The trick to playing Mike Martz and the Rams twice in one season,
says Patriots coach Bill Belichick, is not to do the same thing
the second time. "You're dealing with a very smart offensive
coach," says Belichick, who lost to Martz 24-17 in November.
"Show him the same stuff, and he'll hurt you."
In the first game the New England defense gave St. Louis a rocky
first half with blitzes, including zone blitzes. Then in the
second half the Patriots got run over. So in the Super Bowl they
pulled in their horns and blitzed infrequently but effectively.
"The Rams kill you with almosts," Belichick says. "You blitz and
you almost get there, but Kurt Warner's throwing off those
three-step drops. He gets those damn racehorses coming out
untouched, and they catch the ball, and they're off and running."
On Sunday the Patriots mixed a zone defense with man coverage,
the key to both being the aggressive pressing of cornerbacks Ty
Law and Otis Smith.
"We call it rerouting," says Smith, who was a candidate for Super
Bowl MVP before quarterback Tom Brady's heroics at the end.
"Knock them out of their pattern, get them out of sync with
Law, who had Rams wideout Isaac Bruce all over the field when the
Pats were in man coverage, grabbed an errant throw intended for
Bruce in the second quarter and took it 47 yards for a score.
Smith rerouted Torry Holt on a slant route in the third period,
intercepted the ball and returned it 30 yards to set up a field
goal. Another New England touchdown was set up by a fumble in the
second quarter, when dimeback Antwan Harris knocked the ball
loose from Rams wideout Ricky Proehl after a 15-yard catch.
That's 17 of the Patriots' 20 points coming from plays by the
February 11, 2002
The biggest challenge to New England's defense, though, was
Marshall Faulk--"the mismatch guy," Belichick calls him, "the
toughest player in the NFL to cover."
"We took turns chipping on him, never giving him a clean
release," says Eric Mangini, Belichick's talented young secondary
coach. "Most of the time it was with our end, Willie McGinest,
but sometimes it was with our defensive backs or our strongside
linebacker, Mike Vrabel. The important thing was to try to get a
shot on him every play."
"We weren't trying to hurt him," says McGinest. "We just wanted
to give him the attention he deserved. Sure, it took away from my
pass rush and sometimes made me vulnerable against the run, but
that's why they call it a team game. You do what you have to do
to help your team win." In November, Faulk caught seven passes
for 70 yards and a touchdown. On Sunday his numbers were 4 for 54
and no scores.
The aggressive style took its toll, though, and by the fourth
quarter, when the Rams made their comeback, the Patriots' defense
was tired. "Actually, drained, on the ropes," Law says. "The Rams
didn't get where they were by folding. They kept coming."
Then Brady and the offense took over. A team game. A Super Bowl
champion that had refused to be introduced individually before
the game, only as a team. And what a team.