Bill Belichick: the Shia LeBeouf of master motivators.
Despite what the media machine may claim, this game is about more than the meeting of Jacob Tamme and Matthew Mulligan. Hard to believe, but it’s true. For the sake of fairness to the others involved, let’s try to look past those legendary backup tight ends whose legacy will be shaped in part by what transpires today.
Thanks to three weeks of success with running the ball well, the last two of them against run defenses ranked in the bottom seven in the league, the Patriots are suddenly regarded as transformed into an all-powerful ground and pound attack. They didn’t even throw a touchdown pass last week! Wowzers! I didn’t know teams could win by doing that. Denver is a bit better against the run, but just the knowledge that they’re going against the Pats’ vaunted run game should blow them five yards off the line of scrimmage on each down.
Denver also had quite a bit of success running last week in their playoff win over San Diego. To think, two teams with mythic backup tight ends, relying on the run game to win. Incredible to consider but a real possibility. That said, with the Broncos losing corner Chris Harris last week, you have to wonder how much that opens the field for Mulligan to shine.
The difference in special teams play on kickoffs is about as dramatic as you’ll see. The Broncos were the league’s worst in covering kickoffs while New England was among the best. The effects of playing in altitude somewhat negates that advantage. Still, one lapse by Denver could easily be enough to swing this game in the Patriots’ favor.
If it’s narrative you crave, there’s always Wes Welker, who has an extensive history of postseason screwups. Welker mistakes played a big role in New England completing its 24-point comeback victory in the regular season meeting in November. Welker had the latest in a series of dropped passes in big games. He also took the blame for a muffed punt in overtime that ended up giving the Patriots the winning score.
Finally, it’s not an angle a lot of writers are mining for content, but the starting quarterbacks are pretty good. I think one of them has a lot of success against Jack Del Rio’s defenses. Might be worth keeping an eye on.