Belichick, Brady: Playoffs no time for timid

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Belichick, Brady: Playoffs no time for timid

FOXBORO -- Between the time the ball is snapped and the whistle blows to signal a play dead, hundreds of decisions get made by the 22 players on a football field.

The overwhelming majority are instinctive. The eyes see something and muscle memory kicks in -- open receiver, throw ball; cut block, jump over it; defender inside, go outside.

But every game also includes plays when players are forced to make conscious decisions that could decide the game. Suddenly, they may be in a situation they didn't expect -- a broken play, a missed assignment by a teammate, a decision to jump a route or lay back -- and they have to process how to react while also considering situations like down-and-distance, score and time remaining.

In the playoffs, those decisions decide games. And it's not always the future Hall of Fame quarterback who's in the spot to make them. Sometimes it's the rookie corner taken in the seventh round.

The Patriots are open about the enormity of every decision they may make Sunday against Houston. But Bill Belichick said they can't be paralyzed by that.

"You don't win a war by digging a foxhole and sitting in it," said Belichick. "You gotta go out there and attack. You gotta go out there and make the plays you need to make to win. It's a one-game season."

Yet, while bearing those brave words in mind, there's also the reality Brady spoke to in his press conference.

"You make one mistake, you're gonna be watching next weekend . . . we spend extra time talking about every little play and not that last week wasn't important but the ramifications are different and we have to be at our best," he said.

"It's always about risk-reward in football," Brady added. "There are calculated risks and judgments you make as a player on every single play whether it's my position or whether you're a defensive tackle. That's what you train yourself to do over a long season. That comes through experience, that comes through playing a lot of games and certainly against better competition you don't have as long to make the decision. The better players you face, the less margin you have to make those split-second decisions."

Brady sets a high bar. Given the number of big games in which he's played and the position he's at, he's made more big decisions than perhaps any quarterback. And his TD-INT ratio dwarfs the other quarterbacks regarded as the all-time greats.

"I don't think you can play so conservative that you're not able to go out and make plays," Brady stated. "Part of that is the mental toughness. In '06 against the Chargers (in the AFC Divisional Playoff), I threw three picks in that game (and the Patriots won 24-21). You've gotta be able to overcome mistakes. If you make 'em, you still gotta do whatever you gotta do to win and give yourself a chance to move on. The important thing is, if you do make a mistake, you gotta hope you don't make another one. Because if they capitalize on it, you're gonna have to dig yourself out of that hole and make a lot of good plays. The more mistakes you make, the harder it is to win. You can make mistakes and still win, but they gotta make mistakes too.

Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo explained it more succinctly.

"Those are calculated risks that you have to take," he explained. "Especially, I think the biggest thing for us is third down, getting off the field and getting that ball back in our offenses hands."

Third down plays. Red zone plays. Special teams plays. The team that makes them often wins the game, regardless of which team is superior. The team that missteps more often will lose.

"Every player, every coach, everybody that is involved in the game understands that's exactly what that is," said Belichick.

Curran’s 100 plays that shaped a dynasty: A nice pair of kicks

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Curran’s 100 plays that shaped a dynasty: A nice pair of kicks

We're into the Top 10 now.

These are the plays of the Bill Belichick Era you best never forget. And probably can't. They're the ones that led directly to championships -- most for New England, a couple for the other guys. Or they're plays that signified a sea change in the way the New England Patriots under Belichick would be behaving from there on out.

I did my best to stack them in order of importance. You got a problem with that? Good. Let us know what's too high, too low or just plain wrong. And thanks for keeping up!

PLAY NUMBER: 4

THE YEAR: 2001 (actually Feb. 3, 2002)

THE GAME: Patriots 20, Rams 17

THE PLAY: Vinatieri 48-yarder in Superdome delivers SB36 win

WHY IT’S HERE: When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, it was viewed nationally and locally as a cathartic moment for a long-suffering region. Deliverance for a fanbase that resolutely suffered through 90 years of star-crossed heartbreak with a mix of stoicism and fatalism. “Long-suffering Red Sox fan” was a badge of honor, an identity. And New Englanders – baseball fans or not - would self-identify with the hideous notion of Red Sox Nation. There was no “Patriots Nation.” To drag out the forced metaphor, Patriots fans were living in tents and cabins in the wilderness, recluses. Reluctant to be seen in town where they’d be mocked. And suddenly, they cobbled together one of the most improbable, magical seasons in American professional sports, a year which gave birth to a dynasty which was first celebrated, now reviled but always respected. And while so many games and plays led to this 48-yarder – ones we’ve mentioned 12 times on this list – Adam Vinatieri kicking a 48-yarder right down the f****** middle to win the Super Bowl was an orgasmic moment for the recluses and pariahs that had been Patriots fans when nobody would admit to such a thing.
 

PLAY NUMBER: 3

THE YEAR: 2001 (actually Jan. 19, 2002)

THE GAME: Patriots 16, Raiders 13

THE PLAY: Vinatieri from 45 through a blizzard to tie Snow Bowl

WHY IT’S HERE: Two thoughts traveling on parallel tracks were running through the mind while Adam Vinatieri trotted onto the field and lined up his 45-yarder to tie Oakland in the 2001 AFC Divisional Playoff Game, the final one at Foxboro Stadium. “There’s no way he can make this kick in this weather,” was the first. “The way this season’s gone, I bet he makes this kick. It can’t end here. It can’t end now.” From where I was sitting in the press box I couldn’t see the ball clearly, probably because I was looking for it on a higher trajectory than Vinatieri used. So I remember Vinatieri going through the ball, my being unable to locate it in the air and then looking for the refs under the goalposts to see their signal. And when I located them, I saw the ball scuttle past. Then I saw the officials’ arms rise. Twenty-five years earlier, the first team I ever followed passionately – the ’76 Patriots – left me in tears when they lost to the Raiders in the playoffs. Now, at 33, I was covering that team and it had gotten a measure of retribution for the 8-year-old me.