Houston — Kyle Van Noy is gracious in victory.
The Lions gave up on the former second-round pick and now he’s going to the Super Bowl as a key contributor on the NFL’s best scoring defense. He could gloat, he could shout, “I told you so,” but he’s content to shoulder the blame for not living up to expectations in Detroit and grateful for his new life with the New England Patriots.
The Lions essentially traded Van Noy for a dozen slightly used footballs, packaging the linebacker along with a seventh-round pick for the Patriots’ sixth-round selection.
Why didn’t it work out in Detroit? Van Noy refuses to point the finger at anyone but himself.
“I’ll take the blame for all of it,” Van Noy said. “Ultimately, it was me. I don’t want anyone else getting the blame. I don’t want coaches getting the blame, scheme being the problem, I think it’s just me.”
Van Noy praised the efforts of multiple members of Detroit’s coaching staff, including linebackers coach Bill Sheridan, but was especially effusive when it came to Jim Caldwell.
“I don’t want you to ever blame coach Caldwell because he’s a great coach,” Van Noy said. “He doesn’t get enough credit for how great a coach he is because those guys will fight for him until the death. I respect coach Caldwell. He’s one of my favorite coaches I’ve ever had. I’ll always go to bat for him.”
Van Noy also refused to criticize former defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, or his role in Detroit’s scheme, instead raving about the freedom he has in New England, playing in a system he said compares favorably to the one he played in at BYU, where he thrived as a big-time playmaker.
“It’s way different (than Detroit),” Van Noy said. “Just get to play football, not worry about your gap or anything. You just get to play free and the players get a lot of say. It’s awesome to play for a defensive coach like Matt Patricia who believes in his players, allows them to make field adjustments and be out there, change what you need to change according to what you see.”
Van Noy struggled to describe the emotional roller coaster he’s been on this season. The trade stunned him and he got little explanation from Lions general manager Bob Quinn. As Van Noy saw it, he had been making steady improvement.
On the other side, New England was excited to get a low-cost look at a player it had thoroughly scouted and liked coming out of BYU.
“There’s some versatility there. Kyle can run, he’s got good size and he’s a guy that we liked coming out of college,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “When the opportunity came to be able to acquire him, we felt he’d be able to fit into our system and he has.”
Van Noy expressed self-doubt heading to New England, being dropped into an unfamiliar setting mid-stream and expected to be part of the replacement plan for Jamie Collins, the Pro Bowl linebacker the Patriots shipped to the Cleveland Browns knowing they wouldn’t be willing to meet his contract demands in the offseason.
Van Noy’s nerves were quickly settled in his first practice with his new team when he intercepted a pass from backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
From there, the linebacker threw himself into learning the Patriots playbook. He arrived at the team’s facility at 5 a.m. every day and stayed until 10 p.m. every night. He was convinced he could have played after one week, but he was kept inactive two games.
He finally got on the field Week 11 against Washington and his role rapidly grew as the season progressed. In seven games with New England, he recorded 27 stops and a sack. In the AFC championship against Pittsburgh he had four tackles and forced a fumble.
“He just came in and worked hard,” Patriots linebacker coach Brian Flores said. “We just tried to put him in positions to do things we saw that he did well in practice, and could do in the games. He’s done a good job of taking on a role, taking on a philosophy, and doing whatever we’ve asked him to do. It’s been a pleasure to coach him, to be quite honest.”
Van Noy has nothing bad to say about Detroit. He’s forged a strong bond with both his former teammates and the city. He and his wife continue to be involved with charitable efforts in the Metro area. But life is better for him now than it ever was here and he’s not taking that for granted.
“I didn’t feel like I was playing that bad,” Van Noy said. “I was improving each week. That’s what it’s all about, but they wanted to move on from me. It is what it is. I’m in a better spot now, I’m in the Super Bowl.”