Welcome to Season 3, Episode 19 of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-but-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots’ weekly matchup that runs right here every Friday afternoon. The Patriots, who advanced to their sixth Super Bowl of the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era with a 45-7 deflating (sorry) of the Colts in the AFC Championship Game, continue their quest for a fourth Super Bowl title when they face the defending champion Seattle Seahawks. With big names and fascinating individual matchups on both sides — including Belichick and his redeemed predecessor in New England, Pete Carroll — this has the potential to be a classic Super Bowl. Both of these teams deserve to be here. Both would be worthy champions. But there can be just one, and legacies will be affected by the outcome. Kick it off, Gostkowski and let’s get XLIX started at last …
THREE PLAYERS OTHER THAN TOM BRADY I’LL BE WATCHING
Darrelle Revis: Bear with me here if you could. (Yes, I know I should begin every column that way. You didn’t have to say it.) Patriots fans have seen Belichick take away what the opposing offense does best time and time again through the years. The expectation Sunday is that he will deploy as many resources as he can get away with to stopping Seahawks dynamo Marshawn Lynch.
While there has been much emphasis — all of it justified — of the importance of linebackers Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, and Rob Ninkovich in containing Lynch while also preventing quarterback Russell Wilson from picking up chunks of yardage in the read-option, it’s also worth remembering why the Patriots will have a chance to load up against the run:
Because their defensive backfield, led by Revis, is so damn good. Revis wears No. 24, like Ty Law. He’s from the same hometown, Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. And he’s about to prove, like Law did, that the concept of a big-game cornerback is very real. Revis has changed everything this season. Why would he not change the final game as well?
Marshawn Lynch: If the Patriots can slow him like they did when he was a young Skittles connoisseur with the Bills, they will win. If they can’t, we may be looking at the most awkward Super Bowl Most Valuable Player presentation in history.
Gronk: The biggest mystery heading into the game is the condition of the Seahawks’ fierce defensive backfield. Richard Sherman has a bum elbow, Earl Thomas’s shoulder isn’t right, and Kam Chancellor suffered a leg injury of some unknown degree on the second-to-last play of Seattle’s final practice.
Hmmm … intriguing. Gronk is going to do his damage no matter who he plays against, but a healthy Seattle defensive backfield — with aid from linebacker K.J. Wright — is the stiffest coverage challenge he’ll have faced all season.
But with their three best DBs battling injuries of unknown severity, the Patriots will poke and prod and find out early whether Gronk can exploit them.
One suggestion: If Brady does take an early shot with Gronk down the seam, don’t underthrow him this time. He’s tall. Really tall. Freakishly tall, even. Throw it in the direction of the moon. He’ll get his Hulk Hands on it.
OK, LET’S TALK ABOUT TOM BRADY, TOO
And here we present Brady’s Super Bowl game logs. All five of them:
Have to say, the numbers in the two Giants’ losses were better than I expected. The perception is that Brady did not perform up to his usual standards in either of those games. Though the he-shoulda-done-bettah narrative is always going to be attached to the losing quarterback, there’s probably some truth there.
(We also forget he he had a bum ankle in ’07, a development that sent into action a chain events that concluded years later with Michael Strahan becoming every stay-at-home parent’s Most Beloved Host.)
It would be another notch on his belt with that giant LEGACY buckle if he went out there, put up pinball numbers like he did against the Panthers, and dominated Seattle’s brilliant defense.
I believe he’s up to it, but I don’t think it happens to that degree, and I don’t think it’s necessary, either.
For the first time in perhaps a decade, Brady has a defense that can win the game when the offense isn’t dominant. If he performs to his median level — and maybe leads the Patriots to a first-quarter point for the first time in their six appearances since 2001 — that will be plenty.
GRIEVANCE OF THE WEEK
Deflategate. What else? This could be grievance of the century.
You know the story. You could not avoid the story. The Patriots were in possession some slightly deflated footballs during a 38-point win in which they were plus-28 after the balls were fully inflated. We still don’t know for sure whether the minuscule deflation in a reported 11 of 12 footballs is coincidence, gamesmanship, or a misdemeanor.
With Roger Goodell’s team of accomplished toadies on the case, we’ll probably never know.
I do not care if we do. It is the most overblown story in the history of the National Football League. Hey, but at least no one asked the humbled Goodell about Ray Rice or concussions for a whole week, right?
BULLETIN: I HAVE CHANGED MY OPINION ON PETE CARROLL
It was fascinating to watch Bill Belichick and his Patriots predecessor interact during the coaches’ press conference Friday morning. Carroll was as calm, cool and casual as he was during his three increasingly disappointing seasons as Patriots head coach.
It was a reminder why you couldn’t help but like him and occasionally wanted to strangle him with his headset cord when a wayward player took advantage of him.
He hasn’t changed who he is, but I do believe he has become more ruthless — necessarily ruthless — as a coach. Not even the stacked Seattle defense and the Jetertastic aura of Russell Wilson would be able overcome the old Carroll’s inattention to details and discipline, reasons the foundation of those supremely talented ’90s Patriots teams rotted away.
Carroll admits to learning from his mistakes here when lesser coaches — lesser men — would look at that 27-21 career record and say: “Huh? What mistakes?” He’s the rare coach with context and at least something of a conscience.
Mostly, though, I’ve grown to respect him for one reason above all others: because Bill Belichick does. He compliments Carroll’s coaching ability, in specific and rich detail, any time he is given the opportunity. He doesn’t do that for everyone, and he is not one to feign or exaggerate respect.
Belichick has been in a good mood since Tuesday, and you’re damn right I believe that means there’s something he feels he can exploit in this game. But I don’t think it’s Carroll. He clearly likes and respects his opposing head coach in Super Bowl XLIX, and while he may be confident he will beat him, he also knows its a victory that won’t come easy.
COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD
Thomas and Chancellor are wonderful players, the best safety tandem since … well, I’m not sure, because a Google search gives you James Ihedigbo and Glover Quin as an early best-tandem suggestion, and I don’t trust anything about this world anymore after reading that.
I’ll say this with certainty: I can’t think of seeing one better than the rangy Thomas and the line-of-scrimmage-bounding Chancellor, and it would really, really be swell from a New England perspective if one of them (if not both) is hampered by their nagging injuries today.
However, I’m not ready to declare either the greatest safety in Seahawks’ history. To me, that designation still belongs to Kenny Easley, who for a time in the mid-’80s was the AFC’s version of Ronnie Lott.
Easley’s career was cut short because of kidney problems after seven seasons, but he managed to make five Pro Bowls and earn All-Pro honors three times. He was an accomplished ballhawk, intercepting 17 passes in 1983-84, but he made his real mark — and left more than a few marks — as a hitter.
How ferocious was he? Let’s put it this way: There isn’t a harder hitter on the current and vicious Seattle defense. I’m not sure there’s even anyone close.
PREDICTION, OR AL MICHAELS IS ABOUT TO NARRATE ANOTHER EPIC SPORTS MOMENT
This has to be a classic, doesn’t it? It’s two truly great teams, the two best teams, two teams who don’t just deserve to be here but deserve to win. I couldn’t have more respect for the Seahawks. But I love the depth and versatility of the Patriots roster. I love Belichick’s can’t-hide-it confidence this week, right down to canceling the final walkthrough. I’m convinced they are ready.
I’m also convinced that they are going to win. This has looked like the team that could secure that elusive fourth Lombardi for a long time now, beginning with the Cincinnati rout. The Seahawks, who had a soft late-season schedule, aren’t quite as tested. I think the Patriots win this, and it seems appropriate that win their fourth Lombardi by the same margin that they won their first three.
Kick it through, Gostkowski — in the season in which you became the Patriots’ all-time leading scorer, it’s time for your Vinatieri moment — and let’s get this celebration started.
Oh, and Mr. Mayor? Make sure there are snow tires on the duck boats.
Patriots 23, Seahawks 20