When you cut through all the analysis, strategy, fame, and gossip that’s been part of this historic two-decade Belichick-Brady dynasty, there’s one football element that’s more important than anything else:
The Patriots win because they don’t turn over the football.
It’s really that simple. The 2019 Patriots are an NFL-best 10-1 (tied with the Niners). Not coincidentally, they have the best turnover differential: plus-19. The next-best team is plus-10. The Patriots have 29 takeaways and only 10 giveaways. It is the annual secret to their success.
After Sunday’s rain-drenched 13-9 win over the Cowboys, Bill Belichick cited the importance of field position, then said, “That was a big key to the game for us, and of course, taking care of the ball was critical. Not turning it over.
“I think anytime you get through a game like that and take care of the football, that’s objective No. 1.’’
Objective No. 1.
Take all of your other metrics and analytics and quarterback ratings and toss them into a Waring blender. The Patriots win because they don’t give away the football. They won Sunday because they intercepted a pass, blocked a punt, and . . . did . . . not . . . lose . . . a . . . fumble . . . on a day that was made for fumbles.
“I don’t think there’s anything more important,’’ former Belichick mentor Bill Parcells said when reached by phone Monday morning. “The study we used to do back in the Pleistocene Era when dinosaurs were allowed to coach — if you were minus-1, you lost 75 percent of the time. If you were minus-2, you lost 83 percent of the time. And if you were minus-3, you lost 94 percent of the time. I’m sure it’s pretty close to that now.
“I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but I always said, ‘My backs don’t fumble.’ If you do fumble, you’ll be somebody else’s back.
“They [the Patriots] take care of the football. That’s very important to Bill. I know that.’’
The Patriots do it with astounding success. Tom Brady doesn’t get intercepted. He doesn’t suffer strip sacks. The Patriots don’t lose fumbles. And Patriot defenders are trained in the art of punching footballs out of the hands of rival ballcarriers.
The numbers are staggering. Since all this winning started in 2001, the Patriots are plus-208 in the giveaway-takeaway differential during the regular season. In only one season (2005) did they give up the football more than they took it away. They are 154-13 in games in which they have a plus differential.
Ball security becomes a greater advantage when a team plays in bad weather. Through the decades, Belichick & Co. have been Stormy Day Warriors. Which is what they were against the Cowboys.
“I used to have the ‘red zone don’ts,’ ’’ remembered Parcells. “No sacks. No penalties. No turnovers. No exotic snap counts. Because exotic snap counts lead to offsides and false starts.
“So every time we would go to practice in the red zone, we would repeat those things. If throwing the ball away is a good play, then sacks, strip sacks, and interceptions are bad plays. Those are the things I would point to.
“Some guys just can’t take care of the ball. You see it all the time. The Redskins had a quarterback, Mark Rypien. No disrespect to Mark Rypien. He’s a good guy and all that, but if you hit him, he was going to fumble the ball.
“I don’t know what a coach can do. I told the running backs, if they fumble the ball, I ain’t playing them. O.J. Anderson had a number of fumbles. I told him there’s two things you’ve got to do: You’ve got to block the blitz, and if you fumble, you’re not playing. He fumbled like one time in six years.
“People are into analytics now, and they think that makes them visionaries. But there are some old things that still apply. I always believed that 100 yards of field position is worth 7 points. If you have 400 yards, you ought to have 28 points.
“The main thing about a turnover is that you don’t get to punt the ball. Say you’re averaging 43 yards a punt. That translates to points. You turn it over, you don’t get to punt it. You don’t get to punt it, that’s 47 yards that they don’t have to gain. That’s the hidden yardage.
“My second-best team ever [the Super Bowl-winning Giants in 1990] played 19 games and had 14 turnovers all season. It was a league record at the time. We were not a high-powered offense. But we played good defense and we did not turn the ball over.
“I watched the [Patriots-Cowboys] game yesterday. The elements are a great equalizer. You get a day like that, I don’t care who you are playing. It’s tough. You may be better than them, but the elements are a tremendous equalizer.
“Don’t get me started. I wanted cold-weather players. Those kids from Michigan, when it’s 30 degrees, that’s warm for them. It’s a whole mentality.’’
The mentality of blocking everything else out and taking care of the football.
Truly, the Patriot Way.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org