New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has not developed his reputation for being a defensive guru by accident.
Belichick’s defenses have enjoyed as much, if not more, success against Oakland Raiders’ wide receiver Jerry Rice, undoubtedly the best of all-time at his position if not the best player period.
Rice owns virtually every receiving record imaginable. Belichick has led three Super Bowl winning defenses as either a head coach (New England 2001) or as a defensive coordinator (New York Giants 1986 and 1990). Belichick was also the Cleveland Browns head coach (1991-1995) and New York Jets defensive coordinator (1996-1999). His defenses have not shut Rice down entirely – no one has. Rice, however, has rarely tormented Belichick’s defenses.
Rice’s former team, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Giants had a few tussles in the mid-to-late 1980s. In 10 games against a Belichick led defense, Rice has 49 catches for 688 yards and four touchdowns.
Rice only surpassed the century marked in receiving in only two of those games, 1988 (109 yards) and 1989 (117 yards). Even in the 1988 game, a 20-17 win by the 49ers, Rice had his problems despite catching a game winning 77-yarder in the final two minutes. Rice overcame a handful of dropped passes to make that memorable play. In addition, the 49ers won the Super Bowl in both seasons.
Belichick’s defenses provide a variety of looks and usually have had success knocking Rice off his route and preventing yards after the catch. Belichick’s reputation grew even more after the Patriots shutdown the high-powered, and heavily favored, St. Louis Rams in a 20-17 upset in the Super Bowl. The Patriots frequently mugged the St. Louis receivers at the line of scrimmage.
“Every team in the league is physical,” Rice said. “If they want to play us that way we’ll be ready.”
The Patriots, however, cannot solely focus on Rice and Tim Brown because third-year receiver Jerry Porter (37 catches, 519 yards, six touchdowns) continues to become a valuable weapon in the Raiders passing game.