Bill Belichick Is in Everybody’s Head

Opposing teams have meltdowns when they play the Pats.

The Patriots do more than just beat their opponents on the football field; they seem to cause them to lose their minds as well.

Take the Colts’ humiliating fake punt attempt Sunday night, for example. Under no circumstances should wide receiver Griff Whalen have snapped the ball to safety Colt Anderson. In fact, Anderson was reportedly yelling at Whalen to hold onto it. But despite being left to take on five Patriots defenders all by himself, Whalen snapped the ball anyway. The saddest play in NFL history was born.

As the Herald‘s Jeff Howe points out, the Patriots weren’t flummoxed when the Colts trotted out the bizarre formation in which nine players lined up on the right side of the field. Special teams captain Matthew Slater got everybody in the proper position, and they were ready to make the stop. Chuck Pagano says his team suffered a “communication breakdown” on the play, but for the Pats, minimal communication was necessary. Everybody who was wearing a Patriots uniform knew exactly where to be.

This is far from the first time the Patriots have been aided by incompetent coaching and decision-making from their opponents over the last several years. In fact, the Patriots captured their most recent championship only after Pete Carroll made perhaps the worst play call in Super Bowl history.

Everybody inside of University of Phoenix Stadium probably figured the Seahawks were going to run the ball in that spot. They were at the Patriots’ one-yard line with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation, and arguably the best running back in the league, Marshawn Lynch, was lined up alongside Russell Wilson. The Seahawks handed the ball to Lynch on the previous play, and it seemed inexplicable they would deviate from that plan with the Super Bowl on the line.

And yet, they did, and the Patriots were ready. They ran through that pass play numerous times during practice the previous week.

The Patriots’ biggest advantage over their opponents is Tom Brady, but preparation is a close second. There doesn’t seem to be a single play, formation, or rule that Bill Belichick doesn’t prepare his players for. (Patriots’ opponents, meanwhile, reportedly spend their time sweeping Gillette Stadium for bugs.)

That was apparent during the divisional round of the playoffs, when the Patriots used four offensive linemen sets to help them storm back from their second 14-point deficit of the contest.  On three occasions in the third quarter, the Patriots lined up an ineligible receiver on the line of scrimmage. The Ravens had no idea what hit them.

Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh called the substitutions “deceptive” and questioned their legality. Brady told Harbaugh to “study the rulebook and figure it out.”

Studying the rulebook wouldn’t have helped the Ravens in 2012, when kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would’ve sent the AFC Title Game into overtime. That’s one of the highest percentage plays in football, as kickers converted 95.8 percent of field goals between 30-34 yards last season. But with a trip to the Super Bowl hanging in the balance, Cundiff booted the ball wide left. The only explanation is the ghosts of Foxboro were creeping into his head.

Whether it’s in the playoffs or regular season, upstart teams in the AFC look to make their names against the Patriots. But most of them fall flat on their face, or in Mark Sanchez’s case, into the rear-end of one of his offensive linemen.

The only thing that would’ve made the Butt Fumble worse is if the Jets entered the game sporting letterman jackets, which is exactly what the Texans did in December 2012. Houston was 11-1 at the time, and gearing up for a season-defining Monday night matchup against the Patriots in Gillette Stadium. The entire team ordered letterman jackets prior to the big game, because apparently real champions dress like high school seniors.

Well, the game defined the Texans, alright. It revealed them as total frauds. Houston lost by 28 points, and dropped 14 of their next 18 contests. They never recovered from that fateful night.

Given the ineptitude of the AFC South, the Colts will probably rebound from Sunday night’s embarrassment. But the road to the Super Bowl will almost certainly go through Foxboro, and if history is any indication, the Colts’ attempt to win here in January would likely go just as well as the “Snapfu.”