, Newburyport, MA

October 15, 2013

Can Pats ride energy wave over long haul?

On Pro Football
Hector Longo

---- — FOXBOROUGH — Bill Belichick, of all people, brought it up on his weekly mandated radio address, how Sunday’s comeback reminded him some of the “Snow Game” in the 2001 playoffs with Oakland.

Great minds and all that, it’s all I could think about as I left Gillette Stadium Sunday.

Tuck rule, Jermaine Wiggins, Adam Vinatieri and the crazy swings — right on deadline Saturday night, mind you — that playoff thriller with Oakland was one for the history books, as was Sunday’s wild affair with New Orleans.

“Sorry if you had to rewrite some of those stories there at the end,” joked Bill Belichick after the game.

For the record, it was nothing compared to the sheer chaos that night at the old Foxborough Stadium.

We all know the history.

The Pats, sparked by that AFC Divisional victory, went into Pittsburgh and stunned the Steelers in the AFC title game and then pulled off one of the great Super Bowl upsets ever over the St. Louis Rams.

Could Sunday’s win ignite the 2013 Pats in a similar fashion? And can New England carry that fire the distance? Don’t discount either premise.

Here’s why:

1. Tom Brady — For a minute, ignore the numbers, good or bad, and zone in on Brady and his well-documented body language.

Is he depressed about Gronk or his lack of receivers? Has it been some kind of mid-life thing, coming up a bit quicker than expected?

Brady just hasn’t been himself. The team is winning and he’s pounding rookie receivers or Julian Edelman for missing a route or dropping a ball. That’s not Brady. This is a guy who loves to play the game and clamors to win at all cost.

We hadn’t seen that till Sunday. Buoyed by the confidence of that comeback, maybe he’ll be a bit bolder and more brash. I just see the real Brady awakening there. You get the feeling he’ll be the best player in the game over the second half of the year.

2. Devin McCourty — McCourty is the total package as far as NFL defensive backs are concerned. Big and athletic, fast, nimble, and man does he have the ego to match. For a former corner, demoted to safety, he sees nothing but Pro Bowl-bound when he looks in the mirror.

Lately, McCourty has lost the edge, though, the defense mechanisms are down. He speaks confidently, openly and honestly, like a leader on this defense.

For years now, I’ve called for character, true character, to be found on this defense. It says here that McCourty is supplying it.

McCourty has few fears now on the football field. As he said Sunday night, he trusts the guys he’s back there with. Clearly, that confidence is contagious back there, just as in past years the childishness has. McCourty has matured, and this secondary has too. Now, just let them play and don’t worry about the consequences.

3. Rob Gronkowski — Gronkowski’s extended leave has galvanized the locker room. That’s the positive of that. Of course, they are in unison, railing against Gronk and his desire to continue summer vacation nearly into November.

Listen to Belichick. Every time Gronk’s name has been brought up, he immediately uses some version of the phrase “needs to be cleared medically first.”

You don’t think Brady was looking to jam the football into Michael Hoomanawanui (4 catches) on Sunday without a purpose, do you?

Gronk is going to have to earn his teammates’ respect back when he returns, but know this football team right now is on a mission, whether it’s with him or without him.


Was the New York coaching staff paying attention? You have to wonder what Jets’ offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is thinking as he implements this week’s game plan for Sunday’s Meadowlands matinee with the Patriots.

You have to like the idea that New York could attempt to exploit the Pats on the run, especially if Jerod Mayo joins Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly on the sideline.

The New Yorkers ran the ball well against a healthier Pats front seven in the teams’ earlier meeting here at Foxborough. You have to wonder if they are serious enough to try it again.

Geno Smith’s 15 of 35 with three interceptions last time should provide a heck of a clue.

While the schedule eases off here on the Pats, it is a pretty pivotal time. Beat the 3-3 Jets this week and find a way to knock off Miami here at Gillette a week later, and the AFC East is basically sealed.

That should be plenty of motivation for an already jacked-up Pats team that has been instilled by oddsmakers as an initial four-point favorite.