Championship Weekend Recap and Super Bowl LII First Look

The match-up is set.  The Patriots and Eagles will face off in Super Bowl LII.  Today I will address how they got there, and give you your first look at the match-up.

But first here is the official schedule for my Super Bowl LII Preview. This will be part of each Preview article and will include links to the articles that are finished.

Super Bowl LII – Patriots vs. Eagles: Boston Sports Mania Preview

Monday, Jan. 29: Championship Weekend Recap and Super Bowl LII First Look

Tuesday, Jan. 30: The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Wednesday, Jan. 31: The Case for the Eagles: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Thursday, Feb. 1: Super Bowl Fast Facts and Their Significance

Friday, Feb. 2: Super Bowl LII: The Final Pick and Projected Stats

Saturday, Feb. 3: Super Bowl LII Video Preview and iMovie Trailer

Sunday, Feb. 4: Watch the big game and stay tuned for my Recap!

How They Got There

Patriots

 

The Pats won in comeback fashion again, this time against the Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-20.  Early on, Blake Bortles, Leonard Fournette, Corey Grant, and the rest of the Jaguars offense dominated, taking a 14-3 lead and challenging the Pats for their chance at making it to their 10th Super Bowl, and their 8th with Tom Brady.  The Pats were unable to stop this powerful Jags offense for most of the 1st half, although they did narrow Jacksonville’s lead with a TD before the half, making it 14-10.  The Jaguars’ powerful pass rush also got on Tom Brady’s nerves in this half.

By halftime, Pats fans were getting worried, and some (but not me) gave up hope.  But the 2nd half brought a turn-around for the Patriots.  In the 3rd quarter, we began to see a better defensive performance by New England, as they held Jacksonville to just a measly 3 points in that quarter.  Lawrence Guy was able to sack Bortles as he led the Pats defense to begin to get pressure on him.  The Jags scored another field goal to begin the 4th and led 20-10.

But better defense set the Pats offense up to come back in the 4th quarter.  Despite TE Rob Gronkowski being ruled out with a concussion, the Pats came back, led by Brady, Danny Amendola (who scored both 4th quarter TDs) and Brandin Cooks.  The Pats came out of nowhere after being down by 10, scoring 14 unanswered points to win the game and advance to the Super Bowl.  But how will they fare against the Eagles, who obliterated the Vikings?

Eagles

 

The Vikings got off to a fast start as Case Keenum connected with TE Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown.  But after that, Nick Foles broke out, leading the Eagles offense to blow away an otherwise unstoppable Vikings defense.  He somehow tossed 3 TDs and 352 yards against the typically dominant Vikings D.  I also don’t know how this defense gave up 38 points.

Not only did Foles do well, but his top four receivers (Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor) all had over 50 yards receiving, combining for 306 of Philly’s receiving yards and all 3 receiving TDs.  The combination of end zone back LeGarrette Blount and lead running back Jay Ajayi also had a big game compared to recent performances.

After that win, the Eagles truly do deserve to fight for that Lombardi Trophy in Minneapolis, although it would have been cool to see Minnesota win it at home, or be stopped by the Patriots dynasty.  But will the Eagles put up the same numbers against New England, who has far more experience in the Super Bowl?  Many of New England’s players don’t even know what it is like not making the AFC Championship game.

A First Look at the Big Game

With TE Rob Gronkowski on the practice field as of Saturday the 27th, it’s a good sign that Gronk will be able to clear the concussion protocol and play by Sunday’s big game. Gronk’s status will help determine New England’s offensive schemes against an Eagles defense that can be tricky at times.

Either way, especially with T Marcus Cannon injured, DT Fletcher Cox and the Eagles’ defensive line could pressure QB Tom Brady and hit him a few times. But I do think Brady should be able to find his receivers against the younger, but still powerful Eagles secondary. With or without him, Gronk will have to get past Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins among others as they will likely keep the star tight end double covered.

Brady will have to mix it up a little, not only passing to Gronk, and dependable passing backs James White and Rex Burkhead, but also to his wide receivers who helped him win with Gronk and Burkhead out late into last week’s game. Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, and/or Chris Hogan could have a big game here. But will we see the Eagles look like their inconsistent selves again, or will we see QB Nick Foles and the Eagles offense pick up where they left off?

If they can, they will significantly challenge the Patriots, whose pass rush has struggled to pressure the QB at times this season.  However, it has gotten better since LB James Harrison joined the Patriots.  Not only has he himself made an impact, but he’s also made an impact on other players’ performances, serving as a veteran influence.  The Pats sacked Jags QB Blake Bortles twice last week.  One was by Harrison, and the other by DT Lawrence Guy.  However, the Eagles give Foles better protection than Bortles gets with their strong offensive line.

This also helps running backs, who the Pats have struggled even more against.  In their Week 7 win against Atlanta, their big flaw was giving up big plays to Devonta Freeman.  It cost them in Week 1 against Kareem Hunt.  Can RB Jay Ajayi be next?  Will end zone threat Blount Force Trauma get revenge on his former team?  Or will it be younger RBs like Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood who thrive?

The good news is, despite their front seven woes, they have maintained a strong secondary all season long, and don’t be surprised if they annoy Foles’ receivers and pick Foles off a couple times. I do think Foles will continue to thrive though, finding his receivers for most of the game, but making brutal mistakes against this strong secondary that cause the Eagles offense to trail a little behind the “Brady Bunch.”

Who will win Super Bowl LII?  What is the game plan for each team?  What Super Bowl and season-long stats will burden, encourage and/or influence each team?  Find out this week as I release more articles each day.

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Pats Stun Pittsburgh and Steal Win

With 8 minutes left in the game, the Pats were down by eight points, and I was losing hope.  I don’t know how they won.  They had a nice drive going, but Pats QB Tom Brady was sacked, and they were held to a field goal.  Then they took a 27-24 lead in a 2-minute drill by scoring a TD and a 2-point conversion.  But they left 1-minute for the Steelers.  They almost blew it.  On the first play with 52 seconds left, the Pats couldn’t get their hands on Steelers WR Juju Smith-Schuster on a short pass over the middle as he escaped tacklers and scurried down the field for 69 yards.  On the next play, TE Jesse James scored a TD on a pass up the middle diving into the end zone.  But video replay reversed the call.  2 plays later with no timeouts left and about 15 seconds left, Big Ben faked the spike and then tried to force a pass up the middle.  Eric Rowe deflected it right into the hands of Harmon, stunning the Steelers, and stealing the win

The Patriots won in comeback fashion in what was arguably the game of the year, as the Pats beat Pittsburgh 27-24.  You could argue that there was no tangible evidence to overturn the Steelers last-minute touchdown but the resilience the Pats showed leading up to the play, they deserved a call in their favor.  It all started on New England’s first drive.

QB Tom Brady and WR Brandin Cooks tried to set the tone early as Brady threw Cooks a 43-yard pass that brought the Patriots into the red zone within the first five minutes of the game.  RB Rex Burkhead ran in for the TD and the Pats took the early 7-0 lead.

Image result for brandin cooks 43 yard catch vs steelers

But the Steelers weren’t about to let New England win easy.  Using the Patriots’ defensive weaknesses to their advantage, they marched down the field and responded with an 18 yard TD of their own, tying the game at 7.

The Steelers didn’t stop there.  In the next drive, their defense thrived, sacking Tom Brady and forcing them to punt.  Led by a 39-yard Martavis Bryant reception, they had another big drive following that.  But after Bryant’s nice catch, the Pats were at least able to hold Pittsburgh to a field goal.  It was now 10-7 Steelers as Chris Boswell made a 51-yard field goal.  But Steelers superstar WR Antonio Brown had hurt his calf, and he was taken to the hospital.

Image result for antonio brown injury

The Pats countered with another big play drive, this time a 31-yard catch by Pats TE Rob Gronkowski and the Pats were able to tie it up again at 10.   This was just one of two catches Gronk made in the 1st half, but he made a huge impact in the 2nd half.  But before the half, the Steelers were able to score 1 more TD, while also preventing a Patriots double score opportunity as their drive burned most of the 2nd quarter clock.  The Steelers clock-eating drives were led by star RB Le’Veon Bell, who dominated against the depleted Pats front seven.  They did not slow down even with Brown out of the game.  The Pats would get the ball in the 2nd half but would have to do so without RB Rex Burkhead who was knocked out of the game with a knee injury.

Image result for leveon bell vs pats

The Pats began the 2nd half with a strong drive as Brandin Cooks scored a touchdown after Gronk began to make a bigger impact.  But they missed the extra point which put them down by one 17-16.  After they shut the Steelers down, the Pats were ready to score again.  But Tom Brady was intercepted early in the drive.  Le’Veon Bell led the Steelers into the end zone quickly, and the Pats were now down by eight, 24-16.

As the 4th quarter began, the Steelers had the ball, and they began to eat up a lot of time as they tried to hold off the Patriots.  They held onto the ball for the first 7 minutes of the 4th quarter, leaving the Pats down by eight with just 8 minutes to come back.  In their first drive of the 4th quarter, they started off strong.  Gronk almost caught a 23-yard pass and the Steelers were penalized for clear pass interference.  However, Brady got sacked on third down after a pair of incompletions, and they were held to a field goal.

It wasn’t over though.  The Pats shut down the Steelers on the next drive with the only 3 and out for either team and got the ball back with a little over two minutes to go.  If they could successfully complete this 2-minute drill for a TD, they could secure a victory.  They marched down the field, as Gronk caught three straight passes for a total of 69 yards.  You could argue that his final catch was almost as good as WR Julian Edelman’s catch in Super Bowl LI.  Gronk just barely saved the ball before it hit the ground.

Image result for rob gronkowski vs steelers 2017

RB Dion Lewis ran it in for the touchdown, but New England scored too fast going 77 yards in 1:10.  They needed to go for the 2-point conversion to take a 3-point lead and at the very least hold Pittsburgh to a field goal and head into overtime.  Brady tossed it to Gronk for the conversion.  Gronk finished the 2nd half with 7 receptions for 135 yards, making a huge impact.  The Steelers had a little under a minute to respond.

The Steelers were confident that they could still win it, and Big Ben completed one 69-yard pass to WR JuJu Smith-Schuster.  As the Pats couldn’t get their hands on Smith-Schuster, the Steelers were able to do what the Pats did in three passes in just one big play.  The Steelers then scored with what was ruled a touchdown by TE Jesse James.  But the call was reversed, giving hope to all the Patriots fans out there, including me.  Two plays later, Big Ben tried to throw a TD again, but this time, he was picked off by Duron Harmon!  The Pats had done it again!

Image result for juju smith schuster vs pats

A couple minutes earlier, I had thought the Pats were done, and I was hoping they could hold on to the 3rd seed.  But now they lead the AFC after a stunning comeback victory.

There were two huge plays that secured the Pats their current #1 seed edge showing #1 seed confidence under tough road pressure in Pittsburgh.  Without the 2-point conversion, Pittsburgh would’ve likely won on a field goal after Smith-Schuster’s catch and run play.  The Pats held on with a great goal-line interception by Harmon.  The Pats lead the league in goal-line stops and today’s play was arguably the most clutch of the year.

This game reminded me of Super Bowl XLIX.  The Pats won in a comeback, a lot of points were scored late in the game, and the Pats secured victory with an interception after the opposing team almost scored.  The one major difference was the time left on the clock.  Super Bowl XLIX ended with a bad coaching decision, but in this game, Big Ben made the mistake forcing a pass instead of throwing it away to give his team a shot in overtime with a short field goal.

With this win, the Pats clinch the division and take the AFC lead.  They control their own destiny and will secure the #1 seed with 2 division wins at home.  Can they do it?

 

 

Gronk and Edelman Rebound, Patriots Trump Chiefs

It has been a roller coaster ride, this week, this season, and this 2015 for the Patriots.  From DeflateGate, to the Super Bowl.  From the suspension to the banners revealing.  From a crazy week to an awesome win in the Divisional Round.  The Pats outscored the Chiefs 27-20.  The game broke many records.  Gronk now leads all tight ends in playoff touchdowns, and all Pats players in playoff receptions.  He has never been on a team that has not advanced to the AFC Championship.  It’s also Tom Brady’s 30th playoff game, the most by any NFL player in history!!  This is also only the 2nd time a team has gone to 5 straight conference championships, tying the record set by a 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers squad.

 

Now let’s talk about the exciting ending first.  The Pats led 27-13 after 2 30-40 yard field goals by Stephen Gostkowski.  The Chiefs had difficulty managing the clock.  They blew about 5 minutes.  They were hesitating, taking their time on play after play.  They had blown it with 1 minute to goal on 3rd and goal when there was a flag.  Pass interference on the Pats.  It reset to 1st and goal.  On 2nd down, they scored.  It was now 27-20.  The Pats just needed one first down.  2nd and 12.  Brady threw.  The ball bounces of a defender’s hip.  Tamba Hali misses it and Edelman makes the first down catch!!!!  All TB12 had to do was take a knee 3 times and it was over!  Well, how did we get there.  It all started opening drive.

It was 3rd down.  Brady had struggled on 3rd down conversions ever since Edelman got hurt.  But he was back.  He proved it.  Brady threw to his favorite receiver, and Edelman, he caught it, for a first down!  Next play went to Edelman for 13 yards again!!!!  Then 16 yards to Amendola the very next play!!!   They were doing hurry-up offense, just pass after pass after pass to Brady’s best slot receivers.  Healthy and dominant as they could be.   Then he got to third down again, and got to Gronk for 32 yards!!!   He jumped over defenders and broke tackles, but he got there.  Two plays later, touchdown Gronk!!!  That was all on the 1st drive.  5 minutes, 11 plays, 80 yards and a touchdown!!!!

The following drive ate up 8 minutes of clock, and ended with a 34 yard field goal.  7-3 Pats.  It ended the 1st quarter at that score.  The 2nd quarter started with 3 short drives, ending in punts.  After a quick first down to Edelman, then a 5 yard penalty.  Brady threw an amazing pass, Edelman bobbled it, but lost it!!!  But Keshawn Martin was wide open right in front of him and he caught it!!!!  A 42 yard pass!!!  The offense was booming!!!  They slowly got through to the red zone from the 50, and it was first and goal.  Tom Brady ran it in for 10 yards and thought it was a touchdown but it was called out of bounds at the 1!!!  Belichick challenged, but lost as the call stood.  No worries, he had a QB sneak up the middle for a TD!!!  14-3. The following drive was a field goal again.  14-6 Pats.  The pattern was, touchdown Pats, and the next drive, the Chiefs would score a field goal.  “If they keep scoring touchdowns, and the Chiefs keep scoring field goals, you know who will win”, I said to my dad right then.

“I can live with that”, he said.  The half ended soon after.  The Chiefs got the ball, they had won the toss and deferred.  They were marching down the field, but on 2nd and 8, Knile Davis fumbled and Dont’ a  Hightower got it!!!  The offense did its thing.  Gronk for 18 yards.  Edelman runs for as many yards as his own jersey number!!!  14 yard pass to Edelman!  10 yards to James White.  Then Gronk scrambled for his second TD of the night, this time for 16 yards, double the yards of #1.  That’s when he broke the record.  He didn’t spike it, he was so happy, he just danced.  But next drive, things changed.

The Chiefs went to Jason Avant for 26 yards!!!  This is a former Eagles second-string who is now and old and washed up Chiefs sleep receiver.  He had 2 receptions for 69 yards.  Then 13 yards to Kelce.  They were slowly marching down the field, Alex Smith doing his usual thing of lots of short plays for big total yardage.  He went for it to Chris Conley, but was incomplete.  But after a 5 yard penalty on the Pats, they easily went to Albert Wilson for a touchdown.  They had broke the pattern.  It was now 21-13 Pats.  Next drive though, James White caught a 29 yard pass.  Then he went to Edelman for 14.

The quarter ended, and they lost their momentum but managed a 40 yard field goal, a solid one.  24-13.  After a quick Chandler Jones sack, the Pats got the ball back at like the 30.  On 4th down, Duron Harmon’s so-called interception was called back for an incomplete pass and turnover on downs, but thankfully it saved us 30 yards.  Keshawn Martin got a 15 yarder, but they had to settle for a 32 yard field goal.  27-13.  We led by two touchdowns.  Then the Chiefs scored their TD after horrible clock management, and Brady finished the game.

Tomorrow the Broncos and Steelers play.  The winner plays us.  What do you think.  Will we host a banged up Steelers team or go to Denver against the dominant Broncos, where we lost in Week 12?  Comment what you think.  Whoever we play, “We’re on to the AFC Championship.”

Star Of The Game: Rob Gronkowski

Gronkowski scoring his 2nd TD in a nice win over the Chiefs.

Of course Gronk earned this.  Two touchdowns, eight total in the playoffs any year, most by a tight end in playoff history.  Also, Gronk leads the Pats in playoff receptions ever.  Gronk had several deep passes, which he is not known for and despite back trouble and knee troubled, he also caused Chiefs trouble.  He also had some good blocks to help Edelman star in his return.  He led the Pats to revenge for an ugly game.