This was a show on ESPN’s national radio Saturday, and it was several hours before the first kickoff would take place in the quarterfinals of the NFL’s Super Bowl tournament. The two football talkers had turned to a deep analysis of what possibly could take place when the Los Angeles Chargers visited the New England Patriots for Sunday’s early game.
There was talk about the Chargers’ success by using seven defensive backs in the wild-card victory at Baltimore. The Patriots’ insider suggested that coach Bill Belichick would go with a run-heavy attack if the Chargers tried that again, and he also added this with some enthusiasm:
This could be a day when Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would break out Cordarrelle Patterson, 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, fast and both a runner and receiver, to get to the flank and crash past those lighter defenders.
The insider was 1-for-2 (.500): The Patriots used rookie Sony Michel for 24 rushes and 129 yards, destroying the new and bold concept of Chargers coach Anthony Lynn and coordinator Gus Bradley, and Patterson was given little chance to have an impact on New England’s 41-28 victory.
Cordarrelle had a kick return for 23 yards, one rush for 3 yards and one failed target by quarterback Tom Brady.
The only reason for mentioning this is that we should know by now — 18 seasons after Belichick first took New England to the playoffs — that mere mortals trying to anticipate what elements the Patriots will choose to feature in an important game might as well be throwing darts at a board.
Belichick stands there on the sideline, shielding his eyes from the Foxborough sun, making you wonder if he’s seeing anything across that crowded and disputed field in front of him, and yet knowing that somehow he’s seeing and absorbing everything.
William Stephen Belichick, soon to be 67 and still as charming as a water moccasin, is the greatest coach in any sport in my lifetime, because he has created his dynasty in a league dedicated to preventing such things, and he has done so without a roster of terrific players.
When two of your five are Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, or Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, championships are harder to avoid than to win. When your power play is Gretzky, Kurri, Messier, Anderson and Coffey, you can schedule the Stanley Cup parade six months in advance.
You were wondering if the end had arrived for the old coach and the old quarterback after last season. Brady passed for a Super Bowl record of 505 yards in Minneapolis, yet the Patriots let victory get away against Philadelphia, and it came amid stories of major trauma in the coach-QB relationship:
Belichick reportedly had been ordered by owner Robert Kraft to trade backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo against the coach’s wishes, after Brady went to Kraft to urge that action. As distractions go, this should have been titanic, but winning and competing are so important to Belichick and Brady, here they are back in an eighth consecutive AFC title game (and the 13th in Brady’s 18 seasons).
The Patriots have won since 2001 with Antowain Smith, Corey Dillon, Laurence Maroney, Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis and now Michel as featured running backs. They had Kevin Faulk as a reliable run-receive option early and James White now, and others in between.
Belichick traded Brady’s first standout receiver, Deion Branch, when he wouldn’t take what Bill the Boss considered a reasonable contract. Wes Welker caught at least 110 passes in five of six seasons and Belichick let him leave. Brandon LaFell popped up, caught 74 passes, and was soon gone. Brandin Cooks, one and done. Danny Amendola, gone.
Now, it’s running back White catching 15 passes, and Julian Edelman nine, and a guy named Phillip Dorsett being wide open for a TD, and down go the Chargers, outsmarted from the get-go by Squintin’ Bill.
Everything changes with the Patriots other than Belichick and Brady, and nothing changes for the AFC title: New England vs. somebody.
I was covering an AFC Championship Game, wrote an advance column on the Patriots’ minimal number of stars and future Hall of Famers in comparison to dynasties such as the Steelers of the ’70s, and offered this opinion:
“Are we as neutral parties going to be able to get our arms around Bill Belichick’s gang as a living, breathing, fearsome football dynasty?
The date was Jan. 23, 2005. The Patriots took apart the 15-1 Steelers that night 41-27, and they will be playing in their 10th AFC title game since then Sunday in Kansas City.