It is ridiculous to think that the New England Patriots are headed to another Super Bowl. Tom Brady has been an NFL starter for sixteen seasons and will be under center for his eighth Super Bowl. At this point only the mentally challenged debate the GOAT argument.
But Brady will be the first one to tell you he didn’t get here alone. In the ultimate team sport, he is the ultimate team guy. In that light, we should take some time to recognize the guys not getting the attention they deserve for what they’ve done this post-season.
It was a hard adjustment for Gilmore in New England. No question at all, he struggled in the first half of the season. Unlike his Bills teammate Mike Gillislee, Gilmore made the necessary adjustments, learned the system, and blossomed into everything for which we could have hoped.
If the Patriots go on to win their sixth Lombardi, Gilmore’s pass defense on fourth and fourteen will go down as one of the greatest defensive plays in Patriots history. It was game saving. Westbrook would have walked into the end zone if Gilmore missed.
But Gilmore has contributed much more than that single play. He was literally perfect in the divisional round game against Tennessee. He didn’t allow a single catch in four targets.
Whatever happened to Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars ground game that led the league in rushing? Malcolm Brown happened. The third year tackle out of Texas has become the run-stuffer we’ve needed since Big Vince left for Houston.
Brown has led a front four that has shut down Fournette, Derrick Henry, and contained two run-threat QBs in these playoffs. He’s done it without the help of Alan Branch or Dont’a Hightower. For New England to beat Philadelphia, we will need another huge game from the big man in the trenches.
After missing three weeks with an injury down the stretch, Kyle Van Noy returned to form against the Jags (nine tackles, one sack, one forced fumble). But his impressive stat line shouldn’t take away from the contributions of Harrison. Too old and slow to get on the field in Pittsburgh (good call Tomlin), Harrison has been a key contributor since arriving in New England. His Week 17 introduction (five tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble) against the Jets gave us a glimpse of what he might have left in the tank. The way he set the edge against Tennessee kept Mariota in the pocket and forced the run right into the big guys in the middle.
Harrison was equally effective Sunday against Jags – containing the edge, swarming to the ball, and applying pressure on Bortles. It was Harrison who busted around the left edge to get to Bortles first as Van Noy hit him from the center for the key nine yard sack on second down taking us to the two-minute warning. Two plays later Gilmore sealed the game.
Great Defensive Schemes Wins Championships
There is a symbiotic relationship between offense and defense in football. Rarely can you win with only one championship caliber squad. Even in the years that the Pats won with marginal defenses, they were always great situationally, stellar in the red zone, and usually among the league leaders in turn-overs.
This year’s defense is not the ’85 Bears. But, they don’t have to be. All they have to do is continue to make key stops and keep the game close. The defensive adjustments the Pats made at halftime Sunday were every bit as important as Tom Brady to the win. Taking away the run and preventing Jacksonville from running out the clock. Applying pressure on Bortles late in the game. Great play after great play by an unheralded but truly elite secondary. These are the reasons New England even had a chance to win at the end.
These are also the reasons why Matt Patricia should be the runaway choice for the Associated Press’ NFL Assistant Coach of the Year. When Matty P moves on to coach the Lions, the next Patriots defensive coordinator will have big shoes to fill.