O’Sullivan: For the Patriots, title No. 6 belongs to Bill Belichick

  • New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick celebrates after defeating the Los Angeles Rams, 13-3, on Sunday in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta. AP

Monitor staff
Published: 2/4/2019 6:19:47 PM

This one belongs to Bill Belichick.

The New England Patriots coach was quick to give all credit to his players after Sunday’s 13-3 win against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII, because that’s what good coaches do, and the players certainly deserved it. But make no mistake, the biggest serving of credit gets heaped on Belichick’s plate.

The still-hard-to-believe Super Bowl comeback against Atlanta belonged to Tom Brady. The miraculous win against the Seattle Seahawks was split between Brady and Malcolm Butler, who vaulted into history with his Super Bowl-ending interception.

Shutting down the vaunted Los Angeles offense with a seemingly random assortment of defenders to win the latest Super Bowl, that’s pure Belichick. It was an echo from the start of this New England dynasty, when Belichick’s defense led to a stunning 20-17 upset against the St. Louis Rams for the first of the Patriots six Super Bowl wins.

The dynasty’s newest installment was ugly, smash-mouth and just 3-0 at halftime. It was a grind, and that’s a Belichick specialty.

This is a man who tried to start a “No Days Off!” chant during a championship parade where the entire crowd was actually taking a day off. His other favorite slogan is “Do Your Job.” He’s on record as loving the monotony of training camp. He loathes the new rules reducing practice time.

Belichick adores a grind, and that’s exactly what he got this season, from its troubled start to its triumphant end.

A year ago, Belichick’s approval rating was at an all-time low in New England. The coach had inexplicably benched Butler before Super Bowl LII against Philadelphia, and then his Butler-less defense was gouged by backup quarterback Nick Foles in a 41-33 loss. That led to questions that had once been unthinkable among the Pats faithful: Has Belichick lost the locker room? Is he losing his fastball? Is it time for him to go?

The questions only got louder when Brady, famous for his offseason work ethic, didn’t show up for offseason training activities (OTAs). Then Rob Gronkowski started grumbling about his contract. And Julian Edelman was hit with a four-game suspension for violating NFL rules on banned substances.

The dynasty-is-over crowd got more ammo when the Patriots fell to 1-2 after a 26-10 loss to the lowly Detroit Lions on Sept. 23. The New England defense allowed Detroit’s Kerryon Johnson to rush for 101 yards in that game, the first time a Lions back ran for more than 100 yards since 2013. And the Patriots offense wasn’t much better.

“We’ve got to play with more confidence in each other or else it goes from bad to worse,” Brady told radio station WEEI the morning after that loss. “Ten points isn’t good enough to win in the NFL. Three points at halftime is ridiculous.”

That statement is now ironic, since 10 points would have been good enough to win Sunday’s Super Bowl and three points is exactly what the Patriots had at halftime. But Brady’s words rang true at the time. This was supposed to be the year of offense, a season of accelerated quarterback evolution, a glimpse into the high-scoring future of the league, and that future was perfectly encapsulated by the Rams’ 54-51 win against the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 19.

With every other team putting balls in the air as fast possible, Belichick went to the ground. New England found an identity with a run-focused offense that was a throwback to the 1980s, a scheme that can, appropriately, grind out wins ... if it’s accompanied by a good defense.

Using Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore as a cornerstone and a mix of castoffs, undrafted rookies, cheap free agents and a few key veterans to fill in around him, Belichick and his defensive coaches built that defense. After giving up 23.1 points per game during the first half of the regular season, the Patriots allowed 17.5 points per game in the second half, and they only got better in the postseason.

New England had the Divisional Round playoff game against the Los Angeles Chargers sewn up before halftime after the defense allowed just seven first-half points. The next week in the AFC Championship game, the Patriots pitched a first-half shutout against Kansas City, the highest-scoring team in the league, giving the Pats enough cushion to hang on for a 37-31 overtime win.

The Super Bowl was the defensive coup de grace for Belichick. The Rams were the second-highest scoring team in the league at 32.9 points per game and were averaging 421.1 yards per contest. The Patriots held them to three points and 260 yards.

“We executed the game plan at an amazing level,” said linebacker Kyle Van Noy, one of the castoffs who Belichick coached into a contributor. “And look at the scoreboard. It’s amazing.”

Van Noy wasn’t the only one who thought it was amazing.

“They did a great job. It was a great game plan,” said Sean McVay, the upstart Rams coach who got a stern reminder on Sunday about the NFL pecking order – there’s Belichick and then everybody else. “There is no other way to say it, but I got out-coached.”

It felt like a New England defender should have been named Super Bowl MVP on Sunday, but no one stood out on a group that got contributions from everywhere, including the bench. Edelman, with his 10 catches for 141 yards, was certainly deserving, but there’s something odd about an offensive MVP from a team that just scored 13 points.

Maybe the powers that be should have made an exception, just like they did 17 years ago when they allowed the Patriots to be introduced as a team before their first Super Bowl win against the Rams. Maybe this time, they should have allowed the MVP to be a coach, because this Super Bowl belonged to Belichick.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.co m or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)




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