The Monday Tavern

One of my many highlights in the NFL while I was working in Cleveland was attending the staff meetings on Saturday nights before our games. They would start at 7:30 p.m., and head coach Bill Belichick would go over every single detail for the game. He was meticulous in his approach and let everyone know how he was going to run the game. He made it clear to everyone if we were going to call the fake field goal or the trick play we ran in practice. He would tell the coordinators if he didn’t want to see a certain play or call a certain play early in the game. He would review game situations, informing the coaches what to expect on key downs and how aggressive or not he would be in the game.

It was Masterpiece Theatre -- Belichick was a head coach in control of every phase of the game. There was no room for debate. He had film to back up all his conclusions, and there was nothing left to chance — ever. Belichick is a true head coach, controlling every aspect of the game, not a glorified play-caller with the added duties of deciding when to punt and when to kick a field goal. In Belichick’s world, luck and chance are non-existent. All he worries about is his own preparation and his ability to know the way he needs his team to play in order to win — based on the opponent.

So Sunday’s fourth-and-2 call at the New England 29-yard line was reviewed during his week of preparation for the game. Now, not having two defensive linemen, Jarvis Green and Ty Warren, played a part in the decision, and the fact he did the same thing early in the season against the high-charging Falcons made it for him. Add to that the fact that right before his eyes, he watched Peyton Manning move the ball down the field two out of three times in under 2:05 for scores, and was he was probably thinking, “I’m not going to let what happened to the Dolphins happen to my team.”

Knowing his detailed preparation, he knew his chances of converting the fourth and 2 were about 48 percent this season in the NFL, and the Patriots were 50 percent on their fourth-down conversions. And his punter, Chris Hanson, is not a boomer and only has a net gain of 34 yards on punts. So what do you calculate the odds of Manning, with all his timeouts and having to go 62 yards for a touchdown, might be? Better than 50/50? Worse? You figure it out. (Yahoo Dave, I know you’ve already written the rip job, so leave the calculator alone.)

The fourth-down call was hard for many to understand, just as the fumble in the end zone by Laurence Maroney or the interception by Tom Brady was hard for Belichick to understand. This was a game in which the Patriots made too many mistakes to win, but they easily could have won. Give the Colts credit for being able to execute at the right time with precision and detail. Jim Caldwell deserves credit for keeping his team in the game and for having a team that was prepared and loves to keep fighting. That’s an endearing quality and is not easily accessed.

Knowing Belichick for 15 years and his penchant for detailed preparation, my sense is that he made his mind up long before the fourth quarter that if the game was tight, he was not going to give the ball back to Manning and watch him move down the field for the win. He thought his best defense was his offense. He ended up being wrong, but don’t say this was a stupid mistake. It was an unconventional approach, but trust me, it was well thought out. Nothing was left to chance.

More on the games…..

Sunday show stoppers...

To the entire Cincinnati Bengals team, which had a huge win in Pittsburgh. It was a great and total team effort. Their ability to keep Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket with their pass rush was the key to the game. They won as a team — no turnovers offensively, keeping Big Ben from moving defensively and key plays from special teams.

Watch out, America, the Tennessee Titans have found an offense to highlight the skills of running back Chris Johnson (which are too many to name – he’s amazing to watch) and, more importantly, the talents of quarterback Vince Young. Young has matured, and Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger has done a great job featuring his two best players.

Indy head coach Jim Caldwell for not blowing his timeouts carelessly, which allowed his team to have all the essential pieces in place for the win at the end of the game.

Cornerback Charles Woodson and the Packers defense showed up big time in their game against the red-hot Cowboys. Woodson had nine tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and his fifth interception of the season. This effort by the Packers was something we expected all season.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers making the right plays at the right time and keeping the ball away from scorching-hot Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb late in the game. Rivers was 5 of 6 for 54 yards on the final drive and converted two key third downs. He’s undefeated in the month of December as a starter, so the best is yet to come.

Some different thoughts...

To defeat the Steelers, you must contain Big Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket and you must bat balls down at the line of scrimmage. Sunday, the Bengals batted four balls down to go along with four sacks. That’s eight negative plays in the passing game, which is too many. This was not an accident – it was well-coached by Mike Zimmer and his entire defensive staff. That was only Roethlisberger’s sixth loss to an AFC North team.

Jake Delhomme has not turned the ball over the past three weeks, and the Panthers’ running game has gained 1,000 yards in the last five games. They’re 4-5 and might not be out of the playoff race just yet.

The countdown for the first pick in the draft begins now. The contenders are Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis and Tampa Bay, all one-win teams so far. Which of these teams can win two? My guess is Tampa, which is playing its best ball of the season with Josh Freeman now at quarterback. Cleveland against Detroit next week might not have playoff implications, but it will have huge draft implications.

I know Tampa’s Raheem Morris is a young head coach, but his emotional outburst yesterday was another indication he needs to add more seasoning to his game. He cost his team a huge penalty and lost control of himself, which is never good to show in front of your own team.

These just hit me...

…Former Patriots assistant Charlie Weis’ days as the Notre Dame head coach seem numbered, and there will be a host of NFL coaches who will want to be the next Knute Rockne. It’s official -- the coaching carousel is now open and might start in South Bend. But it will not include Jon “Love You Bro” Gruden, who seems to “love” ESPN right now.

…I love watching Chris Johnson run for three yards and I love watching him run for 30 yards, but I really love watching him run over bigger people near the goal line like he did yesterday.

…Philadelphia and Atlanta are both teams that play their best when they have the lead at the half. Their defense is best when they can take chances and pressure, but when they’re behind, they lose those opportunities.

…I really hope Eagl es running back Brian Westbrook takes the rest of the season off. Two concussions in three weeks is two too many.

…Arizona finally won at home, but it took some come-from-behind miracles to make it happen. One thing about the Cards, with their passing game they’re never out of any game.

…The Cowboys’ offensive line on the road is not a good option for them to be successful in the playoffs. Flozell Adams has hearing problems, which cause him to false start too much and be late off the ball in noisy places. Home field is a must for the ‘Boys come playoff time.

…The teams that maintain their fundamentals pad level and execution the final seven weeks of the season will be the teams that make the playoffs. Luck has nothing to do with it. Execution does.

…The best part of last night’s game? It’s hoping there’s another one in January for all of us to enjoy.

Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi</p>

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