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Few will deny that the Patriots have built one of the great dynasties of the NFL, especially in the salary cap era. Since 2001 their regular season record is 158-50, the best in the NFL. During that time they have also won 3 Super Bowls, 5 Conference Championships and set countless player and franchise records. That kind of consistency isn’t luck, especially when you’re competing against the best in the world week in and week out. So how is it that the Patriots are able to do it and so many others aren’t? We all know about Tom Brady and his individual stats but that alone can’t explain these results. After all, they still went 10-6 the year Brady got injured on opening day. The secret to their success lies with the management and we’ve heard Bill Belichick mention it before…it’s called situational football.
Situational football can take many forms. 1st and 10 midfield, 2nd and 8 in the red zone, 3rd and 9 with your back to your own goal line. They’re all different, but common, situations in professional football. To win games you have to be able to identify what it takes to succeed in each scenario. Each of those situations requires a different approach. Many people in the league have mentioned how the Patriots tirelessly practice situational football so when the time comes they’ll know exactly what to do. However, there is more to it than that. Situational football also takes the approach of designing an opponent specific game plan.
Against the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs the Patriots dominated the game winning 43-22. That by itself isn’t all that surprising, after all they went into the game as a 7-point favorite. What is surprising is the way in which they did it. The offense ran 73 plays from scrimmage and 46 of those were runs. That’s right, 46 runs and 27 passing plays from a team with Tom Brady. Seems kind of weird that you would take the ball out of the hands of one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but you can’t argue with the win. The reason is simple though, the Colts defense ranked 26th against the run but 13th against the pass. There are only 32 teams in the league so ranking 26th in something is pretty close to the bottom. Belichick knows that and it’s why he rode his running backs to victory. Blount set a franchise record for post season rushing with 166 yards and 4 touchdowns. While Brady turned in a very efficient performance going 13-25 for 198 yards. Those aren’t the gaudy numbers we’re used to seeing from Brady. If someone told you that Brady wouldn’t throw any touchdowns and the Patriots would win the game in decisive fashion would you believe them? It looked like old school football out there as the Patriots physically dominated the game at the line of scrimmage. Yet, as impressive as that was it’s only half the story.
The offense isn’t the only one invited to the situational football party. The Colts had one of the most impressive playoff comebacks in the history of the game in the wild card round coming back to defeat the Chiefs. People can say what they want, but in my mind that victory belongs to one man…T.Y. Hilton. Well, as much as any victory can be attributed to one man, it is a team game after all. Hilton racked up an astronomical 13 receptions for 224 yards and 2 TD’s in that game. One thing we could be sure of going into the game with the Patriots is that Belichick would not allow Hilton to have a big day. Hilton’s final stats have him catching 4 balls for 103 yards, a pretty good day by most measures. But, when you watched, the truth is it felt like much less than that. He was pretty much a non-factor throughout the day. Sometimes taking away a weapon is difficult, the team may need a whole new scheme, but all they had to do this time was put Aqib Talib on him. Either way the result is the same. A Belichick coached defense will take away the offense’s number 1 threat and make them find another way to win. Sometimes teams do, but as the record shows, most of the time they don’t. They held Hilton in check, picked off 4 passes from Andrew Luck and won 43-22, sounds like a job well done.
The Patriots have a philosophy that’s lovingly referred to as the Patriot way, and it shows up in everything they do. The way they prepare for a specific opponent, draft players, handle free agents and even what they let players reveal to the media is handled carefully. Saturdays game against the Colts was a microcosm of how the Patriots approach everything they do. As little as possible is left to chance and everything is done with one goal in mind; what is going to help win football games tomorrow. Player contracts are negotiated with the thought of what the player will do, not what they have done. Game plans are devised to win, not to get the ball to the “big names”. No one considers final stats and egos, that’s for losers, the final score is for winners. Something every Patriot fan is well aware of.