John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes that Dean Pees assumed the role of Patriots defensive coordinator just five days ago. In a sport in which players can spot insincerity from the parking lot, and on a team on which rah-rah enthusiasm merely trips the mental mute button among its veteran core, Pees has soared up the coaching ranks not only for his knowledge of Xs and Os, but by staying true to himself. "I never saw Dean lose his patience, even when I lost mine," said Lou Holtz, who hired Pees at Notre Dame in 1994. "I never saw him become irrational, even when I did at the worst times. All the qualities I dislike in myself, Dean possesses exactly the opposite.
Michael Felger of the Boston Herald writes that fans may have woken up yesterday morning still bemoaning the Pats' lost opportunity at hosting the AFC title game against Bill Cowher's bunch, but Pittsburgh's dominant performance in Denver should have disabused them of that optimism. The Patriots went into Denver nine days ago and were bounced after playing a flustered and jittery game. The Steelers took their turn yesterday and, facing the same aggressive defense and high-decibel crowd, calmly dismantled the Broncos, 34-17, to earn a date against Seattle in Super Bowl XL.
Albert Breer of the MetroWest Daily News writes that Seattle Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck and linebacker Lofa Tatupu are sons of ex-athletes, so the fact that they have emerged as professional athletes themselves isn't out of the ordinary. But the circumstance in which they find themselves tonight is surprising. Two kids, from the football wasteland of Massachusetts, from the same school district, standing on the precipice of the Super Bowl, one the leader of the Seahawks offense, the other the guiding light for Seattle's defense. Matt Hasselbeck is the son of former Patriots tight end, Don Hasselbeck and Lofa Tatupu is the son former Patriots fullback, Mosi Tatupu.
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal writes that no one could reasonably expect the 2005 edition of the Patriots to have done more than it did with the litany of player injuries and staff turnover they dealt with. But -- somehow -- history was right there in front of them waiting to be made. If they had just gotten past Denver last week, the matchups in the AFC Championship and Super Bowl would have been far more favorable. You best believe they'll be thinking about that for the next six months. It will be kindling for the fire in 2006. In order to get back where they feel they belong, the Patriots need to negotiate their offseason issues with the same dexterity they did in 2003. That's the offseason they built the roster that helped them win two straight Lombardis. Curran takes a look at four main concerns they face.
Ron Borges of the Boston Globe writes that despite all his coaching experience and Super Bowl success, not even Bill Belichick knows what his longtime aide Eric Mangini is going through in these first lonely days as the youngest head coach in the NFL. But one guy who does know believes the 35-year-old Mangini's youth and lack of supervisory experience won't determine his success or failure with the New York Jets is John Madden. ''When I heard about Eric, I thought about that. If he's capable and the right guy, he'll do well. The Jets need some things, but if he's really the right guy, he'll show he's the head coach. His age won't have anything to do with it. His ability will," said Madden.
In NFL News, Jerome Solomon of the *Boston Globe * reports that the Seattle Seahawks will take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL.
Bill Simmons of ESPN.com writes that Over the past three seasons, the beautiful thing about the Patriots wasn't how they kept winning, but how their fans remained absolutely convinced they would win. No matter what the circumstances, no matter how many injuries piled up, we believed Belichick would unearth the perfect plan, Brady would come through, and so would Willie, Brown, Vinatieri and everyone else. The reason we believed this was because it kept happening. In other words, they gave us no reason not to believe it. More important, they believed it, and carried themselves like they did ... right up until the Broncos game, when their swaggerability disappeared into thin air.
Michael Felger of the Boston Herald offers his final Patriots report card and grades the Patriots 2005 season with a B grade. The 2005 season was a disappointment to fans, but the vast majority of NFL teams would take it just about every year. And if it winds up constituting a "down" year within the Bill Belichick era, then the Pats are truly in excellent shape.
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes and commentary.