Each week, The Washington Post’s Mark Maske provides in-depth Monday morning NFL analysis with “First and 10,” a dissection of the league’s most important developments.
First and 10: Feb. 13
1. Will T.O. ever make the Hall? | 2. OT is okay
3. Tony Romo and the Texans | 4. Bill Belichick’s day off
5. Colts stealing signs? | 6. Tom Brady and the age question
7. The Falcons’ new coaches | 8. James White’s OT TD
9. Shanahan starts with the Niners | 10. On to the combine
Revisiting Deflategate during the Super Bowl buildup and in the immediate aftermath of the New England Patriots’ stunning overtime victory was justified.
It was the culmination to the Patriots’ Deflategate vengeance, after all, the triumphant end to a season that began with Tom Brady serving his four-game suspension. And everyone wanted to see the postgame interaction between NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Brady.
But it’s enough now.
It’s time for everyone — everyone — to move on.
Kraft reiterated his view during Super Bowl week that the league had “messed up royally” in its handling of the matter. Fine. Kraft is perfectly entitled to that opinion. He said that ire over the Deflategate penalties handed out by the NFL had “energized our fans” and also served to motivate the team’s players. Also fine. It certainly was relevant to the week’s story line.
When Kraft declared during the confetti-covered postgame celebration that, “A lot has transpired during the last two years. . . . This is unequivocally the sweetest,” that was no problem. He and the Patriots were entitled to celebrate.
But that’s when and where it needs to end.
Brady handled himself with dignity before, during and (for the most part) after the game. He generally refused to engage on the topic. He shook Goodell’s hand on the field afterward and appeared with Goodell at the Monday morning news conference for the game’s most valuable player.
Goodell actually had a decent Super Bowl week. When he said the Wednesday before the game that he and Kraft can disagree without it being personal, that was among the most reasonable public comments he’d ever made on the matter.
Brady took what many perceived as a dig at Goodell when the float on which he rode during the Patriots’ victory parade displayed a shirt that said, “Roger that” and showed five Super Bowl rings, four on one hand and a fifth on the middle finger of the other. Piling on? Perhaps. But Brady had become the face of Deflategate. He was the person suspended. He felt mistreated. Right or wrong, he’s probably entitled to his reaction.
It was another matter for Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to emerge from the Patriots’ plane following their ride home from Houston wearing a shirt depicting Goodell wearing a clown nose. That might play well with the Patriots’ base. But it doesn’t necessarily play well elsewhere. Not everyone agrees that Brady and the Patriots were victimized by an injustice; far from that. Patricia isn’t a fan or even a player. He has interviewed for NFL head coaching jobs. If and when the time comes for an owner of another franchise to make a decision about whether to hire him, Patricia could have to answer for that.
Brady is the greatest quarterback in the history of the sport. That distinction probably was sealed even before his fifth Super Bowl win. It is almost inarguable now. Bill Belichick’s place among the best coaches ever also is secure.
But winning this Super Bowl did not make Brady and the Patriots right about Deflategate. Losing it would not have made them wrong about Deflategate.
Spygate and Deflategate remain part of the legacies of Brady, Belichick and the Patriots. Those legacies will be debated forever and, at this point, it’s unlikely that anyone’s mind will be changed. Either you believe that the Patriots are cheaters, or you believe that the Patriots are victims of jealous opponents attempting to sully their reputation after being unable to beat them on the field.
The Patriots, in truth, ended up just fine in the post-Deflategate world, even without their first-round pick in last year’s NFL draft and without Brady for the first four games of the season.
They went 3-1 without Brady, reaffirming the coaching greatness of Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who now can opt to move on to a head coaching job elsewhere when he wants or stay put and hope to succeed Belichick whenever Belichick is done coaching. Backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo boosted his trade value, perhaps to the point that the Patriots can get a first-round draft choice or more for him. Brady had a 28-touchdown, two-interception season and capped it with his fourth Super Bowl MVP performance, the most remarkable Super Bowl MVP performance of all.
So, given all of that, the Deflategate talk can end.
… AND TEN
1. T.O. and the Hall… It has been eight days since the Super Bowl and nine days since the Pro Football Hall of Fame vote. But with the sport settling into a bit of an offseason calm until the NFL scouting combine, a bit of reflection is in order. That means, in this case, revisiting the omission of wide receiver Terrell Owens from the Hall of Fame on the eve of Super Bowl LI.
The voters got it wrong.
T.O. is a no-doubt-about-it Hall of Famer.
This isn’t to attack the voters. They put in a lot of time and effort, and they are sincere in their efforts to attempt to choose the players they feel are worthy. The public perception seems to be that because the selection process falls mostly to media members, Owens is being kept out because he had a rocky relationship with the media. That’s not the case.
Those voters who voted against Owens, it seems clear, voted against him not because of his relationship with the media but because of his relationship with his teams and teammates.
That is a valid topic of conversation and a valid consideration for the voters. They are right to bring it up. But they’re not right to keep Owens out of the Hall of Fame because of it.
Yes, he was a diva of a wide receiver. He was, in fact, perhaps the most diva-ish of all the diva wide receivers. That point should be conceded by even the staunchest supporter of Owens for the Hall of Fame because it is merely where the conversation should begin, not where it should end.
He is second in NFL history in career receiving yards, behind only Jerry Rice. His overwhelming greatness in terms of production far outweighs everything else. At least it should.
Look at it this way. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson was elected by the voters nine days ago in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility. He was regarded as a virtual lock of a choice. And indeed, he sailed through as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
No argument here.
But Tomlinson is the fifth-leading rusher in league history. So his historical significance is slightly less than that of Owens.
Tomlinson is regarded as a great guy. Again, no argument here.
He played 11 seasons for the San Diego Chargers and New York Jets. He played in 10 postseason games. He never reached a Super Bowl.
Owens played in 15 seasons for the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals. He played in a dozen postseason games, including a Super Bowl appearance with the Eagles.
So if Owens’s antics really undermined his teams so much, how did those teams play that number of postseason games? How did he reach a Super Bowl?
Owens belongs in Canton. And it doesn’t matter what former players and coaches say about it. They’re not the judges. The voters are supposed to be the judges.
He belonged last year in his first year of eligibility. He belonged this year. He continues to belong.
Unfortunately, Owens has not appeared close thus far to advancing from modern era finalist to actual enshrinee. Those voters who are against him seem to be adamantly against him. Fellow wide receiving great Randy Moss is eligible next year, giving voters another opportunity to pass over Owens.
The guess here is that he eventually will be selected.
But if and when it happens, it will be too late.
It should have happened already.
The first overtime Super Bowl sparked some discussion about the overtime rule. The Patriots won the coin flip, got the ball first in overtime and drove to the winning touchdown. Game over. The Atlanta Falcons never got the ball.
That led some to contend that the overtime rule should be amended further to ensure each team of having possession of the ball at least once.
No one at the game left NRG Stadium that night thinking that the Falcons hadn’t had a fair chance to win. Not even the Falcons, if they were being honest with themselves.
All the Falcons had to do to get a possession in overtime was to hold the Patriots to a field goal. Or to no points at all. Once the Falcons failed to do that, they no longer deserved to win.
The overtime rule already has been amended to prevent a team from winning the coin toss, driving within shouting distance of the opposite goal line and ending the game with a field goal.
The rule is fair. Maybe it’s not perfect. But few rules are perfect, and this one is plenty good enough.
No further tinkering is needed.
There are two teams with quarterback problems and Super Bowl-ready defenses. One is the Denver Broncos. But their issues along the offensive line would be a major problem for Romo. And they have young quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch to develop.
All the Texans have is Brock Osweiler. Enough said there.
Once J.J. Watt returns to the already fearsome Houston defense, the Texans will be a quarterback away from having the possibility of being a special team. Romo, if he has anything left, could be the difference. Yes, Osweiler’s contract is burdensome. But the Texans would be wise to at least try to make this happen.
Would Cowboys owner Jerry Jones allow Romo to go to Houston? Perhaps. It wouldn’t be ideal for Jones to have Romo land elsewhere in the state. But it’s an AFC team. And if Jones truly wants to do right by Romo, he will send him somewhere with a chance to succeed quickly. That somewhere could be Houston.
4. No days off?… Belichick led the crowd in a chant of “No days off! No days off!” at the Patriots’ victory celebration.
Then he went to California to play golf at Pebble Beach.
So, not to judge, but to clarify: Playing golf at Pebble Beach doesn’t count as a day off?
5. Colts’ signal-stealing accusations… Deion Sanders suggested following the Super Bowl that everyone should forget about the Patriots’ supposed cheating because no one talks about the Indianapolis Colts stealing signals during quarterback Peyton Manning’s glory days. That led to a public response by former Colts coach Tony Dungy that yes, the team attempted to steal opponents’ signals but did nothing illegal.
Dungy is completely right.
The Patriots weren’t punished in Spygate for stealing opponents’ coaching signals. They were punished for videotaping opponents’ coaching signals in violation of NFL rules.
If the Colts of Dungy and Manning indeed stole opposing signals but did nothing illegal, such as videotaping, in doing so, there’s nothing to see here.
When will he begin to show his age?
There’s no telling.
He already has outlasted Manning.
The end came quickly, remember, for Manning. One season, he could play. The next season, suddenly, he couldn’t.
Manning went from having a passer rating of 115.1 in 2013 for the Broncos at age 37 to having a passer rating of 101.5 in 2014 at 38 to having a passer rating of 67.9 in 2015 at 39. The Denver defense handed him a second career Super Bowl triumph as a going-away present and he retired following the 2015 season.
But Manning was undone by injuries. His body betrayed him. The neck injury that ended his Colts’ tenure could have ended his career. Instead, he had a wondrous second act in Denver. But he was, essentially, on borrowed time, and finally his body no longer could withstand the rigors of playing the game.
Brady shows no signs of being anywhere near that point. He has been remarkably durable, other than the knee injury that cost him the 2008 season.
Brady clearly will play into his 40s. And at this point, there is no reason to doubt that he will play effectively well into his 40s.
7. Falcons’ coordinators… The Falcons have two new coordinators. They knew they’d be losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who left after the Super Bowl for the head coaching job in San Francisco. Coach Dan Quinn replaced him with Steve Sarkisian.
The unexpected post-Super Bowl move was Quinn ousting defensive coordinator Richard Smith and promoting Marquand Manuel from secondary coach to defensive coordinator.
Yes, the Falcons ranked 25th in the league in total defense and 27th in scoring defense during the regular season. Yes, Quinn reportedly took over defensive play-calling duties during the season. And yes, the defense eventually was shredded during the Super Bowl by Brady, who threw for 466 yards.
Even so, the moves on defense come as a surprise. The Falcons were young and fast on defense. The defense got better as the season progressed, and it gave Brady and the Patriots problems into the third quarter of the Super Bowl.
Things unraveled from there. But the defense was not totally to blame. If Shanahan had stuck to the running game while protecting the lead in the fourth quarter, the Falcons likely would be Super Bowl champs right now and feeling quite a bit better about their defensive performance in the game.
The celebration began immediately after an official on the field signaled touchdown, leading some to wonder if the play had been properly reviewed and confirmed by instant replay.
It was, according to Dean Blandino, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating.
“Remember in overtime you don’t kick the extra point,” Blandino said in a video posted to his Twitter account. “So the officials were briefed prior to the start of the drive that: ‘If we have a touchdown ruled and it’s close, replay is going to stop the game immediately to review the play. We have to keep the [players and coaches on the] sidelines off the field, try to keep everybody off the field.’ [It’s] almost impossible in this situation.
“But we are going to review this play if it’s remotely close. . . . The runner is gonna reach the ball over the goal line. The line judge. . . he’s gonna signal touchdown. Immediately the replay official is signaling to the officials on the field to stop the game to review the play. . . . The play did go under review. The referee looked at it. . . . The ruling on the field was confirmed. The play did go under review and the call was confirmed, and that’s how the game ended.”
9. Niners and Shanahan… So should the Niners have had second thoughts about hiring Shanahan as their head coach following his play-calling mismanagement late in the Super Bowl?
No way. Shanahan earned his head coaching opportunity by overseeing the league’s highest-scoring offense this season. The 49ers are a long, long way from having to worry about protecting a late lead in the Super Bowl.
But the next team to face Brady, Belichick and the Patriots in the Super Bowl needs to have its play-calling act together. From the Seattle Seahawks passing the ball from the 1-yard line instead of handing it to Marshawn Lynch to the Falcons failing to run the ball on two key fourth-quarter plays, Patriots’ opponents keep helping them to Super Bowl triumphs.
They don’t need the help. That should be obvious by now.
10. Waiting for the combine… The NFL scouting combine begins Feb. 28 and runs through March 6.
That is later than usual, meaning there is a longer-than-usual break between the Super Bowl and the combine.
Please find something to do with yourself in the meantime.