Brainy Belichick leaves foes smarting
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
Paul Simon, “The Sound of Silence’’
CLEVELAND — I sit here in my hotel room in the only city on earth where they think Bill Belichick is a dumbbell.
It was bad for him here. Five so-so seasons and a reputation trashed. Belichick was ridiculed and scorned when he released local favorite Bernie Kosar. Browns fans considered him just another great assistant who wasn’t qualified to be a head coach.
That is Bill Belichick’s legacy in Cleveland, and he still gets the post-Decision LeBron treatment every time he goes near Lake Erie.
It’s a lot different for Belichick everywhere else, especially in New England, where he is hailed as the greatest coach and general manager since Red Auerbach.
If you were at TD Garden last June, during the Celtics’ magical run to the Finals, it’s hard to forget those moments when the big board would flash the image of Belichick, sitting in a courtside seat. Aware that he was on the screen, Belichick would smile and wave, and the collective response would shake the Causeway Street gym.
In those moments, you could feel the love and worship Boston has for this man. You could feel the power and the control — a devotion generally reserved for rock stars, once-in-a-generation political leaders, and those who claim they have the ear of God.
It was a tad frightening. It was easy to believe that the followers would have done anything the great man said. If Belichick told everybody to take off their pants, the aisles immediately would have been littered with Dockers and Wranglers.
“In Bill We Trust’’ is embossed on our refrigerator calendars. Once just a mere football coach, Belichick in New England in this century is a way of life.
Just when some foolish doubters (me) were beginning to question the notion of Belichick as infallible, we get the first seven games of the 2010 NFL season and the affirmation that the Hoodie is the greatest football mind who ever lived.
The Patriots have the best record in football. These are not the Patriots of Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, Ty Law, and Adam Vinatieri. They are not the Patriots of Scott Pioli, Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, and Matt Estrella. They are not the Patriots of Rodney Harrison, Troy Brown, Junior Seau, and Larry Izzo.
No. These are the Patriots of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Rob Ninkovich, and Danny Woodhead. And who needs Randy Moss when you have Brandon Tate?
Bum Phillips once said of Bear Bryant, “He can take his and beat yours, then he can turn around and take yours and beat his.’’
We are seeing it this year, just as we saw it in the first half of the first decade of this century. The Patriots don’t have the most talent, but they get the most out of the talent they have. They don’t beat themselves. They beat you with special teams (Miami). They beat you when you lead them, 20-10, in the fourth (Baltimore). They beat you when you leave the ball on the ground and shoot yourself in the foot with penalties (San Diego). They beat you when you drop passes, can’t convert from the red zone, and miss tackles (Minnesota).
They take care of the football. New England has the fewest fumbles in the league.
Pass protection? The offensive line gives Tom Brady enough time to read a Mitch Albom book when Brady drops back to pass.
Clever timeouts? When the Patriot defense calls a timeout after seeing an offensive set, the ensuing play usually results in New England stoning the opponent. When Brady calls time after seeing something he doesn’t like, the next play ends up going for a first down.
Halftime adjustments? New England leads the NFL in second-half scoring. Because Bill is smarter than everybody else.
The Patriots play situation football — just like the night in 2003 when they intentionally hiked the ball off their own goal post against the Broncos. The late-game ploy allowed them to win at Denver.
They even beat you by trying not to score.
That’s right, people. Anybody can practice scoring touchdowns. The Patriots practice not scoring TDs. Leading Minnesota, 21-18, the Patriots had a first-and-goal from the 1 with 3:18 left. Minnesota was out of timeouts. Concluding that seconds were more important than points, the Patriots called plays that were designed to avoid the end zone. Brady carried twice, going nowhere. After the two-minute warning, Green-Ellis was allowed to go into the end zone to make it 28-18. The Vikings had zero chance at the two possessions necessary to tie the game.
I’m sure the Lions are good at designing plays that do not result in touchdowns, but only the Patriots do it on purpose.
Belichick is getting it done as head coach, general manager, defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator, traveling secretary (bet Manny Ramirez wouldn’t shove Bill), video director, and sports talk radio host. I heard he flawlessly piloted the team charter to Cleveland yesterday. Chesley Sullenberger has nothing on Bill Belichick.
The Randy Moss mess only solidifies the legend of Bill. The Patriots got three years and four games out of Moss. Seeing the future perfectly, Belichick shed Moss after Game 4 and got a third-round pick. Four weeks later, Moss was fired by the Vikings one day after coming to Foxborough and praying at the altar of Bill.
It turns out that getting rid of Moss was the sure sign that Belichick was going back to what worked here from 2001-05. Talent comes and goes. The system is forever.
These people in Ohio still hate Belichick and think he’s a doofus. Maybe it’s time they gave up and got on board. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is just an hour south of Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.