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The game was supposed to be about two legendary quarterbacks. Instead, it turned out to be about a singular legendary coach.
But that matchup turned out to be, well, boring. Instead, the most glamorous, sexy and fascinating aspect of the Patriots’ 31-17 win at Foxborough was watching Bill Belichick totally, completely and without mercy dismantle Packers coach Mike McCarthy.
If the coaching matchup was a game, Belichick would have won it, 300-0.
In some ways, it’s unfair to expect McCarthy to match Belichick. Few coaches can. Truly, the only person who’s ever flat outcoached Belichick was Tom Coughlin in two Super Bowls.
But that’s it. Most of the time, almost all of the time, Belichick outperforms his counterpart.
Yet what he did to McCarthy was a coaching ass-whoopin’.
Rodgers and the Packers kept it close. A bullet he threw to tight end Jimmy Graham tied the score at 17 in the third quarter. Green Bay’s defense was able to confuse Brady for part of the game.
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The problem for Rodgers was that while he was competing in a bland, uncreative offense of McCarthy’s apparent design, he also was trying to overcome an organization built on extreme competence and innovation.
The Patriots were playing without tight end Rob Gronkowski (who’s dealing with a back injury) and their best running back in Sony Michel (who’s still recovering from a knee injury suffered a couple of weeks back). Most coaches (in fact, almost all of them) would run a conservative offense. That is what McCarthy would do.
The Pats offense opened transwarp fast, scoring on a drive that was 10 plays long but lasted just over three minutes.
Later, the Patriots ran a flea-flicker from James White back to Brady, who threw it 33 yards to Julian Edelman, setting up a field goal early in the second quarter.
.@Patriots’ Flea Flicker executed to perfection. 💯 #GoPats
📺: #GBvsNE on NBC https://t.co/HRZAWWlOnz
When White had to later leave the game because of an injury, Belichick did some of his best work. The only other running back on the roster was Kenjon Barner. So Belichick, as he’s done a few times before this season, put wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson at running back. He scored from five yards out (en route to a 61-yard night on the ground) to give New England a 17-10 lead heading into halftime.
The Patriots were aggressive on defense as well. They were constantly in Rodgers’ face, and while he wasn’t sacked in the first half, he was pressured on multiple occasions. In the second half, the Pats finally got to Rodgers, sacking him once.
They weren’t done. Early in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 17, Brady threw to Edelman, who threw across the field to White, who rumbled for 37 yards to put Brady and Co. at the Packers’ 2-yard line.
Aggression wins in football. Not just in terms of physicality but in play-calling, too. And on Sunday, the Patriots had it; the Packers, well, if they had any, it wasn’t enough.
New England Patriots @Patriots
DOUBLE PASS ALERT‼
JULES ➡ JAMES
@Edelman11 | @SweetFeet_White | #GBvsNE https://t.co/ReqQcOZwSG
Green Bay suffers from a syndrome we can call GOAT Overreliance Syndrome. McCarthy has relied on Rodgers making so many plays, over so many seasons, that he hasn’t bothered to produce schemes that help Rodgers.
The Rams, the Saints, the Chiefs, the Patriots—all possess coaches who scheme receivers open, not just hope they can out-quick the secondary. Not McCarthy. He’s caught the GOAT Overreliance Syndrome and can’t shake it.
It’s a shame, really, as it took away from a duel of two of the NFL‘s greatest players, one built on mutual admiration. All week leading into the game, Brady and Rodgers talked about that fondness openly rather than trying to downplay it.
Once, at Packers training camp not long ago, Rodgers was sitting at his locker, talking football, when the subject of Brady arose. Rodgers’ face suddenly lit up. He saw Brady as one of the prototypes for the position. He was, Rodgers made it clear to me that day, what every quarterback aspired to be. Including Rodgers.
Steven Senne/Associated Press/Associated Press
Rodgers is that sort of guy now. It’s too bad there wasn’t much to admire from his sideline.
The Packers and Patriots aren’t scheduled to play again until the year 2022. That means that unless the two teams meet in the Super Bowl this year, Sunday likely was the last time we’ll see Brady and Rodgers play each other.
So enjoy this moment.
And remember that no matter how good these two QBs are, there may be only one coach who could overshadow them, and he did just that Sunday night.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.