Mazz: The 'Year of Belichick' propels running-and-defense Patriots to sixth Super Bowl championship

Feb 3, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick celebrates with granddaughter Blakely after beating the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub

Truth be told, this game – this season – was about the coach. It was about his ability to win back his team and his fan base, to win in any fashion necessary, to win the year after losing a Super Bowl for the first time in 46 years and, in the end, to win against a younger, trendier coach who was being dubbed as the next genius.

But here’s the thing:

Bill Belichick is the original.

And so, celebrate Tom Brady as much as you would like today, Patriots fans, but let’s be honest: Brady wasn’t good on Sunday night in Super Bowl LIII, and the truth is that he played one of the worst postseason games of his illustrious career. Brady went 21-of-35 (a measly 60 percent) for a pedestrian 260 yards, no touchdowns and one interception (on his first pass) in the Patriots' 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, one of just three career postseason games in which Brady finished with a rating under 75.0 and zero touchdown passes.

Know what Brady’s record is in those games?

A perfect 3-0.

Which means the coach covered his ass.

Think of where we were a year ago at this time, Patriots followers. The Pats had just lost the Super Bowl. Belichick had benched Malcolm Butler. Brady was supporting Butler on Instagram – along with Dont’a Hightower and Rob Gronkowski, among others, and Danny Amendola was ripping Belichick on his way out the door. Belichick tried to trade Rob Gronkowski. Brady blew off passing camp. Julian got popped for performance enhancers and we adopted the term palace coup.

And for the large majority of what was, by Patriots standards, a lackluster season, the Patriots looked mentally soft, like a candidate for one of the five worst teams of the Brady-Belichick Era, like a good-team-not-a-great one, like a team transitioning out of greatness.

So now here the Patriots are, champions again, despite substandard performances from their very best players. Celebrate Brady all you want – and you still should – but he ranked 12th in the NFL in quarterback rating this season, 10th in touchdown passes, 18th in completion percentage. In the postseason, he threw two touchdown passes – yes, two - and finished with an overall 85.9 quarterback rating that placed him a perfectly mediocre sixth among the 12 postseason QBs.

Edelman? Oh, he was nails in the playoffs – and he absolutely deserved being named Most Valuable Player of the Super Bowl after a terrific postseason. But even he was not himself for much of the year, as was the case for Gronkowski, who was once one of the great mismatches in NFL history.

No, the Patriots won this championship by mitigating their fading stars with a running game and a dominant offensive line, and a defense that was far greater than the sum of its parts. In the playoffs, the Patriots defeated the first (Kansas City Chiefs), second (Rams) and sixth (Los Angeles Chargers) highest-scoring offenses in the league, holding those three clubs to seven first-half points. They dominated time of possession by holding the ball, on average, for more than 38 minutes in three playoffs games. (Total time of possession was 115-70.) And in the first quarters of their playoff games, they held the ball for a mind-numbing 35:21 to their opponents’ 9:39.

Don’t you understand? These Patriots were different. They didn’t rely on Brady, Gronkowski or Edelman nearly as much. They schemed it. They coached it. And they won it.

And then, in the end and 17 years after the Patriots launched this dynasty by taking down Mike Martz and a Rams team dubbed The Greatest Show of Turf, Belichick thoroughly befuddled boy genius Sean McVay, who is still younger than some of Bill’s socks. McVay often looked confused during this game, like he had no answers, like he didn’t know what to do. The Rams really couldn’t run and they really couldn’t throw, and as a result they just couldn’t score.

But then, that is what has made Bill Belichick precisely who he is, a GOAT of his own, a model for what it means to adapt to the situation. You can change the players on his roster. You can change the nature of the league. You can change the style of game, the venue, even the effectiveness of his very best players.

You just can’t change the result.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.