- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2007

He wasn’t a great football player, never even earned All-Star honors at Division III Wesleyan. Six of his first nine seasons as an NFL assistant coach were losing ones. He was fired from his first job as a head coach.

Maybe all Bill Belichick needed was a new millennium; the New England Patriots coach has owned the 21st century.

The Patriots pulled out a come-from-behind, 24-21 victory over the favored San Diego Chargers on the road Sunday. The victory put the Patriots into the AFC Championship game and left them just two victories shy of a record-tying fourth Super Bowl championship in six years.

The victory also demonstrated again that Belichick knows how to win when it counts the most: With the victory Sunday, the Patriots improved to an incredible 12-1 in the postseason under Belichick.

“I’m a big admirer,” Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said. “The thing that is the most impressive about that team is that they all know what to do, they all know the techniques and fundamentals that need to be applied and they put them into action.

“What they’ve achieved, winning three Super Bowls in four years, I don’t think it will ever be done again [with] the balance of this league.”

That run is especially impressive considering how it was accomplished. The Patriots rallied from a 21-13 deficit with less than nine minutes remaining — the fifth time in their dozen playoff victories that they trailed or were tied in the fourth quarter. Most prominent on that list are the Super Bowl XXXVI victory over the St. Louis Rams and XXXVIII triumph over the Carolina Panthers.

The only coaches with more postseason victories — Tom Landry, Don Shula, Joe Gibbs and Chuck Noll — or more championships — George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh and Noll — are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Belichick certainly will join that group when he retires but not because of his regular season record of 111-81. That record is fine, but so are those of coaches like Dennis Green, Brian Billick and Jack Del Rio — none of whom likely will see their busts in Canton, Ohio.

Belichick always shined at win-or-go-home time, a marked contrast with his opponent Sunday. Schottenheimer ranks sixth all time with 205 victories (including the postseason), and his .613 regular season winning percentage easily eclipses that of Belichick (.578). Schottenheimer, however, is an ugly 5-13 in the playoffs and has yet to reach the Super Bowl.

The dour 54-year-old Belichick, wearing his trademark gray sweatshirt, doesn’t give impassioned halftime speeches. He just gets his team prepared for any situation.

Last week, the Patriots entered the locker room in Foxborough, Mass., ready to celebrate their just-completed pasting of the New York Jets in the first round of the playoffs. The celebration would be short: Waiting on each player’s chair was a DVD breakdown of the Chargers’ offense, defense or special teams.

“This team has a great maturity about it. [We’re] coached as well as any team in the league,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “You try to prepare like we know how to prepare.”

Linebacker Tedy Bruschi, one of eight Patriots on the roster who played in all three Super Bowl victories, said Belichick’s even-keel demeanor is the secret to his success.

“We’ve never gotten too high when we have won, and we have never gotten too low when we’ve suffered some demoralizing defeats,” Bruschi said. “We’ve always had the mentality of moving on to the next challenge and simplifying it by not thinking of the next game but of the next practice or the next meeting.”

The next challenge is Peyton Manning and the favored Colts in Indianapolis.

The Colts beat the Patriots in the regular season the past two years, but guess which team ended Indianapolis’ Super Bowl dreams in 2003 and 2004?

Yep, Belichick and his Patriots.

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