Well, that was eye-opening. While many Patriots fans relished in the fact that Peyton Manning looked like Mark Sanchez at the helm of the hapless Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, I was mesmerized with the Seattle defense.
Much of the talk the last twenty-four hours surrounds Manning and how he failed miserably in a pressure situation yet again. He hurt his legacy with his performance. He is a choker. He can't play in the Big Game. Brady never got blown out in a Super Bowl. Brady is still better than Manning. Blah, blah, blah.
I got news for you. Tom Brady would NOT have fared much better than Manning Sunday night.
Brady said in the week leading up to the game that he was not likely to watch the Super Bowl. It was just too painful to know that he is not there. Fair enough. I do hope Bill Belichick was watching.
I can't believe I am about to write this, but Belichick could learn a thing or two from Seahawks' coach, Pete Carroll. He could start with the people skills aspect, but who am I kidding. If you've been living under a rock, Carroll happened to be Belichick's predecessor in New England.
Sunday should teach us, once and for all, that defenses win championships. Passing records are nice. So are scoring records. The 2007 Patriots were the most prolific offense I've ever seen. Peyton Manning in 2012 had the greatest season ever by a quarterback. Yet the Patriots managed only fourteen points in Super Bowl XLII against the stingy New York Giants defense. Peyton Manning's Broncos managed only eight points against the Seahawks' bone-crushing defense on Sunday
Great defenses have a way of making great quarterbacks look average. Show me one great quarterback who had a 400-yard passing game against a top-ranked defense in a big game. Individual records are hollow. Heck, Peyton Manning set the record for most completions in a Super Bowl. Demaryius Thomas set the record for most receptions. Congratulations. Your team got blown out, 43-8.
So spare me all this talk about the Patriots trying to acquire wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. I don't want to hear about trying to woo tight end Tony Gonzalez out of retirement. Every year the talk is, "Tom Brady needs more weapons." No, he doesn't. The defense needs to improve-- plain and simple.
It blows my mind how someone who is so widely acclaimed as being a defensive "genius" has struggled so mightily during his 14-year tenure with the Patriots to produce a dominant defense-- the type Carroll has created in only four seasons.
In Carroll's last year (1999) with the Patriots, New England's defense ranked eighth in the NFL in fewest yards allowed. In Belichick's fourteen years, the defense has ranked 20th or worse eight times in the same category. The last four years Belichick's defenses have ranked 25th or worse.
I am not trying to say that I would rather have Carroll over Belichick (or am I?). I think Belichick is the far superior in-game tactician. Where Carroll has had an advantage is that he is not that far removed from coaching in the college ranks. That has given Carroll a lot more familiarity with players coming out in drafts.
It's not like Belichick hasn't tried to build a defense through the draft. The problem is he has failed miserably. Dating back to 2004, some of the memorable defensive backfield flops have been: Guss Scott, Dexter Reid, Brandon Meriweather, Terrence Wheatley, Jonathan Wilhite, Patrick Chung, Darius Butler, and Ras-I Dowling.
There have been free agent flops as well, not only in the secondary: Adrian Wilson, Shawn Springs, Leigh Bodden, Monty Beisel, Deltha O'Neal, Chad Brown, Albert Haynesworth, and Adalius Thomas. You just can't swing and miss that many times.
Beyond the personnel mistakes, the bigger mistake may be in philosophy. Maybe it is time to retire Belichick's read-and-react style. I can hear some of you now, "The Patriots' D may give up a ton of yards, but they don't give up a lot of points." Bend, but don't break, baby!
I don't want to hear it. That "bend, but don't break" defense has broken at some pretty inopportune times in the playoffs in this last decade. I'd rather have an aggressive, play-making defense. Unleash the hounds. But, first, you need some hounds.
It's one reason why I was never a big fan of signing Vince Wilfork long-term. Great guy. Clogs up the middle. But, really, with all the recent rule changes, the NFL has morphed into a pass-happy league. Fifteen years ago defenses may have needed a Ted Washington-type clogging up the middle to free up middle linebackers to make plays against the running game. This isn't fifteen years ago.
Jerod Mayo? Terrific linebacker. Again, another outstanding run-stopper. But, again, few offenses focus on the run nowadays. Mayo is also not the play-maker in the mode of Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, or even Tedy Bruschi, that every dominant defense needs. Same goes for Dont'a Hightower-- a first-round draft pick by Belichick.
The Patriots may have got it right with Jamie Collins. But time is running out. They need to get it right more often, and they have to do it this offseason and next. The window is closing. Brady has maybe two more good years in him. They need to franchise Aqib Talib. They need to draft or sign a pass rushing defensive end to bookend with Chandler Jones. They need Chandler Jones to continue his development. They also need to get a playmaking strong safety. Stop taking these wild reaches early in drafts. I mean, come on, Duron Harmon and Tavon Wilson? Dump Steven Gregory, and let's draft a bona fide hard-hitting, strong safety in the early rounds.
The Super Bowl should serve as a reminder that all the AFC teams were all living a lie. Peyton Manning could break all the records he wanted. Kansas City could race out to a 9-0 record. Cincinnati could have thought they had one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Patriots may have thought they had a chance because, well, they had Tom Brady. They were all kidding themselves.
The NFC is leaps and bounds ahead of the AFC right now. Any of the six NFC playoff teams would have beaten the best the AFC had to offer. Arizona, who didn't even make the playoffs in the NFC, could have beaten anybody from the AFC.
The Patriots have to go through next season with a wary eye. A 12-4 record this season may have looked good on paper, but they are a long way from contending for a championship. It might not be a jump they will be able to make in one offseason. With their cap issues, they will need to be prudent. So while fans and pundits focus on the glamour of the offense and helping Tom Brady, Belichick would be wise to take a long look in the mirror and assess if it is time to rethink the defense. Maybe he could loosen the reins and consider delegating a little more. Maybe he'd consider bringing in a new defensive coordinator with some fresh ideas. Maybe he'd consider handing over his personnel duties to someone else who has put in the time and effort, actually, scouting the college ranks.
Maybe? One can dream.