GOLDBERG ON FOOTBALL: No. 13 easier than 11 and 12 for Pats Print
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Sunday, 09 December 2007 16:17
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 FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -When Bill Belichick finds a weakness in an opponent, he exploits it, exploits it, exploits it ...
Which is as good a way as any to explain why his New England Patriots are 13-0, three victories away from a perfect regular season and back in the form they showed before they stumbled a bit in their past two games.
In this case, the Pittsburgh Steelers' weakness in the Patriots' 34-13 win Sunday was that, for most of the second half, they were missing three of the four guys who started the season in the secondary. So the Patriots, as usual, eschewed conventional wisdom and played as if it were a touch football game on a sandlot, simply throwing down the field - in at least one case with a play that came right off the sandlot.
``We thought we had the matchups there,'' Belichick said when asked why the Patriots went into the final three minutes of the game without having called a run in the second half. Or very many in the first half, although they did manage to run four times before intermission.
One of the hoariest chestnuts in the coaches' lexicon is ``balanced attack.'' But Belichick doesn't believe in hoary chestnuts, so New England won a game in which it ran for 22 yards and passed for 399.
It hasn't happened yet this season, but you can bet if Belichick found the opposite kind of matchup, the Patriots might beat someone by rushing for 399 and passing for 22.
The most blatant example of the Patriots' strategy came early in the fourth quarter after they stopped the Steelers on a fourth-down play at the New England 1. Conventional wisdom is that in those situations, especially with a 31-13 lead, a team muscles its way out, if nothing else getting enough room for its punter to put the opposition back on the other side of midfield and to use up time.
Not Belichick.
With the ball back there on the 1 against a team that was statistically the stingiest defense in the NFL, he had Tom Brady throw. And throw. And throw.
Specifically, he threw to Wes Welker, who is listed at 5-foot-9 but is closer to 5-6 or 5-7. First completion was for 22 yards to the 23, then for 11, then for 7, then for 15 to the Pittsburgh 44, then for 8 to the Pittsburgh 36.
``I kept thinking, 'Hey, Wes has enough. Throw it to someone else,' `` said Randy Moss, who got his yardage in larger chunks: seven catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
If Moss had said that to Belichick, the coach would have replied ``Why?''
Yes, the Patriots have superior players. But they also have a coach who simply does what works, over and over until the other guys figure out a way to stop it. In this case, why not exploit a secondary without starting safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark and then without cornerback Deshea Townsend, who went out in the third quarter?
He also doesn't mind gadgets like the one that broke open this game: a long, cross-field lateral to Moss, who dropped the ball, picked it up, and threw it back across the field to Brady. The star quarterback then threw it 63 yards to Jabar Gaffney for a touchdown. That was the first play of New England's first possession of the second half and it turned a 17-13 lead into 24-13.
And no, Moss' drop wasn't designed. Even the dour Belichick smiled when he heard someone ask if it was.
Off this game, the Patriots seem back on track.
Pittsburgh is 9-4 and one game ahead of Cleveland in the AFC North. It likely will be seeded third in the conference playoffs and is certainly a better team than the Ravens and Eagles, who came within three points of New England in the Pats' last two games.
The party line is still game to game in New England.
``I just want to be 14-0,'' Brady said when asked if he was thinking about an unbeaten season.
But subtly, the players are thinking ahead.
``This is the point in the year when we're going to have to start playing our best football,'' offensive tackle Matt Light said. ``I don't think anyone can say we've been doing that the past couple of weeks. It's good to be back on track.''
Yes, for two weeks, the Patriots looked beatable. No longer, in part because their coach eschews conventional wisdom.
 

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