• So far this Super Bowl week hasn’t yielded any major storylines to follow (yet!), but Tuesday’s media availability gave us a handful of things to follow. Here’s what you might have missed.
By Conor Orr
January 29, 2019

ATLANTA – Greetings from Super Bowl LIII. If you’ve ever wanted to take a selfie with Bill Belichick or ask a player about Chinese Ping-Pong stars, then Super Bowl media week is the place for you. But, as it pertains to the game, there’s some stuff related to that happening as well.

We’re here to get you caught up on what we learned from Tuesday’s player availability:

1. The Rams are loose

Having covered more than a handful of Patriots Super Bowls, I’ve always noticed a point during the week when the opponent tires of hearing about New England’s mystique. There is nothing, apparently—not even being bombarded in the middle of a press conference to play a game of slaps—that grates on someone’s nerves more than lofty questions about the Patriot Way. Nickell Robey-Coleman obviously kicked the week off with a bang, but the Rams didn’t go into damage control. The whole week, they seem to be aware, but not in awe of, their opponent.

Aaron Donald told me Tuesday, when asked if the Patriots hide their tendencies more than other teams (the Rams, throughout the playoffs talked a lot about how they picked up on little tells provided by the Cowboys’ offensive line): “Everybody’s got tendencies. Everyone is going to show what they do at times. It’s a part of studying, I’m trying to find as much as I can on them so I can have success.” That doesn’t sound like someone who is caught up in the moment.

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2. Todd Gurley is the story of this Super Bowl

As we discussed during The MMQB podcast taping on Tuesday afternoon, there’s a decided lack of juice during this Super Bowl. There is no Tom Brady mystery glove. There is no Phantom Gronkowski Walking Boot. Gurley is the centerpiece of the Los Angeles offense when healthy, but something has clearly been off, because he rushed four times for 10 yards in their last game against the Saints.

“You show me anyone that’s great at anything they do, and I’ll show you someone who has persevered; has that mental toughness to overcome some adversity,” Sean McVay said about Gurley on Tuesday.

It was evident during McVay’s press conference, though, that he wanted to take the onus for Gurley’s performance against the Saints and put it on himself. He reiterated the talking point about a poor play selection, thus trying to take some of the pressure off his star running back.

3. Andrew Whitworth is one of the most valuable free agents of the last decade

This was evident over the past few days, but there are players who you can just tell have a fingerprint on every corner of the organization. The 37-year-old left tackle solidified Los Angeles’ patchwork offensive line a year ago but, in the subsequent months and year, has managed to become the foundation that the entire roster sits on. It’s interesting how we talk so much about bridge quarterbacks and, sometimes pass rushers and corners, but don’t focus as much on replacing players like Whitworth who play a position above replacement level and also manage to help propel the personality of the locker room.

The OC Register transcribed this quote about Whitworth’s future from Tuesday’s availability: “Every single season I play, I don’t take it lightly. Retirement is always an option. After every season, I look at the year and how I felt and how I played, at the kids, the wife and family and what is important and what I need to do. I’m somebody who believes in balance.”

Would a win influence that decision in any way? A loss?

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4. What a difference a year makes

Maybe it’s shortsighted, but the aftermath of last year’s Super Bowl felt like a Patriot funeral, and I wrote as much at the time. Think about where we were at, this time last year: Matt Patricia and Josh McDaniels were gone. The organization aired its dirty laundry in an ESPN deep dive that exposed the festering pettiness that could have easily taken the organization down (and has taken down far less successful entities). Now, Tom Brady, Dante Scarnecchia and Josh McDaniels are already locked in to return in 2019. Rob Gronkowski, who is still a top five tight end, has to decide his future and is a fairly significant piece of the story, but does it feel impossible to scheme around him? The Patriots’ impending decline has been delayed yet again.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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