If Tom Brady and the New England Patriots adhere to the advice they’ve given themselves throughout the week, there will be no need to play catch-up with the Atlanta Falcons this time around.
Brady said at his weekly press conference Friday aft
ernoon that the team has talked this week about not only playing well from the start, but playing well throughout the game and right through the fourth quarter.
It would be in stark contrast to how Super Bowl LI went down vs. Atlanta, when the Patriots trailed 21-0 at one point and later 28-3 before scoring the game’s final 31 points to win 34-28 in overtime and capture their fifth Lombardi Trophy.
“Every year is a little different with the different players,” Brady said. “Facing that defense, it’s a tough scheme. They certainly make you work for everything.
“It’s going to be a very tough, physical game. We’re going to have to play well for 60 minutes.”
Shakeup in the defensive backfield
Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe each missed their third consecutive practice on Friday, meaning all signs point to Johnson Bademosi making his second straight start opposite Malcolm Butler.
Bademosi, 27, was acquired by the Patriots on Sept. 2 with his special teams prowess in mind. He didn’t play a single snap defensively over the first five weeks of the season for New England, instead averaging 20 snaps a week as a core special teamer.
Thrust into the lineup last week after Gilmore’s surprise scratch due to a concussion, Bademosi played 73 of 76 snaps on the defensive side of the ball – second only to Devin McCourty – in addition to 14 snaps on special teams.
“It was a great opportunity,” Bademosi said on Thursday. “The coaches did a great job preparing me. I have trust in my teammates, we were able to communicate well. I had fun out there.”
Bademosi held his own against the Jets last week, but will now deal with an offense that is at least capable of reaching another gear entirely in the Atlanta Falcons.
Right now, though, the Falcons are nowhere near the high-octane unit they were a year ago on offense. The team has lost two in a row at home after a 3-0 start, its latest setback a 20-17 loss after blowing a 17-0 lead to the Miami Dolphins. All-world wide receiver Julio Jones, slowed by a hip flexor injury, has topped 100 yards receiving just once for the Falcons and hasn’t scored a touchdown yet.
Bademosi isn’t counting on the volcano being dormant much longer, saying that the defense has to be prepared for Jones.
“He’s an amazing player, we all know what he’s capable of,” Bademosi said. “He’s fast, he’s physical, he can jump, he can run, he’s smart…he’s everything you want in a wide receiver.”
Whatever his role is on Sunday, Bademosi will be ready. It is possible Atlanta has Mohamed Sanu back in the lineup as well, giving the team a pair of top-flight receivers for the Patriots to consider. Sanu missed the Miami game with a hamstring injury and has been a limited participant in practice this week for the Falcons.
“I think of myself as a football player,” Bademosi said. “Whatever position they put me in, I’m going to try to be the best because that’s how I operate and that’s who I am as a person. Whether that’s at cornerback, on special teams, or if they ask me to play wildcat quarterback. Whatever.”
Special teams captain Matthew Slater, who’s worked a great deal with Bademosi in that phase of the game, appears impressed with Bademosi’s work ethic and preparation.
“He’s working hard just like everyone else that’s in there, trying to prepare, trying to do everything he can to put himself in a position to have success,” Slater said. That’s half the battle, the way you prepare during the week. The ways you take care of your body, the way you study film, the way you study the game plan.”
Not a rematch for everyone
Bademosi is one of 20 players on New England’s current 53-man roster who wasn’t a part of Super Bowl LI. He said that hasn’t really affected his preparation for the game, given that each roster looks different as the rematch approaches.
“Obviously, I wasn’t a part of that experience, but I’m here now,” Bademosi said. “Every year is a different year. I don’t think we’re the same team that we were last year and I don’t think Atlanta’s the same team they were last year. Obviously there’s some carryover, but every year is different and you’ve got to prepare differently.”
He did watch Super Bowl LI in real time, however.
“It was an entertaining game,” Bademosi said in a bit of an understatement.
Rookie defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. is another newcomer for the Patriots who wasn’t a part of Super Bowl LI. Wise echoed Bademosi’s statement and said his approach for this week hasn’t differed from any other week this season.
“The only thing different is that I wasn’t here last year, but I just watch film and keep my mind on what’s coming up this weekend,” Wise said.
Wide receiver Philip Dorsett, acquired from the Indianapolis Colts in September, said earlier this week that his mentality is simply that New England is playing Atlanta.
“I wasn’t a part of it last year,” Dorsett said. “We’re trying to treat it like it’s just a regular game. So to me, my mentality is we’re just playing Atlanta and I can’t really think about what happened last year because I don’t know because I wasn’t here.”
First grudge match of its kind
Given that the Patriots have been to the Super Bowl seven times under the leadership of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, this week marks the seventh Super Bowl rematch the two have been a part of.
New England is 3-3 in the first time facing its previous Super Bowl opponents, but this is the first time the rematch has taken place in the year following the original Super Bowl meeting.
The Patriots won their rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI against the St. Louis Rams in 2004, Super Bowl XXXIX against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2007 and Super Bowl XLVI against the New York Giants in 2015. They lost the rematch of Super Bowl XXXVIII against the Carolina Panthers in 2005, Super Bowl XLII against the New York Giants in 2011 and Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks just last season.
The win over the Eagles in 2007 is the last time the Patriots won a rematch of a Super Bowl in which they were also victorious.
Brady also spoke on the tragic loss of Devin Suau, a 6-year-old Framingham boy who passed away this morning from brain cancer. Suau’s condition rose to prominence on social media with the hashtag #WhyNotDevin, and he even got to ride in the same Duck Boat as Brady during the Patriots’ rolling rally following Super Bowl LI.
“I was lucky to be in that boat with him,” Brady said. “That’s obviously going through a lot. I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of really brave, courageous people over the years. It’s a very tough situation. I hope the family is doing okay.”