BOSTON (CBS) -- Bill Belichick is by far the best, smartest head coach in the National Football League, and it becomes more and more apparent every week. But the Patriots head coach is also self-aware, and would not hesitate to prove that to everyone when given the opportunity.
The Seattle Seahawks' controversial Monday Night Football win over the Detroit Lions, which ended after an uncalled illegal batting of the ball by a Seahawks defender in the end zone, has sparked a league-wide discussion on questionable rules and the way officials call them. Belichick and the Patriots are well-known for their...um...creative interpretation of the rulebook, and the way they push the limits and exploit loopholes more than any other team in the league.
So of course Belichick knew about the illegal bat rule, which seemingly even the refs didn't know.
Belichick ostensibly knows the NFL rulebook inside and out, and tries to get his players to have as deep an understanding as possible. As you saw Monday night, unusual rules can often play a big role in situational football. Former Patriot Rosevelt Colvin said Belichick has coached the Patriots on that particular situation.
For reference, here's the play in question from Monday night:
And as Belichick explained Tuesday, his players would have known not to touch the ball. When asked about how he teaches the Patriots the rulebook, Belichick gave a detailed 820-word response, delving into the nuances of different rules for different players and situations and detailing the process the Patriots employ to ensure everyone knows the rules as well as possible.
If you don't want to scale that wall of text, I don't blame you - so here are the most interesting (that's one way to describe them) snippets:
- "Let's start with rookies coming into the league. The first thing we do is teach them the rules in the National Football League and in particular make them aware of the changes between the college rules and the pro rules, which there are a significant number."
- "Each of our position coaches devotes a significant amount of time in the spring and then also in training camp, particularly in individual, one-on-one-type drills where a lot of times there are only two or three guys on the screen instead of all 22 so you can really get a good, close-up look at a lot of rules like that – the holding and illegal contact and offensive pass interference, defensive pass interference – all those kinds of things. So that's covered very much on an individual basis, specifically to that position."
- "I talk to the team on a regular basis on situational plays, which involve officiating, timing, utilization of timeouts and so forth and so on, so that's probably on a regular basis from training camp all the way through the end of the season...Sometimes it's more than that, but always trying to keep our team aware of situations, and a lot of times we change the situation a little bit just to extend the conversation about a play."
- "The whole sideline, ball security, whistle, all those kind of ball possession plays, those are very important for everybody to understand and we stress those a lot. Any time the ball is loose, like it was in last night's game, try to make sure everybody understands what they can do, what they can't do."
- "But in the end we try to look at the rulebook as a useful tool, something that can benefit us if we know what we have to work with, how to make the best of a situation based on the way the rules are written and try to maximize our opportunities there."
The response will come off like smug bloviating to fans outside of New England, but Belichick is the most detail-oriented coach in the league and this is just another reason why he and the Patriots are the most well-prepared and well-coached team in the NFL. More often than not they have every detail covered in their preparation, and the rulebook is no exception to that.
With all of the utter confusion surrounding the obscure batted ball rule that ultimately should have decided Monday night's game, of course Belichick was the only guy in the world sitting on his couch snorting and smirking at the ignorance of the coaches, players, and even refs to the rule. And you can say with confidence that someone like Devin McCourty or Jamie Collins would have let the ball bounce out of the end zone.
This isn't to say that Belichick is the only coach in the league who studies the rulebook. But he clearly does it at a level of detail that few other coaches in the league do, and it has worked tremendously to the Patriots' advantage - as in the unusual formations they used in the AFC Divisional game to beat the Ravens. The league closed that loophole in the offseason.
But with every closed loophole, a new one opens for Belichick and the Patriots. New England fans can rest assured that they have a coach who not only knows the rulebook down to the most painfully tedious details, he will push most of them to the limits - and as a result, rattle some cages around the league. The Patriots' *ahem* interpretation of the rules has provided one of many clear advantages Belichick has over almost every other coach.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Read more from Matt here. Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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