American Football: Relentless Belichick will not fear Giants on the road to perfection

At some point in the early hours of tomorrow morning, Bill Belichick might allow himself a smile of satisfaction and perhaps a small glass of something sparkling, but given a demeanour that makes Gordon Brown appear positively charismatic, don't bet on it.

Belichick is the head coach of the New England Patriots, and if his side prevails against the New York Giants in the regular season finale, they will be the first team in 35 years to go undefeated through a season: 16 games, 16 victories.

They will then have the opportunity to join the Miami Dolphins of 1972 and conclude a perfect campaign by progressing through next month's playoffs, and on to Phoenix, Arizona, for Super Bowl XLII on 3 February. The Las Vegas oddsmakers like their chances, and, after the season the Patriots have enjoyed, it is not hard to see why.

Already the most successful franchise of the new millennium, with three Super Bowl titles in the last six seasons, the Patriots, under the cranky, idiosyncratic, but unquestionably brilliant leadership of Belichick are now standing on the threshold of sporting immortality.

Since 1920, when the National Football League first began keeping official records, and long-forgotten names like the Akron Pros and the Rock Island Independents ruled the gridiron, only the Dolphins of 1972 have won every time they played.

The feat is considered the holy grail of American football. Other great teams and legendary players have tried, and failed, to emulate them.

The San Francisco 49ers of Joe Montana, John Elway's Denver Broncos, the Chicago Bears of 1985, and Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts as recently as 2005, all threatened, but even when Super Bowl success was ultimately achieved, somebody, somewhere, had first managed to put a blemish on their record.

"If going unbeaten was that easy, wouldn't a lot of other teams have done it by now?" asked Larry Little, one of Miami's "Class of 72" earlier this month. "We're the only ones." Well, for the next few weeks they are.

The Patriots had served notice that they were serious about another Super Bowl assault back in the summer, when they strengthened an already imposing squad with some astute acquisitions. Belichick added the versatile Adalius Thomas to bolster a talented defensive unit, but the more pressing need was to upgrade his offense.

He already possessed one of the great quarterbacks of the era, the highly efficient Tom Brady, but defeat in a play-off game against Indianapolis last season showed Belichick that having a great quarterback was useless if he was undermined by second-rate receivers.

In came the smooth Dont Stallworth from Philadelphia, and the tough, scrappy Wes Welker from Miami. But the real masterstroke was the acquisition of the troubled but talented receiver Randy Moss. Brady now had the benefit of a receiver who possessed the size, speed and safe hands to wreak havoc against any opposition. But would he also wreak havoc in his own locker-room, as he had apparently done at Oakland and Minnesota?

Whether it is the understated leadership of Belichick, the presence of the ultra-professional Brady, or simply the fact that the Patriots have enjoyed great success, the gamble on Moss has paid off massively. He has proved himself a true team player, the quality Belichick demands above all else.

With those new components in place, the Patriots began the season as expected, with a comfortable victory against the New York Jets, a team coached by Eric Mangini, a former Belichick protg who had upset his mentor by leaving New England for the Jets.

Afterwards Mangini accused Belichick of secretly filming the Jets' sideline during the game, an act outlawed by the NFL.

Caught red-handed, Belichick was fined $500,000 (250,000), and branded a cheat. His public response was simply to apologise for his "mistake" and insist that any further questions be about the next opponents on New England's schedule.

It was classic Belichick. The team and the next opponent are all that matter. Secrecy is paramount. But there is a creative edge to his paranoia too, and many believe he has turned the shame of being caught cheating to his advantage. It was time to circle the wagons, to show they could win without recourse to dishonest tactics. The Patriots went on to leave nobody in any doubt of their supremacy.

Through the first eight games of the season, no rival came within 17 points of the rampant Patriots. In week nine the Colts, defending Super Bowl champions, gave them a stern test, but two fourth-quarter Brady touchdown passes ensured victory.

The Baltimore Ravens had them beaten, only to self-destruct by calling a time-out as a desperate fourth-down attempt by New England failed, thereby giving their rivals another chance to make the play. Duly reprieved, Brady got it right second time around.

Are the Patriots the best team of all time, better even than the perfect Dolphins? A direct comparison is impossible. In Miami's day, it was easier to keep a squad of players together, nor were there salary-cap issues. The Dolphins had to play only two teams with a winning record; the Patriots have had to deal with strong opponents like the Colts, San Diego and Dallas. However, the Dolphins played for most of their perfect season with their second-string quarterback, Earl Morrall, after their starter, Bob Griese, was injured. It is impossible to believe that the Patriots would have been so successful without Brady.

Yet, they are alike in that there is no place for the star system. Neither Belichick, nor his Miami counterpart, Don Shula, would countenance it. "They are the closest team to how we played that I've seen in 35 years," said the former Miami defender, Dick Anderson. "They are well coached. They do not make mental errors. They play as a team. Somebody always steps up and makes a play."

It is just a shame nobody ever seems to step up and quicken the pulse. With the Patriots, there is none of the drama of Montana or Elway, or of Green Bay's dazzling Brett Favre, or of John Riggins, powering the Washington Redskins onwards. There is no one on the defensive side like the wrecking-ball Lawrence Taylor of the Giants, or "Samurai" Mike Singletary, nostrils flaring, as his Chicago Bears bludgeoned their rivals into submission.

Great players, not polished, accomplished teams, most stick in the memory, but in Belichick's world, pragmatism wins out over personality every time, and whatever happens over the next few weeks, the Patriots have set a new standard in grinding, relentless efficiency. Belichick and his players will doubtless take that as the ultimate compliment.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Manager, Spanish, London Bridge

£30,000 + 20K Commssion: Charter Selection: This rapidly expanding organisatio...

Account Manager, London Bridge

£30,000 + 20K Commssion: Charter Selection: This rapidly expanding organisatio...

English Teacher

£22000 - £36000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary English Teacher...

Content Manager - Central London

£35000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Central...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on