Belichick wouldn’t sit starters, would he?
Vail, CO Colorado
After leaving his starters on the field late in meaningless games all year long to punish dissenters and the disbelieving, there’s no way New England coach Bill Belichick would sit them down for the regular-season finale at the New York Giants.
Not with his history of playing regulars from first whistle until last. Not with a shot at a perfect record on the line, something that hasn’t been done in the NFL in 35 years. Not with the chance to squash any debate about whether these Patriots are the best team ever to set foot on turf. Not even if the Giants, as expected, rest a half-dozen of their own front-line guys to get ready for the playoffs.
Right, Bill? … Bill? … Mr. Belichick?
“I’m not worried about anybody else,” he said after New England beat Miami 28-7 to push their marker to 15-0.
It’s worth noting that was the third time Belichick essentially was asked the same question about starters and that each answer boiled down to a version of, “We’ll do what’s best for our football team.”
(Translation: Tune in next Saturday night to find out.)
Belichick may not give good quote, as reporters like to say, but nobody gives better misdirection.
Just for kicks, go back and read the statement Belichick crafted after getting caught by the NFL spying on New York Jets coaches with a sideline video camera during the season opener.
It was so artful that even after fining the coach $500,000, and lifting another $250,000 and a first-round pick from the franchise, commissioner Roger Goodell made sure to have the last word: “This episode,” he said in a letter to the club, “represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid long-standing rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field.”
That’s old news (to everyone but Belichick, who could have taught Captain Ahab a thing or two about revenge).
It’s always more instructive to look at what Belichick has done in similar situations, including another textbook example from the Pats’ preparations for Miami last week.
Despite being an overwhelming favorite at home against the league’s weakest team, he made his players practice in full pads three times, something they haven’t done since training camp. And the Patriots’ injury report has been a running joke in the league for years; it’s always packed with names followed by “doubtful” and “questionable” during the week and almost always empty by game time. To play for Belichick is to live in fear of having a job.
So now you know that Randy Moss wasn’t exaggerating all those times he took the podium after a win and said, “Coach Belichick would never let us get big heads.”
(Translation: Coach likes swollen heads inside helmets; once the helmets are off, not so much.)
The other thing to remember is the Patriots have won three Super Bowls since 2001, so there’s no need for lectures about sealing the deal. They understand it’s the last win of the season that validates the ones before it, not the other way around.
Coaches, however, have very different philosophies about how to get their teams to the big game with the best chance to win.
Look at the Colts’ roster next week against Tennessee and you’ll see one extreme. Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy has faced the possibility of an unbeaten team several times in recent years, but he always places a premium on having a healthy, rested squad heading into the postseason.
Belichick takes the opposite tack. He’s a momentum freak, and a perfectionist besides, and this game plays into both of those dearly held beliefs. The Patriots are playing so far above their competition they’re accumulating team and personal records almost as an afterthought. They picked up a few Sunday and put themselves in position to break a few more next week.
As much as Larry Csonka was right when he said this about his 1972 Dolphins, “Perfection ends a lot of arguments,” it wouldn’t be hard to argue that if the Patriots win them all, their unbeaten season would mark them as the best of all time.
The league has never been tougher, or deeper. Players are bigger, stronger and faster. New England’s defense might not be as dominating as the 1985 Bears, and the 1992 Cowboys offense might have been able to match them score for score.
Add up the totals at the end of every game, though, and the Patriots leave every team in the Super Bowl era in their dust.
During the Dolphins unbeaten season, admittedly a more conservative, run-and-gritty-defensive era, they averaged only 27.5 points total. The Patriots are beating opponents by an average of more than 20 points, something only one other championship team ” the 1941 Bears, who posted a 22.6-point differential ” accomplished.
Like everybody else, even Belichick’s players won’t know until Saturday night whether their coach intends to go after that mark, too.
“He has a tone or a beat, that we’re beating to, trying to stay in rhythm,” Moss said. “That’s what we’re beating to now ” his beat.”
And the beat goes on … and on … and on.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org