NEW YORK – Whether it was circumstance or miscalculation, ego or experiment, Bill Belichick tried to win the Super Bowl last season with one hand tied behind his back.
In an era when everyone says maintaining a dynasty is impossible due to the NFL's restrictive salary cap, Belichick tried to lead his New England Patriots to a fourth title in six years doing one better – leaving about 13 percent of his available money on the table at the start of the season. It was a self-imposed handicap that led to a thin, ragtag defense and a no-name receiving corps.
The thing is, he almost pulled it off.
The NFL is neither horseshoes nor hand grenades, so this really doesn't matter, but Belichick and his one arm were right there in the playoffs anyway. Only a drive in the closing minutes led by Peyton Manning kept New England from meeting the overmatched Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl.
Instead he was seen as almost stealing a title during what essentially was a rebuilding season in Foxborough, Mass.
At this point it hardly matters because this weekend New England left all memories of last year in the dust, finishing its rebuilding – or reloading – in a big, big way.
The final coup de grace was a fourth-round pick to the Oakland Raiders for Randy Moss, whose combination of attitude and potentially diminished skills made him a huge risk for just about any team other than New England, where Belichick's iron-fist way demands complete focus and preparation.
"The Moss of old is back," Randy himself declared Sunday, which just isn't the kind of thing he would have said if he had been shipped to, say, the Houston Texans.
Even before it landed Moss, New England brought in Wes Welker, Donte' Stallworth and Kelley Washington to give Tom Brady an eye-popping collection of receivers to throw to. That unit has gone from disappointing to dynamic.
On defense the Patriots picked up, among others, Pro Bowler Adalius Thomas from Baltimore to give them a versatile pass rusher/linebacker type. In the first round of the NFL draft, they selected swift safety Brandon Meriweather out of Miami.
Such a stunning assemblage of talent and depth should send New England off as the prohibitive favorite to win title No. 4 next February in Glendale, Arizona.
The Patriots' roster was so stacked that they spent most of the draft here deferring picks until next year – trading both a first- and third-rounder for similar picks in 2008.
About the only questions are of character – Moss' troubles are well-documented and Meriweather doesn't arrive with the cleanest of slates (although hardly the dirtiest either). Call this the dividends of Corey Dillon's three productive and tranquil years in New England.
Right now, Belichick thinks he can get anyone to conform to his way. And he seems to have few questions about Moss' state of mind – "He knows what it takes to win," Belichick said. "He's a winner and I'm glad he's on this team."
"Bill and [player personnel director] Scott [Pioli] have shown that they can assemble players, especially veteran players, who can acclimate to our culture," Pats owner Robert Kraft told the Associated Press.
Moss, who dominated the NFL for six of his seven seasons in Minnesota but did little other than display a bad attitude in Oakland the last two years, even took less money to go with New England, Belichick's magic rep earning a discount for a guy who wants to win at last.
Moss kept talking Sunday about how excited he was over New England, how dedicated he was to winning a Super Bowl and how he didn't care if he wasn't Brady's No. 1 target.
"I'm still in awe that I'm a part of this organization," Moss said.
The thing with New England is that players go there with their eyes wide open. If Belichick is willing to dump Deion Branch, Brady's favorite receiver and a popular former Super Bowl MVP, because he was looking for what Belichick deemed as too much money (albeit money he had laying around) then he'd cut Moss in a snap.
"If people don't adjust to our standards, they won't be here," Kraft said.
Time will tell how it all fits together, but Belichick never has had trouble maximizing the talent at hand. His problem last year was the hand of talent he dealt himself.
There are no more handicaps now, no more money left in the bank, no more holes on the roster, no more hands tied behind his back.
New England is fully operational; locked and loaded once again.
- Bill Belichick
- New England