FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Players recall Kobe Bryant's message poignantly: Bill Belichick told ESPN's Field Yates that in his 45 years of coaching in the NFL, he had never witnessed a group as captivated as the Patriots on the day Kobe Bryant addressed the team in May 2018. In the aftermath of Bryant's death, along with those of his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash last Sunday, many players have reminisced about the experience.
Part of what made it special for some was the surprise nature of it. Everyone was gathering in the team meeting room when Belichick stepped to the fore.
"In his normal tone of voice, he told us that he had a guest, a friend. Coach Belichick was really good about bringing in cool guests that you would want to listen to, but this one, I don't think anyone was expecting at all. When Kobe walked through the door, I remember everyone gasping. 'Is this really Kobe? What's going on here?' Everyone kind of freaked out," recalled offensive lineman Jason King, who spent parts of the 2017 and 2018 seasons with the team.
"It's a really cool feeling to see a bunch of professional athletes, especially some of the really successful, great players on that team, and how they kind of turn into the 12-year-old fan they were just signing autographs for. It's just that level of respect everyone had for him."
Linebacker Marquis Flowers, a six-year NFL veteran who is a die-hard Lakers fan, used to spark debates in the Patriots' locker room about the greatest NBA player of all time, always vouching for Bryant. He described the surreal nature of the day.
"Incredible. Everyone was kind of in a shocked mode," said Flowers, reflecting on how Bryant entered from the back of the room as part of the surprise. "His mentality, the way he explained it to us, how he prepares, plays, and tries to dominate his opponent; I was sitting there and thinking, 'This is for sure Kobe. This isn't fake.'"
Bryant's message resonated, and included thoughts that hit home to players based on how his life ended.
"He talked about his family and how important it was coming home and letting go of the sport, and putting the same amount of energy into your wife and kids that you put into the sport that day," King said. "Athletes can get caught up in being stuck at the office, or the helmet, and it's not fair to your family. To hear Kobe say how important his family was to him, and how even after a long day of playing or scouting the next opponent, you have to turn that off and put the same amount of energy into your wife and kids. It was special to hear that.
"One of the things that really stuck with me was how he tied that into the whole helicopter thing -- how expensive it was to travel, but how every single thing that went into it was worth it because that was the only way he could perfect his craft at 3 in the morning at the gym, go back for practice, go back to shoot again, and then make it through L.A. traffic from the arena to make it home to his daughter's basketball game. He just refused to miss anything his wife or kids had planned.
"So he gave us that story of why he got that [helicopter] and why he takes it everywhere. I keep going back to that moment when thinking about it."
As memorable as Bryant's talk and the open question-and-answer session was, King also recalled what happened afterward as being special. Seemingly every player in the room approached Bryant to shake his hand and take a picture with him. "A whole line was starting to form," he said.
Reflecting on the visit has proved therapeutic for some players who were in the room that day.
Calling it a tough week, Flowers said, "When you lose an iconic figure like that, it shakes up the world a little bit."
2. Media descends on Gillette Stadium after Brady's tweet: Tom Brady's cryptic tweet on Thursday that was left open to interpretation (here's mine) generated a buzz well beyond social media. On Friday morning, five local television affiliates had reporters in the parking lot outside Gillette Stadium for live reports.
3. Long snapper Cardona has shoulder surgery: Joe Cardona, who will enter his sixth season as the Patriots' long-snapper in 2020, had shoulder surgery within the past few weeks, according to a source. The surgery shouldn't have a major impact on Cardona’s offseason, but it is a reminder that players at his often overlooked position are subject to the same physical rigors as others -- specifically when snapping and then getting in position to protect on field goals and punts. One other leftover on Cardona: He successfully worked behind the scenes during the year with others to have snappers voted to the Pro Bowl, and this season marked the first time that it was no longer a coach's choice as a "need" position. The Ravens' Morgan Cox represented the AFC.
4. Should Scarnecchia get to skip the wait for entry into Patriots Hall? With longtime Patriots assistant coach Dante Scarnecchia retiring after 34 years with the franchise, his next stop will be the team's Hall of Fame. There's no doubt about that. The more pertinent question is: How soon? Every former Patriots player or head coach who has been retired for at least four years is eligible, but there is no roadmap for how to proceed with assistants; there is no assistant coach in the team's Hall, and an assistant has never been one of the three finalists who are voted on by fans. A case could be made that the soon-to-be-72-year-old Scarnecchia falls into a unique category that warrants him immediate entry.
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5. Bennett let off the hook on Patriots tenure: Veteran defensive end Michael Bennett made the media rounds at Super Bowl LIV, and in an insightful interview on the Boston-based "Felger and Mazz" show on 98.5 The Sports Hub, he pumped up veteran New England defensive tackle Lawrence Guy as a Pro Bowler whose value to the defense is rooted in his ability to play "all up and down the line." But Bennett was surprisingly let off the hook for the way his situation unfolded in New England -- with him saying he was displeased with his playing time ("10 snaps!") and that he wasn't a fit for the scheme, which led to the team's trading him to Dallas for a late-round draft pick. When Bennett arrived for the Patriots' training camp in July (he was late with an excused absence from Belichick), he had said, "Whatever he asks me to do, I'll do it, simply because I know he respects me as a human being, and I respect that." So what changed? It would have been nice to hear Bennett answer that.
6. Seymour's Hall bid and the 'Black Hole': Former Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour was a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the second year in a row (he ultimately wasn't chosen for induction), and a notable part of his candidacy to me was how his career ended -- mostly overlooked. Belichick said Seymour and Vince Wilfork are the two best linemen he has coached, with Seymour's New England tenure lasting eight years (2001-08) before he capped off his career in Oakland (2009-12). While the Patriots were regulars in prime time and had seven playoff games in the four years after Seymour departed, the Raiders posted records of 5-11, 8-8, 8-8 and 4-12 and never qualified for the playoffs. So Seymour sort of fell into a "black hole" for the final stretch of his career from an exposure standpoint, even while totaling 18.5 sacks in Oakland, and I have wondered how that has affected voters' view of his candidacy.
7. Slater's cause at Super Bowl reflects his priorities: The Patriots had a handful of players attend the run-up to the Super Bowl, which is commonplace for those around the league so they can pitch products and business interests. Not surprisingly, longtime Patriots captain Matthew Slater fell into a bit of a different category. Slater was in South Florida on behalf of the END IT Movement and International Justice Mission, working to shine a light on modern-day slavery. Slater, who was slowed by flu-like symptoms, was advocating for change and highlighting the upcoming "Shine a Light on Slavery Day" on Feb. 13.
8. Long's regret over missing Super Bowl ring ceremony: Veteran defensive end Chris Long didn't miss a game in the Patriots' 2016 season that ended with a Super Bowl championship, but he did miss the team's ring ceremony. He expressed regret for that decision in an interview on the "Zolak and Bertrand Show" on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Long explained that he made a significant financial investment to attend a music festival that same weekend and didn't want to take the loss. "Afterwards, I was like, 'I'm an idiot,'" Long said on the program. "You screw things up sometimes. The next time, I didn't screw it up. I made it to everything in Philly."
9. Delaying head-coaching hires could be decisive step to help Rooney Rule: When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, "Clearly we are not where we want to be" when it comes to minority hiring among head coaches, and that it "needs to change," I wondered if this year's results might be different if teams weren't allowed to finalize their decisions until after the Super Bowl. That potential change is one I believe Belichick would endorse. If the league is truly serious about improving the results, it's a possibility that should be looked at seriously in the future.
10. Did You Know: Brady holds 12 individual statistical Super Bowl records, according to the NFL's Record & Fact book: most appearances (9), victories (6), MVP awards (4), passing yards (2,838), passing attempts (392), completions (256), touchdown passes (18), most attempts in a game (62, vs. Falcons), most passing yards in a game (505, vs. Eagles), most 300-yard games (4), most passes completed in a game (43) and most attempts without an interception (48). Last year at this time, he also became the oldest quarterback to win (41 years, 184 days).