Bill Belichick versus Sean McVay. Tom Brady versus Jared Goff. Stephon Gilmore versus Aqib Talib. Andrew Whitworth versus Trent Brown. There are so many interesting parallels and matchups worth talking about leading up to tomorrow’s big game in Atlanta, but here I am being a weirdo spending the weekend talking myself into Chris Hogan as a realistic candidate to win a mostly meaningless Super Bowl MVP. (If you knew Malcolm Smith and Dexter Jackson were Super Bowl MVPS this decade, more power to you, but we don’t remember this award after the confetti settles, no, we remember the moment.
We remember David Tyree catching a football off his helmet. We remember James Harrison returning a fumble 100 yards for a score. We remember Tracey Porter returning an errant Peyton Manning pass for six. We even remember Devin Hester returning the opening kick for a score.
(Note: We do not remember the Falcons blowing a 28-3 lead. Who could?)
The problem with going down this rabbit hole of previous Super Bowl moments is that none of these guys ended up being awarded Super Bowl MVP. Instead, it was Drew Brees or Manning or Brady or Aaron Rodgers who won the award. The quarterback position is the most important position in football, so it should come as no surprise they typically win this award. Since the 2000 Super Bowl, the winning-team’s QB has won MVP 12 times.
But sometimes they don’t.
Sometimes Von Miller ruins Cam Newton’s life and carries a completely washed Manning to another Super Bowl victory. Sometimes a player like Hines Ward gets an opportunity to go wild on a ballsy reverse call that leads to an Antwaan Randle El bomb to the former UGA wideout to ice a Super Bowl victory against the league’s best offense. Sometimes you win a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer and it’s clear you just have to give MVP to the best defensive player in the game in Ray Lewis.
But sometimes it’s Deion Branch, baby.
Coming into the 2004 NFL season, the Pats made a commitment to invest in their running game. Sound familiar? Yes, the club signed Corey Dillon and he rushed for a franchise-record 1,635 yards. This season, the Pats invested in the running game by drafting Sony Michel in the first round, while also drafting his former teammate Isaiah Wynn in the first round, too. They even went out and traded for Very Large Human Trent Brown, for good measure. The 2019 Patriot playoff run is eerily similar to that 2004 Patriot playoff run.
Would you like to guess which two teams that 2004 team lost to in the regular season that year? That’s right, folks, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Miami Dolphins. That team even had their own James White in Kevin Faulk. (Two dudes who went to big-name schools but you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t hop on Pro Football Reference.) The eerie similarities between these two teams don’t stop there. No, Mr. Branch was New England’s primary deep threat, or Inverse Troy Brown, if you will, but he missed a lot of time due to injury and had a very forgettable season. Hogan, although he did appear in all 16 games for the Pats, had a very forgettable season -- only one game where he was targeted double-digits by Brady -- and did injure his leg at one point. With Josh Gordon away from the team, Hogan is once again the team’s only real deep threat.
This is Hogan’s moment.
Coming into Sunday, Hogan has been relegated to an afterthought role in an offense that now prides itself on imposing its will at the line of scrimmage along with Brady getting rid of the ball faster than he ever has in his entire career. (You can check PFF’s stats if you don’t believe me, of course.) The Pats aren’t going deep because they haven’t needed to go deep. When the Pats can beat you by just nickel-and-diming you to death with Julian Edelman and White over 30 times a game, why use Hogan as anything other than a decoy?
Thankfully, Nickell Robey-Coleman exists. Bless him. The Rams were already coming into Sunday’s game as underdogs, but the Rams’ cornerback made it worse by, checks notes, talking shit about Tom Brady. Bold strategy, Cotton, indeed. It wasn’t that long ago that Anthony Smith said some things about the GOAT and we know how that played out. We know how it played out for Freddie Mitchell. We know how it is going to play out for Robey-Coleman.
For Brady to really embarrass the corner, he will need to go deep. He will need to release The Hogan. For reference, think of the Nick Foles bomb from mid-December against the Rams in LA. This is what Brady will need to do. It doesn’t hurt that among corners who Brady has targeted 20-plus times in his career, Robey-Coleman has been buried by Brady to the tune of a 130.9 passer rating when targeted, per PFF. Only Ike Taylor and Jabari Greer have fared worse against Tom The Terrific.
Would you like to know what else doesn’t hurt? It doesn’t hurt that Brady has accomplished basically everything there is to accomplish in the NFL -- except tossing a touchdown in the first quarter of the Super Bowl. This is Brady’s ninth Super Bowl, and it still hasn’t happened. But prior to last season’s Super Bowl against the Eagles, the Pats hadn’t even scored in the first quarter of a Super Bowl. Then the second-longest tenured Patriot kicked a field goal to end that streak. Only the touchdown pass remains.
Let’s say it happens. Let’s say Josh McDaniels calls a fleaflicker bomb to Hogan and it goes for six. That’s the moment. But it will take more for Hogan to secure the bag, here. Branch reeled in 11 catches, which tied for the most in Super Bowl history. He had a drive in the third quarter where he reeled in 4 catches for over 70 yards. This is feasible for Hogan, though. McDaniels and Brady haven’t shied away from over-targeting a matchup they like whether it’s with Rob Gronkowski or Edelman or White or whoever, as long as it results in first downs and touchdowns.
I think it can be Hogan. I think we could see Brady break the weird touchdown-blemish with the Hulkster. I think we could see Hogan win Super Bowl 53 MVP. No, I know we could see Hogan win Super Bowl 53 MVP.
Now let's play the game.