My initial reaction when the Super Bowl line came out – New England favored by 3 over Atlanta – was to take Bill Belichick. Two weeks to prepare for the Falcons offense? Sure, he could figure it out. And then I asked Hall of Famer Cris Carter after we taped Speak for Yourself Monday, and he made a great connection – I’m going to go back and watch the 2002 Super Bowl and see what he did to beat the Greatest Show on Turf.
Let’s flash back to February 2002, when the Patriots went to the Super Bowl against kurt warner and the Rams, who at the time were known as the “Greatest Show on Turf.”
Who can forget those 2001-2002 Rams? They led the NFL with a 14-2 record, scored 503 points (31.4 ppg!), led the NFL in point differential (+230), and the offense was led by Warner, who won MVP that year, and fellow Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk. They dropped 45 points on Packers in the playoffs, then 29 on the Eagles to reach the Super Bowl.
And then Bill Belichick and the Patriots held them to three points for three quarters in the Super Bowl. They sacked Warner three times and intercepted him twice.
The Rams scored twice in the final 10 minutes to tie the game at 17 before some Tom Brady magic (go look at the video above; John Madden says, “with no timeouts, you have to play for overtime” and then later says what Brady did “gives me goosebumps”) led to Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal.
Now, Belichick’s facing a mighty offense that scored over 500 points and averaged over 30 ppg (540 and 33.8 ppg, respectively) led by the likely MVP (Matt Ryan) with a Hall of Fame talent that scares defenses (Julio Jones).
Which begs the question: Can Belichick do with this defense what he did with the 2002 defense that featured stars in the secondary like Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy, and pass rushing monsters like Richard Seymour and Willie McGinest?
[Aside: The 2001 defense was very good, but did give up 30 to the Dolphins in the regular season and 31 to the Broncos. The 2016 Patriots defense played a weak schedule, but only gave up over 28 points once – against the Seahawks.]
The 2016 Patriots defense is young. Trey Flowers leads New England in sacks with seven; he’s 23. Jabaal Sheard, who was signed as a free agent in 2015, is 2nd with five. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower is 26; star cornerback Malcolm Butler is 26, and safety Devin McCourty is 29.
As a Jets fan, it pains me to look at how well Belichick assembles a roster.
Belchick gave up Chandler Jones; hasn’t hurt. Belichick gave up Jamie Collins; hasn’t hurt. We’ve written about how the Patriots haven’t faced great QBs this season, which is true; well, this is also true – they haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since Week 12 of the 2015 season.