Opponents tend to freak out against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick just when they’re about to conquer the New England Patriots’ dynastic duo. The Philadelphia Eagles swear they won’t fall into that trap if they have the chance in Super Bowl 52.
The pair have built such a reputation of coming through in the clutch that foes often outthink themselves with conservative, uncommon or unconventional calls against the five-time champs.
Think Seattle in Super Bowl 49 and Atlanta in Super Bowl 51.
The Patriots have built an extreme confidence through five Super Bowl-winning seasons under Brady and Belichick and are disciplined when other teams get discombobulated, like last month when they sniffed out Ben Roethlisberger’s fake spike and intercepted him in the end zone, reshaping the AFC playoff picture.
“You’re basically talking about experience and knowing that no matter what the score is, it’s not insurmountable,” said ex-NFL quarterback Joe Theismann.
He pointed to Brady’s habit of making a few plays every game that swing momentum and Belichick’s knack for coaxing his counterparts into beating themselves — like the Indianapolis Colts did with their fake punt fiasco in 2015.
“The New England Patriots find a way to make a play when no one else seems to be able to do that,” Theismann said. “Teams that haven’t been in that situation don’t really understand the ability of New England teams to be able to overcome darn near anything.”
Like the 25-point second-half deficit Brady rallied the Patriots from in last year’s Super Bowl or the 10-point fourth-quarter hole he dug them out of against Jacksonville in the AFC championship last week.
“You’ve got to play a damn near perfect game against them,” lamented Jaguars safety Jarrod Wilson.
Therein lies the trap.
The Jaguars were on the verge of knocking off New England when a flurry of follies in Foxborough aided Brady’s two-TD rally that sent the seemingly impervious Patriots back to another Super Bowl.
“You can never have a safe lead with (No.) 12 at the helm,” Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson said. “… That’s Tom Brady, the greatest to ever lace up the cleats at the quarterback position.”
And Belichick, arguably the best to ever roam the sideline.
The Eagles swear they’re not going to give the Patriots any help next Sunday in Minneapolis.
“You know what? If I make this all about them, we’re in trouble,” coach Doug Pederson said. “Honestly. We’re in trouble. Everything’s going to be written about it, has been written about it, talked about it, discussed, debated and it’s about us. And I’ll keep saying that. It’s about what we do and how well we execute and I can’t worry about that.”
The Eagles (15-3), who statistically can make the case for being the best opponent Brady and Belichick have ever faced in the Super Bowl, don’t see themselves getting out of their comfort zone against New England (15-3).
“Doug is going to do what got us to this point,” right tackle Lane Johnson said. “Just because you’re in a big stage doesn’t mean you have to do anything out of the ordinary to make bigger plays. Don’t make the moment bigger than what it is.”
The Patriots may need no assistance but that hasn’t stopped teams from helping them out like Jacksonville did last week with a delay penalty coming out of a timeout and a rushed punt that essentially gave Brady an extra timeout before halftime.
“I think why the Patriots are so good is because they capitalize off people making those mistakes,” Johnson said. “They don’t make mistakes, hardly. They’re well-coached. You don’t necessarily have to be the most talented team. You saw last year they weren’t the most talented team. Yet, they’re the best team because they function together well and they’re coached well.”
New England safety Duron Harmon said the Patriots never panic like so many other teams because they rehearse adversity so well and so often in practice.
“We go over every type of situation that you can think of,” Harmon said.
Theismann said Belichick is simply the best at teaching “if somebody’s going to beat us, they’re going to have to beat us; we’re not going to beat ourselves.”
“What New England does is New England preaches discipline and understanding your job,” Theismann said, singling out lieutenants Josh McDaniels and Dan Patricia in addition to Belichick, who, along with his personnel assistants, identifies coachable players who fit in.
“Think about it: You never see Bill Belichick run up the sideline and call a timeout because the time clock’s running out,” Theismann said. “You don’t see Bill’s players making those kids of errors. I mean, I was very fortunate to play for Joe Gibbs and Joe was the same type of game manager, where he was aware and he made me aware of all the possible circumstances and situations that you deal with.
“For example, when you’re coming out of your own end zone, if you’re backed up inside your own 3-yard line, it’s a great time to run a hard count because you’re only going to get a yard and a-half penalty. Instead of first-and-10, it’s going to be first-and-11. But you do have the possibility of making it first-and-5.
“There is a game within the game that the Patriots play better than anybody.”
They have a fistful of rings as a result.