I’ve always admired Bill Belichick and his New England Patriots for their calculating toughness, versatility and swagger. They have gone to four Super Bowls in the last nine years because of their willingness to challenge conventionality and push every element of the game to its limit.
In calling Sunday’s game in Houston for CBS Sports, I was able to sit down with Patriots QB Tom Brady, who told me the night before the game that not only did he want to play against the Texans, but that he was going to play to win.
I smiled after witnessing his competitive confidence. However, I could smile no longer when his teammate Wes Welker went down after his left knee buckled, and he was carted off to the locker room. Welker never returned to the game.
Even my broadcast partner Kevin Harlan began to question if Belichick should avoid risking other players to potential injury by taking Brady and WR Randy Moss out of the game. Surely, the fallout speculation will offer many Monday morning quarterbacks an opportunity to second-guess Belichick’s decision to play his star players in a game which ultimately carried little weight in their postseason future. As either a third or fourth seed, the Patriots will host a wild-card game next weekend, followed by a potential road game in the divisional round in either San Diego or Indianapolis.
To play or not to play was never a dilemma for Belichick. He told me that he had told his players to plan on playing 60 minutes of football against the Texans. Welker was hurt on the Patriots’ first possession without receiving any contact from an opposing player. He simply planted his left foot in the ground and his left knee gave way.
For those of us who have gone under the knife for orthopedic surgery, we will tell you that it doesn’t take much for ligaments or tendons to tear or rupture. If fact, when it does happen, you say to yourself that it happened on the same move you have made millions of times, so why now? It is a mystery of the human body. It is not Belichick’s fault. It is not Welker’s fault. More importantly, there is no one to blame.
If you play this game long enough, eventually major injuries will seek you out and find you, whether it’s in a meaningless 16th game of the regular season or a playoff game. Players have to play. With playing comes risk.
Championship coaches and players do not flinch at the thought of failure or injury. They don’t play the “what if” game, either. That’s what separates them from others. Belichick and Brady do things differently than you and I might. That’s why they have the Super Bowl Titles and countless memories of conquest, and others simply do not.