|Analysis: Closer look at what loss of Pepper Johnson means for Patriots||01.21.14 at 12:32 pm ET|
No coach on the Patriots roster had a longer relationship with Bill Belichick than Pepper Johnson.
The linebacker was a mainstay of Belichick’s Giants defenses of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and made his bones as a two-time Super Bowl champ working with a unit that included Lawrence Taylor. When Belichick took over as head coach in Cleveland, Johnson followed him as a player to the Browns. And when Belichick became coach in New England in 2000, he brought Johnson on board as an assistant. While Belichick has deep and abiding relationships with most of his assistants, it’s hard to imagine that he’s worked with any longer than Johnson.
“I can’t say enough about Pepper,” Belichick said of Johnson in 2008. “He’s been a great player for me, a great coach for me and a great friend through the years. I have great respect for everything that he’s done in the National Football League and in football.”
And so the news that Johnson will be leaving the Patriots organization is jarring on a couple of levels. First, from a continuity perspective, Johnson has been with the organization in various capacities since 2000. He was the team’s assistant linebackers coach in 2000, led the inside linebackers from 2001-03, was the defensive line coach from 2004-11, and was linebackers coach the last two seasons. Few people know the makeup of the New England defensive scheme and what Belichick wants more than Johnson.
And second, Johnson was the only full-time coach on staff who had experience as an NFL player. That sort of background can go a long way in the locker room. He clearly had an impact on several key players over the last few seasons. He served as something of a part-time coach/advisor for Brandon Spikes, and was extremely tight with Vince Wilfork. Wilfork issued a statement via Twitter on Tuesday, saying, “Pepper Johnson will always be part of my family,” and adding that, “He has always been a constant and a hell of a coach.” (Prior to Matt Patricia being named New England defensive coordinator, Wilfork was an advocate for Johnson to be named DC.)
When it comes to who might replace him, there are a few names out there who could be intriguing to Belichick and the Patriots, including former Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano. Schiano was recently let go by the Bucs but has a history with Belichick, as the two fostered a relationship when Schiano was the head coach at Rutgers.
As for Johnson’s future, he has certainly built an impressive resume with the Patriots. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him show up as a defensive coordinator at the college or professional level sooner rather than later.
Former Patriots wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth joined Dennis & Callahan on Tuesday to discuss the controversies coming out of Sunday’s AFC and NFC championship games. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
“What Talib was trying to do, and I guarantee if you ask him this, this is what he’ll tell you, he’s been coached to — every coach in the NFL has coached their defensive players to do this — he was coached to not let separation between his defender and Wes Welker. So his job is to come underneath Wes. Wes’ job is to make him go over the top, and that is why they collided with each other.
“It’s not a sense of Wes running into him and trying to take him out.”
“Bill, he knows what the offensive job is to do and he knows what the defensive job is to do,” Stallworth said. “He’s coached both sides. He understands that Wes’ job is to make a team go over the top and Aqib’s job is to not allow that to happen.
“So I can’t get into the mind of Bill and say why he said that, but the reason why I tweeted that is because I know that Bill understands the position that Wes was in and the position that Aqib was in and it was one of those unfortunate plays that Aqib did not come back in the game. I guess it was a turning point in the game, but at no point would I say that it was deliberate, and I just thought Bill was wrong for that.”
|Knee injury will force Aqib Talib to skip Pro Bowl||01.20.14 at 9:43 pm ET|
Talib suffered a knee injury in the first half of Sunday’s loss to the Broncos, and as a result, won’t get to make the trip to Hawaii. It was the first Pro Bowl invite for the 27-year-old, who finished the season with four picks.
The play on which the injury occurred has become a flashpoint, as New England coach Bill Belichick argued that Denver wide receiver Wes Welker made one of the “worst plays” he had ever seen when he deliberately crashed into Talib.
“It was a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib. No attempt to get open,” Belichick said. “I’ll let the league handle the discipline on that play, whatever they decide. It’s one of the worst plays I’ve seen. That’s all I’ll say about that.”
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Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich made his weekly appearance with Mut & Merloni on Monday, following Sunday’s loss to the Broncos in the AFC championship game. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
“They’re a great offense,” Ninkovich said of the Broncos. “You’ve got to give them credit for the things that they’re able to do. They’ve got a lot of weapons that they’re able to spread around the field, run their pick routes, run the things they do best, get the ball out of their hands fast. They just played better and they deserve to move on. You’ve got to give them credit. You can’t take away anything from the fact that they were a better team on that day.”
Added Ninkovich: “We just didn’t do the things that we needed to do to win the game. I’m not one to make any excuses. Their team played better on that particular day.”
The Patriots weren’t able to mount any pressure on Peyton Manning, but Ninkovich said it has more to do with the quarterback’s quick release than anything else.
“When the ball comes out in a second, you could be unblocked and you’re still not going to get to him,” Ninkovich said. “There’s probably, I could count on my hand the number of times he threw the ball farther than 15 yards. Everything was to the flat, crossing routes, pick routes over the middle. So again, you’re not going to get pressure on him if he’s throwing the ball that quickly.”
“I really don’t want to get into whatever happened on that play. I think Bill already spoke about it and said how he saw it,” Ninkovich said. “Obviously, you don’t want to see a guy get hurt, especially a key defender.
“It’s a big football field out there. It’s a big enough field where you can avoid somebody. It was a pick play. Obviously it was man coverage and they ran a cross very tightly, and Welker happened to just hit Aqib in the knee, which wasn’t good for him finishing the game, and obviously he got hurt. Anytime that happens it’s never a good thing.”
Ninkovich was hesitant to go as far as Belichick, who called it “one of the worst plays I’ve seen.”
Said Ninkovich: “Bill talked about it, and I don’t really want to weigh [in] on that. It just wasn’t a good play.”
|Matthew Slater on M&M: Patriots receivers taught to run pick play, but ‘we’re always going to play within the rules of the game’||at 1:07 pm ET|
Patriots receiver and special teams Pro Bowler Matthew Slater checked in with Mut & Merloni on Monday to offer his take on Sunday’s loss to the Broncos in the AFC championship game and the controversy surrounding Wes Welker‘s off-the-ball hit on Aqib Talib. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
Said Slater: “Obviously Aqib is so important to this football team, what he brings to the table. So for us to lose him in that type of situation was tough. Obviously coach saw something on the film that he didn’t deem fair, and I’m sure he had just reason to feel that way. I haven’t seen the play. If he felt that way, I’m sure that that’s what it was. But there’s nothing that we can do about it now.
“I hope Aqib is OK and on the mend and we can get him healthy and have a healthy offseason. That happens in football and there’s nothing that we can do about it now.”
With the Patriots losing so many key starters this season, Slater said Talib’s injury was just another challenge to overcome.
“We’ve been put in that position so many times this year that we didn’t give it a lot of thought,” he said of the team’s initial reaction. “We just thought we’ve got to continue to play on. But obviously, just like those other guys, looking back in hindsight, when you lose a guy like that it’s going to have an impact, especially in a game like that. But during the time, we didn’t think about it.”
The hit happened while Welker appeared to be running a pick play to free up a teammate, and he collided with Talib as the ball was arriving in Demaryius Thomas‘ hands (Thomas dropped the pass).
“With a lot of man coverage being played in the league, there’s certain things that you have to do to be creative to get your guys open. But you’ve got to do it within the rules and regulations,” Slater said. “When we’re taught to run those routes, we’re taught to still run to get open, not just go in there and set a basketball pick. You’ve got an attempt to get open and make it look like you’re getting open, because the rules state that you have to do that. So, we’re taught to do that, obviously, but within the rules of the game. We’re always going to play within the rules of the game.”
|Tom Brady on D&C: ‘It’s a very abrupt end’ to season||at 11:15 am ET|
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made his final appearance of the season on WEEI’s Patriots Monday with Dennis & Callahan and discussed the team’s disappointing performance in Sunday’s AFC championship game. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
“They played a lot better than we did yesterday,” Belichick said. “We certainly didn’t make enough plays to win. There’s a lot of plays that impact the outcome of the game. We didn’t make enough good plays to impact the outcome in a positive way for us. It’s unfortunate for our season to come to an end like this. But I would say Denver earned it. They played a lot better than we did yesterday.”
Added Brady: “It’s a very abrupt end,” Brady said. “And it’s that for 30 teams, really. It comes to really an abrupt end for all the guys that don’t make it to the playoffs. Then you have the wild card round and the divisional round and then the championship, and there’s only two teams left. Those two teams really earned it. They’ve played good over the course of the whole season.
“One or two breaks that we get, maybe we’re playing that championship game at home, and maybe that has a difference. That’s why Denver really kept the pedal to the metal all season. They scored a lot of points. They overcame some adversity, too. When you look at a team like that, they certainly earned it. I tip my cap to them, because I understand the challenge it is to do that. They have a lot of mentally tough guys. That’s why they’re going to represent the AFC.”
Brady acknowledged that the game might have had a different feel had it been played in Foxboro rather than Denver.
“Yeah, of course it would have been different,” Brady said. “There’s a lot of things that play into these types of games. You’re right, you look at those games, you look back at the Cincy game and the Jet game, those games that we lost, and all of them mean something. It means something in September, they mean something in December. The good teams play well over the course of four months. And we played good, we played good enough to get the second seed. We didn’t play good enough to get the first seed. Then we would have needed to play a lot better than we played yesterday.
“It was more of how we played and not where we played yesterday. It’s a tough environment to play in when you go on the road. But look, we’ve won games on the road in tough environments. We got to a game yesterday where we needed to play really well, and we just didn’t play well enough. And Denver played a really good game. They were pretty flawless. They didn’t have any penalties, they didn’t turn the ball over. They played pretty good on third down on both sides of the ball. We just couldn’t force them into making many bad plays on either side of the ball.
“Special teams were really a nonfactor for both teams with the balls that were kicked into the end zone; there wasn’t much in the punt game. So it came down to offense and defense, and they got the best of us in both of those phases, and that’s why they advanced.”
|Bill Belichick moving on to next season: ‘We’re in 2014 now’||at 10:55 am ET|
FOXBORO — Like a being on a treadmill, the Patriots season was going and going but then came to a sudden stop Sunday afternoon in Denver with their 26-16 loss to the Broncos in the AFC championship game.
Coach Bill Belichick now shifts his focus to the 2014 season. Belichick spoke of what that entails at his season-ending press conference Monday at Gillette Stadium, noting decisions regarding the makeup of next year’s team will come in the next two months.
“I would say in the neighborhood of 6-8 weeks. Free agency starts a little less than two months from now so we definitely need to be ready by then,” Belichick said. “There will be some other transactions along the way before then relative to tenders and those types of things. There are a few situations that will precede that, but I would say somewhere in the 4-8 weeks category, some sooner than others. Trying to compile all the information on players and situations as well as things like responsibilities on our staff, looking at scheme and maybe a player could fit a little bit better into a scheme, or maybe not as well into a different scheme if we are planning on making some changes along those lines. That’s all part of it, too.
“Some decisions need to be made sooner than others, other decisions honestly may wait. We’ve re-signed players in April, May, June and we’ve also released players in that range. I don’t think there is a specific timetable, but I would say somewhere in that 6-8 week range is probably when most of the decisions need to be made or at least, even if they are delayed, you’ve made that decision to delay.”
Of those decisions to be made, some of them surround the team’s free agents: Aqib Talib, Julian Edelman, Brandon Spikes and LeGarrette Blount. Belichick said he will speak to each of them as well as other players on the roster in the coming days and weeks.
“We have a number of players whose contracts are going to expire that I am going to talk to one way or another,” Belichick said. “I’m not saying there’s any decision to made, but there is certainly a conversation to be had. A lot of guys on the team that I have and will talk to personally about their situation and appreciation for what they’ve done, whatever it happens to be.”
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