Tramel's ScissorTales: Why Bill Belichick raves about ex-Sooner Rhamondre Stevenson

Rhamondre Stevenson was OU’s third-team tailback in 2019. Sunday night, perhaps the greatest coach in National Football League history was comparing Stevenson to two of the greatest players in NFL history.

Kid you not.

During the Thanksgiving night Patriots-Vikings game, the NBC crew of Mike Tirico, Jason Garrett and Tony Dungy recounted a production meeting with Belichick the night before.

Tirico: “How effusive was he in praising the running back, Stevenson?”

Garrett: “It was incredible. He went on and on and on. Coach doesn’t speak a whole lot in those production meetings. But he probably talked about Rhamondre for 15 minutes, and compared his growth and development in a short period of time to both Tom Brady and to Lawrence Taylor.”

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New England's Rhamondre Stevenson tries to break the tackle of Minnesota's Harrison Smith.
New England's Rhamondre Stevenson tries to break the tackle of Minnesota's Harrison Smith.

Tirico: “We all kind of glanced at each other...”

Dungy: “He (Belichick) was great. Gave us some jewels. He talked about Stevenson, and when he said he’s one of our most dependable players, that said something to me, because that’s what he (Belichick) values.”

A few days later, Belichick was backtracking, saying to New England media that he “doesn’t really remember it quite that way.”

But Stevenson, the second-year NFL tailback still drew praise from the usually tight-lipped Belichick.

“He’s done a good job, continues to do a good job,” Belichick said of Stevenson on Sunday. “He’s had a couple of really good plays in pass protection — James White-level plays. Seeing things, making adjustments, that kind of thing. He’s been a big help for us in that area of the game, whether it’s been blitz pickup, flare control, catching the ball, all of the above.”

Stevenson was a junior-college transfer who worked his way into the 2019 Sooner rotation, which included Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon. Brooks was the bellcow, with 1,011 yards on 155 carries. Sermon was injured some of the year, and Stevenson ended up with more yards (515-385).

Stevenson was suspended for the Peach Bowl and the first five games of the 2020 season, due to a failed drug test. He returned for the final six games and led OU in rushing with 665 yards on 101 carries. Stevenson became a fourth-round draft pick of the Patriots.

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As a rookie, Stevenson was New England’s backup tailback, with 606 yards on 133 carries. This season, Stevenson clearly is the Patriots’ No. 1 tailback option – he leads New England in rushing yards (680), carries (151) and touchdowns (four).

And so a player with 10 starts since junior college has become a favorite of Belichick.

"It's not really that crazy. I put in a lot of work," Stevenson said. "Then just the people around me, they stay on me constantly. So it's not really that crazy.

“I would say I'm very grateful the way it is turning out and just my hard work and everyone around here just being on me, and that showing on the field is great."

And the comparison in development to Brady and Taylor? Brady won six Super Bowls quarterbacking Belichick’s Patriots; Taylor is considered perhaps the greatest defensive player in NFL history, from his time with the New York Giants, on which Belichick was a staff member.

"It means a lot," Stevenson said. "Just from where I started from last year, just remembering how little I knew and how unproductive I was in the pass-pro game. So just making those steps and just learning and just seeing it translate to the field. It feels good."

Let’s get to the NFL predictions:

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Berry Tramel's NFL Week 13 predictions

Bills at Patriots: Buffalo 26-10. Looks like New England will be the first AFC East to blink and leave a rousing race.

Steelers at Falcons: Pittsburgh 14-13. The 4-7 Steelers aren’t dead yet. The playoffs are unlikely, but can they win five of the last six and finish above .500, keeping coach Mike Tomlin’s streak alive? They’ve got an easy schedule, other than two games against Baltimore.

Packers at Bears: Green Bay 29-17. Looks like Aaron Rodgers will play. We don’t yet know about Chicago QB Justin Fields. But the man who needs to play is Jordan Love. Green Bay needs to get about the business of discovering if Love has a future.

Jaguars at Lions: Jacksonville 27-24. The Jags’ Trevor Lawrence’s game-winning drive against the Ravens last week was his NFL highlight.

Jetropolitans at Vikings: Minnesota 20-18. New York has a new hero in QB Mike White, but New York can dismiss its heroes quickly.

Commanders at Giants: Washington 19-17. The Commanders are the real deal. If the playoffs were to start today, Washington would be included, along with every other NFC East team.

Titans at Eagles: Tennessee 17-16. Not much pressure on the Titans, who have a three-game lead in the AFC South.

Broncos at Ravens: Baltimore 32-7. What a disastrous season for Denver, which at 3-8 has the second-worst record in the AFC.

Browns at Texans: Cleveland 24-13. Creepy quarterback Deshaun Watson makes his Browns debut, in Houston, of all places, 700 days since his last NFL game.

Seahawks at Rams: Seattle 28-20. Huge game for Seattle, which suddenly finds itself out of the playoff circle after two straight losses. Seattle, 6-5, can finish strong. It still has a game remaining against Carolina and two games remaining against the Rams.

Dolphins at 49ers: San Francisco 21-20. Two of the NFL’s better teams. And only the local markets will see it, since it’s a Fox game, and CBS has the doubleheader.

Chiefs at Bengals: Kansas City 28-20. I admit it. I have a little Chiefs fatigue.

Chargers at Raiders: Los Angeles 31-28. This is always fun to recite history. This is a game matching a franchise that started in LA, moved to San Diego and now has moved back to LA, against a franchise that started in Oakland, moved to LA, back to Oakland and now is in Las Vegas. The Rams, too, left and came back. Los Angeles never has had an NFL franchise that didn’t leave.

Colts at Cowboys: Dallas 27-10. Seems like a dud Sunday night game. The Cowboys should dominate.

Saints at Buccaneers: Tampa Bay 20-17. Only a game and a half separate the NFC South’s last-place teams (New Orleans and Carolina, each 4-8) from the first-place Bucs (5-6).

Last week: 9-7. Season: 101-78-1.

More:Tramel's ScissorTales: 6-6 Sooners not as bad as you think, the opposite of 2021 Sooners

Finding the next Thunder superstar

The Thunder beat the Spurs 119-111 Wednesday night without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Which is progress, albeit small, in the evolution of this Thunder rebuild.

The Thunder is doing many things while building back toward contention. Forming a culture. Identifying talent. Developing roles.

And here’s another. Finding another superstar.

You can do all that other stuff without tanking. But tanking helps in the superstar search. The higher you pick, the better chance of landing elite talent, and the Thunder certainly hopes Chet Holmgren, the No. 2 pick in the 2022 draft, is an example.

But superstars can be found further down the draft line. In fact, almost as important as drafting high is drafting often.

SGA was picked 11th in the 2018 draft. Damian Lillard was picked sixth overall. Steph Curry was picked seventh, Paul George 10th, Devin Booker 13th, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard each 15th, Rudy Gobert and Pascal Siakam 27th each, Jimmy Butler 30th and Nikola Jokic 41st.

So you never know.

Which brings us to this Thunder team. Only Holmgren, sitting out the season with a foot injury, was a high lottery pick.

Does that mean the Thunder roster is void of superstar prospects? Probably. But not necessarily.

Siakam was drafted at age 22 by the Raptors and his first two seasons averaged 18.7 minutes and 6.0 points a game. Since then, he’s averaged 20.9 points a game, become an all-star and made third-team all-NBA last season.

Booker averaged 13.8 points a game as a rookie. In the 6½ seasons since, Booker has averaged 25.5 points a game.

Through three NBA seasons, Kawhi was averaging 10.9 points a game, admittedly on great San Antonio teams.

In his first two NBA seasons, Butler started 20 games and averaged 6.6 points a game for the Bulls.

Again, you never know. The Thunder is trotting out a bushel of young players, which increases its chances of discovering a star. Of course, those odds are long. But those odds get better with volume.

Some young players you know immediately will not be a star. They lack either an elite skill or elite physical prowess. I mean, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl might become the next P.J. Tucker (still a longshot), but Tucker is not a star.

So who among the Thunder at least has a chance at stardom?

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➤ Start with Josh Giddey. I know, his shooting struggles already are legendary, and he’s lost on defense. Like most players barely 20. But Giddey is an elite passer, has uncommon height for a point (6-foot-8) and he already is an elite rebounder, averaging 7.7 per game over his 73 NBA games. Giddey had 14 rebounds against San Antone. Giddey has flaws, but he’s such a unique player, it would be unwise to place limits on his potential.

➤ Then go to Santa Clara Williams. He had 27 points vs. San Antonio. In a three-year career in the West Coast Conference, Williams scored more than 27 just twice — 30 vs. Hawaii in November 2021 and 28 vs. Louisiana Tech in December 2022. But college basketball sometimes impedes greatness as much as promoting it. Santa Clara has shown widespread ability to shoot, pass, defend and rebound. Mark Daigneault raved about Williams’ length, and Santa Clara himself referenced his long arms in how he pulled off an amazing dunk against the Spurs. He looks like an all-around player, and he’s only 21. There’s no telling what Williams could become.

➤ Aleksej Pokusevski is in his third NBA season, and while he’s improved greatly, he’s still inconsistent, with just a much higher floor. Few stars emerge after Year 3, so Poku isn’t likely to reach that status. But he’s proven he’s an NBA player. Maybe a good NBA player. And like Giddey, Poku is such a unique player, you don’t know what to make of him.

➤ Luguentz Dort already is a one-way star – on defense. And he’s a productive, if inefficient, offensive player. Dort is in his fourth NBA season and has averaged 13.4 points a game. Even his much-maligned 3-point shooting is not terrible; 33 percent. If Dort could get that into the 38-percent range, which is unlikely, he would be an all-around star.

➤ Ousmane Dieng is 19½. He’s a 6-foot-10 forward who is freakishly athletic and has a good court sense. His shooting is a mess, but if he ever figures it out, that’s a star. He probably won’t, but Siakam improved his shooting and became a star. That’s why you draft a player like Dieng.

➤ Tre Mann is a volume scorer. He’s so dang slight (178 pounds), it’s hard to picture him as an NBA star. But we’ve seen enough of Mann to know he can shoot and score in bunches. He’s been wildly inconsistent, but if you’ve done it before, you can do it again.

None of these Thunders have a good chance at stardom. Nothing approaching 25 percent, I’d guess. But add all of them together, and there’s a fighting chance OKC could have something special on its hands with one in the group.

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Can TCU make playoff with a loss?

The Big 12 hasn’t produced a College Football Playoff team since the 2019 Sooners. And in the four-team playoff era, the Big 12 never has produced a representative other than OU.

That all changes Saturday if unbeaten Texas Christian beats Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship game in Arlington. TCU, 12-0, is ranked third by the playoff committee and will be no worse than that, provided the Horned Frogs beat K-State.

But what if KSU pulls the upset? The 9-3 Wildcats certainly are capable. They are the highest-ranked three-loss team, at No. 10. In Fort Worth in October, KSU led TCU 28-10, before the Frogs rallied for a 38-28 victory.

A loss would send the 12-1 Frogs into discussion with 11-1 Ohio State or even 10-2 Alabama.

Unbeatens Georgia and Michigan are considered automatics for the playoff, even if they lose their conference title games Saturday. And if fourth-ranked Southern Cal beats Utah on Friday night in the Pac-12 championship, the Trojans are in.

But if either TCU or USC or both lose, they would fall into the bucket with Ohio State and Alabama.

Here are some of the criteria that could be used:

➤ None of those teams would have a conference title.

➤ TCU would have the best record, 12-1, followed by 11-1 Ohio State, 11-2 USC and 10-2 Alabama.

➤ Strength of schedule would be interesting. Alabama currently has the No. 8 strength of schedule in college football, according to ESPN metrics, followed by No. 34 Ohio State, No. 35 TCU and No. 57 USC.

Strength of record, which combines your strength of schedule with how you did against that schedule, favors TCU right now. The Frogs are No. 1, followed Ohio State at No. 4, Alabama at No. 5 and USC at No. 6.

TCU’s and USC’s strength of schedule will go up, since they are playing opponents currently ranked 10th (Kansas State) and 11th (Utah) in conference title games, while Ohio State and Bama don’t play. But the strength of record metric would go down for TCU and USC, if they lose.

➤ Game control is a made-up concept, used so the committee can justify doing whatever the heck it wants to do. It’s supposed to reward dominance, I suppose.

TCU, the master of winning close games, is 13th in game control. Alabama is third, Ohio State fourth and USC ninth.

So what happens if TCU loses and USC wins? My guess is Ohio State goes.

The committee often is dominated, not in number but in voice, by football coaches enamored not by results, but by apparent talent. Who has the best defensive tackles?

This harkens back eerily to 2014, the first year of the four-team playoff, when TCU fell from third to sixth in the final rankings, with Ohio State jumping both TCU and Baylor.

The committee migrates to bluebloods. TCU is not a blueblood.

Now, if both USC and TCU lose, the Frogs would be in much better position to get the nod over Alabama. The committee loves bluebloods, but it loves fewer losses more.

A 12-1 TCU vs. a 10-2 Alabama would be a major discrepancy in record. Bama’s two defeats were by narrow margins on the final two plays of the game. But the Crimson Tide’s best wins are Texas and Mississippi State. TCU can match that and more.

Let’s get to the predictions:

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College football championship weekend predictions

TCU vs. Kansas City in Arlington: Horned Frogs 32-28. The first KSU-TCU game this season came when Will Howard still was considered the Wildcat backup quarterback. He relieved the injured Adrian Martinez on the second series of that game against TCU and played great. He’s kept it up.

Georgia vs. Louisiana State in Atlanta: Bulldogs 31-20. LSU squashed its chances at the playoff with that loss at Texas A&M last week. No matter, really. Were the Tigers really going to beat Georgia in Atlanta?

Michigan vs. Purdue in Indianapolis: Wolverines 34-10. Hooray for the Boilermakers, making their first Big Ten Championship Game appearance.

Southern Cal vs. Utah in Las Vegas: Trojans 38-31. If this showdown is anything like the USC-Utah game from October – the Utes won 43-42 – America is in for a treat.

Clemson vs. North Carolina in Charlotte: Tar Heels 28-27. Clemson is sticking with embattled quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who completed just eight of 29 passes for 99 yards against South Carolina last week.

Central Florida at Tulane: Green Wave 28-24. The winner seems headed for the Cotton Bowl.

Fresno State at Boise State: Broncos 26-20. Since Boise State changed offensive coordinators (to Dirk Koetter) and quarterbacks (to Taylen Green), the Broncos have been soaring.

Coastal Carolina at Troy: Trojans 29-10. Coastal is without star quarterback Grayson McCall, who is injured. That sinks the Chanticleers.

North Texas at Texas-San Antonio: Roadrunners 45-17. Great turnaround for UNT coach Seth Littrell, who got the Mean Green into the Conference USA title game after three straight losing seasons.

Toledo vs. Ohio in Detroit: Rockets 31-21. You’ve got to love mid-major championship games played at a neutral site.

Last week: 35-16. Season: 496-201.

More:OSU football rewind: Jason Taylor II's Thorpe Award goal, top players & redshirt tracker

Mailbag: OU’s close games

My Monday ScissorTales focused on all the close games OU won a year ago and lost this season. At least one reader called bogus.

Keith: “Wow, you had to dig deep for that article. Seems you’re trying to justify failure!”

Tramel: No. Just trying to explain it. Play close games and you’re playing with fire. It’s like deciding to arrive at appointments at precisely the designated time. That’s a recipe that won’t work. Sometimes you’ll be early, sometimes you’ll be late. Planning to arrive early means you’ll rarely be late.

Same with close games. Play close games, and you’re going to win some and lose some, and it’s mostly going to fall around 50/50.

OU football historian Mike Brooks texted me this week some of the numbers.

“You are right on target when talking about close games,” Brooks wrote. “I’ve done extensive research on that issue, and basically came to the same conclusions you did.”

Here’s what Stat Man sent me:

➤ OU’s all-time winning percentage is .725.

➤ OU’s all-time winning percentage in one-possession finishes is .571, over 471 games.

➤ The 2008 Sooners played no close games. The 1974 Sooners played one close game (a 16-13 win over Texas).

➤ John Blake, whose teams were 12-22 overall, were 7-7 in close games.

➤ Speaking to the randomness of close games, Bob Stoops’ 2008 played no close games, the 2009 Sooners were 1-4 in close games, the 2010 Sooners were 6-0 in close games and the 2011 Sooners were 0-2 in close games. So over a four-year period, OU was 7-6 close games. Regression to the mean.

➤ OU’s winning percentage against specific opponents in close games: Texas .447 (57 games), OSU .603 (34 games), Kansas State .464 (28 games), Notre Dame .000 (five games), Texas A&M .667 (12 games).

The data is clear. You want to have a special season? Minimize close games.

More:OU football player tracker: Keeping up with Sooners in transfer portal and bound for NFL

The List: NBA blocked-shot leaders

The Thunder has three of the NBA’s top 20 leaders in blocked shots per game:

1. Brook Lopez, Bucks, 2.9

2. Myles Turner, Pacers, 2.6

3. Anthony Davis, Lakers, 2.3

4. Nic Claxton, Netropolitans, 2.1

5. Bol Bol, Magic, 1.9

6. Ivica Zubac, Clippers, 1.8

7. Kevin Durant, Nets, 1.7

8. Aleksej Pokusevski, Thunder, 1.6

9. Walker Kessler, Jazz, 1.6

10. Kristaps Porzingis, Wizards, 1.7

11. Bismack Biyombo, Suns, 1.5

12. Clint Capela, Hawks, 1.5

13. John Collins, Hawks, 1.4

14. Jaden McDaniels, Timberwolves, 1.4

15. Evan Mobley, Cavaliers, 1.4

16. Rudy Gobert, Timberwolves, 1.4

17. Darius Bazley, Thunder, 1.3

18. Christian Koloko, Raptors, 1.2

19. Jarrett Allen, Cavaliers, 1.2

20. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 1.2

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today. 

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Patriots' Bill Belichick lauds ex-OU football star Rhamondre Stevenson