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Why New England Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick is football’s ‘greatest tactician’

The New England Patriots have won their sixth Super Bowl. It was a contest between the oldest coach-quarterback duo, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, and the youngest, the Los Angeles Rams’ Sean McVay and Jason Goff. It was also the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever. John Yang talks to Washington Posts sports columnist Sally Jenkins about the detailed discipline of the Belichick-Brady "perfect storm."

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    The New England Patriots long dynasty kept rolling along last night. It may not have been their most elegant Super Bowl win, but, love them or hate them, the Patriots' combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady remains the dominant force of this NFL era.

    John Yang looks now at the secrets of their success.

  • John Yang:

    It wasn't one for the ages, far from the high-scoring showdown many had predicted between the oldest Super Bowl coach-quarterback duo, the Patriots' Belichick and Brady, and the youngest, the Rams' McVay and Goff. Both offenses struggled. It was the lowest scoring Super Bowl ever.

  • Announcer:

    And that ball is intercepted!

  • John Yang:

    Brady's first pass of the night was intercepted.

  • Announcer:

    Tom Brady picked off on the first series!

  • John Yang:

    The defenses dominated most of the game.

  • Announcer:

    And he is walloped to his knees, and it's incomplete. Here it is.

  • John Yang:

    And neither team scored a touchdown for the first three quarters.

    It was well into the fourth quarter, with the score tied at 3, before New England's offense and Brady finally came alive, setting up the night's first and only touchdown.

  • Announcer:

    Running it for the touchdown!

  • John Yang:

    That put the Patriots ahead for good, 10-3.

  • Announcer:

    The dynasty continues!

  • John Yang:

    It was the title number six for Brady, the most for any NFL player, and for Belichick, the most for any head coach. All of the wins were hard-fought battles.

  • Bill Belichick:

    None of us felt good about where we were, but we just kept grinding away and kept plugging away, and things got better.

  • John Yang:

    Rams coach Sean McVay acknowledged Belichick's superiority.

  • Sean McVay:

    They did a great job. It was a great game plan. And no other way to say it, but I got outcoached tonight.

  • John Yang:

    For more on the Patriots and their dominance of the NFL, Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins joins us from Atlanta, where she covered the game last night.

    Sally, thanks so much for joining us.

    So, the last 18 seasons, the Patriots have appeared in the Super Bowl nine times. They have won six times. Last week, before the game, you said the Patriots' franchise was a snarling, unkillable monster.

    How do they do it?

  • Sally Jenkins:

    Well, the first secret is Bill Belichick, who's quite simply the greatest tactician in the history of the game.

    He's got an absolutely encyclopedic knowledge of the history of football. He's got formations he can pull out of his back pocket, as he did last night, that just absolutely embarrassed a young brilliant team.

    The most interesting thing that the Patriots did in the postseason was, they just destroyed the two hottest young offensive teams in the league.

  • John Yang:

    The Rams last night and…

  • Sally Jenkins:

    The Kansas City Chiefs with their quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, who's the 23-year-old MVP of the entire league.

    He made those teams look like teenagers.

  • John Yang:

    You talk about Bill Belichick. He is very secretive. But you were able to write about a little bit — give us a glimpse a little bit of what he does in practice.

    And you talked about his attention to detail and always correcting things, always trying to get things right. Talk a little bit more about that.

  • Sally Jenkins:

    Well, if you talk to former players, people who've actually been in that building — and you have to really scour for any little detail about what they do — but you can — you can gradually sort of scrape together a little bit of a picture of what goes on inside that building and their practice field.

    And their attention to detail is so fine that one thing they practice is literally how to sprint back to the official and hand him the football between plays during the two-minute offense at the end of the game, because they don't want to waste even a half-of-a-second.

    And so they actually drill and repeat and drill and repeat how to get that football back to the referee. So many teams, you will see a player just toss the ball casually to the official. And it might drop on the ground and sort of roll around for a half-a-second. The Patriots don't do that.

    That's how extreme their attention to detail really is.

  • John Yang:

    How much of the Patriots' success is Belichick? How much is Brady, Tom Brady, the quarterback? And how much of it is the combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady?

  • Sally Jenkins:

    Well, that's a very mysterious question. And it's difficult to answer.

    Either one of them is like that game of Jenga, where if you pull out the wrong stick, the entire tower collapses. It's a very intriguing question, whether, without Tom Brady, Bill Belichick would have been quite the architect that he is, because Brady makes every right decision.

    And that's really hard to find among NFL quarterbacks. His supreme knowledge of the game really almost matches Belichick's. On the other hand, if you took Bill Belichick away, look how many great quarterbacks, like, for instance, a Tony Romo, play the game at a high level, and yet never get to one Super Bowl.

    I mean, history is replete with guys like that, who are — some of whom are even in the Hall of Fame, and yet never won the big game. So it really is the perfect storm, the fact that Tom Brady wound up on that team.

    But it's also, I think, ultimately a testament to Bill Belichick's knowledge of drafting good unsung players. I think, without that knowledge, Tom Brady's never on that team in the first place. And so you might come down a little bit on the side of Belichick as the most essential personality in that franchise.

  • John Yang:

    Tom Brady last night became the oldest quarterback to appear in a Super Bowl, much less win a Super Bowl. Are there any signs that he or this team is done yet?

  • Sally Jenkins:

    None. That's the scary thing.

    I have never seen anything like it. And I have done this a long time now. And a team usually suffers from exhaustion with winning. There's a heavy price to pay for winning. People don't talk about it very much. But it's actually quite exhausting. The demands on your time, go way, way up. The distractions go way, way up.

    Success can sometimes really corrupt and ruin a team and their work ethic. Jealousies take hold in the locker room. Your salary structure gets all messed up.

    None of that has happened. The inner discipline inside that organization is truly remarkable. They never sacrifice their salary structure to hold onto a star, a star player. They never do that. They never credit one player unduly, to the point that it becomes a problem in the locker room.

    They have been almost religious on that subject. If you ask Bill Belichick why he doesn't give Tom Brady more credit verbally, which has been an issue at times, he will tell you, there's 52 other guys on that team that I value just as much.

    That's really an interesting aspect of the organization that is seldom remarked on, but I think is really the heart of that team.

  • John Yang:

    Sally Jenkins giving us insight into the juggernaut that is the New England Patriots, thanks very much, Sally.

  • Sally Jenkins:

    Thank you for having me.

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