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.

Eagles' plethora of wide receivers sets up 'great' competition to make roster

Eagles' plethora of wide receivers sets up 'great' competition to make roster

The math is pretty interesting.

Five wide receivers who played last year are still on the roster. Two veteran free agents added. Two draft picks added. Four others acquired as street free agents.

Thirteen wide receivers on the roster. Five will survive. Maybe six.

The Eagles promised they would upgrade the wide receiver position, and it sure seems like they have.

"We're trying to build competition," executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said. "That's going to make everyone better."

The bar is not very high.

The Eagles last year had perhaps the worst group of wide receivers in franchise history and arguably one of the worst in NFL history.

All the wideouts combined finished with just seven catches for 30 or more yards, only two of them for touchdowns.

The Eagles were the only team in the NFL without a single wide receiver over 12.5 yards per catch.

Enter free agents Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and draft picks Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson.

A lot of bodies. Increased competition. More talent. It'll be fascinating to see how it all shakes out.

"We're not looking at numbers," Roseman said. "We're not worried about what's going to happen in August. A lot is going to happen between now and August. The best situation we could have is have a lot of good players at a particular position."

Out of the whole group, Jeffery is the only lock. Jordan Matthews has been unspectacular but steady but is due to become a free agent after the 2017 season, so it's not inconceivable the Eagles could trade him.

Nelson Agholor, the 2015 first-round pick, could be expendable, although he would count about $2 million more against the cap if the Eagles release him ($4.684 million) as opposed to keeping him ($2.557 million).

Dorial Green-Beckham, a second-round pick of the Titans just two years ago, failed to produce last year, and it's hard to imagine the Eagles finding him a roster spot.

Even without DGB, the once-thin wideout depth chart now includes Matthews, Jeffery, Agholor, Smith, Hollins and Gibson.

That's six. And most teams don't keep six.

Pederson said it will all sort itself out at training camp.

"Really the most important thing for me is I want guys that love football, No. 1," head coach Doug Pederson said. "Guys who want to come in here and compete and earn a spot and earn that jersey on Sundays.

"You know, when these two guys (Hollins and Gibson) were sitting right there for us, we all kind of got excited and just looking forward to working with them, getting them here in the building here in a couple weeks, get them in that first rookie camp and expose them to our offense and then see what they can do from there.

"This is going to be a different set of challenges for each one of them, competing now against NFL-caliber corners and safeties, so getting them in here and getting them to work is something that we're looking forward to here in a couple days."

This is only the fourth time since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 that the Eagles have taken two wide receivers in the first five rounds of a draft.

In 1990, they took three — Mike Bellamy, Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams. In 2000, they selected Todd Pinkston and Gari Scott. And just three years ago they took Matthews and Josh Huff.

In Hollins, the Eagles got a receiver who led all of Division I with 24.8 yards per catch as a junior and averaged over 20 yards per catch for his career.

He was considered one of the finest special teamers available in the draft, but Roseman said Hollins is here to be a wide receiver first.

"He's 6-foot-4, he can run, a physical receiver, can go up and get the football," Roseman said. "For us, it was the receiving ability first. You're talking about a guy who's got tremendous size and tremendous speed. We feel like if he didn't have the collarbone (injury), he goes two rounds before that.

"Tremendous upside as a receiver, and he's got the intelligence and work ethic to work on whatever his deficiencies are. In the meantime, he has a role to fill (on special teams) and you can get him on the field on the 46-man roster.

"But we're not looking to draft special teams players in the fourth round. We're looking at a guy like that who's got the ability to be an eventual starter."

Gibson is another speedy wideout and averaged 22.1 yards per catch at West Virginia, with 17 touchdowns.

In fact, Gibson and Hollins ranked No. 2 and No. 5 in Division I over the past three years in yards-per-catch:

23.1 … Jalen Robinette (Air Force)
22.6 … Shelton Gibson (West Virginia)
22.0 … Chris Moore (Cincinnati)
20.9 … Breshard Perriman (Central Florida)
20.6 … Mack Hollins (North Carolina)

"Shelton Gibson is a guy who … can take the top off," Roseman said. "You can see he gets separation. He can get vertical, and for us, he was the best player on the board."

Matthews (67-872), Jeremy Maclin (56-773) and DeSean Jackson (62-912) all put up solid numbers as rookies, but Hollins and Gibson are Day 2 picks, and Pederson said the transition to the NFL for them could be a challenging one.

"You know, most receivers coming out of college don't have an extensive route tree like we will have, and so there's a learning curve there," he said.

"But both these guys are sharp guys. You see it on tape when you get a chance to visit with them. They understand offense. They understand coverage. They are going to be a little bit of a work in progress."

Last year, the Eagles finished the season with Matthews, Agholor, Bryce Treggs, Green-Beckham and Paul Turner on the roster.

The lack of talent at wideout really hampered rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, who nonetheless enjoyed a promising season.

With an upgraded group of wide receivers, Wentz should have more opportunities to shine. 

"I think it's great," Pederson said. "I stood up here last year and said 'competition at every position.'

"I'm excited to see these guys work. I'm excited to see who's going to rise to the top and who's going to be there at the end. It's just going to make us better."

Bills fire GM Doug Whaley, scouting staff

Bills fire GM Doug Whaley, scouting staff

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Whether it was sitting together in a golf cart watching training camp or sharing dinner and drinks at a nearby restaurant, Bills owner Terry Pegula and general manager Doug Whaley were nearly inseparable last summer.

Some nine months later, their professional relationship soured to such an extent that Pegula fired Whaley and his entire scouting staff on Sunday.

The decision was reached shortly after the two met at 8 a.m., a day following the NFL draft, and it completed a front-office purge that began with coach Rex Ryan being fired in the final week of last season.

Pegula's voice cracked briefly with emotion when discussing the latest move, saying: "There were a few tears around the building, to be honest with you. He's a good guy."

But not good enough to keep his job, with Pegula saying he reached the conclusion following a lengthy offseason review.

It's a shake-up that further solidifies the influence rookie coach Sean McDermott has gained in the three months since being hired. The 42-year-old detail-oriented defensive specialist has become the voice of the franchise in discussing all team-related topics, including free agency and the draft.

Pegula said the timing coincided with the end of the draft, but he declined to detail the reasons why the overhaul was necessary. Nor would Pegula explain his reasoning for showing Whaley the door while praising the collaborative approach that took place between the GM and McDermott in the draft room.

"We have certain aspects we need to get a little better in," Pegula said. "(Whaley's) a smart man, but we made the decision. And the reasons remain private to us."

Pegula said "things change," when asked why he signed Whaley to a four-year contract extension in January 2016, and then backed him this January after Ryan was fired.

Pegula also took the emphasis off McDermott's authority by saying the decision to fire Whaley was made by him and his wife, Kim.

The Bills also dismissed player-personnel director Jim Monos and Kelvin Fisher, the team's former amateur scouting director who had previously been demoted to an advisory role.

Pegula will immediately begin a GM search and said it was too early to speculate on candidates. He said McDermott would have some input.

One possible candidate is Carolina Panthers assistant GM Brandon Beane because of his ties to McDermott, who spent the previous six seasons as the team's defensive coordinator.

McDermott on Saturday praised Whaley's role in the draft process but sidestepped questions regarding the GM's job security.

The Bills made six picks and swung several trades in addressing immediate and long-term needs.

Buffalo opened by acquiring two selections, including a first-rounder next year, in a trade with Kansas City to move back 17 spots and select LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White at 27th.

The Bills have now gone through six general managers during their 17-year playoff drought -- the longest active streak in North America's four major professional sports. It's the first GM search for the Pegulas, who retained Whaley when they purchased the team in October 2014.

Whaley worked up the scouting ranks with the Pittsburgh Steelers, before the Bills hired him as an assistant general manager in 2010. He was groomed to become the GM and took over the job in May 2013 when Buddy Nix stepped down.

The Bills' drafting history had been spotty this decade.

Of the 35 players Buffalo drafted from 2010-13, only defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and left tackle Cordy Glenn remain on the roster.

Whaley has been second-guessed on a number of selections, including the decision to trade two draft picks -- including Buffalo's 2015 first-round selection -- to Cleveland to move up five spots and pick receiver Sammy Watkins with the fourth selection in the 2014 draft.

It was considered a high price to pay in a draft that produced a bounty of top-flight receivers.

Whaley acknowledged he took a gamble and suggested his tenure in Buffalo might well be judged on that one move.

Both of Pegula's Buffalo-based sports franchises are hitting the reset button. Pegula fired Sabers GM Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma 10 days after the NHL season ended two weeks ago.

Without going into detail, Pegula said he is close to hiring a general manager.

Between the two teams, the Pegulas have now employed a combined seven coaches and three GMs since purchasing the Sabres in February 2011.

Pegula chalked up the rate of change as being common in sports, and disputed the notion it reflects poorly on him.

"We're going to try to make the best decision we can in the future," Pegula said. "We've made big decisions all our lives."