For his next trick, the great Hooded Houdini will try to win an NFL game with a third-string rookie quarterback making his first start, a quarterback whose one good shoulder isn’t the one he uses to throw the football, or a college quarterback converted to wide receiver converted back to quarterback.
He might use his magic to showcase some combination of all three to the Houston Texans or pull something else out of his hat. He can’t have anything up his sleeves because he wears cut-off sleeves.
If there is any coach who can make a quarterback quandary disappear and escape Thursday night’s game with a victory, it’s Bill Belichick. Part of the allure of this game at Gillette Stadium is seeing what Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels cook up to overcome their issues at quarterback. Whoever is under center, the Patriots will have a plan.
If Belichick wins this game under these circumstances, against a 2-0 Texans team littered with coaches who are familiar with his thinking, it will drive the rest of the NFL insane. The paranoia teams have when playing the Patriots will increase to altered-reality levels. If Belichick wins Thursday night, the mind games he can play with opponents coming to Gillette are amplified and infinite.
With quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo nursing a sprained AC joint suffered on Sunday in a win over the Miami Dolphins, Belichick might have to dig deep into his celebrated cerebrum to come up with a winning strategy.
If Jimmy G can’t suit up or is only healthy enough to serve as an emergency backup, the Patriots will be forced to start rookie Jacoby Brissett, who came on in relief of Garoppolo on Sunday.
The Patriots kept the training wheels on for Brissett against Miami.
Beyond Brissett and Garoppolo, the options are dire. Receiver Julian Edelman, who played quarterback at Kent State, and tight end A.J. Derby, who threw 42 passes as a college quarterback at Iowa and Arkansas before switching to tight end in 2014.
Of course, none of this would be necessary if Tom Brady weren’t serving his four-game football PSI penance handed down by the NFL.
That suspension was designed to handicap Belichick as much as anyone.
Going 3-0 without Brady and with the team’s No. 3 QB would be a great rebuttal for Belichick.
He will have outdone himself.
This is a tough staff to fool, however.
The Texans are coached by former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. Their defensive coordinator is Romeo Crennel, who was the defensive coordinator for three Super Bowl titles in New England with Belichick and coached with him during his New York Giants days. Houston’s special teams coordinator is former Patriots special teams standout Larry Izzo. The team’s linebackers coach is former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, one of the smartest players to ever wear a Patriot uniform.
These guys know a lot of Belichick’s parlor tricks.
And with four days between games and a rookie as his only healthy QB on the roster, Belichick doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room to go all Jason Bourne with the game plan.
That’s part of the reason Belichick is being opaque about Jimmy G’s status. He wants the Texans to waste valuable time game-planning for something or someone they won’t see.
The above factors are why if Belichick pulls this one off it has to rank pretty high in his distinguished X’s and O’s oeuvre.
Nothing would surprise you on Thursday, from Brissett running a no-huddle offense to prevent Houston from disguising its defense to Edelman running the zone read to Derby throwing a pass from the tight end position.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Few coaches are able to think outside the box like Belichick.
He is like Sun Tzu on the sideline. Belichick tries to win every football battle before it has been fought.
We know this. We’ve seen it time and time again.
Vrabel certainly knows it.
Belichick deployed him as a goal line tight end. Vrabel caught 10 career passes for the Patriots, all for touchdowns, including two in Super Bowl victories.
Belichick is known for creative coaching and shock and awe strategy.
He flummoxed Baltimore in the 2014 season playoffs with an eligible-ineligible receiver ruse the Ravens could never figure out, even with the officials telling them which players to cover. In 2013 against the Denver Broncos, Belichick took the wind in overtime and a muffed punt by Wes Welker, who had to combat the wind, set up the winning points. Belichick ordered the ball intentionally snapped off the goal posts for a safety in Denver in 2003 to set up the winning touchdown drive.
Belichick won the 2011 season’s AFC Championship game with Edelman covering Anquan Boldin in the fourth quarter. He won 11 games without Brady in 2008 with a quarterback who hadn’t started a game since high school, Matt Cassel. He used Troy Brown as the nickel corner on the way to winning the Super Bowl in 2004.
The list goes on.
Belichick’s knack for artifice and strategy doesn’t always pan out. Some of his tricks blow up in his face.
The mortar kick kickoff against Philadelphia last year comes to mind, so does the decision to kick off in overtime against the Jets after winning the coin toss.
Fourth and 2 against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in 2009 is Belichick’s most controversial coaching work.
No Red Sox manager would ever survive being on the wrong end of such an unorthodox decision.
Bucking the odds and convention and dreaming up the improbable is part of Belichick’s brilliance. His talents are going to be put to the test against the Texans.
Like any good magician, Belichick always has the audience hungry to see what he will come up with next.