NEW ORLEANS — From the outside looking in, it sure seemed as if former Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees avenged some personal slights when his Ravens defense led the way in Baltimore’s 28-13 victory over New England in the AFC Championship game.
After coordinating the Patriots defense for Bill Belichick from 2006-09, Pees did not return after his contract ended and he wound up as linebackers coach for the Ravens. Most times in the NFL, if you go from being a coordinator to a positional coach, your performance was deemed not satisfactory. But Pees has maintained he was not fired and that it was a personal decision.
Perhaps Pees left the Patriots because he believed Josh McDaniels was going to hire him as defensive coordinator after the then-Broncos head coach fired Mike Nolan. That’s what an ESPN report said last week. It also stated that Pees was “snubbed” by McDaniels in favor of Don Martindale.
So there was Pees getting the better of two coaches who apparently didn’t want him — Belchick and McDaniels (now back as Patriots offensive coordinator) — to reach Super Bowl XLVII.
“Pees receives total revenge,” an NFL executive texted ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
But at Media Day Tuesday, Pees shot down the notion that shutting down the Patriots’ high-powered offense gave him personal satisfaction.
“Well, first of all, the only satisfaction that winning in New England gave to me was the fact that I got an opportunity to come here [to the Super Bowl],” Pees said.
“And second of all, the kind of thought that it didn’t end well in New England is totally false. I am great friends with Bill Belichick, with [Patriots linebackers coach] Pepper Johnson, with all those guys. You guys have no idea why I left there, and you never will. So whatever reason you guys think I left, you don’t know.
“And there’s nothing I have negative about New England. The players up there, the coaches up there are great friends. I had an opportunity to leave and I left.”
Though he was asked about McDaniels and the opportunity that eluded him with the Broncos, Pees didn’t comment on that.
The fact remains that Pees, 63, was able to construct a plan that held the Patriots to their lowest point total since a 16-9 loss to the Jets on Sept. 20, 2009.
Pees didn’t reveal any inside information on his game plan, which clearly stifled Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. He said he didn’t take anything from the game-plans of Jets coach Rex Ryan, who has used similar “spin the dial” pass rushes and coverages — changing up each on consecutive plays at times — against Brady in the past.
“He’s done a great job of making game-plan choices and decisions that have been really effective strategically against the people we’ve played,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Pees. “You saw that play out [against the Patriots].
“[Cornerback] Cary Williams mentioned that it was a pretty straightforward game plan, and it was. The guys executed it really well. To me, that’s what a great coach, a great teacher does.”
If you look at the statistics from the AFC title game, you might think the Patriots had won — or at least scored more than 13 points.
The Patriots had more plays, first downs, third-down conversions, total yards, and passing yards, and Brady wasn’t sacked.
But the Ravens came through where and when Pees wanted them to: in the red zone. They scored on all four of their trips inside the 20-yard line, while the Patriots were just 1 for 4.
“One area where the players have bought into was, ‘Don’t worry about stats, worry about points.’ Winning the game and points,” said Pees, echoing the defensive beliefs of Belichick. “And even though we’ve given up yardage and stuff, I . . . could . . . really . . . care . . . less.
“The bottom line is, we need to be good in the red zone, and we need to not give up points. We did good in the red zone all year.”
Patriots fans long will remember how Pees’s defense failed in the red zone the last time he was in the Super Bowl.
Clinging to a 14-10 lead against the Giants in Super Bowl XLII with 39 seconds left, Pees called for an all-out blitz on first down from the 13-yard line that left 5-foot-9-inch cornerback Ellis Hobbs, who was playing with a groin injury, one-on-one against 6-5 Giants receiver Plaxico Burress. The result was an easy game-winning touchdown.
Pees said that was a game-planned call, and he has no regrets about it.
“Sometimes you blitz and they get you, sometimes you blitz and they don’t,” Pees said. “If I would have laid back and they would have scored, then it would have been, ‘Why didn’t you pressure him?’
“We had an opportunity. Trust me, that wasn’t something that just came up as a whim. That’s something that we game-planned for and we decided in that particular instance what we’re going to do.
“That was a whole staff [decision]. We all talked about how you’re going to call the game and what you’re going to do in that situation. Hey, it is what it is.”
Pees isn’t one for Patriots nostalgia, but he did say he sees similar traits in linebacker Ray Lewis and Brady.
“Both are tremendously competitive,” Pees said. “I said that about Brady last week: Forget that boyish little look that he’s got. This guy will throw his helmet at you in practice.
“When I had [linebacker Mike] Vrabel and those guys, they used to antagonize him. We didn’t feel like we won until he threw his helmet down and cussed out the offensive line. Then we knew we were doing our job over there.”
After an up-and-down season — giving up 72 points in back-to-back games before the Week 8 bye, and 88 points during a three-game losing streak late in the year — Pees’s defense has defeated Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, and Brady to reach the Super Bowl.
“If you look back statistically at some of the things that we did against the Giants and some of those [other teams], I think we did play pretty well,” said Pees, who didn’t have linebacker Terrell Suggs, cornerback Lardarius Webb, and Lewis for most of the season. “It was really kind of before the [bye] I don’t think we were playing well at all.
“Part of that, I’ll take responsibility for it. We tried to keep a lot of continuity from years past and all of a sudden you lose a bunch of players, you may not be able to do the things that you did in years past.
“And so we finally kind of figured that out, saying, ‘You know what? We’re not quite the same as we were and maybe we need to tweak some things here,’ and we did. And even changed the staff around a little bit in how we did things. So that really helped us.”
Safety Bernard Pollard said that Pees’s job isn’t easy considering the personalities and range of experience with the Ravens defense. But Pees has found the right touch.
“Coach Pees is that experienced, seasoned coach,” Pollard said. “He understands, he’s been here before in Super Bowls, but I think Coach Pees is just a different dude. He keeps us in check. We all respect him. We fight for him, and we embrace everything he brings to our defense.”