A week ago today, Julian Edelman and Malcolm Butler were on their way to Disney World. Now, the sixth-year wideout and undrafted rookie cornerback are on their way back from the Grammys and into the offseason with the rest of the New England Patriots.
But while the NFL calendar is in its lull, soon it will not be.
Here are a few thoughts on the past week and the road ahead.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady didn’t waste any time against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.
According to Pro Football Focus, Brady was 30-of-38 passing when expending less than 2.5 seconds from snap to throw. His average pass attempt took all of 2.22 seconds. And although he only went 2-of-5 passing over 20 yards down the field, it was more so about getting the ball out fast than it was about getting into the eye of Seattle’s storm.
As Brady played away from Seattle’s dynamic pass rush and rangy centerfield, he set a Super Bowl record with 37 completions. He attacked the underneath and outskirts of Seattle’s zone coverage with slants and flats. He climbed the pocket when he wanted to. And he found his receivers when he needed to.
The three-time Super Bowl MVP went 13-for-15 for 124 yards and two touchdowns on two fourth-quarter touchdown drives. He went of 8-for-8 for 65 yards on New England’s final one.
Three Plays Stand with Edelman
What Edelman was able to do will often be underscored by the game’s final moments versus Seattle. Yet if it wasn’t for Edelman’s contributions against Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Tharold Simon and Jeremy Lane, those final moments may not have come to fruition.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound ‘Z’ receiver was targeted by Brady five times on third down, with the first netting an interception by Lane and a touchdown-saving tackle out of bounds. But when Lane left the game with a broken forearm, Edelman remained in it against the likes of Sherman, Maxwell and Simon, finishing with nine receptions for 109 yards, four first downs and a touchdown.
Two of his receptions still resonate. Down by a score of 24-14 with 10:58 to play, Edelman held on for 3rd-and-14 collision through Seattle’s Cover-3 defense and strong safety Kam Chancellor. He stayed on his feet from there, and the Patriots got within three points just six snaps later. And on another reception, with 2:06 to go, Edelman beat Simon on a pivot play New England went back to after Brady missed it one drive earlier.
Seattle’s secondary believed they’d see it again. The Patriots believed they’d sell it again. And the second outcome of the hard in-cut sent the Patriots into a 28-24 lead.
Butler Had Seen It Before
With 26 seconds left to play and the Seahawks just one yard from the end zone, Patriots safeties coach Brian Flores put three fingers in the air, and yelled, “Three corners, three corners. Malcolm, go.”
That was the West Alabama product’s cue to exit the sideline. But it was up to him identify the upcoming play from there. And after dropping back on the rub route to allow a reception earlier in the week, he planted his foot into the turf and forced game-saving interception with 20 seconds remaining.
“I was at practice, and the scout team ran the same exact play,” Butler told The Dan Patrick Show. “And I got beat on it at practice because I gave ground.”
Butler trusted what he saw, and he had a move on the ball before it had left quarterback Russell Wilson’s hand. The instincts were one part of it, and holding on through the impact from receiver Ricardo Lockette was another. If Butler simply broke up the pass, the Seahawks still would have had two downs to get one yard. So, in all, not a bad moment for a Division II free-agent tryout who ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash at Alabama’s pro day.
Five Yards or Half the Distance
After Butler’s interception, much still faced the Patriots. The ball stood at the one-yard line, and the Seahawks stood with nine in the box and one timeout remaining. A kneel down wouldn’t have cut it for Brady, whose feet were firmly in the end zone behind center Bryan Stork.
“You’ve got to get it out of here,” NBC Sports analyst Cris Collinsworth said emphatically during the broadcast.
The Patriots did get it out of there. Only they didn’t need to snap the football to do so. Stork ducked his head once. Brady patted his hand. Stork ducked his head again. Then they waited. Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett rolled into the neutral zone and left guard Dan Connolly made contact. And with that encroachment penalty, New England had been afforded room to work in a game where there was very little.
If the Seahawks didn’t bite, the risk of a false start by Stork wouldn’t have been more than half the distance to the goal. Yet running that risk proved to be worth the reward for the Patriots. One final timeout, a skirmish, and two kneel-downs later, it was over.
Monitoring the Young 53
With an average age of 25.2 years, the Patriots are the youngest team to win a Super Bowl in NFL history. The Seahawks previously held that title last February, with an average age of 26.5, but let’s dig a little deeper into how the Patriots’ XLIX roster measures up.
Brady is the eldest statesmen at 37 years old, followed up by defensive tackle Vince Wilfork at 33, left guard Dan Connolly at 32, then defensive end Rob Ninkovich and kicker Stephen Gostkowski at 31. After those five, there are three Patriots currently at the 30 mark, including right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, defensive tackle Alan Branch, as well as cornerback Brandon Browner.
Beyond them, it’s telling. There are 45 players under age 30 who finished the season on the 53-man roster. And seven Patriots players age 25 or under started the Super Bowl, excluding punter Ryan Allen.
So while New England’s pillars may not be as young as the numbers indicate, the numbers go a long way towards indicating that their run may not be finished. Retaining a free agent like 27-year-old safety Devin McCourty will be key in setting the foundation for that.
Franchise and Transition
On Feb. 16, it will be open season on franchise and transition tags. And two Patriots players to keep in mind for those designations are McCourty and kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
McCourty signed a five-year, $10 million contract in 2010, when he was a first-round cornerback and Pro Bowler. He’s since become one of the top free safeties in the league, and a one-year deal could bring him as approximately much guaranteed money as his entire rookie deal did five years ago.
As for Gostkowski, who was named a Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro in January of 2014, his five-year, $15.7 million contract is about to expire. Franchising the 31-year-old kicker, fresh off a 35-of-37 season, would cost in the neighborhood of $4 million.
NFL teams have until March 2 to franchise and transition in-house unrestricted free agents.
A Week from the NFL Scouting Combine
A day after franchise and transition tags open, the NFL Scouting Combine is set to get underway Feb. 17 in Indianapolis. It remains to be seen just whom the Patriots will be eyeing there, but the personnel and scouting departments are expected to have at least seven selections to map those interests with.
- Round 1 – No. 32 Overall
- Round 2 – No. 64 Overall
- Round 3 – No. 96 Overall
- Round 4 – Acquired via Tampa Bay for Logan Mankins
- Round 4 – Assigned
- Round 6 – Acquired via Tampa Bay for Jonathan Casillas
- Round 7 – Acquired via Tennessee for Akeem Ayers
Two compensatory picks could fall in the middle and late rounds for New England, after cornerback Aqib Talib and linebacker Dane Fletcher departed through free agency last year.
And the organization’s interests could fall under a few spots as well. Interior offensive line, defensive end, running back, wide receiver and defensive tackle all have their merit, given the state of the Patriots’ upcoming free agents and incumbent depth. How those areas are addressed, and the order of how they are addressed, is something we won’t know until April 30 through May 2.
It’s all a ways away. But here’s a parting note to keep in mind: Five undrafted players started the Super Bowl for the Patriots. The only offensive starter who was a first-round pick for New England was left tackle Nate Solder, while the starting defense included five former first-rounders.