Foreword by Patriots safety Devin McCourty
Afterword by Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater
A behind-the-scenes look at the legendary 2016 New England Patriots season from the rocky start to the superbowl finish by award-winning sportswriter Christopher Price.
There are certain moments that simply transcend sports. They become larger than life and bigger than anyone ever thought possible, leaping off the field, the court, or the diamond and into the annals of not only history, but the very fabric of the American milieu. We all just witnessed such a moment on February 5th, 2017, when the New England Patriots battled back from the largest deficit in Super Bowl history to once again become world champions and secure Tom Brady’s legacy as the greatest quarterback of all time.
Amid a season of controversy, turmoil, and the most tumultuous political climate of our lifetime, the Patriots won. In spite of becoming entangled in the national spotlight on several occasions, the Patriots won. And in spite of being faced with any number of circumstances that would sink almost every other franchise in the NFL, the Patriots won.
The season began with the fallout around Deflategate and losing their MVP-caliber quarterback for the first four games of the season, but honestly, the Deflategate saga was just a small part of it all.
This is the story of how the Patriots rallied together as a team to surpass their obstacles on and off the football field and how that led to a remarkable run to the title – and the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.
Complete with player interviews, behind-the-scenes stories never told before, and content provided by Patriots players themselves, Drive for Five provides a unique level of insight and access to the story behind the legendary New England Patriots’ 2016 season.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|File size:||3 MB|
About the Author
Christopher Price is a native New Englander who has covered the Boston sports scene for the last 20-plus years, bringing insightful game stories and in-depth features to a variety of local and national media outlets. An award-winning sportswriter who has been honored by Northeastern University, New England Press Association, and the North Carolina Press Association for his work, he’s served as a contributor to ESPN.com, SI.com, WEEI.com, and Baseball America, as well as The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The Miami Herald and The Cape Cod Times. In addition, he’s the author of “New England Patriots: The Complete Illustrated History,” as well as “Baseball by the Beach” and “The Blueprint: How the New England Patriots Beat the System to Create the Last Great NFL Superpower.” He lives outside of Boston with his wife Kate, his son Noah and their cat, Stretch.
Read an Excerpt
AN OFF-SEASON OF UNCERTAINTY
It has been a challenging 18 months and I have made the difficult decision to no longer proceed with the legal process.
— Tom Brady on Facebook, July 15, 2016
Loneliness is the penalty of leadership, but the man who has to make the decisions is assisted greatly if he feels that there is no uncertainty in the minds of those who follow him, and that his orders will be carried out confidently and in the expectation of success.
— Ernest Shackleton
Tom Brady was running out of time.
No time to operate. No time to drop back in the pocket, assess the field, and find a receiver. No time to look left, look right, consider the options and make the throw. Where's Rob Gronkowski? Where's Julian Edelman? No time for that. Snap, step, throw, and hope you get lucky and find a target. And do it now, before you get crunched again.
Read the field? Hell, the way the Denver pass rush was coming against the New England offensive line, there wasn't even any time to breathe. On the afternoon of the 2015 AFC title game, Von Miller, Malik Jackson, DeMarcus Ware, and Derek Wolfe made it their mission to ensure the Patriots quarterback was going to be profoundly uncomfortable. And as the game continued, it was clear they were succeeding. The Broncos team defense was overwhelming; the secondary slowed the Patriots receivers and disrupted the timing routes. That extra moment or two forced Brady to hold on to the ball as the pass catchers tried to get separation. That led to the Broncos' pass rush getting to Brady and doing all sorts of horrible things to him, much to the delight of the sold-out Denver crowd.
I'd say they were like sharks smelling blood, but sharks have a more pleasant disposition.
"I want to eat your children," Wolfe growled at Brady at one point.
With right tackle Sebastian Vollmer on the left side because of an injury to Nate Solder, it left backup tackle Marcus Cannon against Miller, a matchup Denver was able to exploit. Compounding issues was the fact that the New England ground game was down to veteran Steven Jackson, a very nice guy who was pulled out of retirement in December by the Patriots shortly after their entire starting backfield went down for the season. For New England, facing the Broncos without LeGarrette Blount and/or Dion Lewis and a hobbled offensive line was like walking into the ring against Mike Tyson with one arm tied behind your back. (Jackson had 4 carries for 8 yards on the day. It would be the last contest of his professional career.) The leading rusher for the Patriots that afternoon was Brady, with a scant 13 yards. And most of that yardage came as a result of the quarterback running for his life.
The Broncos hit Brady 20 times on 56 dropbacks, eventually sacking him four times. The only reason they didn't have more sacks? Brady had a handful of pass attempts that were simply balls flung wildly downfield when he was already in the grips of a Broncos pass rusher.
"It's our job to hit the quarterback," Wolfe said after the game, "and we did our job well tonight."
All that being said, the last few minutes of regulation were among the finest of Brady's and Gronkowski's careers, as they managed to almost single-handedly keep the Patriots in the game. Down 20–12 with just under five minutes left, a fourth-down heave for Gronkowski in the end zone was off the mark. That looked like it might have been the end of it, but New England managed to get the ball back, and drove down the field again with less than two minutes to go.
A fourth-down reception that kept the chains moving late in regulation and an against-all-odds touchdown catch with 12 seconds left — both from Brady to Gronkowski — were amazing plays. The fourth-down catch was down the seam where Gronkowski split a pair of defenders and went tumbling forward after the reception, holding onto the ball. Then, there was the late touchdown, where the big tight end maneuvered between two Denver defenders to make a terrific catch to draw the Patriots to within two, 20–18, with 12 seconds left. (Kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point earlier in the game, which forced New England to have to go for two late.) But the 2-point conversion was off the mark, as the pass for Edelman was tipped away and eventually picked off by Denver defensive back Bradley Roby. (The thing that creased some New England fans? A rewatch of the 2-point conversion appeared to show Gronkowski open on the play.)
And so, it was over. The Patriots went into the off-season, while the Broncos went to San Francisco, beat the Panthers, and got to carry off the Super Bowl 50 trophy. Much to the consternation of New England fans everywhere, that also meant that Peyton Manning got the fairy-tale ending he was hoping for: a Super Bowl victory and send-off smooch from his buddy Papa John before he rode off into the sunset.
As for Brady, he went home. Fully aware of the fact that he was about to turn thirty-nine in August, he reset the countdown clock on his own gym for Super Bowl LI, a year away in Houston. Now, both literally and metaphorically, the veteran was well aware the clock was ticking. Super Bowl trips, especially at this stage of a quarterback's career, were precious. Brady and Manning were part of a short list of quarterbacks who had won Super Bowls after their thirty-fifth birthday. (Johnny Unitas, Jim Plunkett, Roger Staubach, and John Elway were the others.) He was going to do all he could to make sure he would get a crack at another one.
But the off-season was not going to be so easy. Brady had gotten his Deflategate punishment pushed back when Judge Richard Berman cleared the way for him to play in 2015, but in the spring of 2016, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan ruled 2–1 he must serve a four-game suspension to start the upcoming regular season. That left him looking for one last legal Hail Mary: Was he going to try and take it to the Supreme Court? Would he accept the ruling? Spring stretched into summer, and while the Patriots went through their off-season program, it remained unclear what was going to happen.
Ultimately, the answer popped up in everyone's Facebook feed on the morning of July 15, 2016. He was giving up the fight. Roughly two weeks before the start of training camp, for the quarterback and the team, there was finally clarity and closure. With Brady's announcement, it appeared the black cloud that had thrown so much of the Patriots' game planning and approach to the 2015 season into chaos had been lifted. He would sit. No matter how rock-headed the decision was on the part of the commissioner, Brady acceded to the demands of Roger Goodell and agreed to give up his legal battle against the NFL. Finally, there was a road map for the quarterback and the team. He was gone for the first four games, and the Patriots would have to move on. It wasn't exactly palatable, but it was finally done.
It was another setback for the Patriots in their battle against the league. The first came at the owners meetings in May 2015, when owner Robert Kraft said he was going to accept the punishment that was handed down by the commissioner. While making it clear he wasn't thrilled with the decision — he called the ban and loss of draft picks "way over the top" and "unreasonable and unprecedented"— he said he was going to go along with Goodell.
"I don't want to continue the rhetoric that's gone on for the last four months," he said. "I'm going to accept, reluctantly, what he has given to us, and not continue this dialogue and rhetoric, and we won't appeal."
He added: "Now, I know that a lot of Patriots fans are going to be disappointed in that decision, but I hope they trust my judgment and know that I really feel at this point in time that taking this off the agenda, this is the best thing for the New England Patriots, our fans, and the NFL, and I hope you all can respect that. You know, I would normally take questions, but my desire is truly not to continue the rhetoric, and so I'm going to leave this discussion exactly here. Thank you very much."
Of course, this being Deflategate, nothing was what it seemed. Following an appeal from Brady, the league upheld the ruling late that summer. That sparked a fiery statement from Kraft at the start of training camp where he reversed field again, lashing into the league and Goodell by saying "the decision handed down by the league yesterday is unfathomable to me. It is routine for discipline in the NFL to be reduced upon appeal." While Berman backed Brady prior to the 2015 season, allowing him to play, the back-and-forth over Brady in 2016 added another layer of intrigue to the relationship between Kraft and Goodell. The two were once thought to be close, and while both are pragmatic businessmen, it was evident to many league insiders the events around Deflategate had dented a once positive relationship.
Brady's decision also ended what was something of a dicey issue for the team and quarterback, particularly as it related to his fight involving the National Football League Players Association. While the team had given up the battle, and Kraft had said they were willing to accept Goodell's decision, there was no such feeling from the NFLPA. Brady was a member of the Patriots, and the team needed to assemble a contingency plan if their quarterback wasn't going to play. But Brady was also a high-profile NFL player involved in what some considered to be a landmark legal battle with the league over Goodell's disciplinary policy. The longer the fight was extended, the more the sense of uncertainty surrounding the Patriots and what might happen in 2016. If he did get some sort of legal stay and then lost again down the road, the possibility existed of him missing games in the middle of the year or even (gasp) the postseason.
But now, the battle was done.
"There's definition to it now," Belichick said of Brady's situation in July 2016. "We'll move forward based on that definition."
Ultimately, the Brady decision put the capper on an off-season of uncertainty for the Patriots: They didn't have a first-round pick, so the margin for error when it came to the draft — as well as the trade market and free agency — would be slimmer than usual.
They weren't going to have their starting quarterback for the first quarter of the season, so they'd presumably be counting on backup Jimmy Garoppolo to take over for Brady for the first four games.
Their No. 1 receiver, who had a history of foot issues and was coming off a broken bone in his foot that dogged him late into the 2015 season, spent a sizable portion of the off-season in a walking boot.
The bulk of their backfield was unable to finish the 2015 season because of various injuries, which cast doubt on their collective ability to perform in 2016.
While they had a bunch of new faces — both rookies and free agents — they had no idea how their new acquisitions would do when it came to getting up to speed within the framework of the team. And many of those new offensive faces would have to spend their time trying to establish chemistry with two different quarterbacks.
They just released 2014 first-round pick Dominique Easley, a defensive lineman who was thought to be a foundational element for the next decade.
And the offensive line that had proved to be the fatal flaw of the 2015 team — a group that was drowned by wave after wave of Denver's pass rushers — didn't look much better going into 2016.
Other than that, no worries. Right?
Brady or no Brady, no one was shedding any tears over the Patriots and their plight, and frankly, the team was OK with that. When you win as much and as consistently as they have over the last decade-plus, that's just what happens. (You're going to get opposing defensive linemen saying they want to eat your quarterback's kids.) And the simple fact was that spring, regardless of all the drama, they were still part of that short list of teams who were considered to be genuine Super Bowl contenders because they were still expected to have Brady for twelve regular-season games and into the postseason. There was Gronkowski and Edelman and Hightower and Collins and Butler. These were the sorts of first-world NFL problems that they would have killed for in Jacksonville or San Francisco. Even without Brady, you could put them down for — at a minimum — twelve wins and a spot in the NFL's Final Four.
But as history had shown, the margin for error at the top of the mountain was ridiculously thin. The team-building process for elitelevel franchises was an incredibly delicate procedure. One ill-timed injury or suspension could cause the whole house of cards to come crashing down. A financial miss in free agency could upset the structure of the locker room, and wreak havoc with a carefully crafted salary cap scenario. With AFC rivals like Denver, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh poised to take advantage, New England couldn't afford to be less than perfect if it wanted a chance at a fifth Super Bowl title. And so, as the new league year dawned that March, it was a pivotal time for the franchise. If they wanted to get back to where they wanted to be, they not only needed to augment their roster with the right free agents, they also had to make sure they hit on the draft that spring as well.
New England's approach to team building, particularly free agency, has traditionally been slow and steady. The philosophy is best embodied in a phrase from John Wooden: Don't mistake activity for achievement. With precious few exceptions, unless they identified what they thought would be an absolutely perfect fit, Belichick and New England did not engage in the high-stakes world that accompanies the first few days of the NFL's feeding frenzy. (They swung for the fences on occasion. They just didn't do it as often as their counterparts.) While it's different from year to year, that was one of the reasons why the Patriots didn't make a mad dash into free agency that spring. Instead, they operated cautiously, identifying a handful of veterans and leaving no doubt about their intentions. It was a group that included defensive linemen Chris Long and Terrance Knighton and wide receiver Chris Hogan.
In particular, Long and Knighton were part of a very specific type of player the Patriots had targeted in recent years. In what seemed to be an annual tradition, New England almost always went after at least one veteran defensive lineman near the end of his career, a guy who usually caught the eye of Belichick and the Patriots for a few reasons, including the fact that he was still effective on the field and cost-effective away from the field. It was a tradition that went all the way back to Anthony Pleasant, and included Keith Traylor, Ted Washington, Tommy Kelly, Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis, Andre Carter, and Alan Branch. (Let's be honest: sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. In the case of Haynesworth, it was more the latter than the former.) Usually, these guys were smart veterans who had missed out on a ring to that point in their careers, but were willing to play for something below market value in hopes of landing a title. Knighton and Long were quickly identified as this year's model.
Long, who was the second overall pick of the Rams in 2008 but had never played in the postseason, was a well-liked vet who had been dogged by injury issues the previous few years. A guy who had made his bones as a pass rusher, the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long had managed to carve out an impressive career of his own with 54.5 sacks in eight years. Released by the Rams that spring, he received a vote of confidence from Al Groh, a former defensive coordinator for the Patriots who also served as a colleague of Belichick's. Groh coached Long at the University of Virginia, and knew the type of guy the Patriots were hoping to land.
"Bill has certainly gotten outstanding production from these types of players over the years, a group like Andre Carter, Corey Dillon, Rodney Harrison, Roman Phifer," Groh said. "Chris falls into that category of guys who have done a lot of things in their careers; they've achieved success on the field, financial reward. But the one thing they all hunger for at the end is to win. That's important for him. That's what he's in it for — that's what he's always been in it for."
As for Knighton, in addition to being the type of veteran capable of contributing late in his career, he had three things in his favor when it came to making a case with the area fan base: one, he grew up in New England (specifically, Hartford). He knew what it meant to live and die with the Patriots. Two, he was a colossal Celtics fan, going so far as to actively attempt to get free agent Kevin Durant to sign with Boston via social media. (Brady would join in the recruitment pitch when he flew to the Hamptons to talk to Durant about playing in New England.) Knighton was no casual fan; he knew the game, and was serious in helping the Celtics pursue Durant. And three, he had a track record of success against the Patriots, as he mauled former New England offensive lineman Logan Mankins in the 2013 AFC title game when he was with the Broncos.
Excerpted from "Drive For Five"
Copyright © 2017 Christopher Price.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Devin McCourty: "This Is Not Any Other Patriot Team",
Introduction: The Greatest,
1. An Off-season of Uncertainty,
2. The Summer of Jimmy,
3. Wake Me Up When September Ends,
4. Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself,
5. Speed Bump,
6. Won't Get Fooled Again,
7. The 12 Days That Defined the 2016 Patriots,
8. "Work Fucking Hard Every Fucking Day",
9. The Drive for Five,
Epilogue: "No Days Off",
Afterword by Matthew Slater: The Bond of Brotherhood,
Honors and Awards,
A Timeline of Martellus Bennett's 15 Best Quotes of 2016,
The 2016 Patriots by the Numbers,
Also by Christopher Price,
About the Author,