EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 19, 2011

Protect Brady and Lombardi Trophy is theirs

Bill Burt

I expect famed former Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, a winner of three NFL championships and two Super Bowls, to roll over in his New Jersey grave when he gets wind of my proclamation, as obvious at is now appears:

Offense wins championships.

True, your New England Patriots have won nothing — 11 wins in 14 regular season games unfortunately doesn't get you much respect around these parts. Another loss in early January to some New York Jets-like outfit could make this season seem more like the one the Indianapolis Colts are playing in this season.

That being said, the Patriots are Super Bowl contenders and bordering on Super Bowl co-favorites.

And, to simplify things, it's all on one guy: Tom Brady.

Old-timers who actually remember Lombardi don't want to hear this, but it's probably true. Defense doesn't mean as much as it used in this sport. Sure, it helps. But in the end, a few guys on a short list, like Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, appear to have the ability to carve up any defense. Even those piddily units like the 1985 Chicago Bears or 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers.

And after yesterday's NFL action you could make the assumption that three best teams in the NFL are the Packers, Saints and Patriots — the same franchises with those MVP quarterbacks and the same teams averaging 35.8, 31.9 and 30.5 points per game, respectively — and quite possibly in that order.

The Packers, Saints and Patriots have something else in common, besides their All-American QBs. Their defenses, for lack of a better description, stink. Well, in terms of yards allowed, that is, as the Saints rank 27th, while the Packers are 30th and the Patriots are 31st.

But those defensive stats aren't as pathetic when compared to points allowed where the Patriots (21.0) rank a semi-respectable 14th, compared to the Packers (21.4) at 16th and the Saints (22.0) at 17th.

While coach Bill Belichick seemingly plays musical chairs with the no-names in defensive backfield every weekend the last two months, Brady has never looked better.

Other than a few underthrown passes and a few bad decisions, Brady almost always makes the right call and puts the ball in a place where a Patriot, usually a tight end, can make the play.

I was there in New Orleans in 2002, about 10 hours after the Patriots beat the Rams, 20-17, on Adam Vinatieri's clock-expiring kick, when Belichick said something in public he had never said before.

"Defense wins championships," he said, matter-of-factly.

That seems like a generation ago, when time of possession usually told the story of who won and who lost. Now it's passer rating and completion percentage.

Sure, the Steelers (10-3), Ravens (10-4) and 49ers (10-3) are not only defensive-minded franchises, but they are threats to the throne. But the Steelers stand out among that crew because of, of course, their quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

As for the Patriots, when Brady has time to throw the ball, they win. It's as simple as that.

Mind you, running the ball with moderate success — see BenJarvus Green-Ellis (9 rushing TDs) near the end zone and Danny Woodhead's success on trap plays — adds to Brady's protection and the ability to call play-action.

Of course, the Patriots offensive line — the unsung hero of this team's success during the Belichick-Brady Era, is among the top five groups in the NFL, which is amazing considering the three major injuries at center.

For all of the complaining we've done about Belichick's drafts lately, selecting 6-foot-8 offensive tackle Nate Solder, might rank among his best first round picks since Vince Wilfork (2005). Despite the holes and flaws on defense last year, with the first choice in 2011 Belichick chose to protect Brady.

Defense can help the cause. But in the end the trend has changed, particularly with Green Bay last year and the bevy of top teams in 2011, that offense not only sells tickets but wins championships.

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You can email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.