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Four takes for four rings

Four takes on four Super Bowl rings.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick won his fourth Sunday night to tie Steelers coach Chuck Noll and quarterback Tom Brady won his fourth to tie Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana.

Did you see the sign?

As the Patriots lifted the Lombardi Trophy, NBC cut to the sign in the crowd etched in New England blue and red: Do Your Job.

That is, of course, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis' mantra reaching back to his first division title in 2005. But it was the Patriots that pulled it off so well in the Super Bowl and it goes back to what Lewis, left tackle Andrew Whitworth, and all the other Bengals leaders have been talking about.

Their best players simply have to play their best when they need it most.

Brady was at his Hall-of-Fame best when he rallied the Pats back from 10 points down in the fourth quarter hitting 13 of 15 passes. Tight end Rob Gronkowski had two catches for 33 yards in the winning drive. Wide receiver Julian Edelman had four of his 11 catches in the fourth quarter for 54 yards, including the winning catch, and their defensive staples, nose tackle Vince Wilfork, end Rob Ninkovich, and linebacker Dont'a Hightower each had big stops in keeping Seattle off the board in the final minutes.

(Don't forget it was Hightower who stopped running back Marshawn Lynch on the 1 to set up the Seattle coaching meltdown.)

During Super Bowl week as they made their media rounds in Phoenix, the Bengals stars and some of their coaches kept getting hammered with the how-do-you-get-over-the-hump-in-the-big-game question. The Patriots offered a very simple answer.

The addendum is your best players have to be healthy. Imagine Brady without Gronkowski and Edelman Sunday night and that's what Andy Dalton was missing without wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham in the playoffs.

The NBA is a player's league. Baseball is a general manager's game. The NFL, from Paul Brown to Belichick, has always been and always will be a coach's league.

On Sunday night the Patriots spread out Seattle's big and fast back seven and made running back Shane Vereen a huge factor with 11 catches for 64 yards in the middle of the field. They used Brady's precision and accuracy rather than a big arm with his longest completion 23 yards. The quick passing game is the only way the Patriots re-tooled offensive line could repeatedly offset Seattle's pressure.

But it all would have been for naught if the Seahawks didn't make it complicated and ignore the best goal-line back in the league with the season on the line.

You just can't blow off those street signings by the front office.

The Pats signed undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler on May 19, a week after most of the other free agents had signed, on his way to becoming an improbable Super Bowl hero with his season-saving interception on the goal line. Here's a guy that played 190 snaps all year, didn't take a snap at corner in the win over the Ravens, and had just 14 plays in the blowout of the Colts in the AFC title game and didn't get into scrimmage Sunday until the third quarter.

It makes you think back to the Super Bowl week of interviews at the Patriots hotel. The starters and regulars did their work at tables and podiums inside a conference room. Butler, the special teamers, and the assistant coaches were at tables in a hallway, along with the food and beverage.

It also makes you think back to the last preseason game, when Butler won his job on the New England roster. It takes the last 20 seconds of the season to remind you that every other minute of the year matters.

You can never have enough depth at wide receiver.

The Bengals found that out the hard way in this injury-filled season. Seattle found out when they turned to obscurity and wide receiver Chris Matthews saved them in the biggest game of the year.

The waiver wire irony is that Butler was only in the game because the Patriots couldn't match up with the 6-5 Matthews in the slot. With Matthews using his size and speed to burn third cornerback Kyle Arrington, the Patriots replaced Arrington with Butler in the third quarter even though he had played just 190 snaps all year.

Matthews chose Sunday night to make his first four NFL catches for 109 yards at age 26 in a story as remarkable as Butler's rise from junior college and West Alabama.

Matthews, a University of Kentucky product, rattled around the periphery of the Seattle roster this season after two seasons in Canada. Seattle cut him after the preseason, and then signed him, cut him, then signed him back to the practice squad before putting him on the roster in mid-November. His only moment of note had come on special teams two weeks ago when he recovered Green Bay's on-side kick in the last moments of the NFC title game.

But in a stunning six minutes Sunday he became a hero in the Northwest. In between leaping catches of 44 and 45 yards, Matthews caught an 11-yard touchdown pass. When was the last time you saw a Bengals receiver go up and get the ball like Matthews did on Russell Wilson's two long throws?

As bad as the Bengals were beat up at wide receiver in the playoff game, at least they were playing with two third-round picks (Mohamed Sanu and Brandon Tate), a second-rounder (Greg Little), and a sixth-rounder (Cobi Hamilton). Instead of ripping Wilson and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, maybe we should be praising them for coming within a handoff from winning the Super Bowl with their four leading wide receivers on Sunday night all undrafted.

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