New England Patriots Are Superbowl 49 Champs

Bill Belichick is a genius
Smug Bill earned the right to be smug by winning Superbowl 49

Below are my thoughts on the 2014 New England Patriots and more specifically, Bill Belichick. But first…

Post-Superbowl Handouts

To Robert Kraft I give you props for creating the best run organization in pro sports. Bill Belichick – I finally recognize and applaud your genius, but you’re probably already on to next season. There is a new GOAT (Greatest of All Time) and his name is Tom Brady. You don’t need a 12th man when your man is #12. To Kyle Arrington I give you a bus ticket out of town and Malcolm Butler, welcome to infamy. To Julian Edelman I give you a new webcast, “Lombardi Tyme” – make it good.

To Pete Carroll I give you a crate of chewing gum to relieve heart burn and bad decisions, er, indigestion. To Russell Wilson I present a regression toward the mean. Your luck could only get stretched so far. To Richard Sherman: a muzzle. To Marshawn Lynch I shake my head in disbelief with you. Finally, I gift a bullhorn to the 12th man. Evidently they couldn’t hear you in Glendale.

To the media I take away my respect. I am disappointed at your pathetic attempt to drudge up controversy as you continue to make claims and pass judgment without proof. Cris Collinsworth, I’m sorry you picked the wrong team, but you don’t have to call the game dripping with bias from your sour grapes. To all the haters I give you Taylor Swift. Enjoy, suckas.

Bill Belichick and the 2014 New England Patriots

For those of you who read this blog (and I know you’re few, but I appreciate you), you have come to realize I am an overly pessimistic sort. My “football friends” have to put up with it w-a-a-a-y too much and, to be honest, I’m surprised they still watch football with me. However, what really makes it hard for me is that my brain is pessimistic but my heart still holds onto so much hope. So it’s still crushing when my pessimistic predictions come to fruition.

But this year, I suspended my negativity in September and predicted that New England would win the Superbowl. Not because I’m a homer, but because I truly felt they had the personnel this year to get the job done. I’ve always been leery of Belichick’s “genius” and ability to recognize talent, and I’ve been particularly hard on him over the past 15 years (see the many Smug Bill memes accompanying these posts). He had two of the best offenses of all time and couldn’t win a Superbowl with either one. After the stalwart pieces of his early-2000s defense began falling away, the Patriots went into a 10-year rebuilding plan on that side of the ball. Cornerback after cornerback was drafted and none panned out. The bend-but-don’t-break schematics started breaking all the time.

But not this year.

Belichick’s genius was revealed in all its glory over the course of this season, and I’ll tell you why he’s won me over as the greatest coach of all time in the NFL. (Forget recapping the game. You can find that stuff anywhere.) Here’s what makes Belichick so good.

Everyone agrees that “the Patriots are game-specific planners.” This is true. They develop a game plan specifically for each game – sometimes two. But it’s not just a week-by-week, game-by-game scheme. I think Belichick has much more in mind, even as he develops the weekly plan.

I believe that Belichick thinks about the effect individual game plans can have on future games, specifically the playoffs and then the Superbowl, right from the start. His concern isn’t necessarily winning every game, but winning enough games to make the playoffs and then the division and then possibly even games determining seeding slots.

This year, the first four games of the season were essentially an extension of the pre-season. Belichick was still using these games to teach situational football and to experiment with personnel groupings. (Remember, Belichick has gone on record lamenting the loss of practices teams are allowed in the pre-season thanks to the latest collective bargaining agreement.) So there was a lot of ugly football that resulted in critics writing off the Patriots. They were the worst 2-2 team in NFL history. I may have even written that line right here after the Chiefs game.

But then Belichick found the right personnel groupings and began unveiling a multitude of game plans that were passing-specific, running-specific as well as mixed schemes. He believes in the power of versatility over the power of doing one specific thing at the highest level. Multidimensional beats one-dimensional every time in his mind. I think this lesson was reinforced with the Randy Moss era teams, when the Patriots were basically a one-dimensional offense. Pass, pass and pass some more. The result: no Superbowl wins.

Using the first quarter of the season to lay a foundation, each game plan throughout the rest of the season was implemented to continue helping the players play each type of scheme at a higher and higher level. The result of this method is a two-prong attack on opponents.

First, watching, dissecting and cataloging game tape becomes a huge chore for opposing players and coaches. The amount of formations, tempos, tendencies and play-calls one must be able to recall at any time becomes mind-breaking. This wouldn’t be the case if the Patriots merely executed each at a mediocre level. But because they can operate any scheme, any tempo and any play-call at an above average level, the opposition has to be ready for anything at any time.

Second, the Patriots can adjust in-game since they know they can always switch to a different scheme because they are well-practiced. If a team implements a plan to stop the pass, Belichick (and staff) can evaluate this at halftime and then come out in the second half with a new attack – one the opposition is most likely unable to handle because they aren’t as prepared for it.

Ultimately, this results in a tremendous amount of data opponents must digest, especially by the time the Superbowl arrives. Think about it. Sixteen games worth of tape with a potential of multiple schemes per game. That’s a lot of information to have to be able to pull out, in-game during live play, at the drop of a hat.

This is why the Patriots are the smartest team in football, and ultimately why they beat the Seahawks in the Superbowl. Seattle’s defense plays a singular style at the highest possible level. The Patriots used the initial game plan to feel out how the Seahawks would respond and then used halftime to roll out a different, in this case very patient, attack. Seattle just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) adjust.

New England won the last game of the year because their coach sees how each play affects each drive, and each drive affects each quarter, and each quarter affects each game, and each game affects the course of season, and he sees it all through the lens of how every detail will affect the playoffs and ultimately the Superbowl.

Other coaches may do this, but none does it at the level of Bill Belichick. You can hate him for it. You can hate him for dancing right up to the letter of the rule (and sometimes over), but at the end of the day you can only quote Wes Mantooth: From deep down in my stomach, with every inch of me, I pure, straight hate you. But —dammit, do I respect you!

I now certainly do.

Congratulations to the 2014 New England Patriots on winning Superbowl 49.

—Ryan Varney