ATLANTA -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. One of the things that quarterback Tom Brady shared in the aftermath of losing Super Bowl LII was how his kids reacted in a way he hadn’t seen before, which forced him to quickly transition from disappointed player to consoling dad. It put things in perspective, while at the same time allowing him to share a valuable lesson with them: Even though we try our best, no one wins all the time.
They are all back for Super Bowl LIII, and Brady lit up in media interviews over the past week whenever the topic came up.
“My whole family, all my nieces and nephews, and my in-laws are coming. So I’ll have my Brazilian connection. My California connection. There will be a lot of support, a lot of friends,” Brady said.
“My kids are excited. They are at an age where they understand so much more, and it’s really fun for me to have them. I talk to my son Jack (11) about the game, and what he thought of the game. ‘Dad, what were you doing on this play? Why didn’t you just do this?’ He watches football, his buddies talk about football. So that’s just a great thing for a dad, for all of us, when our kids are interested in what we’re doing. My son Benny (9), I don’t know if he’ll watch one play in the game, but the fact he gets popcorn and all kinds of junk food is what I think he looks forward to. And Viv (6), she is the little cheerleader. She’ll tell me, ‘Daddy, did you hear me? I said, ‘Go, Daddy, go!’ And I’ll say, ‘Of course I heard you.’
“So the kids, they bring so much perspective to our lives. Just the most beautiful things in our life. So joyful. The fact they’re getting older, and get to share this with me, has really created so many memories -- obviously for them, but for me, too, in ways that are different than when I was younger.”
2. After three straight years in which they departed for the Super Bowl on Monday, giving them the maximum possible time at home, the Patriots altered course this year by departing on Sunday. Part of the decision was made to ease the burden of Monday’s schedule, when players were required to take part in opening-night festivities at 9 p.m. ET. By already being in Atlanta, some players felt it gave them an opportunity to be better rested while allowing them to ease into the Super Bowl environment. In Super Bowls from the ’03, ’04, ’07 and ’11 seasons, the team departed on Sunday.
3a. Patriots players have embraced the underdog role in their charge to Super Bowl LIII, and the team’s front office could too. Consider this contrast: The Rams went all-in this year in spending $221 million in cash to build their roster, which they had the luxury of doing with quarterback Jared Goff still playing on his rookie contract. That is about $50 million more in cash spent this year by the Patriots, who have traditionally focused on sustainability on a year-to-year basis.
3b. One more from the underdog files: The flight code for the Patriots’ charter to Super Bowl LIII was officially “UDG344.”
4. Much like the years when they were facing speed-rushing Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney and lined players up offside in practice to simulate Freeney’s explosive first step, the Patriots did something similar in practices leading up to Super Bowl LIII, according to offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. The club had 6-foot-2, 255-pound practice-squad defensive end Trent Harris -- who made his mark at the University of Miami last year with 8.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss -- move inside and play the role of Aaron Donald. Scarnecchia called Donald “the preeminent defensive tackle of his generation.”
5. Spending some time with Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio leading up to Super Bowl LIII, I was reminded of his unusual path to his role: He worked eight months as a stockbroker before deciding he wanted to get into football, a career that began as a graduate assistant at Saginaw Valley State University in 1999 before he landed with the Patriots in 2001. That explains why the television in his office is most often tuned in to CNBC.
“This league, you can ride a roller coaster all year,” he said. “But one thing I’ve learned from Bill [Belichick] is just to try to stay consistent week to week, realizing there are going to be some ups and downs. When you have good people, and you have good process, it helps you navigate through some of the ups and downs.”
One thing that came across from Caserio is how much he enjoys the people he’s working with in New England, and how much he relies on director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort and director of pro personnel Dave Ziegler -- and the entire staff -- when he’s pulled toward more coaching responsibilities at times.
6. Things should be moving fast with Patriots defensive playcaller Brian Flores after Super Bowl LIII, with the Dolphins finalizing his hire as their head coach. In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Flores flies directly from Atlanta to Miami to get started, as the wheels were being set in motion for that to happen. That dynamic was an interesting one to me in recent weeks: the Patriots preparing for the Super Bowl knowing one of their top coaches (and wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea) would be leaving them for a division rival immediately after the game.
7a. One of the most notable things that I heard in media interviews leading into Super Bowl LIII was from Patriots special teams coach Joe Judge, who said he’s preached to his players that they need to play with a defensive mentality on every special-teams snap because no one attempts more fakes than the Rams. Punter/holder Johnny Hekker, who entered the league in 2012, has attempted 20 passes in his career. That is the most pass attempts by a non-quarterback since Antwaan Randle El (30).
7b. Did You Know (according to ESPN’s Stats & Information): There have been eight passes thrown by non-quarterbacks in the Super Bowl, but none have come from a specialist.
8a. Patriots players often say their time together is about more than just football, and early in the week upon arriving at Super Bowl LIII, several of them made the time to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park in Atlanta. Among the things they saw was the home where King was born.
8b. One other picked-up piece from four days and more than three hours of media interviews: Whenever he decides to retire, Rob Gronkowski said he wasn’t completely sure what he’d pursue, but he envisioned it would be something tied to the world of fitness.
9. Brady’s performances in eight Super Bowls stack up well against the entire MVP seasons of three former quarterbacks -- John Elway, Joe Montana and Bart Starr.
Brady (8 Super Bowls): 235 of 357 for 2,576 yards, 18 TDs, 5 INTs
Elway (1987 season): 224 of 410 for 3,198 yards, 19 TDs, 12 INTs
Montana (1988 season): 238 of 397 for 2,981 yards, 18 TDs, 10 INTs
Starr (1966 season): 156 of 251 for 2,257 yards. 14 TDs, 3 INTs
While the era in which the quarterbacks played has to be accounted for, it’s also notable that Brady’s production has come in just eight games compared to Elway’s 12 and Montana’s and Starr’s 14.
10. One of the quotes of the week came from Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who was asked about his team being viewed as a villain in professional sports because it wins so much. After noting that it’s good for television because it creates passion, he said, “I’m actually honored by it.”