Archive for the ‘Super Bowl XLVI’ Category

INDIANAPOLIS — I haven’t made my official GLS pick for Super Bowl XLVI yet, primarily because I hadn’t heard what supermodel Kate Upton thought about the game until I tracked her down on radio row to ask for her prediction.

I also made the mistake of asking her for an MVP pick, which by all indications caught her wildly off guard. Sorry about that, Kate.

INDIANAPOLIS — Mega-insider Chris Mortensen just celebrated his 20th year at ESPN. I caught up with him in Indy to discuss the evolving industry of sports scoops.

1. This is a very competitive industry, but do you ESPN guys have fun competing for scoops among each other?

Well you have to independently compete and you don’t do it by competing against somebody — you do it because that’s the standard that’s been set. You’ve set a standard for yourself, the way you were raised, the way you were taught in journalism class. To me, everybody’s got some competitive gene in them, and if you play sports — and certainly I did — that gene just carries over. But it’s about competing against the standard that’s expected of you, based on what your parents taught you, your teachers taught you, and certainly in my life, what God expects from me.

2. Twitter has certainly changed the industry…

I try to use Twitter first and foremost if we have stories that we’ve broken that we can link back to ESPN. Because that’s who employs me — ESPN, not Twitter. So whether it’s Adam (Schefter) or somebody else, even somebody from another entity that breaks a story, it’s a chance to alert them to it and link up the story. It’s also a chance to interact with fans, which I enjoy doing. And to me, that’s what it is. Some people call it brand-building, but to me it’s just an opportunity to (talk to fans). Twitter’s not a good thing for real-time journalism. More mistakes made, so you have to be more careful and disciplined.

3. What did you think of that Rob Lowe-Peyton Manning thing?

I just laughed. It’s so funny — I laughed because I feel like I’m already pretty locked into the story, but you’re still obligated to go make sure it’s not true or it is true, because you do know there’s a relationship there between Rob Lowe and Jim Irsay. But I know, just because I’m staying connected almost on a daily basis, that it didn’t ring true, but it was an example of how it can cause a stir. And then I forgot Rob Lowe had a movie debut that following Saturday.

4. Do you have a scoop you’re most proud of?

I get asked that a lot and I’m not one to keep a scorecard. It’s like, I think there were stories in the 1980s that gave my career a jump-start which involved agents and mafia, but I believe it’s dangerous to keep a scorecard. Otherwise, you might look at it and say, “Oh, I’ve done enough.” To me, that’s not healthy. It means you’re too self-centered.

5. What about stories you regret?

Oh yeah, if you don’t have things that you regret then you’re not being honest with yourself. To me, when we made the transition into what I like to call real-time journalism with the internet, maybe there was one or two stories where maybe I should have made an extra phone call, but in that rush to get it out it wasn’t quite right. And that’s inexcusable. The people who watch and read and listen to you have to trust that everything you’re saying is true. So when you make one mistake, that to me is damaging to your credibility. I know once we got into real-time journalism, I made two mistakes that never should have been made. It happens to almost everybody, but to me it’s inexcusable.

INDIANAPOLIS — The youngest member of the New England Patriots might be the only reason the team is in this game. When we spoke in Indy, we discussed that play for a moment, and then moved on to more important matters … such as cool toys and kids TV shows.

How many times have you been asked about that game-saving pass breakup at the end of the Baltimore game?

Can’t count how many times I’ve been asked.

Are you just giving the same manufactured answer every time now?

Yeah it’s pretty much the same answer every time now. I’ve memerized it. Trying not to think too much about that play and just move on but everybody keeps asking me.

Fine, I’ll move on. You turn 22 on Friday — you’re the youngest guy in this entire game. Only a year ago you were on campus at Southern Methodist. It’s too cliché to say, “How does this feel?” but how friggin’ ridiculous is this?

I dunno, I haven’t sat back and thought about it. I will, though, probably after this game. I’ll probably look back on the things I’ve accomplished this year. But people always remind me that I was born in the 1990s. Everybody around here is like, You’re just a kid and you’re making me feel old.

I can’t believe you’re born in 1990. When you were a kid, what was your go-to show?

Go-to show? Probably Power Rangers.

See, I’m four years older than you and mine was Ninja Turtles first.

My brother was born in ’88, so that makes sense because that was his go-to show. Mine was probably Power Rangers first.

And then after that, what about The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?

It was on the end. I got re-runs of that.

What about cool toys? Did you miss out on the pogs crazy?

When I was in school Pokémon cards were big.

You didn’t do that, did you?

I wasn’t too into it. I’ll admit I had a few, and then just ended up giving them to my brother.

Do you take flak for being the youngest?

I got ripped a lot more in Oakland for being young. It was an everyday thing there. People here don’t know that I’m only 21, and when they do find out they’re surprised.

What happened to you at the rookie dinner?

I didn’t have to pick that (tab) up. But DB dinner last night — I did pick that up. But that was by choice, not by force.

I got some of the guys to describe what it feels like to get a sack. Tell me how it feels to get an interception. What goes through your head?

A lot of times, the first thing that comes to mind is, Oh crap, don’t drop the ball.

And then score?

Yeah, get up and run if I fall. And if I’m in the open, don’t get caught. Because I got caught back in college one time and it’s not a good feeling.

Were you bombarded by friends and family for Super Bowl tickets?

Yeah, definitely was hit for a lot of ticket requests, but tickets aren’t free and I’m not rich so I wasn’t paying for that.

You’re not rich yet.

Hopefully you’re right. Yet.

The return of the Gronk

I’m not even sure who Rob Gronkowski is anymore, what team he plays for, or if he plays any kind of organized sport at all. If he’s an injured player, I’m only giving credence to the diagnosis if it’s coming from Peyton Manning’s doctor, and he says something about his son.

But since it does seem like this Gronkowski fellow is of some importance to this weekend’s football contest, you should know that he did indeed practice today, albeit on a limited basis.

The latter half of that update shouldn’t matter much on a Thursday evening. Gronkowski appearing at all on a practice field is a massively important development due to the Patriots’ reliance on their tight ends to both stretch the field, and create space for Wes Welker, as our own Alen Dumonjic outlined earlier today.

Gronk is more than just a vital chunk of New England’s offensive production–he’s also an irreplaceable part of their offensive scheme. But please button up your raincoat, Patriots fans, because Bill Belichick would like to drench your erupting emotions in freezing water.

Belichick said that Gronkowski did some things today, but not everything, and what’s key now is seeing how his high-ankle injury responds after a tough test today. (Comments via Patriots pool reporter Alex Marvez.)

“It was good. It was fine. We’ll see where he is tomorrow — whether that set him back, whether it didn’t and whether he’s able to continue to progress on a daily basis. But it was a good test for him, too, at least. At least he was out here and did some things to see how it feels. We’ll see how it goes.”

We’ll still maintain what we’ve written pretty much every day so far this week, and we’ll keep writing it until we’re convinced otherwise, which likely won’t happen. Gronk will play, and he’ll make a contribution, but he likely won’t quite be the same scary bruiser he’s been all season.

On Monday as we dust ourselves off from a vicious Super Bowl hangover we’re going to look back at this week’s posts and see which name wins in overall mentions between Gronkowski or Gronk, and Peyton. Sadly, my money’s on Peyton, the first name of a player who wasn’t on the field for a single snap this season.

We’re sorry.

The full Thursday injury report is as follows:

Giants:

Limited in practice: RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), DE Osi Umenyiora (ankle, knee)

Practiced fully: WR Hakeem Nicks (shoulder), CB Corey Webster (hamstring), LB Jacquian Williams (foot)

Patriots:

Limited in practice: T Marcus Cannon (ankle), S Patrick Chung (knee), LB Dane Fletcher (thumb), TE Rob Gronkowski (ankle), DT Kyle Love (ankle), G Logan Mankins (knee), LB Rob Ninkovich (hip), LB Brandon Spikes (knee), T Sebastian Vollmer (illness, back, foot), WR Wes Welker (knee), LB Tracy White (abdomen)

Practiced fully: WR Deion Branch (knee), C Dan Connolly (groin), S James Ihedigbo (shoulder), T Matt Light (illness), WR Matt Slater (shoulder)

INDIANAPOLIS — Former Saturday Night Live cast member Will Forte is a Raiders fan, and so naturally he has disliked the New England Patriots ever since Jan. 19, 2002.

With that in mind, I didn’t have to ask him who he liked on Sunday. Instead, we relived terrible memories and then he listed about 45 people when I asked him to name the funniest actor he worked with at SNL. Good times.

Win or lose, expect Deon Grant to play a huge role Sunday.

INDIANAPOLIS — Earlier I wrote that the rather obvious key to this game was the matchup between the New York pass rush and Tom Brady and his offensive line. But I qualified that with the important yet also probably obvious idea that the there are literally hundreds of smaller factors that go into deciding who comes out on top of every football game.

If there’s a 1-A in terms of game themes to watch, it’ll probably be another that takes place with the Pats offense and the Giants defense on the field. Because while we fully expect the Giants to get pressure, we also fully expect them to have their hands full with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

The tandem — a combined 12-foot-8 and 510 pounds — has been unstoppable for much of this season, forcing opposing defenses to pick their poison, with Wes Welker there to stomp on throats when needed.

They present a matchup nightmare. That’s something we’ve heard all week, so it loses its luster. But I personally have never seen a duo of tight ends quite like this one.

So, how do you stop them? You don’t. Let me rephrase. How do you slow them down? Well, safety Deon Grant implied to me that focusing mainly on one of the two might be fruitful. He wasn’t meaning to suggest that the defense should ignore one or the other, but instead pointed to what happened in their Week 9 matchup, when Hernandez was held in check while Gronk had a strong outing.

“I don’t wanna give it away because they might be listening,” Grant half-joked. “I don’t wanna give it to you, you might give it to them. But we’re going to mix it up on them and throw them off balance, regardless of who’s playing.”

What he means by that is Gronkowski’s status is up in the air. The Giants have delivered the company line all week regarding Gronk’s high-ankle sprain, insisting that they’re preparing for him to be 100 percent. And that’s undoubtedly the case. But he won’t be 100 percent. Should that impact the way in which the defense plays these tight ends?

Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said that nothing will change if Gronk is there, “because if he’s on the field, we’re going to respect him enough that he’s 100 percent (to us).”

It’s not often you see a tight end get used as a decoy, but this may very well be one of those cases. Send an injured Gronkowski out there, and if the Giants are willing to continue to drape him with defenders, then you’re winning the chess match by freeing up Hernandez and Welker while Big Blue’s defense essentially focuses on a pylon.

Or send a ready Gronkowski out there and play rope-a-dope until a safety or linebacker bites and allows him to spring free.

This is why football is a fascinating head game.

Grant, who played a large role against Hernandez and Gronkowski in the regular-season game, is quite confident in his team’s ability to succeed again. In fact, he’s also quite confident that the dynamic tight end duo isn’t all that special. I asked him if he’d ever seen a duo like this one.

“I have to say yes. San Fran has two tight ends that are very talented, Vernon Davis and (Delanie Walker),” he said. “They’re a Grant tandem. Washington also has two good ones, so we definitely have faced (duos like that) in our own conference.”

But surely he doesn’t put Davis and Walker and/or Chris Cooley and Fred Davis on the same level as Hernandez and Gronk. Right?

“I would,” he said. “The first duo beat us. Washington beat us two times this year. We actually beat New England. So you have to put them up there with them.”

Terrible logic, I know. And enough to make you wonder if Grant and his cohorts are underestimating the abilities of the duo they’re about to face. Confidence and success surely have a relationship, but are these Giants too confident? The key for Grant is that they did enough in that Week 9 game to win, which is a much better philosophy than the one above.

“If we stop them, we stop them. If we don’t, we don’t,” he said. “Did we stop them the last game we played them?”

My response: Not really, but I suppose you kept them from exploding.

“But we won.”

Touché.

The Giants were burnt twice by Vernon Davis in the conference title game, and they’ve had some trouble with tight ends from time to time this year. That said, they’re super healthy now, and they might be physical enough to once again avoid a tight end explosion on Sunday.

INDIANAPOLIS — Patriots guard Brian Waters has been playing NFL football for 13 years, and yet he admits that he hasn’t faced many defensive fronts like the one the Giants bring to the table. “Rarely do you face a defensive line with that many talented football players,” Waters told me.

That should be obvious, because this is a defense that, according to Pro Football Focus, has recorded at least 10 total pressures in six straight games, with at least 20 in three of those affairs. They have 20 sacks in their last five games alone. Jason Pierre-Paul is the hottest pass rusher in the league. Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck are two of the most consistent in said category.

But coming from a veteran like Waters, who doesn’t strike me as a guy prone to hyperbole, it’s worth considering.

New York’s rush wasn’t even coming close to firing on all cylinders when these teams met in Week 9, but the pressure was still enough to force Tom Brady into two interceptions while sacking him twice. And according to PFF, the New England line had one of its strongest games of the season that day.

The ends are healthier (Umenyiora was hobbled significantly) and hotter (Pierre-Paul has 6.5 sacks in seven games; Umenyiora has 5.5 in four) now than they were then, which is scary.

It’s particularly scary because, against the Giants, Brady has been far from celestial.

Just ask Pierre-Paul, who remarked yesterday that “anybody can be rattled. Tom Brady is a great quarterback, but at the end of the day, he is just a quarterback. It is not like he is God.” (In other words, Gisele isn’t praying for her husband to her husband. That woulda been weird.)

Pete Prisco of CBS Sports went so far today as to suggest that the Giants’ defensive line might in fact be in God’s Brady’s head. Prisco takes a look at one particular flinch from Brady in the Week 9 matchup, which he feels indicates he’s fazed by the New York pass rush and it is affecting his play.

Brady has been sacked seven times in two straight losses to the Giants — both coming in particularly painful fashion. But that number doesn’t do it justice, because the game tape reveals lots more pressure, the aforementioned flinch, and a multitude of checkdowns. From Prisco:

But the most telling stat of all is yards per attempt in those two games. It’s only 5.5. That’s significant when you consider Brady’s career average is 7.5 and his lowest in the past four seasons he has been healthy is 7.8.

What that means is Brady has had a tendency to check the ball down to shorter routes against the Giants, rather than waiting for the big plays to develop.

Pierre-Paul added fuel to that fire today, saying that “if you look at Week 9 when we played them, it’s like he felt us. When we looked back on the film, we didn’t really rush like we can rush as a defense. He was throwing balls on the ground and stuff.”

JPP was then asked if he thought Brady was feeling pressure that wasn’t actually there: ”He was. He did react to pressure that didn’t exist, and he was just throwing the ball places where there wasn’t even a receiver there. Imagine us getting there even faster and actually doing our jobs and getting hits on him.”

It’s strange. Brady has seemingly struggled more with pressure as his career has progressed.

From PFF via the New York Times:

Brady has completed 70.6 percent of his passes and averaged 8.9 yards per attempt when given time to throw. In plays under pressure, Brady’s completion percentage drops to 48.6 and his yards per attempt falls to 7.5.

But the Giants should probably be careful. This defense has subtly been talking a big game all week, which is a dangerous thing to do with Brady and Belichick. We’ve heard them slyly suggest that Julian Edelman will become prey for their quick receivers, and now we’re watching them as they accidentally create potential bulletin board material for a team led by one of the most successful quarterbacks and one of the most successful head coaches in NFL history.

If this pass rush doesn’t dominate Sunday’s game, Brady will more than likely make them pay dearly. If they keep the heat on enough to stay inside (or get into) Brady’s head, it’ll be a whole different game.

There are literally hundreds of small-, big- and medium-sized factors that go into who wins and loses any given game, but the matchup of Umenyiora/Pierre-Paul/Tuck/Kiwanuka versus Brady might end up deciding who grabs Lombardi from the hands of Bob Costas on Sunday night.