October 21, 2014

2001 Season Was Turning Point For Brown, Patriots

logoby Tyler Carter
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This column has relied on Bill Belichick early and often for relevant quotes.  However banal at times, he offers plenty of noteworthy nuggets provided one knows where to look.  That was certainly true on the occasion of Troy Brown’s retirement press conference.  Here are some of his sentiments spliced with some supporting statistics and facts:

‘Troy is the consummate professional…drafted in the eighth round and we now have seven-round drafts. I think that sums that up.’

Brown was drafted 198th overall in the 1993 NFL Draft, but keep in mind that there were only 28 teams in the league back then (another indicator of how long he’s been around).  As a sidenote, check out some of the other Pro-Bowl-caliber steals in those late rounds: Brock Marion (196th overall), Blaine Bishop (214th), Elvis Grbac (219th), Trent Green (222nd).

‘When I was in Cleveland and I talked to Coach [Bill] Parcells, I think it was the year after, it was probably in ’94, he said, “We’ve got this kid from Marshall, a return guy, I don’t know if he is any good or not, but there are some things I kind of like about him.”‘

Apparently Parcells didn’t think too much of Brown as the latter was a late preseason roster cut casualty.  Although re-signed by mid-October, Brown was almost exclusively used as a punt returner; he didn’t catch a single one of Bledsoe’s 400 passes (for 4555 yards 25 touchdowns) during the latter’s historic ’94 season.

‘Perhaps more telling is the fact that Troy managed to stick around so long…’

Patriots owner Bob Kraft, who spoke before Belichick, pointed out that over the course of Brown’s fifteen-year career there were ‘three head coaches, dozens of assistant coaches and 820 players’.  Despite facing unrestricted free agency on three separate occasions, in each instance he chose to re-sign with the Patriots, often times for less money than he would have received elsewhere (i.e. New Orleans offer in 2005).

‘…back in 2000…Charlie and I had several conversations about this guy who’s really a good football player and he hasn’t had the opportunity; what we really thought he could do as a slot receiver and as a deceptive big play receiver, his versatility in the kicking game…’

When finally given his opportunity to start at wide receiver in the 2000 season, Troy caught 83 balls for 944 yards and 4 touchdowns.  Already established as the team’s primary punt returner, he fielded 39 of them for 504 yards (a nifty 12.9 YPR) and a touchdown.

‘Troy has gone on to have a tremendous career here with most catches in franchise history and 120 catches in that ’01 season, including the playoffs.’

The 2001 season was not only a Turning Point in Troy’s career, but for the history of the franchise.

‘Nobody thought he could make the big plays. But all he did was make plays.’

What were some of those big plays?  Let’s break some of them down:

‘I think back to the ’01 season when Troy had all of those punt returns…the Pittsburgh game, for a touchdown…’

Scoreless at the time, the Patriot defense backed the sputtering Steeler offense up to their own goal line and nearly caused a Kordell Stewart safety.  Pittsburgh was penalized half the distance on the subsequent punt attempt and was forced to re-kick.  However, as chronicled in 3 Games To Glory, the ball was set on the right hash mark whereas before the penalty it was on the left hash, much to Cowher’s chagrin (more on this later).  As they had throughout that magical season, the Patriots  capitalized on this opportunity:

Situation: 4-11-PIT 8 (3:55)

New England Formation: 9 Man Picket

Personnel: LCB 24 Law, S 30 Cherry, LB 58 Chatham, LB 52 Johnson, LB 53 Izzo, WR 84 Coleman, CB 27 Buckley, RCB 45 O-T-I-S, RB 35 Pass, S 23 Harris, WR 80 Brown (punt returner)

Pittsburgh Formation: Run and Shoot

Personnel: WR 81 Edwards (gunner), S 40 Bell (slot), LB 53 Haggans (tackle), FB 35 Kreider (guard), C 54 Schneck (long snapper), LB 57 Fiala (guard), LB 51 Jones (tackle), DB 31 Logan (slot), CB 23 Simmons (gunner), FS 27 Alexander (protector), P 4 Miller

Play Result: J.Miller punts 47 yards to NE 45. T.Brown for 55 yards, TOUCHDOWN

Play summary: Brown received Miller’s punt at the 45 and immediately cut up the middle to set up Izzo’s block on Krieder.  A split second later, he contorted to evade a diving tackle by Fiala.  Witnessing Law out in front on the next level, he quickly cut left to setup the latter on Schneck before once again shifting weight to evade backside pursuit by Simmons and Alexander.  With Harris and Buckley teaming up to corral Edwards near the goal line, Brown crossed the goal line to give the Patriots the early lead.

Cowher argued (not without merit) that the erroneous ball placement (right hash mark) following the penalty allowed Brown to return the ball up the middle where he was most dangerous.  Indeed, the previous (nullified) punt attempt was toward the sideline, which seemed in keeping with Pittsburgh’s strategy.  ‘The Chin’ was justified in his concern, as Brown’s combination of moves and downfield vision were flawless in maneuvering through the Steeler’s coverage.

(Kraft): ‘…blocked…field goal kick that he ‘lateraled’ to a teammate…’

Early in the 3rd quarter, the Patriot defense recovered a Kordell Stewart fumble to set their offense up at the Steeler 35, but the now Bledsoe-helmed unit could muster only 3 yards and turned the ball back over to Pittsburgh following a failed 4th down conversion.  The Steeler offense finally started to gain momentum as they eeked out 4:04 minute, 8 play, 52 yard drive to the NE 16, where a routine FG would put them within a touchdown and a 2 point conversion of tying the score:

Situation: 4-5-NE 16 (9:11)

New England Formation: Field Goal Block

Personnel: S 23 Harris, LB 50 Vrabel, DT 97 Parker, RDE 98 Pleasant, DT 93 Seymour, DT 96 Mitchell, 80 WR Brown, LB 52 Johnson, LB 54 Bruschi, S 30 Cherry, S 34 Jones

Pittsburgh Formation: Field Goal

Personnel: LB 57 Fiala (slot), DE 94 Bailey (End), RT 77 Smith (tackle), RG 65 Tylski, C 54 Schneck (long snapper), G 68 Vincent (guard), OT 79 Ross (tackle), OL 67 ? (end), TE 84 Tuman (slot), P 4 Miller (holder), K 3 Brown.

Play Result: K.Brown 34 yard field goal is BLOCKED (B.Mitchell), Center-M.Schneck, Holder-J.Miller, RECOVERED by T. Brown at NE 40. T.Brown to PIT 49 for 11 yards. Lateral to A.Harris for 49 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Play summary: Parker and Pleasant occupied Ross, Vincent and Schneck while Mitchell went over the top of Tylski and surged past Smith to block the kick.  The ball bounced to the side of the field where Brown scooped it up (no small amount of concentration with the ball still spinning around and opponents closing in).  After taking a few steps, the Steeler kicker had caught up to Brown and was about to tackle him, but the latter alertly lateraled to the unimpeded Harris, who went the distance for the second special teams touchdown of the day.

Perhaps realizing that the Patriot offense would struggle against the leagues top-ranked defense (1st in yards allowed, 3rd in points allowed), Brown’s heads-up decision helped maintain New England’s margin of victory.

Did the author mention that #80 also caught 8 passes for 121 yards in this contest?

‘…the Super Bowl, the pass across the middle where he got out of bounds and we had no timeouts to stop the clock and set up the game-winning field goal…

The Rams erased a 14 point 4th quarter Patriot lead by scoring two quick touchdowns.  With their defense running on fumes and only 1:21 remaining in regulation, and having previously been unable to score any points without the benefit of a St. Louis turnover, the New England offense went to work to avoid overtime.  After three passes to J.R. Redmond (mixed with two incompletions), New England was still in its own territory with only :29 seconds remaining.  As it turned out, Brown saved his best for the final drive of the final game of 2001:

Situation: 2-10-NE 41 (:29)

New England: Shotgun 4 WR (Trips Right), Redmond offset left

Personnel: WR 84 Coleman, LT 76 Williams, LG 65 Big Wood, C 77 Compton, RG 63 Andruzzi, RT 64 Robinson-Randall, WR 80 Brown, WR 81 Johnson, WR 86 Patton, QB 12 Brady, RB 21 Redmond

St. Louis Formation: Nickle 4-2-5

Personnel: LDE 91 Little, LDT 77 Moran, RT 90 Zgonina, RDE 98 Wistrom, MLB 59 Fletcher, OLB 52 Polley, CB 35 Williams, CB 21 McCleon, S 20 Herring, S 31 Archuleta, CB 32 Bly

Play result: T.Brady pass to T.Brown for 23 yards

Summary: Only three of St. Louis’ four-man front rushed (Little, Moran and Wistrom) while Zgonina fell back slightly to ‘spy’ Brady.  Meanwhile, Fletcher dropped back deep in pass coverage leaving Polley alone to patrol the middle underneath area.  The undermanned pass rush allowed Brady to be patient in the pocket, and sure enough he found Brown as he cleared Polley’s zone.  #80 tacked on 9 YAC and ran out of bounds at the St. Louis 36 to stop the clock.

The play, ‘Patriot RT 64 MAX ALL IN XQ’ (Patriot Reign Page 78), may have been ‘designed to have all the receivers run in-cuts at a variety of depths downfield’ (The Blueprint Page 168), but Charlie Weis later admitted that the play was intended for Brown.  In fact, the exact same play was called on the previous snap but resulted in one of the two aforementioned incompletions.  In any case, Brown’s pivotal catch-and-run put the Patriots in FG range.  After a quick toss to Jermaine Wiggins moved them a bit closer, Adam Vinatieri boomed the ball through the uprights as time expired to secure the Patriots their first World Championship.

Mind you, this was only one postseason; as Belichick intimated earlier there’s an entire catalog of Troy’s big plays and contributions, many of which we’ve been reliving and relishing over the past week.

Speaking of coach, in his closing the author believes he speaks for all of Patriot fandom:

‘Troy, we have so many great memories of you and all you have done for this organization, this football team and me, personally.  I will be forever grateful and indebted to you.’

Comments

  1. On one of those patriots pregame shows, Brown took all the blame for being cut – said he was partying too much and not working enough.

    From then on he said that he cut out the partying, grew up, and just worked hard.

  2. During that ’01 season Gil Santos always said after a good play “Good things happen when Troy Brown touches the ball.” And dammit, he was right. Also appreciated is the way he always carries himself with dignity, humility but a ton of self-confidence. He embodies the virtues of professional athletics.

  3. For me, the turning point with Troy Brown came during the lowest point of the Pete Carroll era: the second to last game of the 1999 season, when they got killed by a terrible Eagles team, despite the fact that they still had a chance to win the AFC east. A truly disgraceful effort, capped off by Larry Whigham celebrating a blocked a punt while the punter picked it up and ran for a first down. I remember at the time how Troy was the only guy on the team busting his ass, and kept making big plays and fighting for extra yards. I looked it up the box score on pro-football-reference, and sure enough: he had 5 receptions for 105 yards, which I would bet is the first time he ever got over 100 yards in a game. I’d say that led right into him getting the starting job in 2000.

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