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Belichick's arrogance cause for Pats loss

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Kevin Hench

An accomplished film and television writer, Kevin Hench's latest screenwriting credit is for The Hammer, which stars Adam Carolla. His podcast, Spider and the Henchman, is available every Friday on iTunes. MORE>>
   
 

Tom Coughlin. John Harbaugh. And now Rex Ryan.

The list of NFL coaches who have thoroughly outcoached Bill Belichick in a playoff game keeps growing.

After a week of announcing outright that Sunday’s playoff game in Foxboro was a showdown between him and Belichick, Ryan took Belichick to the woodshed for a resounding whupping.

Not as resounding, mind you, as the 33-14 beatdown Harbaugh and his Ravens put on Belichick in last year’s playoff humiliation in Foxboro.

Nor was Belichick’s loss Sunday as big an upset as the egg he and his team laid in Super Bowl XLII. The Patriots were 12-point favorites when they had no answers for the Giants’ D-line or David Tyree’s sticky helmet in a 17-14 loss. The Pats were only favored by 8-1/2 points on Sunday.

Belichick was being outcoached on Sunday before the game even started. He decided to bench Wes Welker for the game’s first series, presumably for an interview Welker gave in which he tweaked Ryan’s apparent foot fetish. (Welker’s 11 foot references in a news conference almost matched the 13 dropped passes he led the league with this season.)

But did I miss something? Did Welker get a DUI last week that we didn’t hear about? Earlier this season, Ryan benched Braylon Edwards for one quarter of a regular-season game after his DUI arrest. By sitting Welker on the team’s first possession, delaying his entry into the game until there was 5:44 left in the first quarter, Belichick almost matched the punishment given Edwards.

For what? For trying to be funny?

Do you think there was any way Ryan would have sat a player for so much as a snap this week if he believed it might hurt his chances of winning by even 1/10 of 1 percent? No freakin’ way.

But that’s the arrogance of Bill Belichick. He believes he can play the first possession of a playoff game with one weapon tethered to the sideline to emphasize adherence to The Belichick Way.

So what happened on that first possession?

On first-and-10 at the Jets' 28, the Patriots called an ill-advised screen pass to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, which Tom Brady airmailed, leading to a pick and a 58-yard return by David Harris.

Green-Ellis had been targeted a total of 16 times all season, catching 12 passes. Welker was targeted 122 times, hauling in 86 receptions, including countless quick screens. Had Welker been on the field on that first possession, it’s not unreasonable to assume the Patriots would not have gone to the BenJarvus Green-Ellis-as-primary-receiver well.

In the second quarter, Belichick forfeited a timeout on an ill-advised challenge.

But that was nothing compared to the strategic abomination that came with the Patriots trailing 7-3 and a little over a minute left in the first half. On fourth down inside the Patriot 40, up-back Patrick Chung, who would later claim to have called for the fake himself, fumbled the direct snap, giving the ball to the Jets at their own 37. The Jets scored four plays later.

While Chung's taking responsibility absolves Belichick for the idiocy of the actual call, it raises another question: Does the league's leading autocratic coach really provide his special teams players with this level of autonomy? If so, responsibility for the calamity redounds to Belichick.

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While fourth-down decisions — even rogue ones — inevitably land at the feet of the head coach, it’s less clear how much of the blame Belichick should bear for his team’s glacial, 7-minute, 45-second fourth-quarter drive down by two scores.

If it’s possible to play with less of a sense of urgency than the Eagles displayed down the stretch of Super Bowl XXXIX, the Patriots pulled it off. On several plays during what became the death march of their season, the Pats used the entire play clock despite trailing by 10. When they finally turned it over on downs on a drop by Deion Branch, the game was essentially over.

But Belichick built his rep on defense, not on the no-huddle offense, so we should evaluate his coaching performance on Sunday based on the game plan he devised to flummox second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez.

The results: Sanchez finished with a 127.3 passer rating and a clean jersey. Never sacked and rarely pressured, Sanchez strafed the Patriots for three touchdowns. (Tom Brady has been sacked nine times in the playoffs since the Patriots' last playoff sack.)

Sunday was a result that is becoming all too familiar for Patriots fans.

Last year, Belichick’s defense was trampled for 234 yards rushing by the Ravens, four-point underdogs, as the Pats were one and done in the playoffs.

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After missing the playoffs in 2008, that performance last year against the Ravens was the Patriots’ first postseason game since Eli Manning led the Giants 83 yards in two minutes to beat New England in the Super Bowl.

So to sum up: In his past three playoff games, Bill Belichick has been favored by a total of 24-1/2 points and gone 0-3 while being outscored 78-49.

Since winning his third Super Bowl after the 2004 season, Belichick is 5-5 in his past 10 playoff games, including a 38-34 loss to the Colts in the 2006 AFC Championship Game in which the Pats led 21-3.

In that loss to the Colts, and at the end of Super Bowl XLII, and last year against the Ravens, and again Sunday against the Jets, a Belichick defense struggled to get off the field until after the extra point.

And what of that legendary Belichick discipline, no doubt more deeply instilled than ever with his sanction of Welker?

Well, after the botched fake punt and going down 14-3, New England was hoping to drive into field-goal range in the final minute of the first half. But that drive was dashed by a Logan Mankins personal foul.

And on the aforementioned fourth-quarter, 7-minute, 45-second Drive to Nowhere, former Super Bowl MVP Branch decided it would be a good time to start woofing with the Jets sideline.

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He barked at the Jets after an 8-yard reception for a first down. (Mind you, the Patriots were trailing by 10 at this point.) Then he barked some more after making a block for Welker on a 9-yard reception for another first down.

Maybe if he had been concentrating fully on playing football, he wouldn’t have dropped Brady’s fourth-down pass, ending the drive.

Toothless on defense. Plodding on offense. Undisciplined. Inept on trick plays.

Not exactly the look of a well-coached team.

Bill Belichick is headed to Canton.

But Rex Ryan, the better coach on Sunday, is headed to the AFC Championship Game.

Tagged: Patriots, Giants, Jets, Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Wes Welker, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Mark Sanchez

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