After catching a one-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl last February, Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel was as shocked as anyone else at Reliant Stadium. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm going to have to see it on TV to believe it really happened,‚Äù said Vrabel, who had lined up at tight end.
The touchdown gave New England a five-point lead over the Panthers with 2:51 left, and the Patriots went for two--a direct snap to running back Kevin Faulk, who burst through the middle for the conversion. New England went on to win 32‚Äì29.
Such imaginative play-calling is the genius of the Patriots. And a great deal of it will be lost when offensive coordinator Charlie Weis leaves to coach Notre Dame after New England plays its final game this season.
In the wake of the announcement on Sunday that Weis, 48, had agreed to a six-year contract to succeed the fired Tyrone Willingham, the Patriots will have to deal with two issues.
1) Though coach Bill Belichick effectively minimizes team distractions--he forbade all club employees from discussing Weis‚Äôs situation after a 35‚Äì28 win over the Bengals on Sunday--his coordinator‚Äôs imminent departure will almost certainly be bothersome. Weis will continue to run the New England offense while putting together a Notre Dame coaching staff and recruiting high school players. (National signing day is Feb. 2, four days before the Super Bowl.) You can bet Belichick will be clenching his teeth in the next few weeks as Weis juggles two jobs.
2) There is no obvious successor to Weis on the New England staff. If the Pats were to lose defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, Belichick could turn to secondary coach Eric Mangini, an imaginative grinder in Belichick‚Äôs image who during the off-season turned down the coordinator‚Äôs job in Oakland. On offense Belichick could promote an assistant--perhaps line coach Dante Scarnecchia or tight ends‚Äìassistant line coach Jeff Davidson--or go outside for a hire. Or he could run the offense himself.
When quarterbacks coach Dick Rehbein died in August 2001, Belichick took on his responsibilities. Sitting in three meetings a day with the signal-callers, in fact, helped Belichick see the precociousness of a sixth-round draft pick named Tom Brady--and made it easier for Belichick to trade Drew Bledsoe to Buffalo after the ‚Äô01 season.
Through his headset Belichick hears the plays that Weis calls, so if he wants to make a change--which Belichick rarely does--he can. It wouldn‚Äôt surprise those who know Belichick if, at least for a season, he were to take on the coordinator duties. Imagine, a man who built his reputation as a defensive strategist taking the offensive reins of the best team in the game.
There‚Äôs no question Weis‚Äôs creativity and game-planning have been big factors in New England‚Äôs winning two of the last three Super Bowls. Just consider this: The Patriots rank fourth in the league in scoring, yet none of the 20 offensive players who dressed on Sunday were first-round draft choices.