- - Sunday, January 29, 2017


You will read this week about the great and powerful Atlanta Falcons offense — the force of nature that hung 36 points on the vaunted Seattle Seahawks defense and destroyed the Green Bay Packers with 44 on their way to Super Bowl 51 — and wonder how the New England Patriots can stop them.

You will read about how the Falcons offense, engineered by former Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, finished second in the NFL with 415.8 yards of offense a game, third in the league with 295.3 yards passing per game (just behind the Washington Redskins) and fifth in rushing with 120.5 yards a game.

You will read about NFL Most Valuable Player candidate and Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and his 38 touchdown passes against just seven interceptions. His  4,944 yards on 373 completions in 534 attempts. His league-leading 117.1 passer rating.

You will read about Julio Jones and 83 catches for 1,409 yards, a 17-yards per catch average for a league-topping100.6 yards per game. You will read about the dual running threat of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who have emerged in the NFL postseason as a dominant one-two backfield punch, averaging 164 yards a game between them.

If it all sounds familiar, it is. It’s pretty much the same thing we read leading up to Super Bowl XXV: How could the New York Giants possibly stop the great and powerful Buffalo Bills’ no-huddle K-Gun offense, led by the NFL’s top-rated quarterback, Jim Kelly, with three future Hall of Fame offensive weapons, Andre Reed, James Lofton and Thurman Thomas, and an offense that had scored 95 points in two playoff games.

Bill Belichick, the Giants defensive coordinator, had the answer then. He will have the answer on Sunday. The New England Patriots head coach, now in his seventh Super Bowl, winning four of the previous six, almost always has the answer.

What Belichick cooked up for the Bills that Jan. 27, 1991, day is worth remembering. It may well have been the greatest answer in NFL history.

That Super Bowl, a 20-19 win for the Giants, is best remembered for Bills kicker Scott Norwood’s wide-right field goal miss. Lesser-known is the defensive scheme Belichick came up with to stop the Bills. The game plan, so influential it has its own display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, still may be the defining moment of Belichick’s brilliance.

In his book, “The Education of a Coach,” the late journalist David Halberstam wrote about how Belichick’s game plan for the Bills’ called on lessons he’d learned throughout his career, dating back to his days as a $25-a-week assistant to Baltimore Colts head coach Ted Marchibroda.

Belichick remembered how much power Marchibroda put in the hands of his quarterbacks, and how Kelly, running a no-huddle, would be on his own on the field. Belichick didn’t believe Kelly read defenses well, and hid the changes he made to his defense from the quarterback on nearly every play. He used a defense that included six defensive backs, two traditional defensive linemen and three linebackers to stymie Kelly.

Belichick then told this proud Giants defense, with linebackers like Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks and other defensive standouts (that Giants team was second in defense that year, fourth against the run) that they were going to put the ball in Thomas’ hands. “We’re going to let Thurman Thomas get 100 yards,” Belichick told his players. Thomas rushed for 135 yards.

Banks told the New York Daily News that they didn’t initially embrace the notion of giving up anything. “For the group that we had, we didn’t want anybody to get that amount of yards,” Banks said. “We weren’t happy about it at all … but as he began to explain the plan, we kind of understood why.”

In the television show, “Giants Chronicles,” safety Greg Jackson explained the genius of Belichick with this simple statement: “We made them call the plays they did not want to call.”

That was the game that led to Belichick’s Hall of Fame head coaching career. He was hired shortly after as the Cleveland Browns head coach, and, although that tenure was considered a failure, with a 36-44 record over five seasons, one of those seasons was an 11-5 playoff year — the last time the Browns, now the 1999 expansion version, made the postseason.

Belichick would wind up working as Bill Parcells’ right-hand man again with the Patriots in 1996 and the New York Jets from 1997 to 1999 (Parcells’ worst coaching stint, it might be pointed out, was the Dallas Cowboys, his only time without Belichick). Then,  as we all know, Belichick was hired as New England’s head coach in 2000, and history changed.

The Patriots went from a losing organization on the brink of moving to one of the most successful, both on the field and off the field financially, in the NFL, with four Super Bowl championships.

It is perhaps the greatest coaching resume of all time. It truly began, though, with a Super Bowl game plan that was so brilliant it’s memorialized in Canton.

Remember that while you’re wondering how Bill Belichick will stop Kyle Shanahan.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.

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