First impressions: Julian Edelman's circus catch highlights Patriots' amazing comeback

First impressions: Julian Edelman's circus catch highlights Patriots' amazing comeback

HOUSTON -- Here are some quick-hit impressions from the Patriots' incredible 34-28, come-from-behind victory in overtime over the Falcons in Super Bowl LI (see game story):

• David Tyree, Mario Manningham, Jermanie Kearse … Julian Edelman. The Patriots finally had a circus catch go their way in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, and it could not have come at a better time. After a 20-yard completion to Danny Amendola, a 14-yard reception by James White and then a 7-yard catch by White, the Patriots were suddenly at the goal line after being sparked by Edelman's ridiculous grab. Brady handed to White, who had the game of his life, for an easy touchdown, and a two-point conversion to Amendola tied it. 

• Are you kidding me? The Patriots were down 21-0 in the first half. They were down 28-3 at one point. The largest comeback in Super Bowl history was 10 points.

• In overtime, Brady was masterful. He hit White for three catches that went for 13 yards. He hit Amendola for a 14-yard gain. Chris Hogan picked up 19. Edelman got 15 more. Brady threw incomplete to Martellus Bennett, but a pass-interference call put the Patriots at the one-yard line. After an incompletion on a fade to Bennett, Brady pitched to James White for the game-winning touchdown. 

• White has been criticized throughout his pro career for an inability to fight through contact, criticism that has been brought to his attention, but he lowered his shoulder and dove for the goal line to give the Patriots their fifth Lombardi Trophy.

• Dont'a Hightower, Trey Flowers and Chris Long came up with enormous plays to help give the Patriots an opportunity to come back. Hightower strip-sacked Matt Ryan, and Alan Branch fell on the football to prematurely put a stop to Atlanta's first drive of the final quarter. An Amendola touchdown made it a one-score game, 28-20. 

• During the subsequent Falcons drive, Flowers sacked Ryan and Chris Long drew a hold to knock the Falcons out of field-goal range. Atlanta punted, which led to Brady's game-tying drive and Edelman's remarkable catch.

• Tom Brady picked a bad time to throw his first-ever pick-six. Late in the second quarter, he dropped back to pass and attempted to hit Danny Amendola on a slant. The only problem was Falcons corner Robert Alford was reading Brady's eyes and undercut the route. Once Alford picked it, he had only Brady to beat for an 82-yard touchdown that made the score 21-0. Brady appeared to try to keep calm as he made his way to the bench, but eventually he chucked the pictures he was shown from the previous drive. 

• Brady looked off throughout much of the second quarter after completing six of eight attempts for 68 yards in the first quarter. He was also sacked twice in the first 15 minutes, as the Falcons front proved it could give the Patriots problems even if sack leader Vic Beasley wasn't creating pressure.

• In the second quarter, the Falcons made an obvious attempt to take away Brady's favorite target Edelman, which seemed to help rattle the Patriots' quarterback. Edelman was bracketed by linebacker Deion Jones and a corner at times, and on a third down in the middle of the second quarter, there were three Atlanta defenders in Edelman's vicinity. On that play, Brady was forced to go to James White, who was stopped short of a first down.

• Facing consistent pressure, and with his No. 1 receiver taken away, Brady struggled. On his final offensive drive of the half, Brady missed a wide-open Edelman for a long gain, threw three yards behind Chris Hogan, was off-target to Edelman over the middle, and his screen to Bennett on third down went for a loss of three. The Patriots got a field goal from the series, but even after running their typica effective uptempo offense, it was clear the Patriots had issues to iron out at halftime if they were to make the game competitive. 

• The young interior of the Patriots' offensive line had a difficult time with Falcons games up front throughout the first half. Oftentimes, Atlanta coach Dan Quinn's defense didn't need to bring extra bodies to pressure Brady. Shaq Mason was responsible for two quarterback hits and a sack in the first half, Joe Thuney appeared to be responsible for two pressures and a run-stuff, while David Andrews seemed to be the responsible party for two more run-stuffs. Left tackle Nate Solder was also responsible for a hit.

• LeGarrette Blount's fumble at the Falcons' 29-yard line early in the second quarter, recovered by Alford, was a momentum killer that eventually led to the first Falcons scoring drive. On that scoring drive, Matt Ryan worked his connection with Julio Jones for catches of 19 and 23 yards. On the touchdown play, Eric Rowe motioned to the middle of the field when Jones did. When Devin McCourty tried to push Rowe back out to the left boundary, Rowe barely moved. Ryan handed to Freeman at the five-yard line, and Freeman cut to the left side that Rowe had vacated and there was no one there to stop him. 

• The Falcons' offense had its way with the Patriots in the first half. Ryan completed 7 of 8 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown to tight end Austin Hooper, who beat Patrick Chung. Freeman ran for 71 yards on six carries, using his tremendous vision to cut back and find open running lanes against the Patriots' defense. Stretch-run plays, a staple of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's offense, were particularly effective for Freeman, who exploded into openings when he found them and refused to be tackled easily.

•  As the Patriots attempted to come back, they broke out several gadget plays: Edelman attempted a pass to Dion Lewis that went incomplete; they tried an onside kick after White's touchdown in the third quarter that was unsuccessful, and they worked a trick return to start the fourth quarter, where Edelman faked a catch to draw the Falcons' coverage unit while Chung fielded it about 30 yards away near the sideline, but Atlanta was not fooled.

•  The Patriots threatened to take a chunk out of Atlanta's 28-9 lead early in the fourth quarter, but Brady was sacked twice by Grady Jarrett — his second and third of the day, tying him for a Super Bowl record since 1982 — to thwart the drive and force a field goal. Jarrett beat Marcus Cannon for one sack and then got by Mason for his second.

For complete Super Bowl LI coverage, see CSNNE.com.

'Highly respected' Zach Ertz important piece of Eagles' offense

'Highly respected' Zach Ertz important piece of Eagles' offense

It doesn't take long in any conversation about Zach Ertz in Philadelphia before the words "breakout season" are tossed around.
 
Again.
 
But while a good portion of Eagles fans have been impatiently waiting for Ertz to "break out," the 2013 draft pick has quietly put together an extremely impressive start to his career.
 
In four seasons, Ertz has caught 247 passes for 2,840 yards and 13 touchdowns. He's one of just seven tight ends in NFL history to put up those numbers in the first four seasons of a career. The other six: Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, Jeremy Shockey, Tony Gonzalez, Kellen Winslow and Mike Ditka.
 
Not bad company.
 
But for whatever reason, Ertz hasn't become a real fan favorite. Fans have questioned his talent, his play-making ability and even his toughness.
 
Why the indifference?
 
"I don't know," tight ends coach Justin Peele said. "I love coaching him. I think he's good for this team. Every day he comes to work with the right attitude, trying to get better. He's had some success. I don't know. He's a pleasure to coach and I know he's very highly respected in this organization."
 
Ertz, 26, admitted this spring that the constant criticism from fans used to bother him when he was younger. But now entering his fifth season with the Eagles, he's gotten used to it.
 
Does Ertz think he's underrated or overrated?
 
"Whatever people think, people think," Ertz said earlier this spring on Quick Slants on CSN. "I'm not going to get caught up in people's opinions. It's the guys in this building, their opinions of me. I'm really happy with how I progressed this spring and I think I'm setting the stage for a good season."
 
The one thing Ertz admitted he needs to improve is his production in the end zone. He has just 13 touchdown catches in four years and has never had more than four in a season.
 
To put that in perspective, only two players over the last four years — Matt Forte and Jarvis Landry — have had more catches with 13 or fewer touchdowns. 
 
"That falls on me to go out there every Sunday to make plays," Ertz said. "Show I can do it in the spring and in the summer leading into the season and I'm working really hard at it."
 
The height of Ertz criticism came during a 32-14 Week 13 loss at Cincinnati last season. There was an infamous play where Carson Wentz went scrambling and Ertz failed to block a charging Vontaze Burfict, who was in pursuit. The play actually looked like Ertz got out of the way.
 
It was a bad look.
 
And Ertz knew it. He heard the criticism loudly and went out the next week and had a tough, physical game. But the damage was done. A lot of the fanbase turned on him.
 
"One play is not going to define him," Peele said. "The kid played through injury, he came back quick off of surgery a few years ago. He practices every day. This team is important to him. The game of football is important to him."
 
One way Ertz can win back Eagles fans this year is by having a big season. And that isn't out of the realm of possibility for one big reason. He's entering Year 2 with Wentz.
 
Since he entered the league in 2013, he's played with a new quarterback every season. So for this upcoming year, he's worked hard to build a rapport with Wentz and hopes the two of them can build something (see story).
 
How big of a season can Ertz have in 2017?
 
"It just really depends on the health," Peele said. "He's really talented. He can do a lot of things. He can help this offense in a lot of ways. I'm looking forward to it. He's doing well right now."

Seumalo, Vaitai comfortable heading into Year 2 after busy rookie seasons

Seumalo, Vaitai comfortable heading into Year 2 after busy rookie seasons

Had everything gone to plan in 2016, Isaac Seumalo and Halapoulivaati Vaitai would have spent their rookie seasons watching from the sideline. 

Everything didn't go to plan. 

Allen Barbre had a hamstring injury, Lane Johnson was suspended for 10 games and Brandon Brooks lost two games as he dealt with anxiety issues. 

As a result, Seumalo and Vaitai, third- and fifth-round draft picks, respectively, aren't just one year into their NFL careers. They've also played significant NFL snaps. 

And this year, they'll arrive at training camp as seasoned veterans, not green rookies. So which has had the greater impact: the year or playing time? 

"It’s both," head coach Doug Pederson said. "It's a combination of both. But the biggest thing is the actual playing time last year has really put them in good position this year."

Vaitai ended up playing in seven games with six starts. He played a total of 423 snaps as a rookie and filled in for Johnson until he went down with a knee injury. After a rough start — really rough — Vaitai settled in and showed signs that he could possibly be the Eagles' right tackle of the future. 

When asked about the difference in Vaitai from last year to this year, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland laughed before answering. 

"Night and day, apples and oranges," Stoutland said. "Just his understanding of the position, his balance, his body control, the way he uses his hands. This is a lot faster game than college."

Vaitai found out about the speed of the game first-hand in Week 6 last year. Thanks to Johnson's suspension, Vaitai started at right tackle and didn't have a bad game. He had a horrible game. 

He didn't need to think very long when he was asked what his "welcome to the NFL" moment was. 

"It was that game," he said. "Because in camp I'm going with the threes and twos. I was still a rookie, but when I got thrown into the fire, I learned real quick that if you're not doing great, then you're out. I didn't want to be a disappointment to my family and be that guy who gets drafted and then is out the next year."

Seumalo ended up playing in nine games with four starts and a total of 335 snaps. He played four positions along the offensive line; the only one he didn't play was his most natural spot at center. 

"It's not just the year, it's the playing experience," Stoutland said. "He's played in nine games I think he started four of those games. ... He played a lot of football in his first year. Just that experience in playing those positions and understanding the angles we need to take. He's a very intelligent player. I love coaching players of his magnitude. They have talent, they're smart. Really all you do is coach him one time on something and he pretty much has it."

Seumalo didn't get to play at center last year because veteran Jason Kelce didn't miss any of the 1,133 snaps in 2016. Kelce is still on the team, but it seems like the Eagles are grooming Seumalo to eventually take over. Even this spring, the second-year lineman has been taking some first-team reps at center. 

That's actually how Seumalo thinks he got better. By learning the center position, he gained a better grasp of the offense. That, combined with a year under his belt and significant playing time, have him feeling much more confident heading into Year 2.

"Training camp was tough and a grind and the season is just long," Seumalo said. "Now, I know what to expect a little bit more."