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Bob Ryan

Song the same for Belichick: Much jazz to come from this club

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / November 30, 2009

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NEW ORLEANS - Here is Bill Belichick on the subject of the New Orleans Saints:

“Two words describe just about everybody on that team: big and fast. They have very good skill people. They run the ball well. The quarterback is an athlete. They have speed. They have big-play people.’’

Impressive, huh? The only thing was the year was 2005. The Patriots coach was waxing rhapsodic about a 2-7 Saints team en route to 3-13. The game would be in Foxborough. Coach Bill does tend to lay it on a bit thick the week before a game, and most of the time it’s roll-your-eyes stuff for the listener.

This time it may be a little bit different. This time the Saints are 10-0 with a Drew Brees-fueled offense that no one has come close to stopping. This time the Saints have a defense that leads the league in, among other things, takeaways, defensive scores (7 TDs), and defense inside the red zone. This time the coach is Sean Payton, not Jim Haslett. And this time the game will be in the Superdome, where, according to much anecdotal evidence, there will be as much noise as any Patriots player or coach ever has heard.

Here is Belichick on the 2009 Saints:

“They give you a lot to get ready for. I can see why their record is what it is; they deserve it. They’ve won every game by double digits [actually, eight of 10 games]. Most of the time they are running out the clock in the middle of the third quarter. They are a very good football team and we know it will be an energetic atmosphere and certainly a hostile environment towards the Patriots down there.’’

The sheer numbers testify to an offense whose balance is the stuff of coaching fantasy. Brees has thrown it 320 times. He has handed it or pitched it off 324 times. His passes have been good for 2,746 yards. The runs have been good for 1,543 yards. What coach wouldn’t be thrilled with 154 yards a game on the ground?

Belichick sees Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell, and Reggie Bush as classically complementary backs. The wide receiving corps is talented, and tight end Jeremy Shockey has been re-born as a Saint after his messy exit from New York. Counting the defense, 18 people have made it into the end zone in these 10 games, prompting Belichick to say, “You can’t stop one and let the other 17 go.’’

Belichick says his team will confront no more complex offense than the one it will see tonight.

“If we took the other 15 teams we play and put all the formations and personnel groups together, it would probably be about the same as the Saints,’’ he said. “It’s that many. Over the course of 70 plays, there are hardly any repeat formations in the game. It’s hard.’’

Brees is, quite obviously, a fast and intelligent decision-maker, but what really impresses Belichick is his precision. “He’s a very accurate passer,’’ said Coach Bill. “Even when defenders are close to the receiver, he has the ability to slide it in there.’’

The Saints’ offense, in sum, is as hard on the opponent’s mind as on its body.

“Sometimes you end up making mistakes, blowing a timeout or something like that, and that’s an issue, too,’’ Belichick said. “And the Saints really try to stress you on that, probably as much as any team I can remember.’’

And then when you get the ball . . .

“[Defensive coordinator Gregg] Williams has a couple of wrinkles for each week,’’ said Belichick with a sigh. “And over the course of four, five, six weeks you watch him and you kind of don’t know which ones [you need] to prepare for and which you don’t.’’

Given all this, it really is admirable of Belichick and Co. to show up, don’t you think? The prospect of embarrassment is rather grave.

Fortunately, your New England Patriots have a few things going for them, starting with that No. 12 guy and his own corps of receivers. Timing is often just about everything, and the time is right for the Patriots to be playing the potent Saints team. Were this game taking place in, say, Week 3, things almost undoubtedly would be pretty ugly in the Dome tonight.

But it’s Week 11 and everyone in the know seems to think the Patriots have a pretty good chance to put an end to the Saints’ undefeated season. True, the Patriots aren’t as healthy in the offensive line as they’d like to be, but if no new catastrophe takes place, they’ll get by.

A primary reason for the belief that New England can get the job done tonight is not so much the thrashing of the Jets last week as the bitter, tough defeat at the hands of the Colts the week before. That loss has given birth to a new phrase, something no team in NFL history ever has had before.

What the Patriots came away with on that interesting Monday evening in Indianapolis, people are saying, was a “virtual win.’’

People are willing to put the infamous fourth and 2 over to the side. That has become a separate and distinct issue, quite removed from the rest of the game. The NFL cognoscenti looks at the first 3 1/2 periods of that game as indication that the Patriots are still very much a contender, that Tom Brady is back to being Tom Brady, and the Patriots will have a say in who will win the 2010 Super Bowl.

No matter who wins, there is only one thing that would surprise anyone tonight, and that would be a 17-14 game. The local boys reflect the national thinking. The New Orleans Times-Picayune asked five of its writers to pick a winner and a score, and all five, of course, selected the Saints. But their scores are interesting: 31-28, 33-31, 35-34, 40-38, and 42-41.

I’ll drink to that kind of game, and, believe me, I won’t have any trouble finding a place to do it.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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