The partnership of coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady has defined the NFL in this new century, starting with the 2001 season and arriving on Sunday in the spectacular football edifice in downtown Minneapolis.
There was much angst among defenders of our migrating birds that those huge glass panels making up its doors to the world would have a devastating effect on our feathered creatures.
I had the bird joke all ready to go when Belichick, Brady and the New England Patriots figured out a way to defeat Philadelphia — something corny, like the latest avian deaths at the stadium were a flock of Eagles.
Scratch that one. The Eagles won their first championship since 1960 in a 41-33 shootout, in which Brady gave the best that a quarterback can offer, and it appeared that Belichick had a bad night.
You went from asking the usual, “How did Belichick figure that out?” to “What is Belichick doing?”
The Eagles had the ball twice in the first quarter and cruised through the Patriots’ sorry excuse for a defense. First, Jake Elliott kicked a field goal and then Nick Foles threw a 34-yard touchdown to a marvelous Alshon Jeffery.
It was 9-3 when the Patriots got the ball for the second time. Brady promptly drove them down the field. Finally, they were at Philly’s 8 on fourth down and a foot.
Belichick sent in Stephen Gostkowski for the field goal. Holder Ryan Allen boxed the snap, and when he put it down, Gostkowski hit a goalpost.
The Patriots were able to get a punt out of the Eagles on the next possession. It came two minutes into the second period and would become the only punt in this game.
New England got the ball back at its 37, wound up at fourth-and-5 at the Eagles 35-yard-line, and went for it. The Patriots missed, and soon Philly was in the end zone again — on a 21-yard burst by ex-Patriot LeGarrette Blount.
This didn’t make a lot of sense to us civilians: Take 3 on fourth-and-a-foot, go for it on fourth-and-5.
And that wasn’t the extent of it: Where were Belichick’s famous defensive adjustments? Where was Malcolm Butler when nobody in the back end could cover a receiver?
Brady completed 28 of 48 passes for 505 yards and three touchdowns. He brought the Patriots all the way back, to a 33-32 lead with 9:22 left, but this time, there was no help from the defense.
Brady lost Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell, a second-year guy with a chance to emerge, as receivers to knee injuries before the season started.
Rob Gronkowski, the oft-injured mighty weapon at tight end, also missed two games during the season — and then suffered a concussion on a brutal hit by Jacksonville’s Barry Church in the AFC Championship Game.
The Patriots won 11 of the last 12 to finish 13-3 without Edelman and Mitchell. And then they completed a rally in the fourth quarter without Gronkowski against Jacksonville to gain a return to the Super Bowl.
The Patriots made the unusual move of trading for a big-time receiver last spring in Brandin Cooks. He proved to be the deeper receiving threat the Patriots sought, with 65 receptions for 1,082 yards and an average of 16.6 yards.
New England went into Sunday with Cooks and two midrange guys — Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan — for the three-receiver sets. Immediately, the game turned into a shootout, with Philadelphia leading 9-3 early in the second quarter.
New England was starting at its 37 and Brady found Cooks open past midfield. Cooks tried to cut back to his left and ran directly into Malcolm Jenkins, the Eagles’ vicious-hitting safety.
Cooks was laid out a couple of minutes, then went to the sideline, and soon it was announced that he would not return because of a “head injury.”
This left Brady with Gronkowski, Amendola, Hogan and reserve Phillip Dorsett. Brady wore out the Eagles with Gronkowski in the second half.
Brady did his part and more in Super Bowl No. 8. Belichick … not so much.