FOXBORO – Robert Kraft is right. Bill Belichick is the best coach in the history of the NFL.
Simple. No question.
George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Curly Lambeau, Paul Brown, Bill Walsh, Chuck Noll. They were all Hall of Fame coaches.
None of them won in today’s NFL.
Belichick is the Pedro Martinez of NFL coaches. Not only was he great, he was great in an era of increased parity.
Since turning around his fortunes in 2001, Belichick has become the first coach in NFL history with five seasons of at least 13 wins and the only coach ever to win three Super Bowls in four seasons.
"If he's not the greatest, I'd like to meet whoever else is in that conversation," beamed Drew Bledsoe from a ski lift on Friday, two days before heading back as an honorary captain for Sunday's AFC title game against the Ravens.
And consider what it took for Bledsoe to acknowledge that. It was Bledsoe who had to bite his lip as Tom Brady replaced him in 2001. Still, he recognizes greatness when he sees it and so does Kraft.
"In any business, you want to build complimentary forces," Kraft said Friday. "It's not like it's rocket science where you have to have engineers designing something with exact science. This is touch and feel. His history and his knowledge of the game and his experience on special teams, growing up understanding special teams and blending that in to offense and defense; and then understanding value and the salary cap. He knows the most important thing to us is to win.
"He's balancing that by putting together a group of players who also want to win. He has a unique knowledge that is very special in this era of the salary cap."
It’s a dangerous business reading body language at this time of year. Just ask the TV executives who told the Patriots owner not to hire Belichick because of the way he looked at his press conferences in Cleveland.
Well, he certainly looks comfortable in his own skin – if not suit – now.
It certainly provided a good indicator last Thursday when Bill Belichick walked into the room and chatted for about 25 minutes about the intricacies of different defenses. The Patriots coach was smiling and relaxed, and had the look of a man who knew his team was already prepared with the “hay in the barn,” as he likes to say.
"He had a history in Cleveland," Kraft said. "His first year with us, he went 5-11 and then he went 1-3, so he was 6-14. I had people sending me tapes of him doing press conferences and heads of networks tell me I shouldn't hire him. But what I learned is this guy really knew the game. I think Bill's brilliance is understanding what fits for our team."
Two days later, the Patriots swarmed Tim Tebow and kicked the Broncos right out of the playoffs with a 45-10 demolition at Gillette.
Belichick hasn’t changed much this week.
With over 50 media members and 17 cameras glaring in him in the face on Wednesday, Belichick delivered a classic press conference in the media workroom. All of his answers were concise, on point and devoid of any emotion.
There were those who even wondered in the front row of the workroom, would he come out in a suit and tie because it was the national media availability day for championship week.
I assured everyone nah, he’s coming out in his cutoff sweatshirt and jeans. No need to start to putting on a fashion show now.
Sure enough, Belichick walked out in sweatshirt and jeans.
The next day – Thursday - he dressed down even further, walking out in cut-off shorts and a classic dark blue Patriots hoodie. For the entire presser, he wore a comfortable smile and even joked about being asked for the umpteenth time about his man-crush on Ed Reed.
“Haven’t we talked enough about Ed Reed already?” he said through a classic Belichick smirk.
What does his all of this mean? Nothing in terms of X’s and O’s. But it can be a window into Belichick’s football soul. He knows when his team is prepared and in the right spot to take care of the opposition.
And with Joe Flacco calling signals on the other side, Belichick certainly seems confident that his defense – which took all season to mature – has finally grown into a versatile and athletic bunch, far more capable than the one that gave up an 83-yard run to Ray Rice on the first play from scrimmage two years ago at Gillette.
Belichick doesn’t fear the Ravens, and neither do his players.
Yes, Belichick spent the week praising Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and to a lesser degree, Terrell Suggs. Yes, the Ravens have a devastating defensive tackle in Haloti Ngata. Yes, the Ravens have a quarterback in Flacco who can throw deep to Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. And yes, there’s Ray Rice.
But the Patriots have the best coaching staff in terms of preparation and they have far fewer question marks now than they did two years ago.
Oh yeah, and one more thing, they’ve done a great job of keeping their mouths shut.
The Ravens are just the latest NFL team to open their mouths too much before taking on the Patriots in a big game.
Only difference with Baltimore is their turning on their own. They’ve been chirping this week, with the highlight coming on Tuesday on Sirius NFL Radio, when Reed called out Flacco, asking for him to raise his game.
“I’m not really too worried about what’s going on in their locker room,” Belichick said on Friday. “I’m just trying to get our team ready to go here. I don’t really care about that. Hopefully we’re ready to play a good football game Sunday – that’s what I’m concerned about.”
Even with Haloti Ngata, the Patriots have a plan for containing Baltimore’s most disruptive player.
Keep the 350-pound man running around like he’s Usain Bolt, using the no-huddle and the hurry-up offense.
“They don’t get to substitute as often,” Logan Mankins said Thursday. “They don’t have the time to rest in the huddle. When you have a lot of big guys out there, it’s good to do.”
Belichick will have an answer for everything on Sunday, even if Rex Ryan – of all people – thinks the Ravens will win.
How appropriate. The biggest loudmouth who is sitting at home thanks in part to his dysfunctional locker room is predicting that theteam that beat him out in the AFC East – AGAIN – will lose to the team he worked for as defensive coordinator in Baltimore.
Guess we know where the Ravens learned to pop off, talking trash about the opponent and each other.
Bill Belichick is greatest of all-time, that’s why he looks so comfortable now at the podium and why he can save the coat and tie for the podium in Indianapolis.
Time to go to the Trags Bag for a double-dip:
What will be the biggest factor this Sunday?
@Gimmieabudlight @Trags Biggest factor can the OL win the battle and give Brady the time he needs #TragsBag
@s_thorn @Trags Gotta be the performance of the OL. If we can protect Brady and give him time in the pocket, our offense can't be stopped. #Patriots
@CMFoster23 @Trags The Pats O-Line's ability to block Ngata and Suggs is the key to a Pats victory #TragsBag
@BostonMendy @trags i would say how much pressure the ravens can put on brady, if they hit him early and often i think he wont be as good as last week
@RichCambellJr @Trags O-line definitely and the tight ends. Wear down the D by moving the chains.
@jakeduhaime @Trags If the Ravens pass rush is anything similar to the Giants pass rush vs. GB, the Pats are in big trouble Mike.
@BWoodward_HI This > RT @jakeduhaime: @Trags If the Ravens pass rush is anything similar to the Giants pass rush vs. GB, the Pats are in big trouble Mike.
@BenRodriguez413 @Trags #Patriots defense. We know what offense will bring but who will show up for the D, especially against the run? This will decide all
@0_LayDX @Trags #TragsBag Motion, moving Aaron from the slot possibly to a HBack position would be a prime example. Having a 22year old a 36 yr old with the league leader in forcing missed tackles will help a lot too.
Thursday night marked the 10th anniversary of the “Snow Bowl” What were your favorite memories?
@TomWatsonPats @Trags Watching Vinatieri's kick to tie game from stands, snowflakes, the kick so low, a bullet, never thought it would be good, bedlam!!
@KiashBaiby @Trags lol I was only 12 but mad coz he thought it was a fumble. When they reversed i started celebrating like i knew the game was ours. Lol
@BostonGal4Ever @Trags I was at that game. Remember it like yesterday. I felt like I was surrounded by more snow than fans. And the bitter cold. #TragsBag
@KvnLhy @Trags: So much - but mostly the emotions - all hope was lost and then after a loooong commercial break , elation!
Remember, every week, I take your comments, criticisms and concerns in the Trags Bag, letting you air it out on all things Boston sports.
Patriots 31, Ravens 24: Patriots will bottle up Ray Rice just enough, give up one or two long balls from Joe Flacco to Boldin and Smith but they’ll have more than enough answers in the form of Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker, and oh yeah, Brady. Make those plans for Indy now, the Patriots are Super Bowl-bound.
Giants 21, 49ers 17: Like the Packers the week before, the Giants have been down this road before. They went to Candlestick in Jan. 1991 when Jim Burt fell on Joe Montana’s right elbow in the NFC title game and Matt Bahr nailed the game-winning field goal. These are two great defenses but the Giants clearly have the superior quarterback. They won’t need late heroics this time to set up a Super Bowl XLII rematch in Indy with the Patriots.