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Sunday NFL Thoughts: Media week observations and Super Bowl preparation

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Also, quotes from a coach, a peer, and a youngster on what they see from Tom Brady ahead of the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl LII - New England Patriots - Practice Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

1. I’m wrapping up my second Super Bowl week and it’s been a real treat. Minnesota has been freaking cold (it was -20 with wind chill and someone shrugged and called it “coat weather”), but the Mall of America has been my home for the past week. While it’s a huge location, I really haven’t strayed too far from the media room and it’s been kind of nice.

Last year in Houston, the convention center housed the media room, which was roughly 30 minutes away from where we conducted interviews with the players. Sometimes the rush hour traffic would make the drive last an hour. It felt like we were wasting time on those shuttles.

The Patriots hotel is connected to the mall and we’ve been able to walk literally across the hallway to speak with the players. I’ve felt incredibly efficient and hope they follow this model for future Super Bowls.

Also, major kudos to the Patriots for running their Not Done Yet television studio, because it’s a great idea and fans love it.

2. That said, I think there are some improvements that could be made. First, Houston’s weather was incredible and it’s limiting that we have to stay inside because of the literal freezing weather.

I also liked how the NFL Fan Experience was a part of the convention center in Houston, whereas it’s in a different location in Minneapolis. The same applies for some of the press conferences with Roger Goodell and Justin Timberlake- we had to take buses to go to those, which disrupted the flow of the day and the timing was difficult with the Patriots media availability.

And then there’s the food. Houston’s food was incredible and the spreads they had were plentiful, diverse, and flavorful. This year, we get some cheese and pepperoni to put on crackers, a few protein bars, and small bags of chips. It’s not the same.

Still, I’m at the freaking Super Bowl. This is awesome.

3. Houston Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson shared his thoughts on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady:

Deshaun Watson spoke with Steve Smith Sr. about what surprised him during his rookie season and when he felt like he could succeed in the NFL.

“I think week 3 playing against To Brady, even though we didn’t win, how I went toe-to-toe with him no the road, the guy I’ve been watching since I was a little kid,” Watson said. “It’s like, ‘Tom Brady’s on the sideline.’

“That last drive he went, I think it was the two-minute drive to win the game, I’m sitting there with Tom Savage and I’m like, ‘Yo, have you ever been in a situation where you’ve seen it on TV and you never thought it was going to happen to you, but you feel like it’s about to happen to you?’

“And Tom’s like, ‘This is about to happen,’ and you can just feel it. You can just feel it.

“And then it’s like, ‘Touchdown,’ and I’m like, ‘yo this cannot be happening.’

“I was mad, I was pissed off, but at the same time I’m like, ‘Man, I went toe-to-toe with the best ever to do it.’”

Watson also spoke with the NFL Network about comparing himself to Brady.

“If Tom wins, it’s going to six, right? I want to be at seven,” Watson said during his Friday appearance on Good Morning Football. “Whatever it takes to be the best, the greatest, and not just for me, but for any athlete, especially quarterback ... if you don’t want to chase Tom Brady and [be] above him, you’re selling yourself short. I always put my mentality with [being] the best, and Tom Brady is the best right now, so whatever I have to do to get to that level at age 40, that’s what I’m going to do.”

I really hope Watson is able to return to full strength and ability in 2018 because I consider him the future of the AFC. He’s a blast to watch and I hope that he and Bill O’Brien and DeAndre Hopkins can add some new flavor to the conference.

The AFC South should be a ton of fun to watch with the Texans, the Jaguars, Mike Vrabel-led Titans, and the Josh McDaniels-led Colts. I’ll definitely be following that division next year.

4. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers also shared his thoughts on Brady with Rich Eisen.

“What do you think when you’re watching Tom Brady play the game?,” Eisen asked Rodgers.

“Well, I’m impressed,” Rodgers replied. “He’s done it for so long at such a high level. What I love to see now and what I like talking to him about now is his movement. He’s kind of added that to his game where he’s been moving in the pocket more. Still moving to throw, but you’ve seen him in the past...I watched every snap he took in 2007, he had a phenomenal year that year [and] I was a back-up, and I was amazed at his subtle pocket movements. He could move slightly and create a throwing lane.

“Now he seems to be more back and up and out to throw and even last year in the Super Bowl he ran for a couple first downs. That’s what’s impressive to me is he’s evolving and adapting. He obviously takes care of himself very well, but now he’s kind of adding that pocket movement where he’s getting up and out, which has been great.”

“I was encouraged by my quarterback coach to watch some of the best guys. I always thought he [Brady] was the best. He threw for like 50 touchdowns that year so I thought what better film to watch than that. The thing I was struck by was the majority of his completions involved some sort of eye control or head movement. Very rarely was he picking and sticking his eyes to a certain side more than normal time. He was great with his eye discipline and I just love his subtle pocket movements.”

I appreciate how an expert in his craft like Rodgers can explain what he appreciates in Brady’s development as a passer over the past decade. It’s true, too, that Brady has been climbing the pocket and sliding outside more frequently. He added it to his toolbox after everyone said the key to defeating Brady is interior pressure.

If Brady can move laterally to throw, then the interior pressure won’t be as effective.

5. Former St. Louis Rams head coach Mike Martz also had his opinion on Tom Brady’s growth over the years.

“I watch him over the last two, three years,” Martz said, “and what I see him when he throws the ball, the anticipation he has and where he can put the ball is mind-blowing. Kurt [Warner] had some great qualities like that, but this guy is on a level I’ve never seen before. And just in the last three [years], I think he’s played his best football, to be honest with you, I really do.

“I think earlier he wouldn’t make those throws and I’m not sure he could [complete] some of those unique throws he makes now, under duress even. Earlier in his career, midway through to earlier, he didn’t have the pressure on him like he’s getting now. He really didn’t.

“Now, he’s making these throws and getting waylaid. Earlier they just did a better job of protecting him, probably, and he’s not as mobile maybe as he was at one time, but I tell you right now he’s at his best.”

While I think Martz is selling the Patriots offensive line short, it’s true that they’re not as effective as earlier versions with All Pros like Matt Light, Logan Mankins, and Dan Koppen, and then the always-underrated Steve Neal, too.

The Patriots offensive line is still pretty good, especially when accounting for the loss of All Pro right tackle Marcus Cannon, but Brady and McDaniels have certainly had to make some adjustments.

I think the line has improved in recent years, too. There was a period of time where the Patriots neglected the offensive line and it led to some questionable lineups from 2012-15, but that’s in the past. David Andrews and Shaq Mason are the next great Patriots linemen, while Nate Solder and Joe Thuney are very solid at their roles. Even Cameron Fleming has played well as the back-up right tackle.

6. The Patriots are about to play their eighth Super Bowl with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Win or lose, we’re witnessing history. Make sure to enjoy this as it’s playing out and realize that this is likely to never repeat itself.