The most surprising occurrence during Super Bowl week in New York/New Jersey wasn’t the cooperative game-day weather for Super Bowl XLVIII, the resounding rout delivered by the Seattle Seahawks, or a 9/11 conspiracy theorist usurping the microphone during the press conference of Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith.
It was Patriots owner Robert Kraft espousing the importance of the bottom third of the roster in building a championship team in response to questions about urgency created — or not — by Tom Brady’s championship window.
Kraft did it during interviews on Friday with reporters and a radio interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
“I don’t know that people fully understood, with the advent of the salary cap, the importance of the bottom third of the roster,” Kraft told reporters. “If you look at what happened to us this year, I think we had three starting defensive linemen who were undrafted rookie free agents.
“I think how you manage the bottom third of the roster is critical to your development, so how you invest your dollars. It’s easy to [be a] Monday morning quarterback, but I think with what happened this year and the fact that we got to the championship game, it’s a pretty remarkable feat. You’re always looking to improve the team on both sides of the ball.”
If the Patriots really believe that the bottom third of the roster is where Super Bowl champions are forged then don’t expect to get an RSVP from the 7 pounds of sterling silver the Patriots keep inviting to show up in Foxborough every year.
It’s not about plugging fungible football players into a system, like machinery on an assembly line.
It’s about acquiring talent.
Invested with full authority in Seattle, ex-Patriots coach Pete Carroll built a deep, talented team in his image — relentless, energetic, enthusiastic.
Fitting for Seattle, Pumped and Jacked Pete showed an alternative path to constructing a winner than the austere, value-based, pulse-less pursuit of excellence of the Patriots.
But he did not build a team that embarrassed — sorry, Peyton Manning, but when you get smoked with the whole world watching that word is completely applicable — the Denver Broncos, 43-8, on the basis of the final 17 to 18 players on his 53-man roster.
Building depth is absolutely necessary for any team, and the Seahawks were proof of that with players such as wide receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse and a defensive line that gave less personal space to operate than a mid-town Manhattan sidewalk at rush hour.
But having top-end talent and having a deep roster are not mutually exclusive.
Did the Seahawks win the Super Bowl because of players such as Ricardo Lockette, Chris Maragos, Christine Michael, and O’Brien Schofield? Or was it Cliff Avril, Percy Harvin, Russell Wilson, and Kam Chancellor?
Saying the Seahawks won because of the bottom third of their roster is like saying Starbucks is the Goliath of java joints because of its napkin dispensers.
The defense that Carroll built muffled and flustered Manning and the highest-scoring offense in NFL history, forcing four turnovers, including Smith’s 69-yard interception return for a touchdown.
There was no elaborate, intricate, genius game plan to do it. It was simply our players are better than yours.
“We didn’t change anything for this game. We just played the way we always play,” said Carroll. “I’m thrilled we put our stamp on the championship.”
The Broncos pierced the Patriots’ injury-depleted defense for scores on six straight possessions, racked up 507 yards of offense, and had Manning complete 74 percent of his passes and throw for 400 yards in the AFC title game two weeks earlier.
It turned out the Patriots’ best defense against the Broncos was Mother Nature. They were still missing Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Tommy Kelly when they beat Manning back on a blustery November night.
The absence of Aqib Talib hurt the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, but the official Patriots’ team-building manual says it’s never, ever about one player.
So, you can’t blame Talib’s absence then.
Winning titles with the bottom 17 or 18 players on a 53-man roster doesn’t add up. Seven of those players will be game-day inactives each week. The remaining 10 or 11 players are usually rookies, special teams specialists, developmental players, or NFL roster fodder.
Your starters on offense and defense constitute 22 players. If you take your 15 best backup players or special teamers you’re at 37. Dividing an NFL roster into thirds, you’re dipping one or two players deep into the bottom third Kraft was talking about. Continued...