NEW ORLEANS — Don’t underestimate New England’s first round draft choice this weekend against St. Louis.
No, we’re not talking about Richard Seymour.
While Seymour is going to need to play well this weekend, we’re actually talking about Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Belichick cost New England a first-round draft pick two years ago in order to bring him to Foxboro, and with his team preparing for a Superbowl showdown with the Rams it certainly appears to be a pretty good deal.
They’re about to find out how good it really is, and it’s a reason why fans should be feeling pretty good about their team’s chances this weekend.
Belichick has built his reputation on frustrating the best quarterbacks in the business, and the list ranges all the way from the likes of Jim Kelly all the way to Peyton Manning, along with many other great players. His team struggled last season in trying to grasp the complex schemes that he and his staff drew up for them, causing him to simplify them each week and preventing them from being as effective as they’ve been able to be this season.
But now not only do they “get it”, they’ve been able to carry it out on the field, and that has made them extremely effective. They’ve only allowed 30-or-more points this season twice, and neither of which was against the Rams.
In their meeting back on November 18th Patriots head coach Bill Belichick showed the world why he is one of the best in the business.
Down 7-0 early in the game after a Tom Brady interception gave St. Louis an easy touchdown, the Rams found themselves very frustrated.
As a matter of fact, it almost looked like Belichick had revealed to them exactly where they needed to be on each play. He put them in position to make plays against the Rams high-flying offense, and they capitalized on it.
In the first quarter New England defensive back Terrell Buckley stepped in front of St. Louis receiver Ricky Proehl and took an interception 52-yards for a touchdown. On their ensuing possession Rams quarterback Kurt Warner was again picked off by linebacker Tedy Bruschi which set up a New England field goal.
10-points, and a 10-7 lead.
The Rams tried to answer on their next drive which saw a Warner sack for a loss of 5-yards be followed by a delay of game penalty. The next play was an incompletion and the result was a 3rd-and-20 play that despite a 15-yard completion to receiver Torry Holt forced the Rams to try and convert a 42-yard field goal attempt by Jeff Wilkins.
He missed wide right.
New England’s defense was working.
“I think that teams that have had success against them played them aggressive and put a lot of pressure on them,” said Roman Phifer on Thursday. “They don’t just sit back and let them run around they challenged those guys.”
“They have been beaten before, it’s not like they’re an unbeatable team, but everyone knows that they’re a great team.”
Unfortunately for the Patriots their offense didn’t come through that night. They answered the missed field goal with a 6-minute drive that took them all the way down to the Rams 3-yard line, but runningback Antowain Smith was hit by St. Louis middle linebacker London Fletcher and fumbled the football away.
Eight plays later the Rams had marched 97-yards the other way and reached the endzone, and took the momentum away from the Patriots.
In the second half the Patriots caught a break when Warner fumbled the football away to New England, giving them excellent field position. But on the next play Brady was picked off by Fletcher while attempting to hit Marc Edwards on a pass play, and Fletcher took the ball 18-yards to the Patriots 42-yard line.
Six plays later Wilkins kicked a 35-yard field goal.
That night turnovers killed them, as 17 of St. Louis’ 24-points came following New England miscues. Tom Brady knows it can’t happen again if the Patriots plan on leaving New Orleans with a Lombardi Trophy.
“I think one key is going to be turnovers, to not give them any more possessions than they’re accustomed to,” said Brady on Thursday. “They’ve turned the ball over. [They’ve] had 22 interceptions, 22 fumbles. I think there might be some opportunities if we force them to turn the ball over.”
“At the same time we can’t turn it over and allow them to possess the ball more than what they should be allotted. I think that’s going to be a huge key in this game.”
Brady also feels that the fact that the two teams have met certainly helps.
“I think it’s a tremendous advantage,” said Brady. “It depends how you use that advantage. If you really learn from what we did the last time, if you remember how the game went, try to remember the type of speed their DBs had, their linebackers had, the way they attack the front, it is a tremendous advantage.”
“Our coaches, when they came in Tuesday night and gave us the game plan, the familiarity with their personnel, with their coverage schemes, it came back real quick. As quarterbacks, we write down a lot of things. I kept my notes from the last game, brought those down – those have been a huge help.”
Belichick likely made many notes of his own after that game, and by Tuesday morning the game plan was in place. How they execute it won’t obviously be known until kickoff.
There were many fans who were impressed with how well their team played that night against the Rams. If Belichick was given another chance against the former world champions many wondered if their team could walk away victorious.
He’s getting his shot now in what is the game his team has played their whole season for, and with him at the helm they have to be feeling pretty good about their chances.