‘Good Decisions’ Have Long in Another Super Bowl
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Chris Long spent most of his NFL career as a good player on a bad St. Louis team.
Like a lot of veteran players in that situation the former No. 2 overall pick went ring shopping when he had the opportunity, finding a short-term lease with Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots.
It worked out wonderfully for Long, who ultimately won a Super Bowl last season with the Pats.
Long, though, was never really a great fit for Belichick's read-and-react scheme and once his lease ran out the veteran decided to look for a new home where he could live out his football life doing what he does best, attacking the quarterback.
The stars aligned for Long when the Eagles became interested after an overture from the player himself.
Long's wife is from South Jersey and his Hall of Fame father started his road to Canton at Villanova. More than that, though, was the fact that Jim Schwartz was in charge of the defensive in Philadelphia, a coordinator who believes the front four has to get to the quarterback in order to be successful.
One of the ways Schwartz believes that is going to get accomplished is by rotating players so they are fresh and able to keep coming in the guts of the game.
For the now 32-year-old Long that turned out to be a tailor-made fit, as he settled in as the team's left end in nickel situations when Brandon Graham is kicked inside.
That so-called Nascar package of Long and Vinny Curry or Derek Barnett on the edges with Fletcher Cox and Graham collapsing the pocket inside has been the best in the NFL at generating pressure this season.
“It was a blessing to be there [in Foxborough]," Long insisted before admitting "he had to do some things that weren’t natural to me."
"I was happy to do them," Long continued. "It was a great team. This year, my role is different. I’ve actually taken less snaps than I did but the snaps I’m taking here, I’m doing what I do [rush the passer]."
That showed up in last week's NFC Championship Game blowout over the Vikings when Long arguably changed the entire game when he hurried Case Keenum into a pick-six to Patrick Robinson that shifted momentum.
With the Patriots, Long was often inside on passing downs and started to lose playing time when the team hit the postseason but there is no ill will from either side.
“I’m just lucky to have played for [Belichick] for a year," Long admitted. “When you play for a guy who’s that awesome a coach, you look at football differently. I learned a lot from him."
Belichick, meanwhile, explained why the marriage was short and convenient while the divorce was amicable.
"I think his [current] defensive role is similar to what it was when was with the Rams," the Patriots coach said earlier this week. "Chris has a lot of good skills, but his overall skill set and experience is probably more in – it definitely is more in the system that he’s in than it was in our system, which is closer to the system that he played in with the Rams. He did a great job for us."
Long told a similar story.
“Even when I called [Belichick] before I hit free agency, I said, ‘Hey, I don’t want to waste your time. I don’t know if I have a spot [on the team] or not. But at 32 years old, if I’m going to play at a high level, a level I can be proud of, I need to play more in-position,'" Long explained. "He understood that from the beginning."
"Look, there was no better teammate or guy that tried to embrace the program than Chris," Belichick countered. "In the end he probably has a better fit there for his skills and for this point in his career than maybe we had for him. I understand that. He probably made a good decision."
Good enough to be in a position to win a second consecutive Super Bowl for a different team.
If you were expecting the classy Long to spike the football, however, think again.
“Me being on two Super Bowl teams in a row is just that I’ve been on two Super Bowl teams in a row," he said. “It has nothing to do with me. I’m just a lucky dude that made some good decisions in free agency."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen