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Does Belichick have a plan?



Published: Sun, February 3, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Like the rest of you, I'll be on the edge of my lounge chair today, almost breathless with anticipation and excitement over what is just a few hours from transpiring.

And that's just the commercials.

I've seen some previews and it doesn't seem to me that this year's crop will hold a candle to the all-time best Super Bowl ads, namely, the Budweiser lizards and the ferret.

Likewise, when they actually get around to playing the game today it has the potential of being a super dud.

History not on their side: Football gamblers like their history. They point to the five previous games that have been played in the Louisiana Superdome and the average margin of victory in those games is 26 points.

They'll look at the Patriots' 0-2 record in the Super Bowl (defeats of 36 and 14 points).

Then there is the NFC's 8-1 record in Super Bowls played in domes. And the fact that the St. Louis Rams play in a dome.

And, the Rams already beat the Patriots, in the cold and on the grass in Foxboro, Mass., no less, 24-17 on Nov. 18.

There's a lot of reasons why this game could get out of hand.

And maybe only one why it won't: Bill Belichick.

I know what you're thinking.

Coach has changed: The guy known derisively as "Belichoke" during his five-year stay in Cleveland, the guy who unceremoniously dumped Bernie Kosar in 1994, that guy, might be the most important person on either sideline tonight.

Say what you will about Belichick (and frankly, who hasn't? Like the guy in Cleveland who called him "Leap Year," because he smiled once every four years.), he did a pretty nice job of turning around the Patriots' franchise.

One thing that hasn't changed about him is he isn't afraid to make personnel changes. He sure proved that to all of us with the Kosar debacle and he did it again last off-season, bringing in two dozen new faces to a New England squad that finished the 2000 season with a moribund 5-11 record.

He's still not the greatest interview in the world -- I still sometimes wake up in a cold sweat with the words "I'd have to look at the tape before I can give you answer" swirling through my brain -- but it seemed, in the wake of a victory last week that absolutely no one outside of the 13 colonies predicted, he had loosened up just a little.

But, for whatever personality foibles Belichick has, it's difficult to deny he has become quite adept at dissecting opposing offenses and devising a game plan to, if not stop them, at least slow them down a little.

Case in point: He did it last week, shutting off a Steelers' running game that led the NFL in the regular season and pushed around the Ravens a week before.

Belichick's plan was simple: Force Kordell Stewart to win the game. For all his success this season, it was not a task Stewart had been called upon to perform all season. And he failed miserably last Sunday, particularly with the outcome on the line in the final four minutes.

It will be a great deal more difficult today. Belichick will have to decide what part of the Rams offense he wants to take away: Move his men close to the line to key on Marshall Faulk and it leaves Kurt Warner open to connect with his speedy and sure-handed receivers; or have the cornerbacks sit back in coverage, and give Faulk running lanes.

Anything is possible of course; the Rams could turn the ball over a half-dozen times, as they did in their two losses.

The best scenario for New England would be to hold St. Louis to field goals, not touchdowns.

XRob Todor is sports editor of The Vindicator. Write to him at todor@vindy.com.




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