PHOENIX — Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski headlined the awards handed out at the fourth annual NFL Honors awards show the night before Super Bowl XLIX by winning the AP’s Comeback Player of the Year.
PHOENIX — Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski headlined the awards handed out at the fourth annual NFL Honors awards show the night before Super Bowl XLIX by winning the AP’s Comeback Player of the Year.
Coming off a torn ACL last December, Gronkowski was ready for Week 1 and finished the year with 82 catches for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those were the second-best numbers of his career, as he only put up higher numbers in 2011, the last time he played more than 11 games in a season.
Here is a complete list of the awards handed out Saturday night:
AP MVP: Aaron Rodgers, Packers
AP Coach of the Year: Todd Bowles, Cardinals
AP Comeback Player of the Year: Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
AP Offensive Player of the Year: DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
AP Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, Texans
AP Offensive Rookie of the Year: Odell Beckham Jr., Giants
AP Defensive Rookie of the Year: Aaron Donald, Rams
Art Rooney Award: Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year: Thomas Davis, Panthers
FedEx Air Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers, Packers
FedEx Ground Player of the Year: Le’Veon Bell, Steelers
Salute to Service Award, Jared Allen, Vikings
Bridgestone Performance Play of the Year: Odell Beckham Jr., Giants
NFL.com Fantasy Player of the Year: Le’Veon Bell, Steelers
“Greatness of the Road Award”: Tony Romo, Cowboys
Deacon Jones Award: Justin Houston, Chiefs Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year: Bruce Larson, Somerset High School
Bryan Stork (knee) was officially upgraded to probable from questionable on Saturday afternoon, just over 24 hours before kickoff against the Seahawks. Stork was limited in practice all week, and last week as well, after injuring his knee in the divisional round game and missing the AFC title game.
Six other players are still listed as probable, including Tom Brady (ankle) who participated in full in practice all week. Darrelle Revis (rest) was limited in practice Friday for the first time all season, and is probable for the game. Also probable include the players who were limited in practice all week — Akeem Ayers (Thur. and Fri. foot), Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), Chris Jones (elbow) and Sealver Siliga (foot).
The final injury report of the season came out on Friday for Super Bowl XLIX.
PHOENIX — The Patriots have played in some great Super Bowls over the years, with some memorable — and not-so-memorable — halftime shows. Here’s a quick look back at some of the mid-game entertainment in Super Bowl contests involving the Patriots:
Super Bowl XX involved Up With People. Yeah, it’s about what you think it is.
The halftime show at Super Bowl XXXI involved a mock Fox News report, Jim Belushi and a fleet of guys on Harley Davidson bikes. Somehow, this represented an upgrade from Super Bowl XX.
U2 delivered a legendary performance at halftime of Super Bowl XXXVI. Just crushed it. (For what it’s worth, this and Prince at halftime of Super Bowl XLI were the two best of all time.)
Janet Jackson had a — ahem — memorable show at Super Bowl XXXVIII:
Of all the halftime performances in Super Bowl games involving the Patriots, maybe the least eventful was Paul McCartney at Super Bowl XXXIX. But “Live and Let Die” is still pretty cool live:
Tom Petty performed at halftime of Super Bowl XLII. Not great, not lousy. Free Fallin’ was probably the highlight:
In terms of Super Bowl halftime shows for games involving the Patriots, the production value involving Madonna’s show at Super Bowl XLIV was probably at or near the top of the list. Plus, there was that guy on the wire:
PHOENIX — Despite his torn ACL which he had surgery on in December, Patriots running back Stevan Ridley made the trip out to Arizona in time for the team and position pictures on Saturday. He took posted a few photos to Instagram:
PHOENIX — Earlier this week Robert Kraft reached out to Tedy Bruschi and he will serve as the Patriots’ honorary captain in Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Seahawks.
“He was called the perfect Patriot by head coach Bill Belichick,” said Kraft in a statement. “With an undefeated record in the games that we have honored him, including the 45-7 win in the AFC Championship game two weeks ago, Tedy is the perfect player to serve as our honorary captain for Sunday’sSuper Bowl.”
In possibly a bit of a coincidence or not, Bruschi has been honored six times by the Patriots since 2009 and the Patriots have won all six of those games.
22. Including the playoffs, the Patriots scored 193 second quarter points (10.7 per game) and have outscored opponents 193-114.
23. Seahawks have allowed 6.8 points per game in the second half this year, the fewest in the NFL.
24. Patriots averaged 16.2 points per game in the first half of games this year, the second-most in the NFL.
25. The Patriots’ +10.9 scoring margin was best the league. Seattle’s +8.9 was second-best.
26. In the regular-season, Seattle allowed the fewest first downs in the league (277). The Patriots picked up the fourth-most (361).
27. In the regular-season, the Patriots were tied for the second-best turnover differential in the league at +12.
28. During the regular-season, 73.2 percent of Rob Gronkowski‘s catches went for first downs.
29. The Patriots fumbled four times this season, which was a franchise-low.
30. Of the last 20 opponents trips to the red zone against the Patriots, they’ve scored eight touchdowns.
31. In the two postseason games, the Patriots have just two runs for over 10 yards (LeGarrette Blount and Julian Edelman).
32. After going four straight games in the middle of the year without throwing an interception, Brady has thrown at least one in eight of his last 10 games.
33. Patriots have allowed 100 yards rushing in three of their last four games. Seattle has rushed for over 100 yards in all but one game this season.
34. Patriots are 4-4 this year when allowing 100 or more yards rushing.
35. New England has forced at least one turnover in their last six games. Seattle has not turned the ball over in five of their last nine games.
36. In the regular-season with a starting offensive line of Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer Brady’s been sacked four times, and with any other starting combination he’s been sacked 17.
37. With four points, Gostkowski can become the Patriots’ all-time leader in playoff scoring, as he is currently four points behind Adam Vinatieri (117).
38. Blount (7) has the most postseason touchdowns run in team history.
39. With 68 punt return yards, Edelman will become the Patriots’ all-time punt return leader in the postseason as Troy Brown currently has 315.
40. Brady will tie Jerry Rice for the most postseason games played for the second-most all-time with 29.
41. Brady has faced the Seahawks twice in his career He’s 1-1, with three touchdowns and three interceptions in those games.
42. If the Patriots are able to beat the Seahawks and win the Super Bowl, they’d be the first team in NFL history win the Super Bowl and not record a postseason sack.
43. With a win, Brady would be the fifth quarterback in NFL history 35 or older to win a Super Bowl.
44. New England was the ninth-best team in the league when it came to converting red-zone scoring opportunities, connecting on touchdowns at a rate of 91 percent.
45. According to Football Outsiders, Seattle held opposing quarterbacks to a 78.8 quarterback rating and allowed only 0.92 yards at the second level in the running game, which was fourth overall.
46. According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Seahawks are 24 games over .500 when Lynch gets 20 carries, and 24 games over .500 when Lynch breaks a 20 yard run.
47. According to ESPN Stats and Info, New England is 10-0 when they limit the opposition rush attack to less than 40 yards up the middle.
48. Seattle is going for back-to-back championships. There hasn’t been a repeat champion in 10 years, which is the longest drought in the Super Bowl era.
49. According to Elias, the Patriots are the first team to reach the Super Bowl without having a player with 100 rush attempts that season.
The Seahawks were third in the league in run defense over the course of the regular season. The Patriots faced the four other teams in the top 5 in the regular season and the playoffs, and here’s what they did when it came to running the football:
vs. Detroit: 20 carries, 90 yards vs. Denver: 25 carries, 66 yards vs. Jets (two-game average): 20 carries, 74 yards vs. Baltimore (divisional playoff): 13 carries, 14 yards
While much of the play calling will depend on situation, if history is any indication, expect the Patriots to run the ball roughly 20 times. If they hit an average of four yards per carry, that will likely be enough to keep the Seattle defense on its toes throughout the contest, and should also be enough to keep the Seahawks mindful of play-action. One important thing to remember, at least as it relates to the running game — Seattle has undergone serious changes up front over the course of the year because of injury and personnel, and as a result, this isn’t as good a defensive front as the one it opened the year with. Without Brandon Mebane in the lineup, and if the interior of the New England offensive line is truly healthy, it could open up some holes in the interior of the Seattle line and create some opportunities for LeGarrette Blount and the rest of the Patriots ground game. Just don’t expect New England to do as much running as it did in the AFC title game against the Colts.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL
This might be the most important matchup of the evening, with the veteran Tom Brady going against arguably the best secondary in the league. The Seahawks do an excellent job when it comes to team defense — they don’t get a lot of pressure on the quarterback, but they do get coverage sacks because of the work of their defensive backs and the cover time involved. The key real will be where Brady decides to go with the football.
Rob Gronkowski will be the No. 1 target for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that when it comes to elite tight ends, the Seahawks have shown themselves to be a little vulnerable underneath with some soft spots in their Cover 3. Look for that to be one of the target areas for Brady and Gronkowski, who will likely face combo coverage, which will include safety Kam Chancellor, as well as linebackers Bobby Wagner or K.J. Wright.
Brady will also look for Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman underneath, but only if they can gain separation off the line. In the past, New England has tried to get its smaller receivers like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola free with pick plays and rub routes underneath, which will theoretically allow them to get some separation from the bigger and more physical Seahawks defenders. New England has utilized plenty of motion in the past when it comes to finding a way to get Gronkowski free off the line, including having him line up in the backfield. And look for plenty of pre-snap movement into stack sets. Make it as hard as possible at the point of attack for the Seattle defensive backs to get their hands on players.
One other member of the Patriots who might be able to achieve some matchup advantages is running back Shane Vereen. One of the only five backs in the league this year who had at least 50 catches and 50 carries, Vereen’s speed and shiftiness can be a nightmare for opposing defenses. Look for the Patriots to try plenty of presnap movement in hopes of getting Vereen matched up against a slower linebacker, or just getting him in space against a bigger defender. Per Football Outsiders, the Seahawks are also 18th in the league in defending running backs in the passing game.
If you’re the Seahawks, you want to do what you’ve always done. Seattle is known for playing their sides on each corner, which means there’s the very real likelihood we see a Brandon LaFell-Sherman matchup. (Watch for Sherman’s level of physicality in the early going. It’s debatable how healthy that elbow is coming into Sunday’s game, and if he’s unable to get a jam on a receiver, it takes away a big part of his game.) Expect the Seahawks to be as physical as possible off the line with the opposing pass catchers.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS RUN THE BALL
The strength of the Seahawks offense is the running game, and it has three fundamental elements:
One, 5-foot-11, 215-pound Marshawn Lynch. He finished the regular season with 1,306 yards on 280 carries, with a career-best 13 touchdowns and a whopping 4.7 yards per carry. He’s smart and durable, and does a good job working within the confines of the Seattle zone blocking scheme — he zeroes in on a hole, makes a single cut and races downhill. If he gets to the second level, oftentimes, that produces sizable chunk yardage, as there are few defensive backs who are interested in stepping in front of the runaway train that is Lynch. It is absolutely imperative the Patriots’ front maintains gap discipline, fights off the zone scheme and corrals Lynch before he gets to the second level.
Two, the option. Lynch and quarterback Russell Wilson are very good at executing the option, and their ability to sell those fakes make them a tough out. The Patriots have not faced an option team this season, and that, combined with the zone-blocking scheme, make for a different look for New England to have to consider.
And three, there’s Wilson’s ability to run out of designed sets. He was the second-leading rusher on the team behind Lynch with 849 yards and an average of 7.2 yards per carry. (He led all quarterbacks in rushing yards, and actually was 16th in the league.) His play-fake skill and speed make it hard to just key on Lynch when it comes to the option. One tactic is to employ a spy — a defender whose responsibility it is to keep his eyes on Wilson and not let him break free if he decides to fake the handoff to Lynch. That might be defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who did it last year against Carolina’s Cam Newton.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS PASS THE BALL
A winnable matchup for New England, particularly if the Seahawks find themselves in a situation where they have to throw the ball to win. Seattle was 27th in the league this past season with 203.1 passing yards per game, and topped 250 passing yards just five times this year, including the postseason. The Seahawks are led by wide receivers Doug Baldwin (team-high 66 catches for 825 yards and 3 TDs) and Jermaine Kearse (38 catches, 537 yards, 1 TD). Meanwhile, tight end Luke Wilson (22 catches, 362 yards, 3 TDs) augments the work of the receivers, and Lynch (37 catches, 367 yards, 4 TDs) is a real threat out of the backfield, particularly on the wheel route down the sidelines.
Despite the fact that Wilson is a smart and steady quarterback — statistically, he had his best year as a pro with a 63 percent completion rate, 3,475 yards and 20 touchdowns — the strength of the Seahawks is on the ground. With the defensive priority on stopping Lynch, unless there’s a 3rd and long or other type of passing down that would dictate nickel or dime, expect the Patriots to go with three or four defensive backs for much of the game. That means Darrelle Revis, Kyle Arrington (and to a lesser extent, corner Brandon Browner, who will likely play a linebackerish role in the box to account for Lynch as well as tight ends) will be on their own, with Devin McCourty playing a lot of single-high safety. That group will be tasked with the job of slowing the Seattle passing game.
Ultimately, games like this represent the very reason you went out and got someone like Revis — the veteran and the rest of the DBs will be asked to operate in single coverage for the bulk of the game. The one question might come in where the Seattle receivers end up. If Baldwin is in the slot, as he’s been for much of the year, he could see some Arrington, who has distinguished himself as a very good slot corner, as well as Revis. We’ll know if it’s exclusively man coverage by the way the Patriots respond when Seattle breaks the huddle. If Revis follows Baldwin, it’ll be man, at least for that play. If he lingers on the outside, it’ll either be sides or zone. Something to watch for.
The Seahawks have some average special teamers: Bay State native Steven Hauschka was 18th in the league in field-goal percentage over the course of the regulator season, going 31-for-37 (83.8 percent) on the year, while punter Jon Ryan was 26th in the league in net average (38.3 yards per punt). Ryan dropped 28 of his 61 punts inside the 20-yard line, and had one punt blocked on the year.
The Seahawks have struggled to find consistency at the kick return spot this season: After Percy Harvin left, Paul Richardson became their No. 1 kick returner, and he finished the year with 16 returns for 23.5 yards per opportunity, with a long of 47 yards. However, after Richardson went down with a season-ending knee injury, Baldwin took over the job, and finished the regular-season with five returns for 81 yards. The Seahawks tried a few different guys as punt returners, but appear to have settled on wide receiver Bryan Walters, whose 7.7 average yards per return is 17th in the league.
The one area to watch for when it comes to Seattle is the potential for trick plays. They ran a pair to perfection in the NFC title game against the Packers, with a fake field goal and onsides kick working perfectly. In addition, Kam Chancellor kept over the line twice and tried to block field goal attempts in the divisional playoffs against the Panthers. They don’t do it often, but the Patriots need to be mindful of the potential for trickery.
On the other side, the Patriots have one of the best special teams units in the league, and that grouping will be called upon to help tilt the field in New England’s favor. In a perfect world for the Patriots, they’d get an impactful play early to help gain momentum (blocked punt, blocked field goal attempt, big return). But even if they don’t execute early, expect the Patriots special teamers to play a big role in the outcome of Super Bowl XLIX. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski finished second in the league in field-goal accuracy at 94.6 percent, and punt returner Julian Edelman’s 12.0 return average was second best in the NFL this season. Punter Ryan Allen is a former AFC Special Teams Player of the Week Award winner, while Danny Amendola has provided a boost and some consistency at the kick return spot.
THE PATRIOTS ARE IN TROUBLE IF… the Seahawks are able to get their running game rolling, control the tempo and gain a second-half lead. Lynch, Wilson and the rest of the Seattle running game does an excellent job controlling the pace of the game, particularly when the Seahawks hold a fourth-quarter lead. The Patriots need to keep the gain level or hold a lead down the stretch. It’s a dangerous gamble if you have to throw against Seattle, especially if you’re trying to make up ground late in the game.
THE SEAHAWKS ARE IN TROUBLE IF… the Patriots are able to get some momentum going with an uptempo, no-huddle approach in the early going. If it’s properly executed, it could have the Seahawks back on their heels. The Seattle defense hasn’t faced much no-huddle over the course of the season — 9 percent of the snaps, by our count — and might be vulnerable if Tom Brady and the offense decides to step on the gas. New England hasn’t run as much no-huddle this season as it has in the past (7 percent in 2014 regular season, 11 percent in 2013 and 25 percent in 2012), but it’s certainly capable of going fast as needed: Twenty percent of their offensive snaps against the Lions and 17 percent of their snaps against the Broncos came out of a no-huddle set.
BY THE NUMBERS (tie): 91 – Two field goals from the 1-yard line. Let me repeat that. TWO FIELD GOALS FROM THE 1-YARD LINE. That was one of the big reasons why the Packers aren’t in the Super Bowl instead of the Seahawks. You don’t get a lot of chances against Seattle, but when you do, you have to take advantage of each opportunity. On the season, New England was the ninth-best team in the league when it came to converting red-zone scoring opportunities, connecting on touchdowns at a rate of 91 percent. Meanwhile, the Seahawks were 26th in the league in red-zone defense, as teams punched it in for touchdowns 95 percent of the time in the red zone. Using advanced metrics, the contrast is even more impressive — per Football Outsiders, the Patriots offense was the sixth-best offense in the red zone this year in the regular season. On the other side of the ball, the Seattle defense was 30th using the same metric. Simply put, when the New England offense gets inside the 20, it can’t settle for field goals like the Packers did.
0 – If the Patriots are able to beat the Seahawks and win the Super Bowl, they’d be the first team in NFL history to take home the Lombardi Trophy and not register a single sack in their playoff run to the title.
5 – Brady is attempting to become just the fifth quarterback in NFL history 35 or older to win a Super Bowl. If he and the Patriots can win, the 37-year-old would join a group that includes Johnny Unitas (37 when he led the Colts to a win in Super Bowl V), Roger Staubach (35 when the Cowboys won Super Bowl XII), Jim Plunkett (36 when the Raiders won Super Bowl XVIII) and Elway (he was 37 and 38 when he led the Broncos to Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII).
UNDER THE RADAR STAR: The 6-foot-1, 212-pound Kearse has become a field-stretcher for the Seattle offense, a pass catcher Wilson has been able to lean on when the quarterback has looked to go deep. (His 14.1 yards per catch were best on the team, and 30th in the league.) In his third year out of Washington, Kearse has 12 receptions of 20-plus yards over the past two seasons, including seven in 2014. He has two touchdown catches the postseason, including the game-winner in the overtime session of the NFC title game to help lift Seattle past the Packers. With New England focused on stopping the run and Darrelle Revis (presumably) set to lock up with Baldwin, Kearse could find some opportunities in the passing game if Wilson needs to go deep.
On the other side of the ball, on a defense filled with big names, it’s difficult not to be impressed with edge defender Bruce Irvin. Like New England’s Jamie Collins, he’s a versatile, athletic presence who is capable of rushing the passer or dropping into coverage (Collins, Irvin and Green Bay‘s Julius Peppers are the only three defenders who finished the 2014 regular season with at least four sacks and two interceptions.) The 6-foot-3, 248-pounder is capable of running with tight ends and running backs, and is also a possibility to get after Brady, as he had 6.5 sacks in the regular season this past year and 16.5 over the course of his career. Someone who has to be accounted for on every snap.
QUOTE OF NOTE: “This is it. Practice-wise, we’re done. We’re as ready as we’re going to be.” — Bill Belichick following Friday’s practice at the Cardinals training facility.