Rob Gronkowski Was Inches Away From Greatest Play in Sports History and 19 Other Patriots Thoughts

Rob Gronkowski Was Inches Away From Greatest Play in Sports History and 19 Other Patriots ThoughtsThis isn't an easy week for the Patriots, who must make the transition from the sickening feeling of defeat to the optimistic view of what lies ahead, both in the offseason and then the season to come.

This Two-Minute Drill will tackle each aspect, looking back at Super Bowl XLVI and also taking a brief glance at some early objectives for Bill Belichick and company.

1. I've never seen so much raw anticipation, emotion and energy in one building as there was during the Super Bowl, particularly during the minute or so before the opening kickoff. It was wild as the players jumped around on the field and the fans fed off it. Truly, it was one of the most uniquely amazing experiences of my life.

2. On the whole, the whole Super Bowl week was a great time. It was my first one, so I tried to soak up the atmosphere from Monday to Monday. Aside from covering the teams, both of which were bubbling with excitement all week, it was cool to check out Radio Row and then take in the atmosphere around the city.

3. At any point, you could look up and realize you're crossing the street with a Hall of Famer or you're eating dinner a table away from a random Hollywood celebrity. More than anything, I'm just pointing this out because it shows the magnitude of the event, which draws so many people to one relatively condensed area for a full week.

4. Without a doubt, the craziest thing I saw all week, aside from this hilariously over-served middle-aged guy on his self-created dance floor, was when Curt Schilling met Ice Cube. I mean, who knew?

5. I'll be writing about it in the next day or so, but I've come up with a way the Patriots and Boston can host a Super Bowl in the future. After seeing the way these things are run, I'm confident the Patriots could devise a plan to do it right in this area unless, of course, there's a weather-related disaster in two years in New York that turns everyone off from the idea of hosting the Super Bowl in the northeast again.

6. And finally, before switching focus to actual football, I'd be remiss if I didn't join the chorus on how spectacular of a job Indianapolis did last week. Everything was run so smoothly, and the city truly embraced the entire event. Lucas Oil Stadium did a great job with everything, too. It might not be in the very near future, but Indy will definitely be hosting another Super Bowl down the road. They deserve it.

7. The Patriots were literally inches shy of pulling off the greatest play in the history of sports. Really, would there be anything better than a Hail Mary to win the Super Bowl?

8. Bill Belichick probably couldn't stand the notion of having to tell running back Kevin Faulk he wouldn't dress for the Super Bowl, but this wasn't completely unique. Wide receiver Troy Brown was inactive for Super Bowl XLII, and Anthony Pleasant — who was considered the godfather of the Patriots' defensive line early in the decade — was inactive for Super Bowl XXXVIII. Each respective game was the final of the players' careers. Faulk still hasn't decided whether or not he'll retire.

9. It makes it tougher to see Faulk inactive when his replacement, Stevan Ridley, didn't even get on the field, but I'm guessing Ridley was there as a change of pace in case BenJarvus Green-Ellis struggled. Obviously, that never happened, but if the Patriots needed more burst from their running back, Ridley could have provided that.

10. Sticking with that position, I was starting to wonder about Danny Woodhead's future with the team due to a step back in production from a stellar 2010 season. And then Woodhead was terrific in the Super Bowl with 60 yards from scrimmage (his most since the regular-season opener in Miami) and a touchdown. His four receptions and 42 yards were each season highs, too. I think that pretty much cemented the fact that he's still got good value to the team.

11. Belichick didn't exactly win any public-relations battles by cutting wide receiver Tiquan Underwood the night before the Super Bowl, but it still sounds like it was purely a football decision and nothing disciplinary. Again, it didn't help the matter when his roster replacement, defensive end Alex Silvestro, didn't play, but Belichick had some type of concern about the depth along the defensive line.

12. Linebacker Brandon Spikes played like a budding superstar in the playoffs. He's got a really bright future. It's gotten to the point where it's surprising if he hits the wrong gap or gets beat by a block on a running play to his side.

13. Quarterback Tom Brady made two poor decisions in the Super Bowl by holding the ball too long and then grounding it in the end zone, and then by tossing up a jump ball to Rob Gronkowski, which was thrown about 15 yards shorter than it needed to be. But if there's one throw I'm sure Brady would like to have back, it was on that crossing pattern to Deion Branch on the opening play of the Patriots' final possession. If Brady led Branch a little more — instead of throwing it over the linebacker, who tipped the ball and clogged Branch's vision — Branch might have been a broken tackle away from getting the ball into field-goal range.

14. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw took a little heat for scoring the game-winning touchdown rather than downing the ball before the goal line, but you can't consciously refuse to take the lead in the final minute of the Super Bowl. How dumb would he have looked if Lawrence Tynes shanked his field goal or gotten it blocked?

15. But really, for those who found fault in Bradshaw's decision to score, the criticism truly belongs on Tom Coughlin's shoulders. If Coughlin wanted to run out the clock, he could have ordered Eli Manning to take a couple knees. Instead, he called a play, which serves as an order to score. Coughlin wasn't calling that run with the strategy of shrinking Tynes' potential attempt from 24 yards to 19 yards, that's for sure.

16. The Patriots' 12-men-on-the-field penalty was on the coaching staff more than cornerback Antwaun Molden, who ran onto the field late and couldn't figure out where to line up (because the other 11 players were in position, of course). But even the linebackers had trouble figuring out where Molden belonged, and there was so much confusion before the snap that someone should have called a timeout. The Patriots' coaching staff commonly calls timeouts in those situations, too.

17. If the Patriots won, Brady's drive before halftime, in which he completed all 10 pass attempts for 98 yards and gave them a 10-9 lead, would have gone down as one of the greatest drives of his career and one of the great drives in Super Bowl history.

18. Belichick needs to make two key decisions before compiling a list of offseason targets, both in free agency and the draft. First, Belichick has to decide if he's going to employ a 4-3 or 3-4 base defense, which will help him decide whether or not to retain Andre Carter. Also, he's got to figure out if Devin McCourty's future is at cornerback or safety. The Patriots really need a playmaker in the secondary, and McCourty showed an elite ability to make plays as a rookie. It's now up to the coaching staff to determine where McCourty can excel in that department going forward.

19. I'm not sure if it's something the fan base really cares about — in any sport with any team — but Vince Wilfork has developed a less-than-ideal trend of not speaking to the media after losses, which was the case again Sunday. It's just one of those things captains are supposed to do.

20. There isn't a realistic scenario I can envision that involves wide receiver Wes Welker leaving the Patriots. Whether he's franchise tagged, immediately signs a long-term contract extension or gets tagged before signing, Welker will remain in New England. He doesn't want to sign elsewhere, and there's just no way Brady will let Welker leave the team. There's too much interest from each party to let this situation go south.

Have a question for Jeff Howe? Send it to him via Twitter at @jeffphowe or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.