In what is often called a copycat league, the Patriots have set the recent standard by winning two of the last three Super Bowls. But are teams trying to follow the Patriots' guide or can they even do it?
Two years ago, nobody wanted to copy what the Patriots did when they won the Super Bowl with a waiver wire team that was widely regarded as a fluke. Now after winning a second one, some owners around the league must be wondering why they are doling out massive signing bonuses while the Patriots operate under a fiscally responsible umbrella yet win Super Bowls.
New England has done it, of course, by finding the right type of player for their system and that's a hard thing to copy. The approach can be applied to individual systems, but may not be so easy to "copy."
"You can't copy their intelligence," Giants Senior Vice President and General Manager Ernie Accorsi said while addressing reporters at the Combine. "They're awfully smart. They've got players that know how to play, older players that are competitive and clutch. There are very few big names. They've made tremendously sound judgments and they've coached the heck out of them. They've done a great job."
"We better start learning from them because they'll beat everybody forever," Bills General Manager Tom Donahoe added. "Obviously what they're doing is working. They've done a great job of building the roster. They've done a great job convincing all the players on the roster of their importance and when guys have a chance to step in play, they produce. That's where we're all trying to get to, but they've just done it a lot better than the rest of us."
It doesn't hurt that Bill Belichick, the reigning coach of the year, has emerged as one of the top minds in the game and his head of personnel, Scott Pioli, knows the type of player his coach wants. They work well together because Pioli is not a yes man, and offers respected opinions that force the two to reach an agreement on a player. Then Belichick and his staff get a hold of the player and go to work teaching.
"Bill Belichick is an outstanding football coach," said the Dolphins Rick Spielman. "They have a certain type of personnel they play in their system and they get the maximum amount from their players."
Accorsi agrees with that and understands that it doesn't take the marquee free agents with the high price tags to win. The Giants won an NFC Championship four years ago building like the Patriots have, but without the same success.
"We made those changes in 2000," he said. "We didn't break the bank with big name stars, but the one thing Jim Fassel and I wanted were people who loved football.
"I had a long talk with Bill Belichick at the spring meetings before they went to the Super Bowl (in 2001), and I'm not saying he copied us because they've won two Super Bowls, but he signed 17 players and most of them were not marquee names. The thing is to find clutch, veteran players who will help you win. The whole package includes character and competitiveness."
The Patriots have managed to find those qualities in their young players along with their veteran free agents, who have all come together and bought into the system in which they have been pegged as a fit both on the field and in the locker room where the team-first attitude prevails.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES:
The Patriots got away with a handful of uncalled defensive penalties in their AFC Championship win over the Colts. At the Combine, Colts head coach Tony Dungy was asked if the 20 penalties (accepted) in the Super Bowl were a makeup for the lack of calls made in the League Championship Games. "I saw the commissioner made a derogatory statement toward the Chiefs and said everything was fine. So I'll go with the commissioner. Everything was fine and there were no problems," Dungy sarcastically said of the playoff officiating.
Giants GM Ernie Accorsi offered some unsolicited praise of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady at the Combine when speaking about his philosophy on drafting quarterbacks and how his approach may have changed by the recent success enjoyed by unheralded passers. "Where Brady was picked does not mean he isn't on track to go to the Hall of Fame the way he's playing. He's a budding great quarterback," Accorsi said.
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"I do get emotionally attached (to players) and I'm fine with that. I also know a line has to be drawn and they know a line has to be drawn. It's part of the business and part of the competition. It's a bottom line game and it's about winning so you have to separate those things. The best thing you can do is be honest and Bill and I are on the same page." -- Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli on roster changes.