At one point Sunday night during New England’s 41-16 dismantling of Denver, NBC flashed a graphic showing that Bill Belichick was about to tie Tom Landry for third place on the all-time coaching wins list. The cameras focused on Belichick on the sideline. As usual, he looked like a member of the grounds crew. A fairly unkempt one, with a gray Patriots hoodie, the hood askew over Belichick’s head and his headset, making the image even weirder.
I thought of Tom Landry on the sideline. Hart, Schaffner & Marx suit, white shirt with every button buttoned, conservative necktie, stylish fedora and spit-shined wing tips. He looked like a “Mad Men” senior exec.
Appearances aside, you know what Landry and Belichick had in common, don’t you? Both were extremely serious Giants defensive coordinators for six seasons, a generation apart: Landry from 1954 to ’59, Belichick from 1985 to ’90.
Fitting they are linked now on the all-time wins list, though not for long. Belichick has miles to go before he sleeps, and he may just catch George Halas (number two, 54 wins away), though likely not Don Shula (number one, 77 wins away). Belichick versus Landry, whose career record is different because, in part, he coached for 18 of his 29 seasons with a 14-game schedule, while Belichick has always coached 16 regular-season games:
The other thing I noticed Sunday night: These two coaches did it their way. Different ways. The Patriots demolished Denver with the same triggerman as always, Tom Brady, but so many fledgling pieces—first-year back Rex Burkhead scored a touchdown and blocked a punt, off-and-on factor Dion Lewis scored two touchdowns, vet tight end Martellus Bennett (who just arrived on campus Friday) caught three passes, and the Patriots made four game-changing plays on special teams. Dallas had a more solid base of players led by Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro, Roger Staubach (after Landry finally settled on his QB, following a few years of a Staubach-Craig Morton competition) and, later, Randy White. When New England got transient, the Patriots still won. When Dallas got transient, Landry began to struggle. Different styles, winning in different ways. Belichick almost seems to relish the roster churn, and with five Super Bowl victories, he’s had different stalwarts on each team. Only Brady stays the same.
Bennett, with a bum shoulder, got to New England late Thursday night, signed, and reported for duty Friday morning. You wouldn’t think of Belichick as a charmer, and he’s not. But players play for him, or they’re not going to play for him. “Bill was like, ‘Can you practice?’” Bennett said. “I said I just want to go to sleep right now.’ He said, ‘Oh, it’s Friday. Just go out there and get some snaps.’ I think he knows how to talk to me. So I’m like, ‘All right, I’ll go out there.’”
One other thing Landry and Belichick share: They’re taciturn, but it never looks like the game is eating them alive. Thus Landry can stay in one spot for 29 years. Who knows how long Belichick stays in New England, but he won’t leave because the game keeps him up at night. “He’s the same on a Sunday in May as he is on a game day in the fall,” said former quarterback and low-level Patriots assistant Chris Simms. Stress? Not them.
I like the fact that, for a week, Landry and Belichick, who share a lot in NFL history, will share number three on the all-time NFL coaching list. It’s cool.
We’ll get into some quick stories this week, and we’ll answer some of the vexing questions about the future of Roger Goodell. First, let’s look at what greets the winners and the losers this time of year. It gets a tad euphoric, and a tad desperate.
The winners—After previously 0-9 San Francisco won its first game of the year, 31-21 over the Giants, here’s what we saw in the Niners locker room:
The losers—New York Postback page, demanding the firing of Ben McAdoo: IT CAN’T WAIT. Daily News:
That’s what I like. Perspective.
Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling wrap up the Sunday action each Monday morning on “The MMQB: 10 Things Podcast.” Subscribe on iTunes.
There’s quite a nice pack chasing the Eagles
Eagles, 8-1. Let’s give them the top seed and top billing this morning. It’s only fair, and with a three-game lead in the NFC East now, it’s entirely likely they’ll win one of the top two seeds and get a bye out of the wild-card round.
After that? Clueless. My attempt at rating teams two through six in the league, the 7-2 teams one beat behind the Eagles.
2. New England (7-2). As usual, the Patriots didn’t get too out of whack when they lost two games in the first month of the season. They’re not blowing teams away now (at least not until Sunday night in Denver), but after the early defensive debacle they’ve held five straight foes under 18 points.
3. Los Angeles Rams (7-2). This should not be the determining factor in ranking the Rams behind the Patriots, but in this case, it’s the tiebreaker with the Patriots for number two: The vast majority of truly significant actors in the Rams’ rise have never played in a playoff games, never mind won a Super Bowl. But I’ll take any team that’s won by 33, 34 and 26 the last three weeks.
4. New Orleans (7-2). The Saints won a game 47-10 on Sunday (at Buffalo), and Drew Brees did not contribute a touchdown pass. Historic occasion. Rookie defensive backs Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams are so good so early that each could make the Pro Bowl this year—if voters voted on merit. This is the team Sean Payton dreamed of coaching, a balanced team that plays defense, and he could hang around a couple of years to see it through.
5. Pittsburgh (7-2). After a wholly unimpressive win in Indianapolis, even the staunchest Steeler fans will say they’re worried. Pittsburgh has averaged 19.6 points in its last five games, which is not good enough. Watching the Colts bottle up Le’Veon Bell had to be disconcerting too, because it’s not a great run D in Indy. But the Steelers will be able to win playoff games because of Ben Roethlisberger’s weaponry and a defense that keeps getting better under coordinator Keith Butler.
6. Minnesota (7-2). Case Keenum, with the hot breath of franchise favorite Teddy Bridgewater on the back of his neck, threw for four touchdowns for the first time in his life. Who’d have figured, in a game at a playoff contender, that Keenum would lead the Vikings to 35 points in the first 35 minutes? Vikes 38, Washington 30. Now Mike Zimmer has to carefully manage the return to play of Bridgewater, who is one of the biggest local heroes in recent Minnesota sports history. That’s going to be tricky, because you don’t know, whether a rusty quarterback will be better than an average one playing hot.
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