PLANET DOES PCTV … GOP GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE BAKER TO VISIT PITTSFIELD … BELICHICK, BRADY, KRAFT DELIVER DYNASTIC CONSISTENTCY UNPRECEDENTED IN PARITY-DRIVEN NFL
By DAN VALENTI
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – There is no legitimate list of best coaches in the NFL that doesn’t begin with Bill Belichick. He has been named league coach of the year three times. There are three Super Bowl titles and that 16-0 regular season, a shot at full perfection ruined by a helmet catch, of all things.
He’s put together 13 consecutive winning seasons in New England, reaching the playoffs 11 times. The Pats don’t slump.
Bill Belichick is 5-2 in AFC title games with the Patriots. (USA TODAY Sports)
Sunday, in Denver, he’ll lead them into the AFC title game for the eighth time, including three years running. He’s seeking his sixth Super Bowl appearance. He’ll eventually give a big speech on an August afternoon in Canton, Ohio.
So the guy isn’t lacking for recognition. No one says he isn’t good at his job. None of this is new info.
And with that body of work, it’s also probably wrong – or at least impossible – to say this season has been the best coaching performance of Belichick’s career. It may be, though. If nothing else, it’s one more reminder of the all-time greatness that is currently playing out season after season here in Massachusetts.
“I mean,” said a somber Chuck Pagano late Saturday night after becoming Belichick’s latest playoff victim, “he’s done it, obviously, for a long time.”
That’s worth noting too, because this isn’t just doing the same thing – win football games – over an extended period. This is the ability to adapt to football’s fast modern evolution and the league’s commitment to a level playing field.
Once the game changed slowly – Belichick likes to marvel at things like Gen. Neyland’s Maxims from the 1930s. Now it shifts in warp speed. It’s Belichick coaching deep into January that doesn’t.
There were no (or few) read option quarterbacks in the NFL in 2001, when Belichick won his first title. There weren’t really any spread offenses. Defenders used to be able to maul receivers. A franchise running back was highly valued. Coaches talked about controlling the clock, not forcing tempo.
Yet no matter how things change, Belichick’s success stays the same – “the plan is always to move the ball and score points.”
He’s done that with an inexperienced late-round draft pick that was just a “game manager” – Tom Brady in 2001. He’s done it with high wattage air attacks – Brady’s then-record 50 TDs, 23 of them to Randy Moss in 2007. There were seasons when he turned a crew of small, scat back receivers into an unlikely check down innovation – Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Danny Woodhead. There were others where physical, two tight end sets were the difference – Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Tom Brady’s arm got a break in Saturday’s victory against the Colts. (AP)
In 2001, the Pats ran 1,001 plays, with an almost 50-50 pass to run ratio (just nine more throws). In 2010, they ranked 21st in plays per game with 62.6. As Belichick saw faster-paced offenses becoming the rage, he visited college coaches running the spread and changed everything up. By 2012, New England led the league in snaps at 74.3 – and called 118 more passes than runs on the season.
Then there was Saturday, when the Patriots, out of nowhere, reverted to the old school, beating the Colts not with Brady’s arm but a road grading rushing attack – six touchdowns on the ground. There were 46 runs against 25 throws.
The difference is not just strategy. Tampa Bay Buccaneers castoff LeGarrette Blount ran for four scores, crediting his resurgence to Belichick’s no nonsense personality that got him to break the bad habit of running too upright. For years coaches begged Blount to lower his pad level. He didn’t until arriving in Foxborough.
“I had to,” Blount said. Why?
“Because Bill told me to.”
Meanwhile the defense, which a couple years ago lacked game breakers, is suddenly full of them, whether they were supposed malcontents such as Aqib Talib, drafted talents such as Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins or stepped up special teamers such as Rob Ninkovich.
“We knew coming in that [Belichick] wasn’t going to let our game wreckers wreck the game,” Pagano said.
That strategy – limit the opponent’s best weapon – hasn’t changed either.
“It all goes back to the game plan,” Chandler Jones said. “Coach Belichick put us in great positions to make plays. That’s what it is.”
All of this has allowed the defense to suffer injuries that would have sounded crippling in the preseason – no Vince Wilfork, no Jerod Mayo, no Brandon Spikes. Meanwhile on offense, Welker, the team’s top pass catcher left for free agency, Gronkowski, its matchup nightmare, got injured, and Hernandez, another top talent was lost to a murder charge.
Yes, that’s worth remembering also. The Patriots had one of their best players charged with murder, sort of unchartered waters for NFL teams. Not a former player. Not a role player. One of the stars of the team stands accused of taking a guy behind an industrial park in the middle of the night and shooting him in the head, gangland style.
This would seem like the mother of all distractions. Except Belichick handled it with aplomb, engaging in a serious news conference in July on the eve of training camp that many claimed he wasn’t capable of pulling off. There was no defiance, just an appropriate mix of concern, contrition and sadness that almost immediately put the entire scandal behind the organization.
Count the times he smiles on camera all you want, that was a masterful bit of leadership.
He even brought in Tim Tebow for training camp and didn’t allow that to become a sideshow.
Belichick will remain easy to root against for fans across the country. And that’s fine, he plays a great villain on TV and this is entertainment first.
Since his often open and insightful Friday news conferences aren’t televised, his image is either of a scowling face under a hoodie or a bunch of terse one-liners postgame. He doesn’t exude warmth. And while forgiveness for the Spygate scandal has been elusive, suspicions that he remains up to something remain.
So be it. He doesn’t seem too concerned about his image. Winning is the focus. Maybe he gets that fourth Super Bowl over the next few weeks or maybe he doesn’t – one more season of wondering what if Gronk hadn’t gotten hurt.
Either way Belichick is as good of an NFL coach as there has ever been, and even here at age 61, he’s at least as good as he’s ever been.
Maybe even better.
FROM THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS PRESS GUIDE
1994, the Patriots have experienced one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the history of sports. Now in his 20th season of ownership, Kraft has transformed one of the league’s least successful clubs into what many observers view as a model NFL franchise. In the five seasons immediately preceding his purchase (1989-93), the Patriots were a moribund team, winning just 19 of 80 games (.238 pct.) and recording the worst record in the NFL over that span. When he bought the franchise on Jan. 21, 1994, Kraft announced his intention to bring a championship to New England, a tall order considering the team’s previous success rate.
But under Kraft’s leadership, the Patriots have won more division titles (13), conference crowns (6) and Super Bowl championships (3) than any other NFL team. The Patriots have made six Super Bowl appearances since Kraft purchased the team, a period during which no other NFL franchise has earned more than four berths. In Kraft’s 20 seasons, the Patriots qualified for the playoffs 15 times, more than doubling the franchise’s accomplishments during its first 34 seasons.
The Patriots have 238 wins overall under Robert Kraft. He has produced more victories than every other Patriots owner combined. Under Kraft, the Patriots are 238-114 overall since he purchased the team in 1994. Kraft’s predecessors in the owner’s office went 225-276-9 in the 34 years prior to his purchase of the team.
HIGHEST WINNING PERCENTAGE IN MAJOR PROFESSIONAL SPORTS SINCE 1994
In the early 1990s, the Patriots seemed destined for relocation until Robert Kraft’s purchase of the team rejuvenated local interest. In 1991, the season ticket base was just 17,635, barely enough to support the club. Now, the season tickets are capped and more than 50,000 fans are on a season ticket waiting list. The Patriots have sold out 214 consecutive home games, including playoff and preseason games (dating back to the 1994 season opener).
PATRIOTS A MODEL OF CONSISTENCY UNDER KRAFT
Kraft’s winning percentage with the Patriots (.675) since taking over the team in 1994 is not only the highest of any current NFL owner, it ranks second all-time among owners with at least 10 years of experience, trailing only Lee Joannes, who compiled a .698 winning percentage with the Green Bay Packers from 1930- 1947.
The Patriots have been a model of consistency at the coaching position under Robert Kraft. With Bill Belichick in his 14th season as head coach, the Patriots have had just three head coaches since 1994, the fewest number by far of any AFC East team.
Since Robert Kraft’s purchase of the team in 1994, the Patriots have drafted more Pro Bowl players than any other team.
Over the last 20 years, the Patriots have had 14 quarterbacks on their active roster. Of this group, only four quarterbacks have started a regular season or post-season game for the club, and only two (Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe) have started on Opening Day, the fewest of any AFC East team in both categories.
Kraft’s success as an owner has brought the Patriots a great increase in national recognition. Prior to Kraft’s ownership, the Patriots had been featured on the cover of just four issues of Sports Illustrated (1966, 1977, 1981, and 1986). Since 1994, New England has graced the cover a total of 27 times, including 17 that feature Tom Brady alone.
PATRIOTS HOME DOMINANCE
Since the Patriots opened Gillette Stadium in 2002, they have celebrated more regular season and postseason wins than any other team in the NFL. The Patriots have the highest point differential at home, rank first in points scored and third in points allowed at Gillette Stadium.
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Come what may Saturday in Denver, we have thoroughly enjoyed this current Patriots football season. Given what they had to work with, it shall be recorded as the best coaching and quarterbacking jobs of the brilliant, respective careers of Belichick and Brady.
“To render jaded outlooks speechless makes love the loudest “talker” of all.” — THE PLANET, 2014.
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.