What Bill Belichick remembers most about Super Bowl XXXVIII against Panthers: ‘The results’
|11.15.13 at 12:53 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Super Bowl XXXVIII may not have been won on the last play like Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams, but the win over the Panthers on Feb. 1, 2004, still stands out in the mind of Bill Belichick, as he recalled Friday morning.
“The results, yeah,” Belichick recalled of the 32-29 win over the Panthers for the second of three titles in four years. “It was a crazy game. There was no offense in the first quarter and then there was a lot of scoring right before the half and then, as I remember, not a whole lot of offense in the third quarter and then all hell broke loose in the fourth quarter. Nobody could stop anybody, it was just up and down the field.”
That was the game the defenses battled to a 0-0 draw after 15 minutes. Then the two teams combined for 24 points in the second quarter, with the Patriots taking a 14-10 halftime lead.
The teams managed another scoreless tie in the third quarter before the Patriots seemingly grabbed control, assuming a 21-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. But the Panthers responded with drives of 81 and 90 yards, taking a 22-21 lead. The Patriots responded by marching 68 yards, capped off by a Tom Brady to Mike Vrabel TD pass to put the Patriots up, 29-22. The Panthers tied the game on their third TD drive of the quarter.
Adam Vinatieri won the game with a 41-yard field goal with four seconds remaining.
Belichick was asked to not only reminisce about the game Friday but compare and contrast the Panthers of 2003 and the current version, which is on a four-game winning streak after a 0-2 start to the season.
“I would say it’s quite a bit different,” Belichick said. “[Offensive coordinator Dan] Henning was a very game-plan, running-game coach. I think these guys are more — they have their system, it’s well-balanced, but it’s not like 10 new plays every week. [Jake] Delhomme was a lot different quarterback than [Cam] Newton. Steve Smith, but I’d say it’s quite a bit different.”
Belichick sees more parallels to the Carolina defense now in comparing it to the one that John Fox ran in 2003.
“Yeah, I’d say more on defense than offense, yeah,” Belichick said. “Four-man line. John was more of a quarters coach at that time and a lot of blitz zone, probably a higher percentage. I’d say the X’s and O’s were probably similar, maybe the percentages come out a little bit different, ratios. But similar, real good front four like Carolina had a tremendous group there, starting with [Julius] Peppers, but that whole group was really good and schematically closer to what they’re doing now.”
Here is the rest of Belichick Friday press conference:
Q: Every year is a different year, but you guys typically play well in the second half. What factors into that? Is it team improvement? Sharp focus? Playoff push?
BB: I think it’s definitely improvement. But, I don’t know if that means anything this year or not, we’ll see. This year is this year. I don’t think last year or 10 years before really has any bearing on it. We’ll just see what we can do this year. But we need to improve. Obviously there are a lot of things we can do better than the first nine games of the season. Talked about some of those in the bye week, we’ve been working on them; some of them we’ve been working on all year. We’ve seen some results and there’s still a long way to go. Hopefully our best football is in front of us.
Q: How important is Rob Gronkowski to the blocking scheme? Especially when you consider the Carolina front seven ‘ how important is it for him to help protect Tom Brady?
BB: I think Rob gives good balance to his position. He can block, he can run, he can catch. He creates, gives us balance in whatever we ask him to do: pass protection, run blocking, possession passing, downfield passing, red area. He’s a guy that whatever the play calls for, whatever we need to do, we feel like he has a pretty good opportunity to do it. That definitely helps us overall on the offense.
Q: Is the expectation that he can be as good as was in the past after his injuries?
BB: We’ll just keep day to day. I don’t know.
Q: Do they stand their defensive ends up?
BB: Not much. Yeah, not much ‘ they’re usually down.
Q: Do they pretty much play the whole game?
BB: Yeah. They roll them inside a little bit but most of the time they’re on the edge. But they do have a couple three defensive end packages.
Q: Is there any background with [GM] Dave Gettleman? In addition, what imprint do you see him putting on the team?
BB: I think the imprint is obvious. What their approach is on the defensive line is very similar to what the Giants did. They drafted [Kawann] Short and [Star] Lotulelei to go with the ends that they had. They have that same kind of front that the Giants had, where they had, I’d say, more defensive linemen than you can play at once but they either play them in a rotation or like the Giants, they moved [Mathias] Kiwanuka to linebacker on early downs and that type of thing. I think the idea is to try to get these guys, get depth, get quality and depth at the defensive line positions and build around it. Obviously they have a good middle linebacker and [Thomas] Davis is a good linebacker too, so when they go to nickel, they have two very active linebackers there. Fast guys that are productive to go with the defensive front, so I think they’re building from the front seven, which is, I’d say, similar to what the Giants did. The Giants had a string of big draft choices there, going all the way back to [Michael] Strahan, but Kiwanuka, JPP [Jason Pierre-Paul], drafted a couple inside guys and signed [Chris] Canty from Dallas a few years ago. [Carolina] bringing Dwan Edwards back, I think there’s definitely some similarities to building the depth at that position that Dave’s ‘ looks like that’s what he’s trying to do. I don’t know, you’d have to ask him, but looks like it.
Q: Ron Rivera coached for Buddy Ryan and Jim Johnson. He said with Buddy, he would blitz any time and with Johnson, it was more of a controlled blitz. Is that reflected in what you see from Carolina’s defense with Sean McDermott?
BB: No, I don’t see that. I think they’re primarily a zone team. Then they have some pressure zones, blitz zones, where they’re bringing one or two guys off a side and drop ends into coverage and that type of thing. Then they, obviously, play some man. But some of their man is just zone that’s matched so it’s zone and then they just match the receivers when they come into the zone. Some of it is pure zone. Then they do play some man, but less than a lot of other teams ‘ certainly less than Buddy played, which was mainly man based. Jimmy Johnson played mainly man too. I would say this is ‘ look, they’re a good defensive team. I’m just saying their style of play is more zone, blitz zone oriented. They do a lot of four-man rushes, kind of like the Giants did, going back to the group. We were talking about them, getting a lot of pressure with the front four. They don’t need to blitz a lot. They do it and they get production out of it. But they’re not a big man-to-man team. They play it, but it’s more of a change up for them. I would say it’s quite a bit different from what Jimmy and Buddy ran. But more like what Rivera ran when he was at San Diego.
Q: Are you guys able to simulate Cam Newton in practice?
BB: I don’t know if there’s any other team in the league that can simulate Cam Newton. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s a very athletic guy. I think our quarterbacks can throw, but they can’t run like Cam can.
Q: For guys like Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, are they in a tough spot because they want to get after him but they want to stay honest because he can run?
BB: Well, we’ve seen plenty of running quarterbacks. We saw it from obviously Geno Smith and [E.J.] Manuel. Every week, we’re in a tough spot. Sitting here talking about Matt Ryan and now we’re talking about Cam Newton. They’re different but they’re both really good players and they each bring their own challenges. Every week is a challenge. Cam has his style of play and his game and that’s a challenge for us, but so do all the other guys we’ve played. [Ben] Roethlisberger ‘ that was a challenge. It’s a challenge every week, it’s the National Football League.
Q: Based on the numbers, Stephen Gostkowski is having one of his best seasons. Do you feel that way?
BB: Yeah, I think he’s had good year, yup. He’s kicked off well. Other than the field goal before the half in the first Jet game, he’s been really consistent with his field goal and extra point kicking. He’s had a good year.
Q: With the weather getting colder, I think he grew up in Buffalo and played college ball in Memphis ‘ did that play any role at all when you were thinking of drafting him?
BB: No, I wouldn’t say so ‘ or minimal. You don’t discount it. All the information you have on a player is somewhat relevant, I don’t want to say it’s not relevant. He had a good career at Memphis. He was a good athlete, he played baseball. He’s a competitive athlete. He did more than just kick, he played competitively in baseball. I think that that was certainly attractive to his overall approach and training for the game, his position, his mental stability, mental toughness, concentration, all those things. I think those were a lot bigger factors than where he grew up.
Q: How much of a difference does that make when the kicker fits in on the game because he’s a good athlete that has that experience?
BB: I think it’s definitely a plus. We had that with Adam [Vinatieri] when he was here. I think the fact that they grew up in cold weather, I don’t think that hurt them ‘ South Dakota or Buffalo, wherever it is. Guys like Adam and Steve, that train with the players, did their offseason program, conditioned with them, it just overall helps the chemistry and the makeup of the team. I don’t think it’s a necessity. I’ve been on plenty of teams where the kickers, that wasn’t the case. But, you know, it was true when Matt Bahr was here. I was with Matt at the Giants and then he was here earlier, actually it was before I got here because Adam was here in ‘96. But I guess it was with the Giants, but guys like that, that’s certainly a plus. But again, I don’t think that’s a necessity. I think there are plenty of kickers that that’s not who they are and still they’re really good players and they’re good kickers in the league.
Q: Adam and Steve are good athletes. Have you ever told a kicker to stay away from trying to tackle because of injury concerns?
BB: No, but I obviously some guys are better than others. Again, I’ve been fortunate. I’ve had a lot of those guys. [Dave] Jennings at the Giants was a very good athlete. In fact when they had one of those competitions back in the early ‘80s, he actually won it over a bunch of other guys that were position players. Tom Tupa, who we had at Cleveland and was here in ‘96, he was a terrific athlete. Overall, I’d say we’ve been pretty fortunate to have guys that were athletic or punters that at least had good hand-eye coordination, were holders and able to handle the ball cleanly and sometimes do some things with it.
Q: When you’re playing a team you haven’t seen in four years, with new coaches and coordinators and a new quarterback, you can’t really use your old film so much. How do you look at film to pick apart how they do specific things?
BB: I think it all starts in the offseason. When you have a team like this or like we had with Atlanta and New Orleans earlier in the year, you look at them and you go through the 2012 season and you see what they makeup of the team is, what they’re trying to do, what their basic makeup is, what they’re successful at, what they have trouble with. Then as you look at this season, you kind of compile it a little bit with last year. if it’s the same, then it’s the same. if it’s different, then what are the differences and why have they gone the way they’ve gone? Is it because of personnel? Is it because they’ve changed their philosophy? What is it? I think that’s the way you try to get a handle of a team. when you have a new team like we started with this year, with the Jets, with a new coordinator, we knew Marty [Mornhinweg] but he was new there and Buffalo with again, a new staff there with Doug [Marrone] coming from Syracuse and so forth, you don’t really have much to go on. You’re looking at maybe the coordinator with a different team and different personnel, you’re kind of penciling in a game plan but there are a lot of unknowns. But I think if you look at a team like Carolina, with I know [Mike] Shula is a new coordinator but he was there and obviously there was going to be a carryover from what Rob [Chudzinski] did and Rivera was there. You have a lot better idea from year to year. I would say we took our notes from 2012, put them with what we had this year and I would say there a lot of things that are the same. The things that are different, we’ve noted those and said, ‘OK, it looks like they’ve made a little bit of a shift here. It’s a little bit different from what we saw in the offseason but we understand why they’re doing it and so forth.’ I think it all starts in the offseason. If you just try to pick up and watch three or four films on a team that you don’t know very well, from not having played them in three or four years, you can easily miscalculate something whether it’s their personnel, maybe you’re seeing a guy that’s not quite 100 percent and then you get him and he is 100 percent or you don’t see a guy for whatever reason, do what he can really do and then all the sudden ti hits you and then you get surprised by it. Or scheme-wise, you see something that you should have seen but you just didn’t do enough homework on it. You try not to let that happen. That can happen if you only look at a couple games on a team, even though they’re the most recent ones.
Q: Carolina runs the ball and takes a lot of time off the clock and leads the league in time of possession. What does that stat mean and what does it tell you about Carolina? How much stock do you put in that stat?
BB: I think it’s like probably a lot of stats that we could talk about in here. I think it’s relevant, I certainly don’t think it’s as important as points. The time of possession is a function of, as you said, running the ball and taking time off the clock. It’s also a function of not being on the field very much defensively, which they’re not. So when you look at their third-down conversions on offense, which is very good, and the amount of plays that they play on defense ‘ first of all, they don’t give up very many points. They’ve played from ahead quite a bit, which anytime you play from ahead, in the second half of the game, you normally would have a time of possession advantage, just because of the situation in the game, not necessarily that that’s the game, but that’s the situation of the game. They’ve been in that position a number of times. I think there are some factors that are involved in that. They’re definitely a ‘ they’re not a fast tempo offense, that’s not really their deal, at least that hasn’t been. I’m not saying they can’t do it, but it’s not like they’re trying to see how fast they can get to the line of scrimmage and run the play. They change personnel, they run the ball, they run the ball on third down more than any team in the league. They convert a lot of third downs, so that keeps them on the field for extended possessions. They have a lot of long drives. They haven’t had a ton of like, 80-yard plays. They haven’t had a lot of those this year. They had one 70-yard pass play, or whatever it was, to [Brandon] LaFell. But they’re not having that kind of big play so they’re grinding it out, they’re making first downs, they’re getting off the field on defense and then they’re back out there again grinding it out, getting first downs. That’s why you have an eight-minute time of possession discrepancy in their favor. I don’t think that’s good or bad. I think that’s the way they play and it’s definitely working for them, so it’s good. It’s really how they’re total team plays. They play a good complementary game. They don’t get a lot of penalties so they don’t give up a lot of extra possessions on defense on personal foul and defensive interference penalties and stuff like that. They don’t stop a lot of drives with offensive penalties with false starts and holdings and all that stuff. They’re usually offensively moving the ball forward and defensively they make you beat them. They make you execute play after play after play after play to get the ball in the end zone. People have a lot of trouble doing that, so that’s kind of their formula. They like to return the ball in the return game. They have a fast returner; get the ball in his hands. He’s an explosive guy that’s very dangerous and it’s created some good field position for them. The kicker has made all his kicks except one last week. they have a punter with a strong leg, can change field position. They play a good complementary game in all three phases. They don’t make a lot of mistakes, they’re well coached, they play with good fundamentals and techniques, don’t turn the ball over much, turn it over a lot on defense. That’s all part of the winning formula, which I would say all those things are more important than time of possessions. I think time of possession is kind of a function of third-down conversions and playing from ahead and converting third downs than it is just time of possessions ‘ we had the ball more than you did. I think it’s the other things that they’re doing that are causing them to have the ball more.
Q: Are you seeing them execute those things a lot better the last five games than the start? Are there any other major differences?
BB: Well, I mean, they lost the Buffalo game on the last play. So they obviously very easily could have won that one. They were ahead of Seattle 7-6 to midway in the fourth quarter, which that’s a pretty good football team. [They] get beat on a long pass play then drive the ball all the way down the field, then they fumbled the ball on the five-yard line going in. It would have put them ahead 13-12 if they had scored and the fumbled the ball on whatever it was, the five-yard line, eight-yard line. Those two games, they could have very easily won. The Arizona game, they got beat against Arizona. Arizona played well, that wasn’t their best game. I wouldn’t say it’s ‘ they look like the same team to me. You take a couple plays out of that game or take a couple plays out of the San Francisco game and you know, they could have gone either way. You still see a good football team, that’s doing a lot of things well. They’re either winning of they’re coming down to the final possession. They could easily have eight wins, nine wins here. Other than the Arizona game, there’s no reason why they couldn’t beat Buffalo and Seattle, they were ahead late in the fourth quarter in both those games. They were ahead and then they were behind against San Francisco and came back and kicked a field goal and ran out the clock and had a stop on defense. They’re doing what they need to do to win in the fourth quarter. They’re playing real good in the first half. They’re playing great in the first quarter, good in the first half so they’re ahead. It’s a good, solid football team.