Bill Belichick tied Curly Lambeau on the all-time wins list Thursday night. Has he already surpassed Lambeau’s most famous successor in terms of coaching greatness?
The New England Patriots entered the short game week in unfamiliar territory as a home underdog. They ended the night against the Houston Texans in a more familiar place as 27-0 victors.
The beauty of this ugly one-sided affair came in it proving true the various clichés the monosyllabic Belichick utters in can-miss press conferences. Next man up. All three phases. Do your job. Blah. Blah. Blah.
With their starting quarterback suspended and their backup banged up, the Patriots turned to a rookie third stringer. Jacoby Brissett passed for a pedestrian 103 yards and added 48 on the ground. The Bill Parcells-protégé looked like nobody’s all-pro. But he did enough to win. Like a young Tom Brady, he played mistake-free football and played a game manager rather than a gunslinger.
The Pats special teams played, well, special. Punter Ryan Allen pinned the Texans behind their own 15 six times. The kickoff team forced and recovered two fumbles, which both led to points.
On defense the Patriots shut-out the Texans for only the third goose egg in Houston’s history. Not until 10 minutes and 46 seconds into the third quarter did Texans quarterback Brock Osweiller even take a snap in New England territory. Shortly thereafter, Jamie Collins, boasting a first-half interception and looking like Ridgemont High’s Charles Jefferson in that game against Lincoln, sniffed out a Jonathan Grimes screen for no gain. This set up a Malcolm Butler knockdown that allowed New England to takeover on downs. A few minutes later Jabaal Sheard registered his second sack, a surprise embrace from the QB’s back, to put the Texans on their own four. Everybody did their job.
Belichick talks about “Do your job,” “Next man up,” “All three phases.” Owner Bob Kraft references the “Patriot Way.” Belichick, for his part, embraces but does not cart out as a cliché the Bruce Leeologism: “Use no way as a way.” They remain hard to beat because they embrace no rigid blueprint. The pass-happy Patriots became a four-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust team on Thursday. LeGarrette Blount’s 41-yard TD run with 11 minutes left put the exclamation point on this (as perhaps Brissett’s 27-yard bootleg TD did earlier in the game). It not so much broke the Texans as it exposed them as a broken team. That was them saying, “No mas.”
Notice Jalen Strong hitting Cyrus Jones in the face out of frustration? Discipline, and exposing the opposition’s lack of it, remains a mark of Belichick-coached teams. Not notice J.J. Watt, a guy who normally feasts on rookie passers, Thursday night? That’s another Belichick talent: neutralizing the other team’s best weapon.
Before the season, the Patriots looked lucky to escape their Brady-less spell 2-2. With 10 days to prepare for a team coached by Rex Ryan, the Washington Generals to Belichick’s Harlem Globetrotters, Foxboro’s favorites look likely to start the season 4-0.
Tom Brady should thank Roger Goodell for the vacation. Next time try suspending the coach.