GLENDALE, AZ. – There were legends at work Sunday night in the desert.
The Hoodie vs. the Hands. Except Larry Fitzgerald, Jr. didn’t have a chance.
We just witnessed the greatest regular-season moment in Bill Belichick’s coaching career. And this is much more than a Pro Football Hall of Fame career. It is probably the greatest NFL coaching career of all-time. God bless Vince Lombardi, but Belichick should have his own trophy someday, too.
What Belichick pulled off Sunday night here was ridiculous. Belichick flew a shell of a team across the country to play a team that many NFL scouts believe is one of a handful of teams that has a legitimate chance to win the Super Bowl in the form of the Arizona Cardinals.
Many people thought Belichick would find a way to keep the Patriots in the game against the Cardinals. Yet, Belichick found more than simply a way to stay in the game. He found a way to leave Arizona with his shell of a team and a 1-0 record after a 23-21 victory over the Cardinals and Fitzgerald, who did his best to overcome the Belichick Factor.
Many will say the Patriots won because of a bad snap on a long field goal attempt at the end of the game. Yes, that helped. But it would be silly to say that’s why the Patriots won. New England won this game because Belichick is the greatest coach of our time. He prepares and puts his team in position to execute properly like no other football coach.
He finds a way to make it work with the players he has on the field. Winning is habitual for Belichick, no matter the circumstances.
Remember, eight years ago when Belichick won 11 games with Matt Cassel as his quarterback?
The guy on the other sideline – Bruce Arians – is considered one of the NFL’s best current chances. He had no shot against Belichick on Sunday night.
We all know the gory details of what the Patriots don’t have on the field right now. We all know Tom Brady has three more games to serve of a suspension from the DeflateGate scandal a million years ago. We also know Jimmy Garoppolo is no Brady.
We all know the Patriots left perhaps the greatest tight end of all-time, Rob Gronkowski, back in Massachusetts because of an injury. We all know the Patriots were without three-fifths of their offensive line (and with two rookie guards). We all know the Patriots were without heart-and-soul linebacker Rob Ninkovich.
The Patriots had no business winning this game. But as Arizona safety Tony Jefferson simply said: “Belichick is a smart man.”
It’s the Hoodie. That’s what his teams do. They win. No matter the odds. It’s no accident this team has gone to the playoffs 13 of the past 15 years. It’s not accidental, either, that the Patriots are now 36-1 in their last 37 games when they were leading by three or more points entering the fourth quarter.
Fitzgerald tried his best to beat the Belichick factor in a stunning display of an all-time great player going against an all-time great coach. Fitzgerald, who’ll join the Hall of Fame with Belichick someday, had eight catches for 81 yards with two touchdowns and he was dominant in the fourth quarter. Yet, Belichick found a way to guide his undermanned team over Fitzgerald.
Belichick’s best trait is the way he prepares his team. We saw that at the beginning of the game and in the third quarter after he and his staff made adjustments. Belichick’s best assistant is offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Belichick trusts McDaniels with the offense and McDaniels gets a lot of the credit for leading this Brady and Gronk-less team, as well.
The Patriots jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but the offense stalled in the second quarter. Yet, after Belichick’s adjustments, they came out of the locker room and Garoppolo led the offense down the field for a touchdown to take a 17-7 lead.
Garoppolo was exactly what you’d expect him to be. He was well prepared as he completed 24 of 33 passes for 264 yards. He threw a touchdown pass and was not intercepted. Garoppolo did his job, which is not only Belichick’s trademarked slogan, but it’s his way of life.
Here’s another reality. Not only were the Cardinals much more talented than the Patriots were Sunday night, they also had more to lose than New England did. The other three AFC East teams all lost Sunday. So, yes, the Brady and Gronk-less Patriots are already in first place by themselves. The Cardinals now trail NFC West rival Seattle by one game in a division where victories are precious.
The Cardinals will have plenty of time to rebound from being Belichick’d. Meanwhile, Belichick will be getting his stars back soon enough. Then, there will be real trouble for the rest of the NFL.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” Garoppolo said on the NBC broadcast at the conclusion of the game.
Of course, he was talking about the win. But, having Belichick as the chess master, certainly has to be an awesome feeling for all of New England.