imitate while I’m out there and try to be as quick as possible,” Cruz told reporters on Thursday. “Moving laterally is something that I do well and he’s been exceptional at that for years. So I watched a little bit of film on him and I know how good he is and I try to steal a few things from his repertoire.”
|01.27.12 at 8:19 pm ET|
Is it possible for the Patriots to play mental games and get under the skin of one of the most important defensive linemen in Super Bowl XLVI?
“There is a little bit of that but for the most part, it’s a physical game,” Waters said. “The mental part is making sure you know who you’re blocking from play to play. For them, they have their own assignments that they have to be accountable to. That’s probably the strongest mental part. All the other itty-bitty games that are played during the course of a game, there’s definitely going to be some of that gamesmanship at some point.”
Umenyiora and Light have quite the history. They got into a fight in the 2007 regular season finale. They got into it in Super Bowl XLII. And yes, they got into it again when the Giants visited Foxboro in November. What will happen in two weeks in Indianapolis?
“I don’t know what it is but it’s something he does that really gets under my skin,’ Umenyiora said.
“Honestly, if we know who to block and the physical part is finishing and putting out and not getting outworked then I feel like we have a good chance,” Waters said. “What he’s talking about, I don’t know, you’d have to ask Matt. I’m sure they’d be able to explain a little bit better than me.”
“Totally different,” Waters said. “I think that there’s a little bit of Tony in both of those guys. I think both of those guys are definitely, not to knock Tony because I have a great amount of respect for Tony but both of those guys are tremendous athletes to go along with their skill. Tony, to me, is by far the best tight end to ever play. These two guys give you something that a lot of teams haven’t ever had to my knowledge. I don’t know the history of football, you probably could ask [Bill Belichick] or some of the older coaches about it, but to be honest with you, I haven’t seen a duo like this since I’ve been in the league by far.”
Gonzalez is regarded as the best pass-catching tight end while Gronk and Hernandez are known as exceptional runners with the ball in their hands.
“Gronk’s ability to block, amongst Aaron’s versatility, their intelligence for their game ‘ they clearly have a great understanding for [Tom Brady], a feel for the game and how he’s looking at the game and connecting with both of them,” Waters said. “The way they finish each play and their ability to make plays outside, inside, red zone, middle of the field, the ability to catch the ball in front of them, over their shoulder ‘ they have an unbelievable amount of skill that they use and they’re just getting better. They’re at the beginning of how good they’re going to be.”
|01.27.12 at 5:42 pm ET|
The core of the Patriots has largely changed since they last won a championship in the 2004-05 season. Only five players from that team remain on the active roster set to take on the Giants in the Super Bowl a week from Sunday: Tom Brady, Matt Light, Vince Wilfork, Kevin Faulk, and Deion Branch.
Faulk and Branch, in particular, have had an interesting journey back to being on the cusp of another championship. Faulk, the longest tenured Patriot, suffered a season-ending leg injury in Week 2 of the 2010-11 season. Many believed the injury could be career ending for the 35 year-old running back, but he rehabbed his way back and after spending six weeks on the Physically Unable to Perform list, made his regular season debut Week 7 against the Steelers.
Meanwhile, Branch spent four lackluster seasons in Seattle after signing there as a free agent before New England brought him back via a trade last season.
Since New England advanced to the Super Bowl last Sunday, Branch and Faulk have talked to former teammates who reached out to the veterans expressing congratulations. “Once you’ve been a part of something like this and you win, that friendship lasts a long time,” said Branch. “It’s pretty much forever. Those are special guys to me.”
Despite that bond neither Branch or Faulk would share favorite memories of past Super Bowl triumphs. “Lets wait until next week and I’ll answer that question,” said Faulk.
And that was the enduring attitude of each player — gratitude and appreciation, but hunger for more glory. The journeys are irrelevant to the two stalwarts. They are focused on the present, and helping the franchise capture a fourth Super Bowl trophy.
“This is what you train for,” said Faulk. “When you’re training the goal in your mind is to make it to the Super Bowl. Every year, the goal is the Super Bowl. If that isn’t on your mind then you probably should change your profession.”
Each have had their hand in contributing to prior championships. Faulk converted a critical 2-point conversion against the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII. In two Super Bowl appearances, Branch has amassed 21 catches for 276 yards and one touchdown. He became a household name after his MVP performance in Super Bowl XXXIX against the Eagles.
Although both veterans have seen their production wane this season compared to previous years, their experience in dealing with the hype surrounding the Super Bowl is something they can pass along to the younger players.
“Just don’t try to go out and do anything spectacular,” Branch said about the advice he has given to younger players. “Do what you’ve been doing all year.”
On the other hand, Faulk stressed accountability and procuring a mentally tough mindset in terms of dealing with possible distractions. “Distractions is what you put on yourself,” said Faulk. “How you handle and respond to them is all on you.”
With so much emphasis on business and winning, Branch did say he also stressed to players to realize the rarity of the situation. “Embrace the moment,” he said he told younger players. “You may not get this opportunity again, that goes for all of us.”
|01.27.12 at 5:14 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Tom Brady has been called a lot of things in his career.
‘The way to kill a snake is to take off its head,” said Tuck, who is a cousin of another pass rushing specialist – Adalius Thomas. “The way to kill an offense as potent as that ‘¦ is to take care of Brady.”
Tuck, who added he has a ton of respect for Tom Terrific, was a force in Super Bowl XLII and again on Nov. 4 when the Giants beat the Patriots, 24-20.
Deion Branch got a really good laugh out of the analogy that Tuck provided.
“I have no reaction to that,” Branch laughed. “Hey, if that’s the analogy that they’re taking, then that’s what it is. I think our job is to protect our guy, protect the snake, make sure he doesn’t get his head cut off. That’s Justin, he’s a great player. Trust me, we truly respect that guy, respect what he’s done for the league, what he’s doing for his team but no, we can’t worry about that part. We have to worry about what we’re doing and the snake will do his part.
“That’s just part of the game plan. We’re going to try and take advantage of every opportunity they give us. If we have to sit in and max-protect, that’s what we’re going to do. If our front line can handle the guys without max-protecting, then I’m pretty sure we’ll do that as well. It’s just all about taking advantage and making adjustments on the sidelines.”
Is Tuck right with the snake analogy?
“I don’t know,” Branch giggled. “I know a snake is dead if you cut it’s head off, a real snake, though. But Tom’s not a snake, Tom’s not a snake.”
But Branch confirmed that the Patriots offense will do everything possible to keep Brady’s head and that of the offense in place.
“We can switch positions with the linemen,” Branch said. “Overall, there’s a lot of things we can do. We’ll make those adjustments on the sidelines if we have to go to a quick game, if we’re getting pressure, if we have to max-protect and then give Tom enough time to push the ball down the field. You can do a lot of things, screens, draws, a lot of things to slow the rush down, chip the guys. I think we did a good job and I know the guys will do a good job next week.”
|01.27.12 at 3:23 pm ET|
Making his weekly appearance on the Mut & Merloni Show, SI.com’s Peter King talked about all things Super Bowl, including where Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin ranks among the greats, along with how people should be paying attention to the Patriots’ defensive line.
(On Giants getting to Super Bowl) I think everyone thought the Patriots could and probably would be there, but I don’t think anybody saw a month ago, who knows? Without Victor Cruz‘ 99-yard play against the Jets, who knows if they’d even win that game. That’s why football is so fun. You get hot at the right time and all of a sudden you look unbeatable, and both of these teams you can say that right now. Both of them got hot at the right time.
(Regarding Tom Coughlin) I kind of wrote about how great Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin have been for each other. They came in at the same time in 2004. They’ve both been embattled at different times. If Tom Coughlin had saved his job as many times as the media thought he did, he’d have more saves than Mariano Rivera.
If you look at the all-time list of coaches and you look at where Tom Coughlin is right now, he’s smack dab on the all-time wins list right now with Marv Levy. If Coughlin wins another one here, you’re going to look at him and say, ‘Geez ‘ he has two Super Bowls and as many wins as Levy. How could he not be in the Hall of Fame?’
But I can tell you this from talking to Tom a few times over the last few weeks. He’s not leaving, wehtehr they win this game by 50 or lose this game by 50. He wants to coach a while longer. If you just imagine him staying in the league another three years and maybe winning 8-10 games a year, he’ll be knocking on the door of the top 10 all-time winningest coaches. At that point, you’re going to have to say this guy really looks solid for the Hall of Fame.
(On Eli Manning) It’s almost the same for Eli Manning. If Eli Manning has a second Super Bowl win, plays another three or four years at somewhat near the level that he’s playing now, a lot of the numbers in football are monopoly-money type numbers. Eli Manning has played so well that you have to look at him and say he has a heck of a shot at Canton as well.
|01.27.12 at 11:16 am ET|
Jeff Bradley of the Star-Ledger (N.J.) has a spectacular story today on Tom Brady‘s amateur baseball career. Brady went to Junipero Serra High School in California, a legendary program that produced Barry Bonds and a number of first-round picks, including Gregg Jefferies and pitcher Dan Serafini.
Brady was a left-handed-hitting catcher with impressive power and terrific arm strength. While he was inclined to go to college, the Expos took him in the 18th round of the 1997 draft and tried to steer him towards baseball.
A few highlights from Bradley’s tremendous article:
‘I remember after he won his first Super Bowl,’ says John Hughes, a baseball scout who tried to get Brady to sign with the Montreal Expos out of high school. ‘I was with some buddies and I said, ‘Man, I could’ve ruined this guy’s career if I’d only tried harder.’’’
Truth is, Hughes tried pretty hard to sign Brady. And with good reason.
‘I thought Tommy was a sure thing as a baseball player,’ said [Brady’s high school coach, Pete Jensen], who retired from coaching in 2009, after 24 years, but still teaches architectural design at Serra High. ‘Even more a sure thing than [Jeffries] or [Bonds], believe it or not. As good a football player as he was, I thought he was a better baseball player in high school.’
Evidently, the recruiting pitch made by Expos scout Hughes backfired spectacularly. Again, from the article:
In what was Hughes’ last, best pitch to sign Brady, he met him at Candlestick Park when the Montreal Expos were playing the San Francisco Giants, put him in an Expos uniform, and introduced him to Rondell White and F.P. Santangelo, who led him onto the field to take batting practice. Hughes was hoping this would be the type of experience to change his mind.
But when he went into the clubhouse a little while later, what Hughes saw pretty much convinced him there was no shot. ‘Tom was sitting on a stool in the clubhouse,’ Hughes recalled with a laugh. ‘And he was surrounded by guys from the team. And Tom was holding court. They all wanted to talk to him about playing quarterback in the Big House for Michigan. Guys were like, ‘You can’t pass that up for baseball.’’’
There’s plenty more to digest from Bradley’s story, which can be read here.