Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been voted the best coach in the NFL for years on end.
You can see why when you look at how he’s outfoxed his opponents — again and again.
Belichick has earned a reputation as a talent genius.
That includes what might be the greatest draft pick in history: taking Michigan quarterback Tom Brady in the sixth round in 2000.
'The thing with Brady was really the traits: his work ethic, his intelligence, his decision-making,' Belichick said in an interview. 'I think a lot of the draft process is (about) not where the player is right now, but where the player will be a year from now. I don't think I've ever seen a player improve as much as Tom did. That's certainly a big credit to his work ethic and his determination.'
It paid off: Brady has two MVP awards, three Super Bowl wins, and 10 Pro Bowl selections.
Flash back to November 2003. The Broncos are up 24-23 on the Patriots with 2 minutes 51 seconds left in the game. The Pats are in the perilous position of 4th and 10 from their own 1 yard line.
'Belichick was unwilling to give the Broncos strong field position, so he ordered his long snapper to air one over his punter's head, giving the Broncos two points on the safety and possession,' John McTigue reports for ESPN.
The Patriots forced the Broncos to go three-and-out, and Brady had over two minutes to come back and score the winning touchdown.
Belichick listed Brady on the Patriots' injury report for three years straight.
During that time, Brady played 127 straight games.
Crazy, right? Anything to confuse opponents.
It had an effect on how the league operates.
'The NFL has altered the format for the injury report, in part because of the Patriots,' the Boston Globe reported.
In 2008, Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 1. Matt Cassell stepped in as the starter that season, passing for over 3,500 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. Belichick promptly traded him away to the Chiefs for a second-round pick.
Five years later, Belichick used another Brady backup as trade bait: Ryan Mallett was sent to the Houston Texans for a late-round draft choice.
The underlying story: Belichick maximizes value every time.
When the Patriots are rolling on offence, the game looks more like basketball than football.
By turning up the tempo, Brady can find and exploit weaknesses in the defence -- and force them to stay that way.
As Deadspin writer Chris Brown detailed:
Modern defenses want to match offenses in terms of strength and speed via personnel substitutions. They also want to confuse offenses with movement and disguise. The up-tempo no-huddle stymies those defensive options.
The defence doesn't have time to substitute, and it's also forced to show its hand: It can't disguise or shift because the quarterback can snap the ball and take advantage of some obvious, structural weakness.
And when the defence is forced to reveal itself, Tom Brady can change into a better play. The upshot of this tactic: Brady, of all people, sees defenses that are simpler than those most other NFL quarterbacks go up against.
Like with the six-receiver play against the Ravens on Jan. 10, the no-huddle strategy is an example of Belichick capitalising on the structure of the game itself.
In 2013, the Patriots had a public relations catastrophe when former tight end Aaron Hernandez was indicted for murder.
But Patriots players knew how to handle the media intensity.
Take it from former Patriots lineman Ross Tucker:
Quotes from the players when asked about the Hernandez situation in the coming days will be almost identical because that is what they will be told to say. I spent seven years in the NFL with five different teams, and I had never had a coach spend as much time talking about the media (as Belichick) and there was no close second.
Again, Belichick knows the power of information -- and teaches his players to respect it, too.
Late in the 2013 season, the Patriots were hosting the Denver Broncos. The game went into overtime.
The Pats won the toss. They then elected to defer.
The reason? Winds were gusting at over 25 miles an hour at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
Instead of taking the ball, Belichick took the wind.
It worked: Denver kicker Matt Prater didn't think he could knock in a 37-yard game winner with that much wind in his face, and the Pats won with the winds at their backs.
In September 2014, the Patriots were struggling.
When reporters asked him about the team's perceived weaknesses, he said some version of 'we're on to Cincinnati' five times in a row.
The transcript is gold:
Reporter: Do you feel like the talent you have here is good?
Belichick: We're getting ready for Cincinnati.
Reporter: Do you think you've done enough to help Tom Brady?
Belichick: We're getting ready for Cincinnati. That's what we're doing.
On Jan. 10, the Patriots came back to win against the Ravens with a little bit of cunning.
For three plays, Belichick's offence set up with only four offensive lineman and a wide receiver lined up in the traditional left tackle spot.
After the game, Ravens coach John Harbaugh objected to the tactic, saying, 'It was clearly deception.'
'We had six eligible receivers on the field, but only five were eligible,' Belichick retorted.
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