ATLANTA — Sean McVay, the coach of the Los Angeles Rams, sat on his podium stool with a hoarse voice and a dazed look in his eyes.
“I’m pretty numb right now,” McVay said about a half-hour after the Rams lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl, 13-3. “I got outcoached. There is really no other way to put it.”
Welcome to the NFL, kid. You just got Belichick’d.
Bill Belichick has left a lot of good coaches stunned and dazed over his four-decade career. Pete Carroll. Dan Quinn. Dick Vermeil. Marv Levy.
Now he leaves McVay, the 33-year-old media darling, trembling in the corner. The 66-year-old Belichick showed again Sunday night, and throughout a rockier-than-usual season, that the old man’s still got it.
Belichick is already known as the greatest coach in the Super Bowl era. Now, with his sixth Lombardi Trophy, he joins the legends of the game — George Halas and Curly Lambeau — as the only coaches to win six titles.
“Coach has had incredible, unprecedented success,” commissioner Roger Goodell said Monday. “We’re grateful to see him continue to bring football teams together in a way that I don’t think any coach has done in the history of the game.”
Belichick’s game plan as defense coordinator for the New York Giants against the Buffalo Bills three decades ago is in the Hall of Fame. His 2017 comeback against the Atlanta Falcons was the greatest of all time. His obsessive preparation led to the greatest finish in Super Bowl history, the Malcolm Butler interception to defeat the Seattle Seahawks in 2015.
This time, Belichick clipped the wings of the NFL’s second-best offense, holding the Rams to 3 measly points.
And it culminated one of the greatest two-month stretches of coaching in Belichick’s storied career.
His Patriots were just 9-5 after consecutive December losses to Miami and Pittsburgh. They looked feckless on the road, allowing the Dolphins to score at will and putting up only 10 points against the Steelers.
“Fifteen penalties in Pittsburgh. You don’t win many games doing that,” Belichick said Sunday night.
That Steelers game on Dec. 16 would also be the last time the Patriots lost in the 2018 season. Belichick turned it around, because Belichick almost always turns it around.
The Patriots thumped a Chargers team that had not lost outside of Los Angeles this season. They went to Kansas City and took down the No. 1 seed (and the No. 1 offense). And in the Super Bowl, they turned the 15-3, high-flying Rams into a discombobulated mess.
“We had our ups and downs over the course of the year,” Belichick said. “In the biggest moments, when we had to play our best football and compete the hardest, they did it.”
This Super Bowl win is so satisfying for the Patriots because it really wasn’t supposed to happen. Belichick the GM had an underwhelming offseason. This roster did not look Super Bowl caliber in August, especially with Julian Edelman serving a four-game suspension for using performing-enhancing drugs.
Belichick let Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, and Nate Solder leave, and traded away Brandin Cooks. The bargain-bin replacements — Jordan Matthews, Eric Decker, Kenny Britt — didn’t stick. The defense, absolutely shredded in last year’s Super Bowl, was kept intact, adding only Adrian Clayborn and a martial arts coach.
And weird things happened this season that rarely, if ever, do for Belichick and the Patriots. The disastrous final play in Miami. The 3-5 road record. Losing five games to teams that missed the playoffs.
And let’s not forget the tumultuous offseason. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski skipped offseason workouts. Amendola voiced the frustrations of a lot of players who wanted to know what happened with Butler, who was let go in 2017. The presence of Alex Guerrero, Tom Brady’s fitness guru, was still a sticky issue, and the trade of backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo still stung.
The Patriots are now repainting their team plane with a sixth Lombardi Trophy because Belichick the Coach can overcome his personnel mistakes.
The roster didn’t look quite right this year — no depth at receiver, a tight end with a bad back, and a team that was way too reliant on a fullback. But Belichick doesn’t need All-Pros or expensive free agents. He epitomizes the old Bum Phillips quote about Don Shula (and later Bear Bryant): “He can take his’n and beat your’n, and take your’n and beat his’n.”
Belichick and his coaches left the Rams stunned Sunday night. The Patriots played new schemes on defense and showed different tendencies. Quarterback Jared Goff admitted the Rams were “completely guessing” about what the Patriots’ defense would do.
“They definitely changed it up with what they had done over the past couple of weeks,” McVay said. “And it is something that I’m disappointed that I didn’t do a better job of adjusting in the framework of the game. That is one of the things that makes them great.”
The tumult of last offseason was very real. So were the concerns early in the season, when the Patriots were losing to Jacksonville and Detroit on the road and dropping those crucial games to Miami and Pittsburgh.
But Belichick smoothed it all out the last two months. All the noise from the last year-plus has been quieted.
“We’ve weathered the storm with a lot of challenges with the organization,” Brady said in a pregame interview with Westwood One. “Everyone’s been on the same page and it’s been a lot of fun.”
Gronkowski, who just nine months ago was openly battling with Belichick and his hard-nosed ways, agreed.
“It was the most satisfying year I’ve ever been apart of,” Gronk said. “How we came together, the obstacles we had to overcome, the grind from the beginning of training camp to now, it’s just surreal. We went through life this year.”
Belichick on Monday morning tried to deflect the comparisons with Halas, Lambeau, and the other NFL coaching greats.
“It’s incredibly flattering, but really for me it’s about what the team accomplishes,” Belichick said. “And the most important thing for me is for our team to be able to hold that Lombardi Trophy up and say we were champions.”
Belichick and his players did that for the sixth time on Sunday night.
The Patriots’ season didn’t look like it would end this way back in mid-December. But they have the best coach of all time in their corner. And two decades into his Patriots tenure, he’s still coaching circles around his counterparts.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.