Prepare for controllers to be smashed, friendships to be ruined, and strings of curse words that are right up there with the Boondock Saints “Well, that certainly illustrates the diversity of the word” scene - Madden ‘18 is out today. In a move that’s such an obvious moneygrab even Roger Goodell can appreciate it, the “G.O.A.T. Edition” of the game came out on Tuesday, but if you didn’t feel like paying an extra $20.00 for one Madden Ultimate Team player, a couple other extras, and early access (plus, obviously, a cover with Tom Brady on it with the word GOAT), today’s the day.
All of the more recent Madden games have a series of traits that individual players either have from the beginning, or can develop if they play well. A player can be “high motor”, meaning they go balls to the wall on every play, or a defensive player can be a “big hitter” or range from “disciplined”, where they almost never get penalties, to “undisciplined”, in which case a lineman will be perfectly happy to ruin your 3rd-and-15 conversion with a holding penalty or a block in the back.
(If this sounds, like a friend of mind once put it “So, like an RPG, but football?”, the answer is yes. You know it’s true.)
One of those traits that makes the biggest difference in a game is the “clutch” trait. When you’re in a gotta-have-it third-and-long on offense, or a goal-line stand that could cost you the game on defense, a clutch player usually does what they do best in those game situations. Make contested catches. Lay the big hits. Knock a 50-50 ball to the ground on defense. Keep those legs churning when it’s fourth-and-inches. You get the idea.
Clutch is a pretty exclusive club, too - out of all the players on all 32 teams, only 70 players make the “clutch” cut. And the New England Patriots, as is befitting of the defending Super Bowl champions, have five of those players, more than any team except Seattle (6) and Denver (7).
By my math, there’s three no-debate-needed Patriots on this list, one that makes a lot of sense, and one that’s a coin toss - as well as one GLARING omission.
QB - Tom Brady
WR - Julian Edelman
TE - Rob Gronkowski
CB - Malcolm Butler
S - Devin McCourty
Brady, Edelman, and Butler can’t be argued with by anyone other than Chris Simms. Calling Brady “clutch” almost seems like an insult, just because there isn’t a more superlative word for “clutch” in the English language, Julian Edelman caught the winning touchdown in the 2014-15 Super Bowl and had one of the, if not the greatest Super Bowl catch of all time this spring, and Malcolm Butler has a legit claim to the greatest defensive Super Bowl play of all time.
D-Mac makes sense too, given that he’s a regular on Pro Football Focus’s top safety rankings, yet never seems to get the love that center-field safeties like Earl Thomas or Eric Berry get every week.
Gronk, on the other hand, is the coin-flip; he’s dunking on the tight end record books when he’s on the field, but it kind of seems like the “clutch” thing has more to do with him being rated 98 overall - fourth-highest in the game on any team.
The glaring omission we mentioned a second ago?
Aside from Hightower being so versatile that the game over the past few years hasn’t figured out whether his position should defensive end, outside linebacker, or inside linebacker (note: it’s usually all three, often in the same game), without Hightower’s clutch plays in the last two Super Bowls, the Patriots almost certainly be 3-6 in Super Bowls instead of their current 5-4 record.
Without Dont’a Hightower bench-pressing Seahawks lineman Russell Okung to tackle Marshawn Lynch at the one-yard line - with a TORN LABRUM, let’s keep in mind - there is no Malcolm Butler interception (probably) and New England’s third chance to get Brady’s fourth ring would’ve ended just like the last time they were in Arizona for the big game.
And of course, it was Dont’a Hightower that’s the biggest single reason that Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is doing those MAKE DEFEAT YOUR FUEL Gatorade commercials at all. Coming in off the edge, Hightower ruining Matt Ryan’s life on third down in the fourth quarter jarred the ball out of Ryan’s hands, and defensive tackle Alan Branch recovering set New England up with a short field to keep chipping away at the Falcons’ double-digit lead. At that point, the score’s still 28-12, Falcons, and without a turnover there, Atlanta could’ve almost certainly killed some more clock and, well, none of these 28-3 jokes would even be a thing.
And about those seven clutch players on the Broncos from earlier...TJ Ward, CJ Anderson, and Brandon Marshall? Really??