And so that week--a short one-week preparation because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks--was given over to practicing how to stop Faulk. It began with Belichick's telling his players that he had screwed up and done a poor job of coaching the last time. "I'm not going to screw up again," he promised them. The first and most important thing they were going to do, he said, was know where Faulk was at all times. So all week the scout team lined up and ran Rams plays and a player would imitate Faulk, and there would be Belichick standing behind his defense and yelling, "Where is he? Where is he?" It was a constant all week, that yell before every practice play: "Where is he?" Finally one of the defensive players turned around and yelled, "Shut the f--- up!" which even Belichick appreciated, because it meant that they had it down.
There were other things the Patriots worked on, but the primary one was dealing with the Rams' speed, so Belichick lined the scout-team receivers about three yards ahead of the normal line of scrimmage to give his defensive backs a sense of how quickly it all would happen.
The X's and O's are fine, but the X's and O's don't always work like they do on a blackboard. The X's don't get to where they're supposed to get to, and the O's turn out to be smarter than you thought. But on game day it all worked for New England. Faulk gained only 76 yards. The Patriots' X's stopped the Rams' O's when they were supposed to. New England led for almost the entire game, then held off a late St. Louis charge just enough for Adam Vinatieri to kick a field goal in the final seconds for a 20-17 win.
Watching that day was Stan White, a talented linebacker who had been just three years into the pro game in 1975 when he worked with Belichick, newly arrived at his first job with the Colts. "I was sure he was going to try and take Marshall Faulk out of the game," White said. "He would want to stop Faulk and throw the timing of those great receivers off just a bit. Make Warner throw to places where the receivers had not yet arrived. Even back in Baltimore, when he was a kid, he was thinking of what the offensive teams were going to do and how to stop them."
Of the media people covering the Super Bowl that day, the person who understood most clearly what Belichick and his staff had done was ESPN's Ron Jaworski, who had spent 15 years as an NFL quarterback. After eight hours of screening the Patriots-Rams film, he said Belichick had done "the best coaching job I've ever seen." Not just that season, not just in a Super Bowl, Jaworski said, but in his 29 years of playing and watching football.
Jaworski also broke down the Rams-Patriots game of the regular season and was fascinated by the difference between it and the championship game. By his count (which was slightly different from Belichick's), in the first game the Patriots had sent five or more players after Warner 38 times, or 56% of the time. In the Super Bowl they had done it only four times. "I've never seen anything like it," said Jaworski. "Here's the key: The Rams rely on timing and rhythm, but everyone thinks that rhythm runs through Warner. Belichick and [defensive coordinator] Romeo Crennel decided that the Rams' rhythm depended on Faulk. So they hit him and kept hitting him."
The Patriots, Jaworski also noted, had used five or more defensive backs 74% of the time. Sometimes they used seven defensive backs. "Think about that--there are teams that don't carry seven defensive backs," he said. With all those defensive backs out there, the Rams would have had better success running the ball more at the smaller backs, but they had failed to do that. In that sense, Jaworski believed, Belichick had outsmarted the very bright Rams coach, Mike Martz. "I talked with Ricky Proehl after the game," Jaworski said, "and he told me that the Rams players were all on the sideline during the second half, screaming at the coaches that the Patriots were playing five and six defensive backs, that they had to run the ball, that the run was there every time. But Martz was telling them, 'F--- it, I'm going to win it my way.' Chalk that one up for Belichick."
What had happened, Jaworski added, was not a fluke. "Belichick is the best in the game today, maybe the best ever."