ORLANDO, Fla. – Time, it’s been said, heals all wounds. Apparently, not enough has passed yet for Robert Kraft when it comes to Super Bowl LII.
“The fact that we lost, and lost the way we did, I still haven’t gotten over it,” the Patriots owner admitted to reporters Monday at the NFL Annual Meeting site in Central Florida.
Seven weeks ago, Kraft’s Patriots came painfully close, but a desperation Hail Mary pass on the game’s final play fell to the turf, and with it, New England’s chances of winning the team’s NFL record-tying sixth Super Bowl title. The 41-33 final score reflected the highest point total ever scored by a Super Bowl losing side, and many observers have since questioned head coach Bill Belichick’s decision that night not to play one of his best defenders, cornerback Malcolm Butler, (Butler saw action on one special teams play).
“As a fan, I can question some of the moves,” Kraft allowed, but went on to express adamant support for Belichick’s motivation for making the controversial call with Butler.
“Here’s the deal,” Kraft continued. “We in New England are privileged to have, I believe, the greatest coach in the history of coaching. We’re involved in a number of businesses in our family, in 95 countries in the world. We try to encourage our managers to be bold, to take risks, and, you know, sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t.
“But I have faith in Bill as a coach. I don’t think there’s anyone that has the football knowledge and expertise combined with understanding personnel. No one can merge those two worlds. He’s done pretty well for us over the past 18 years. As someone who’s privileged to be the owner of this team, I encourage him to keep going with his instincts and doing what he thinks is right.”
The team’s chairman and CEO maintained that, with the exception of his club’s first-ever Super Bowl win following the 2001 season, the emotions associated with losing a Super Bowl almost always exceed those that accompany winning one. He also asserted that he believes quarterback Tom Brady is experiencing such feelings at the moment.
As a result, Kraft added, Belichick has often said that important decisions should not be made, nor should personal feelings be made public, in the immediate aftermath of such a loss, for fear of saying or doing something for the wrong reason.
However, in postgame comments to reporters, New England’s All-Pro tight end, Rob Gronkowski (under contract through 2020), openly stated that he’s mulling his future in football and has yet to announce or give any public indication that he’s returning to the Patriots this season. Brady, meantime, unveiled a carefully produced conclusion to his popular online documentary series, Tom vs Time, in which he seemed to question his own desire to continue playing for much longer.
Many pundits and analysts have suggested that a summit be convened between Kraft, Belichick, and Brady – the team’s iconic triumvirate – to resolve whatever lingering tension exists between the parties, a perceived issue that has been highly publicized in recent months. When asked directly if such a meeting has taken place since Super Bowl LII, the owner offered a blunt reply.
“Yes. We’ve had the meeting. And just to be clear – we have meetings all the time. We’re not a big bureaucratic organization. We don’t have boards. We answer to the fans the best we can. We met, and I meet individually with each of them.”
With respect to Gronkowski’s future, Kraft said he saw the tight end enter Gillette Stadium’s football facilities after hours a few weeks ago, and then made reference to a weekend party event at which the 6-6 Gronkowski leapt onto the back of 7-1 basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal. In Kraft’s mind, those moments appear to be positive indicators that Gronkowski is prepared mentally and physically to continue playing.
At the same time, he acknowledged regret that Butler has since moved on from the Patriots by signing with the Tennessee Titans in free agency.
“I had hoped he’d be a Patriot for all his days,” remarked Kraft. “He’s a great guy. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for him with us, but I’m happy he got the contract he got, and he’s doing it with some Patriot-related people in Tennessee [in head coach Mike Vrabel and general manager Jon Robinson]. So, I wish him well and I’ll miss him.”
One person Kraft won’t have to miss is Josh McDaniels. He reacted most enthusiastically when asked about the offensive coordinator’s decision to remain with the Patriots after initially accepting the head coaching position with Indianapolis just days after Super Bowl LII.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am that he’s coming back. I think he’s the best offensive coordinator, and has shown that when he’s been with us. He has a great football intellect. We’re really happy he decided to stay with us.”
McDaniels’ staying has clearly been one of the most positive outcomes for Kraft since the disappointment of Super Bowl LII. He emphasized that reports of internal conflict with the Patriots have been overstated.
“In any successful business or marriage, if you have a good relationship, there’ll be times when you disagree. Hopefully, you come together, have a meeting of the minds, and discuss things.
“The residual of this [Super Bowl] loss was really hard on everyone,” Kraft concluded with a grin, “but I sort of see that as a high-class problem.”