Many have called the New England Patriots the “Evil Empire.” Fine. That makes Bill Belichick Emperor Palpatine. Tom Brady and the Patriots are his Death Star. And the full power of Belichick’s fully armed and operational battle station was on display Monday night in Foxboro, where the Patriots reduced the Jets to nothing but atoms. Gone like Alderaan. Millions of voices (all New Yorkers) suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. Because despite the ending of “Return of the Jedi,” there’s really only one lesson to be learned from the master of the Dark Side: don’t… piss… him… off. Because just when you think you have him, he’ll shooting lightning out of his fingers and kill you. Happened in “Revenge of the Sith.” Almost happened in “Jedi.” Luke thinks he’s licked the Emperor, but in reality all he’s done is make him mad.
Besides a similarly autocratic coaching style and the same proclivity for hooded garments, Belichick shares that trait with the Emperor. If you piss him off, he will electrocute you. Monday night showed that Belichick still has vast reservoirs of untapped coaching prowess. How else do you explain what happened? Belichick decided that for this one game, he was going to completely out-coach Rex Ryan. Not just out-coach. Out-think. Belichick got pissed off, and the Jets paid the price. And why not? The Jets have been the darlings of the NFL ever since they mugged the national spotlight with their ridiculous “Hard Knocks” series, their charismatic and effervescent coach, and their stud-of-the-moment quarterback. And Belichick has felt they haven’t deserved it. Can you blame him? Look who they’ve beaten (besides the Pats): Miami, Buffalo, Minnesota, Denver, Detroit, Cleveland, Houston, Cincinnati. Combined record: 30-66 (31.3 winning percentage). No win against a team with a winning record or ranked even second in their division. In their two losses besides New England, they combined for nine points. The Patriots meanwhile, have beaten Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Diego, and Indianapolis, the most dangerous 6-6 team in the NFL. How dare those fools from New Jersey steal Belichick’s spotlight? So Belichick got mad… and he struck the Jets down with all of his hatred.
Monday night, the Patriots used moves never seen before in Belichick’s tenure with the Patriots. None was more evident than Danny Woodhead’s 50-yard shovel run at the end of the third. Brady had been reading the defenses all night, and he lined up in shotgun. The Jets read it as a pass play and dropped back into coverage. Big mistake. Instead of dropping back to pass, Brady threw a 2-foot softball laterally to Woodhead, who had lined up next to Brady in shotgun formation. With all of those linebackers and safeties in coverage, all the offensive linemen had to do was create a seam. Woodhead, cast off like Anakin Skywalker from the Jets and welcomed to the Dark Side, burst through. By the time the Jets secondary reacted and got to him, he was at the 12-yard line. Two plays later, Belichick and Brady tricked the Jets again. Aaron Hernandez lined up on the line, threw one quick block and ran an out-route. Brady could have turned around and thrown the ball over his head, and Hernandez would still have had time to track it down and catch it. That’s how far away the nearest Jet was. And despite already being up four touchdowns with 15 minutes to go, Brady was ecstatic and emphatic. There he was, pumping his fists and jumping in the air. Forget crushing the Bengals or the Bills or the Lions. Dantooine is too remote to make an effective demonstration.
All of the Jets’ bullshit postering pissed Belichick off, and he took it out in spades. Belichick took his coaching to a never-before-seen level. The Jets could do nothing with an offense that shifted and changed and morphed throughout the game, never settling into a definable pattern. Defensively, the team continued its return to the heyday of the Empire: bend, then break the other guy. Sure, Sanchez put up yards. But the Jets didn’t score. Their first field goal attempt sailed, in Bob Ueker’s immortal words, juuuuuuust a bit outside. A poor coaching decision by a coach who from the word “go” had no idea how to beat the Patriots. Their final scoring attempt ended in an interception. Just like the offense, the defense shifted and changed and morphed. Patriots linebackers and safeties would never settle at the line of scrimmage. Ryan and Sanchez had no idea how much pressure was coming, and even when they used timeouts they still couldn’t figure it out. By the time the interceptions started, Sanchez had such a poor read on the Patriots’ defenders that they barely had to move to pick him off. Brandon Spikes moved a total of 18 inches from where he started to make his pick. Two possessions later, James Sanders made a similar pick with a similar lack of movement. The defense was such a mystery to Sanchez that the safeties just faded into the mists of Dagobah, unseen until they strike.
Don’t make Bill Belichick mad. He has the level he usually coaches at, a level that still wins 72 percent of the time. But if you piss him off, there’s another level. When he coaches at that level, run and hide. Because then he’s not aiming to beat you. He’s aiming to kill you. To decimate you. To grind you into powder and let the winds scatter you throughout the country. To make you a warning to every other NFL team that there is something far darker and scarier beneath the grim visage of the senator from Naboo. Anger him, and you’ll get to see what lies beneath. And you’ll be lucky if you survive it.
45-3. No star system will dare oppose the Emperor now.