Philadelphia Eagles

Curran: Patriots' Super Bowl win is America's nightmare

Curran: Patriots' Super Bowl win is America's nightmare

HOUSTON – At 5:50 p.m. EST, the New England Patriots took the long way down their sideline, all the way to a tunnel leading to their locker room.

The last song they heard as they left the field: “Hate Me Now” by Nas.

It's been a long time, been a long time comin'
Looks like the death of me now
But you know, there's no turning back now
This is what makes me; this is what I am
You can hate me now, but I won't stop now 
Cause I can't stop now, you can hate me now

All season, that song has played during warmups. It’s an embrace of the hate, fear and loathing that turned this franchise from the most beloved champions in NFL history in February, 2002 to one of its most reviled here in February, 2017.

So much revulsion caused by this one team from a little area in the top right corner of the country. All caused by 15 years of the team’s excellence, arrogance, petulance and perfection, the fanbase’s insanity, insufferability and never-ending persecution complex. To say nothing of the media’s catty, smarmy, condescension.

For 37 minutes of football, the country luxuriated in watching the Patriots finally get their nuts stomped in public. A whole damn season of hearing how Roger Goodell would rue the day he suspended Tom Brady and had to hand him the MVP Trophy. HA! The Patriots were on their way to losing by 40.

The rumpled genius Bill Belichick was halfway to being stripped bare. Things were proceeding so that the fanbase and media might even be forced to shut up for 15 minutes about their precious Tawwwwmmmmyyyyy and the miscarriage of justice the NFL visited upon them.

Then America’s dream Super Bowl turned into America’s nightmare.

Brady reached into the mouth of the Falcons, jammed his hand down through their esophagus, fished around until he found their heart, pulled it out in one long, slow tug, let them look at it and squeezed.

The Patriots erased a 28-3 deficit by outscoring Atlanta 31-0 over the last 17 minutes of play plus overtime. The 25-point comeback was the biggest comeback by a Super Bowl winner ever. The next-closest was 10. The Patriots did that too just two years ago when New England was on the winning end of another “Can you believe this?!” Super Bowl win over Seattle.

Belichick and Brady have won five Super Bowls meaning both men are unsurpassed in Super Bowl wins. Brady’s walked past Montana and Bradshaw in Super Bowl wins. The idea that people are even bothering to ask any more if Brady is the greatest quarterback ever is testimony to how much he’s reviled.

The real question? Is Tom Brady the Michael Jordan of the NFL? Or was Jordan the Brady of the NBA?

For the country? For the country this has to be the … Worst. Super Bowl. Ever. Sunday started with SNL’s Michael Che calling Boston the most racist city in America and pledging to cheer his ass off for Atlanta.

It ended with Brady breaking down after James White’s OT touchdown, a flood of emotions buckling him after he’d kept everything boxed up and filed away for months on end. Good job America. That’s the guy you can’t stand.

The Patriots definitely dragged out the drama though in trying to make Matt Ryan the first MVP to win the Super Bowl since Kurt Warner did in 1999.

The first quarter was a scoreless rock fight but the first play of the second quarter was a Brady redirect of Julian Edelman on third-and-1 and the Patriots got 33 and the Patriots were in business. Then they weren’t.

A strip by rookie Deion Jones of LeGarrette Blount got Atlanta the ball and then the Falcons ripped downfield with Julio Jones winning on a deep in-cut against Logan Ryan for 19 followed by a terrific 24-yard throw by Matt Ryan to Jones on the left sideline. Then it was Devonta Freeman ripping off 15 and 9 to put Atlanta down deep with 12:40 left in the half. And Freeman walked in.

The Patriots went three-and-out and then the Falcons did it again. From the Blount fumble on, the Falcons gained 19, 23, 15, 9 and the Freeman touchdown. The next drive had completions of 24, 18, a 1-yard run, an incompletion and then a 19-yard touchdown to tight end Austin Hooper with Pat Chung in coverage.

Then it got really bad. Despite having a drive propped up by three third-down flags against the Falcons, the Patriots weren’t able to cash in as a third-and-6 from the Atlanta 23 was picked by Robert Alford and took it 82 yards the other way to make it 21-0.

A 10-play, 52-yard drive that had the Patriots down inside the Atlanta 5 with fewer than 30 seconds left on the clock but a Martellus Bennett hold wiped out the gain that got them there, and New England had to settle for a field goal that left it at 21-3 going into halftime.

Post-Gaga, it got worse. The Patriots got a three-and-out and had decent field position after an Edelman punt return, but a first down drop by Chris Hogan and a third-down drop by Edelman forced a punt and the Falcons scored again.

And in doing so saw Malcolm Butler turned inside out by wide receiver Taylor Gabriel for a 35-yard gain, and Shanahan outscheme Belichick and Patricia with their touchdown pass to Tevin Coleman who they isolated on defensive end Rob Ninkovich on the perimeter.

The Patriots got themselves downfield to make it 28-9 on a drive that seemed to take longer than it needed to as the Patriots went heavy inside the 20 and took a long time to score. After they did, Stephen Gostkowski shanked the extra point in the direction of San Antonio.

He promptly followed that up with an illegal touch on the ensuing onsides kick. Atlanta recovered and you 35-9 seemed reasonable. But the Falcons luxury liner sprung the tiniest of leaks in the boiler room.

After a 9-yard completion to the Patriots 32, Jake Matthews got called for a hold on second-and-1.  Then Ryan took a 9-yard sack on third-and-11 and Atlanta had to punt.

The Patriots, going shotgun and up-tempo, ripped downfield on a 12-play drive but had to settle for a field goal making it 28-12. Sixteen points was two scores but what were the odds of no Atlanta points, two Patriot touchdowns and two two-point conversions. Almost nil.

They needed a play. They got it. Dont'a Hightower, who saved a Super Bowl before Malcolm Butler really saved it in SB49, got a strip sack of Ryan and the Patriots cashed in five plays later. Amendola got the two-point conversion and it was 28-20.

It took Atlanta three plays to get to the Patriots 22, though. There was 4:40 left. Run the ball, make the Patriots burn timeouts, kick a field goal to go up 11. Done and done. But instead, Ryan dropped to throw and was sacked back at the Patriots 33. Another hold on Matthews and suddenly it was third-and-33 and the Falcons were out of field goal range and Brady was getting the ball again.

The country gulped. The smart ones turned it off then. The rest? They saw the Patriots put it all to bed.

Cowboys kneel before national anthem, beat Cardinals on MNF

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USA Today Images

Cowboys kneel before national anthem, beat Cardinals on MNF

BOX SCORE

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dak Prescott threw two touchdown passes and flipped head over heels into the end zone on a 10-yard run for another and the Dallas Cowboys pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat the Arizona Cardinals 28-17 on Monday night.

The Cowboys (2-1), bouncing back from a 42-17 pummeling in Denver, began the game kneeling at midfield with owner Jerry Jones in a show of unity that followed widespread protests across the NFL of critical comments by President Donald Trump over the weekend.

After they kneeled, they stood and walked to the sideline.

"We planned and it was executed that we would go out and kneel," Jones said, "and basically make the statement regarding the need for unity and the need for equality."

So they decided to make their statement before the anthem.

Prescott, 13 of 18 for 183 yards, broke a 14-14 tie with a 37-yard scoring pass to Brice Butler with 11:52 to play.

Arizona, with a spectacular catch by Larry Fitzgerald for 24 yards on a third-and-18 play, moved downfield but the drive stalled. Phil Dawson's 37-yard field goal cut the lead to 21-17 with 6:35 left.

Ezekiel Elliott, who gained 8 yards on nine carries against Denver and drew criticism for not hustling after a couple of late interceptions, was bottled up much of the game, but still gained 80 yards on 22 attempts, 30 on one play. He ran 8 yards for the final Cowboys touchdown.

The Cardinals (1-2), in their home opener, got a big game from Fitzgerald, who caught 13 passes for 149 yards, in the process moving ahead of Marvin Harrison into eighth in career receiving yards. The 13 receptions tied a career high.

"That's Fitz. It's Monday night," Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. "He's a money player. It was a great performance by him. It's a shame we couldn't play better around him."

Carson Palmer had a big first half, completed 15 of 18 for 145 yards and finished 29 of 48 for 325 yards and two scores. He was sacked six times, a career-high three by DeMarcus Lawrence.

The Cardinals dominated the first half statistically, but were deadlocked with the Cowboys at 7-7. Arizona had a 152-57 advantage in yards and dominated time of possession 19:34 to 9:41.

Arizona took the opening kickoff and went 82 yards in eight plays. Palmer was 5-for-5 on the drive, capped by a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jaron Brown.

Before Dallas even had a first down, Arizona mounted a nearly nine-minute drive but a touchdown pass to Brown was negated by a holding penalty and Phil Dawson's 36-yard field goal try was wide right. It was the third mid-range miss for the 41-year-old kicker this season.

And the miss left the door open for the Cowboys to get back in it.

Prescott scored on a 10-yard run, flipping head-first over the goal line to tie it at 7-7 with 3:33 left in the half.

Taking a knee 
Jones has been a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, so the speculation was that he would not allow his players to kneel during the national anthem.

Following a weekend of kneeling and protesting across the NFL, the Cowboys and their owner displayed their own version of unity Monday night, kneeling on the field before rising as a group and going to the sideline for the national anthem.

Numerous boos rang out across University of Phoenix Stadium as the Cowboys kneeled and continued as the players rose, still arm-in-arm, and stepped back to the sideline as the flag was unfurled across the field. They remained connected as Jordin Sparks sang the national anthem (see story).

The Cardinals had their own symbol of unity after a weekend of protests in the NFL, gathering along the goal line arm-in-arm during the national anthem. They were joined by team president Michael Bidwell, his family and general manager Steve Keim.

"It's just to show unity," Cardinals team captain Frostee Rucker said. "There's so much negativity going on. People are trying to pull us apart. We always want to stay together."

More than 200 NFL players kneeled, sat or prayed during the national anthem on Sunday after President Trump said any player who does not stand for the national anthem should be fired.

Sparks, whose father Phillippi played in the NFL, had "PROV 31:8-9" written on her hand while she sang the anthem.

The bible verse says: "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."

Extending legacy of toughness, Darren Sproles hints at comeback

Extending legacy of toughness, Darren Sproles hints at comeback

As Darren Sproles lay on his back during the second quarter of Sunday's game at the Linc, and as trainers rushed to him and his teammates kneeled around him, it was already too late. His ACL was already torn. His forearm was already broken. His season, and maybe even his career, was already over.

Then Sproles did the most Sproles-like thing ever. He got to his feet, pressed his broken right arm against his body and walked off the field, down the sideline, through the tunnel and into the Eagles' locker room on a torn ACL. 

He looked pissed off the whole time. 

When news about the extent of Sproles' injuries surfaced Monday morning (see story), my first reaction was pretty simple: It would be a shame if that's how his career ended. That's still true. 

On Monday night, Sproles took to social media to thank folks for their support and hinted that a comeback is in his future.

Great news for fans, though at the start of next season, he'll be a 35-year-old free-agent running back coming off two major injuries. 

So if Sunday was indeed the last time we saw Sproles as an NFL player, it would be pretty fitting. That will be a big part of his legacy. He was talented, sure. He was dynamic, absolutely. The numbers and the accomplishments are incredible, no doubt. 

He just also happened to be one of the toughest little mother f'ers to ever step on the field, too. 

If Sproles got a dollar for every time he was asked about his height, he could have played the game for free. At 5-foot-6, Sproles always understood the height questions and he was still getting them this season as a 34-year-old in his 13th NFL season. It sort of goes against what people expect from an NFL athlete. They're supposed to be Greek Gods, after all, bigger than life. Not the height of your teenage nephew. 

In a way, Sproles' height (or lack thereof) became a secret weapon. Do you want to underestimate me because I'm short? Go ahead. 

Sproles, eighth all-time in career all-purpose yards, isn't just extremely well-respected and liked within the Eagles' locker room. He's that well thought of around the league as well. In fact, when Odell Beckham Jr. entered the field Sunday, the first thing he did was find Sproles. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the league who doesn't like Darren Sproles. If you found someone, he'd probably be a linebacker who had once been on the receiving end of one of his punishing blocks. 

Because although Sproles is just 5-6, he's also 190 pounds and packs a hell of a punch. And throughout his career, he has always been more than willing to take on guys who weigh way more than he does. 

Sproles and I have always seen eye-to-eye and I'm not talking about some common understanding. We're pretty much the same height. So last year, when he was flagged for a chop block in Detroit, we both got a chuckle out of it. The next day, after Doug Pederson's press conference, I was standing outside to tape a segment with coworker Reuben Frank when Sproles walked out of the NovaCare Complex toward his car. He stopped for a brief chat and, of course, the first thing we talked about was that chop block. He wasn't trying to chop block of course; he's just short. It was arguably the toughest loss of the 2016 season but Sproles couldn't help but laugh, too; he basically got flagged for not being tall enough. 

Then the conversation rolled into his general enthusiasm for blocking and how he's always understood how important it is for him. And it got me wondering a little bit … when linebackers see a 5-6 running back about to block them, they probably don't know what's coming, do they? 

Sproles' eyes widened and the corners of his mouth lifted into a sheepish grin. 

"They're never ready for it," he said. "That's fine with me." 

This will be the first time in his lengthy career Sproles will play fewer than 13 games in a season. In 10 of his 13 seasons, he's played at least 15 games, proving to be as durable as he is talented. 

The Eagles are going to miss Sproles for the last 13 games of the 2017 season. There's no way to sugarcoat it and there's no reason to. They're going to miss him on offense, where he's a uniquely dynamic player in the run and pass game. They're going to miss him on special teams, where he's become one of the best punt returners in NFL history. 

And they're going to miss him in the locker room, where he's about as well-respected as any player on the roster. 

"He's a great man," Pederson said Monday. "He's a great leader, well-liked on this team and in this locker room and in this community. He's a lot of energy, and that's hard to replace. It's hard to replace. And so guys are just going to have to rally and pick up that spot and move forward. But, it's unfortunate. It is part of the game, and it's unfortunate that an injury has to happen, and sometimes it happens to great people and great men. It's just the unfortunate side of the business."

Well before the start of the 2017 season, Sproles was preparing for this to be his final NFL season. In June, he softened on that, saying, "We're gonna see" and to ask him after the Eagles made the playoffs. Despite growing pressure from his family to hang up the cleats, Sproles seemed genuinely rejuvenated by the opportunity to teach younger players like Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey and Corey Clement. During last season, he even lived next door to Smallwood. 

Sproles will have a decision to make eventually. He'll need surgery on his arm and his knee and the recovery process won't be an easy one. It sounds like Sproles wants to come back but he won't have to make that final decision for a while. 

If Sunday ends up being his final NFL game, his 13-year career will have ended on a fluke injury, followed by something that probably just shouldn't surprise us anymore. When the injury happened, it didn't sound good — "Ahh s---!" was heard from the microphone on the field. But Sproles collected himself, saved the cart a trip, and marched his beat-up body off the field. 

That's one tough little dude.