Even before the Sunday Night Football game between the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers, John Hannah knew that the Patriots had no reason to panic following their loss to the Cleveland Browns.
I had a chance to interview John Hannah on Friday afternoon, and we went back-and-forth about the 2010 Patriots.
When I asked Hannah if he saw enough in the loss to cause for panic in New England, he quickly responded, "Oh gosh no. You know, every now and then you're going to have an off day...I think once they play Pittsburgh, we'll know a lot better. And then we can decide whether we want to panic or not."
Clearly, we don't have to.
The Patriots did a complete 180 after that humiliating loss. Some were talking about a blueprint for beating the Patriots offense being laid out by Eric Mangini. The offensive line was exposed.
That weakness proved to be its strength, however, on Sunday night against the Steelers. The addition of Logan Mankins to the offensive line made a huge difference. Hannah pointed out, "(Dan) Connolly did a good job. There’s nothing wrong with Connolly, it’s just that Logan has that little extra shot of piss and vinegar, so to speak, that Connolly doesn’t have. He’s just a little more violent, and just brings a little higher level of intensity to the game."
Of course, that intensity played a role in at least one scuffle between Mankins and Troy Polamalu. Mankins' toughness and intensity helped the Patriots open up holes in the running game when they needed to, and hold the pocket on 43 pass plays from Brady.
Who will win the AFC?
Although only two of their wins have come against teams with winning records (Ravens and Steelers), the Patriots are now in a three-way tie for the best record in the league.
Is one win enough to give the Patriots a pass? Anyone in the New England locker room would most definitely say "no." Hannah wasn't ready to panic after one loss, and I imagine he's not ready to crown the Patriots after one win.
Only two states didn't pick the Patriots: Maryland (they picked Baltimore) and Indiana (they probably clicked "other" for the Colts).
He also talked about the Patriots running game, which he says is one of the most underrated facets of this team. He called BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead one of the "greatest one-two punches" he's seen, but it's not so much about the production, it's about the mentality.
Yes, Woodhead truly is the pocket-size Welker, in body, spirit, toughness, and all the intangibles.
And Green-Ellis truly is the antithesis of Laurence Maroney, digging his cleats through a hole rather than tapdancing around it.
Through it all, there's one more question we can ask with rhetorical confidence: did anyone see this coming in the offseason, training camp and preseason? Another definitive "no".
Much like the rest of us, Hannah didn't think the Patriots were going to make much noise at the beginning of the year. But now, much like the rest of us, Hannah is eating his words.
We already know what the fans think. But does Hannah think the Patriots can make a run at the Super Bowl?
"I do. At the beginning of the year, I didn't think they could. I thought they were going to be maybe a .600 team and that'd be about it, but they've surprised me, and played much better than I ever thought possible. Now with Logan back, and with the young defensive backs getting stronger every week and learning the game, I think by the time the playoffs come around, they could go really deep."
One of the most surprising things is that they lack the big-name playmakers. Instead of one or two guys, they're getting those big plays across the board.
I'm reminded of a quote from Bill Belichick last year. "Stats are for losers," he said. "The final score is for winners."
There's still a lot of football left to play, and the New England Patriots still have a tough road ahead of them with games against the Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions, New York Jets and Chicago Bears coming up.
But Hannah and I agree on one more thing: with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick on their side, the Patriots have a chance to win every game.
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