Tomase: One play captures why Bill Belichick is so much better at this than everyone else

John Tomase
November 05, 2018 - 10:53 am
Bill Belichick

Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports

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The play ultimately had no bearing on the outcome, but it highlighted how even an all-world quarterback like Aaron Rodgers fails to think at the speed of Bill Belichick.

On the second play of the second half, Rodgers hit a come-backing Davante Adams for 15 yards. Replays clearly showed the ball striking Adams’ chest and then the turf. Incomplete.

Rodgers rushed the Packers to the line. In similar circumstances, countless times we’ve seen Tom Brady snap the ball before the opponent can toss the red challenge flag. It’s clearly drilled into the offense and it’s eternally mystifying that rival teams almost never employ the strategy against the Patriots.

Rodgers is smarter than that, and he hustled his Packers to the line within 10 seconds. Rather than snap the ball immediately, however, he barked a couple of signals. That gave Belichick the opening he needed to send the red flag tumbling onto the field. The call was swiftly overturned.

All told, completion to challenge took only 15 seconds off the play clock. Rodgers, as it turns out, only had 14 seconds.

And that one second is the difference between the Patriots and everyone else.

The Packers went on to score the game-tying touchdown on the drive, but Belichick has a way of turning even the most competitive games into wars of attrition, and nobody is more comfortable pitching his tent and preparing to survive the long, harsh winter.

In Sunday night’s 31-17 victory, Belichick’s powers of manipulation were stamped all over the team’s sixth straight win. After debating all week which quarterback we’d rather have over the short-term, long-term, near-term, far-term, or for a sandwich, the coach beneath the hoodie once again proved the difference maker.

Doing more with less doesn’t even begin to describe the coaching effort. With Rob Gronkowski sidelined, the Patriots dressed only one tight end, Dwayne Allen, who played almost every snap, and still piled up over 430 yards of offense. That meant getting creative and using Matthew Slater, for instance, as a goal-line tight end on one touchdown.

With Sony Michel sidelined, the Patriots dressed only two tailbacks, James White and Kenjon Barner. When White was briefly forced to the sidelines by an injury, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson jumped into the backfield, carrying 11 times for 61 yards and a touchdown. While it’s easy to watch the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder alternately plowing and dragging defenders and think he’s a natural running back, name one other team in the NFL that would even consider using him like this. Patterson is a finesse player, a kick returner and home run threat. Only Belichick could look at him and see a battering ram.

These were far from Belichick’s only impacts on the game. The Patriots raced down the field on their first possession at a breakneck pace, trapping the Packers in a two-linebacker defense ill-equipped to handle quick passes, particularly to White.

The Patriots averaged a snap every 20 seconds on their first drive, marching 59 yards in 10 plays at a pace so frenetic, even DVR-skippers had no choice but to watch it in real time.

The Patriots hit the Packers with all manner of plays they weren’t expecting, from multiple big-gaining reverses to Julian Edelman, to a languidly executed flea-flicker, to a pass-back from Edelman to White with a convoy of blockers disciplined enough not to race downfield illegally and blow up the whole thing.

Defensively, the Patriots never gave Rodgers a clear idea of whom they’d be doubling on any given play, alternating extra attention between Adams and tight end Jimmy Graham, among others.

It was a typically masterful performance from the head coach who finds a dozen different ways a week to give his team a slight edge until all those little edges add up to a massive one. Sometimes it’s hustling to the line to beat a challenge flag. Sometimes it’s playing someone out of position to compensate for an imperfect roster. Sometimes it’s the mythical halftime adjustment.

Let others argue about G.O.A.T.s. Belichick’s only concern is W’s.

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