Never before in the NFL's 85 years have the pros seen a coach quite like Belichick, the first defensive expert who as a head coach has ever abandoned conservative offensive football in favor of play-after-play passing. Brady, the team's field leader, combines an ideal passing style and a gift for accurate passing with a quality that's rare in a quarterback: a remarkably even temper.
That achievement would raise the Patriots ahead of the 1972 Dolphins and the four other pro clubs who over the years have managed to win 18 in a row.
In this NFL parity era, how can New England win so consistently? The principal explanation, I'd say, is that Belichick, parking his conservative history in the ashcan, has created the league's only all-out passing team. With any game on the line, the Patriots routinely throw and infrequently run the ball. No other coaches dare do that, obviously. It does take some moxie, but look at the payoff.
Belichick a First-Rate Player Scout
Belichick can look back on a 30-year pro football career in which he spent 21 years as an assistant coach and nine as a head coach. The opponent he defeated Sunday in a 31-17 game, Buffalo Coach Mike Mularkey, had spent only nine years as an assistant before he got his first job as a head coach several months ago.
Some pro coaches are even less experienced. At Jacksonville, Jack Del Rio has been a coach for but eight years, six as an assistant and two as the headman.
The differences are instructive: Belichick is perhaps the best-prepared football man since Vince Lombardi, who labored for 16 years as an assistant before taking Green Bay to a record five NFL championships in the 1960s.
Belichick and Lombardi both came up in a century when, in smaller NFL organizations, assistant coaches doubled as personnel scouts. In the years when Belichick was, for instance, coaching linebackers or special teams on various pro clubs, he put in as much as half his time evaluating college prospects for the player draft.
There are some who remember Belichick as the best scout they ever worked with — the first to insist on rookie candidates with detailed, individualized credentials for each of the 22 different offensive and defensive football positions. In other words, Belichick has had a more valuable in-depth football education than most of his adversaries. No wonder he drafts and trades efficiently. No wonder he wins.
Patriots, Seattle Head for Game of the Year
One danger ahead for the Patriots is that administering self-congratulations for winning streaks in October could bring a relapse and loss of focus later on when the games mean more. That kind of thing happens in sports. So if they get past the Dolphins this week, it might be healthier for the Patriots, in the long haul, to lose the Seattle game seven days later and break the tension.
The Seahawks, with their new defense as coached by Ray Rhodes, are in any case capable of winning at Foxborough. There are those who predict it. If on Oct. l7 Seattle and New England both go into the kickoff undefeated, that will be the NFL game of the season, maybe a sneak preview of the Super Bowl.
Still, that day, the Seahawks will be facing wiser coaches than they see in their own division, the NFC West. For example, Belichick updates game plans in detail each week to counter the strengths and tendencies of each new opponent, as he did in Buffalo Sunday when the Patriots scored on two surprise plays:
On first down at the Buffalo 15, a passing down for the Patriots, they faked the pass and sent running back Corey Dillon through the Bills for all l5 yards on a specially prepared trap play. Typically, NFL teams make power-running calls in that situation. The Patriots, when they run, run deceptively, and aggressively.
On Brady's 30-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver David Patten, New England sent Patten out 15 yards on a crossing pattern and at the same time put a tight end in the vicinity. Both Patriots were accompanied by Buffalo defensive players; and as Patten ran underneath his tight end, he got the throw from Brady. It had the effect of a pick play, which is illegal, though it wasn't a pick.
New ideas are characteristic of Belichick, whose 44-14 record is the NFL's best for the last four years. He is a football coach who holds two doctorate degrees (both honorary) and who earlier this year was named one of the 100 most powerful and influential people in the world by Time magazine. He wins by emphasizing three football verities: the importance of sound defense, well-designed offense, and smart pass plays on first down.
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