In Bill I trust.
The Patriots coach is the equivalent of football fracking, squeezing every last natural resource out of his teams year after year. Last season, he coaxed and cajoled a team with a pass defense that should have come with a tourniquet to within 3 minutes and 46 seconds of a Super Bowl championship. This season, he has a more fertile talent pool to tap in pursuit of Lombardi Trophy No. 4.
There are myriad reasons the Patriots won’t lose to the Houston Texans on Sunday at Gillette Stadium in the AFC divisional playoffs, but the presence of Bill Belichick glowering and scheming on the Patriots’ sideline is as pertinent as any of them. That isn’t a check mark in the advantage column for the Patriots next to coaching. It’s an exclamation point.
Belichick matching wits with Texans coach Gary Kubiak is one of the biggest mismatches of the playoffs. It’s like pitting General Patton against General Mills.
It’s a coach with 17 playoffs wins, tied for third-most all time, and three Super Bowl rings against a coach who has a pair of postseason victories — both over the Bengals.
It’s a coach who is a master of adjustments and tweaks against a guy who coaches at times as if he’s reading from an instruction manual that’s telling him how to set the clock on his microwave.
It’s a coach with the conviction to go for it on fourth and 2 in Indianapolis against a guy who is so superstitious he can’t even bear to watch his team’s own field goal attempts, turning his back.
Kubiak has taken the nascent Texans franchise to unreached heights, back-to-back AFC South titles. Kudos to Houston for not tossing him aside like a disposable razor and letting him reach a seventh season. There is a lesson there for the rest of the trigger-happy franchises in the NFL.
But he is one of those offensive-minded coaches who gets lost in his laminated play sheet. The stadium could be engulfed in flames and these guys are staring into their play sheet like it contains the meaning of life.
When the Patriots crushed the Texans, 42-14, on Dec. 10, Kubiak buried his face in the laminated card while his team came unglued around him.
They say teams take on the disposition of their coaches.
Contrast the way the Texans responded — or didn’t really — to going down, 21-0, that night to how Belichick’s Patriots fought back the very next week when they were placed in a 31-3 hole by the San Francisco 49ers.
The Texans, shocked and awed by the Patriots, took their varsity lettermen jackets and mentally began boarding the bus. The Patriots, determined and resolute, clawed back to tie the game at 31 before falling, 41-34.
More alarming than the Texans’ loss to the Patriots was its hangover effect. They were 11-1 before facing the Patriots and finished 12-4.
No front-runner has fallen on their face this bad since Howard Dean guttural screamed his way out of the 2004 Democratic presidential race.
All the Texans had to do to clinch a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs was win either of their final two games against Minnesota and Indianapolis.
Does anyone think a Belichick team would have blown two shots to clinch home field like that?
There has been a lot of agita in these parts about the potential for a scenario similar to 2010, when the Patriots lost in the divisional round at home to the New York Jets, 41 days after they had dismantled the NYJ by a 45-3 count on a Monday night.
There will be no sequel to that playoff annus horribilis.
Teams that beat the Patriots and coaches that outfox Belichick are those who are unafraid — of the Patriots’ mystique, of Belichick’s tactics, of changing what they do. Think the Harbaugh Boys, Tom Coughlin, and Rex Ryan.
In the case of Kubiak, that’s not the case.
“My approach, when you play Bill, his football team is such a great organization and well-coached team, I don’t think you ever know exactly what you’re going to get,” said Kubiak. “They’re a veteran football team that is able to get a lot done from week to week and game plan-wise. You could get a lot of things obviously that you’re not going to practice or haven’t seen on film . . . I don’t think you look at one film and say, ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do.’ I think you have to do what you think you do best and go out there and perform.”
The Patriots devour teams that simply “do what they do.” You might as well e-mail your game plan to Belichick. If Belichick and Tom Brady know what is coming, and you’ve given them an extra week to prepare, checkmate.
It was interesting this past week that Belichick said that Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was basically running the same system he had in 2000, when he was the head coach of the Buffalo Bills.
“This isn’t the most complicated team we’ve ever seen, but what they do they do well,” said Belichick.
That’s called Belichick-ing with faint praise.
His Hoodiness was on the war path this week — literally. He has referenced foxholes and Navy SEALs in talking about his approach to the Patriots’ first game of this postseason.
According to reports, Belichick has put Vaseline, baby powder, water, and other substances on footballs this week to emphasize the importance of holding on to the football.
He is leaving no stone unturned, no motivational ploy unused. He is taking no chances.
He knows that the only thing that can stop the Patriots against the Texans is the Patriots themselves.
I trust that Belichick won’t let that happen.