It took me a while tooling around the internet to find this, but: There have been 11 games since 1940 in which a team threw as few as three passes; the team that threw the three-or-fewer passes won each of those 11 games; only four different quarterbacks completed a pass in those 11 games; three of those four QBs are in the Hall of Fame, and the other is Mac Jones.
But you know who knew that off the top of his unmade-bed-head? Bill Belichick. Because Bill Belichick wants you to learn about history even though you just came for the stage show.
It was windy last night in Ice Station Zebra, very windy. So Belichick, confronted with an important game against a divisional rival, thought about the problem and concluded that while it was too windy to rely on the forward pass, it wasn’t windy enough to blow the football out of a running back’s hand. (To be fair, it was windy enough to convince N’Keal Harry to muff a punt with his face that led to Buffalo’s only touchdown.) So he told his rookie quarterback, Mac Jones, before the game (at least we hope he did, anyway), “Son, you have two jobs and only two jobs tonight. No dropping back, no reading coverages, no trying to throw receivers open, none of it. You take the snap without dropping the ball, and you hand the football to the guy I tell you to hand it to, also without dropping the ball. If you try to throw without permission, I have gun emplacements across the rim of the stadium, and if I see you even think about it, I will have you leveled like one of these idiots in the parking lot who do piledrivers onto picnic benches. Now go out there and don’t get ’em!”
Jones, ever the obedient prize of the quarterbacking rookie crop, followed orders as though they had come from a Grumpy God, which in a way they had. He threw once to Jonnu Smith at the end of the first quarter, probably just to hide Belichick’s true intentions, and twice on their last pre-kneeldown possession in hopes of gaining a first down to kill a little more clock. That didn’t work because of course it didn’t, so he sent Jake Bailey out to kick a 71-yard punt to bury the Bills, and that was that. One game, three pass attempts. Who does that? Only Bill Belichick, because every now and then he wants to dust off one of those old playbooks from the beforetimes, sit you at his feet (not in his lap because that would be creepy), and show you how the old-timers did it back before there were cellphones, or even Princess phones. Back when you had to crank the dial and wait for Madge the operator to connect your call.
The last time anyone tried this, Lou Saban (You know, THIS Lou Saban), also playing on a blustery day in Buffalo, had Joe Ferguson throw only twice, both incompletions, and the Bills beat the Jets, 16-12. The last time anyone got an actual completion in such a game, Hank Stram (you know, THIS Hank Stram) let Len Dawson throw three times in a game plan that otherwise had 60 rushes in a windless 24-10 win over Oakland in 1968. The time before that, Steve Van Buren went 2-for-3 and the Eagles beat the Giants, 10-7 … in 1946. And the time before that, the Giants beat Washington 14-7, in part because Alphonse Emil “Tuffy” Leemans threw a 50-yard touchdown on his only attempt. That was in 1942, when men were men, even ones named Alphonse Emil, and there was a war on, you pampered candypants whiners.
Those games are the stuff Belichick lives for, but he doesn’t indulge himself often. The last time he went full turn-back-the-clock-to-analog was Super Bowl 53, in which he boxed Sean McVay’s new-kid-on-the-block offense with a defense that was lifted from the Industrial Revolution. But Monday’s game, in which Belichick put on the full-court fun-suck, was an act of glorious willfulness from a man who knew he could never do that with the Galactic Prefect Brady I, and it worked in part because he now has an eager young puppy in Jones who enjoys pleasing the boss without fully knowing what the sentence “This is how they did it when Stalin was alive” actually meant. And only Belichick would have known that there actually used to be a player named Stalin Colinet, because of course he would. He would even know why he was named Stalin, because Stalin isn’t much of a go-to name anymore. Belichick is the mall Santa who asks kids for proof of age before he consents to a photo, but he’s been that for so long that going back to an all-sepia world seems oddly satisfying in these turbulent times.
Not that you’d want to see it ever again, or that Belichick would bother trying to repeat himself. Having borrowed liberally from the old Navy playbook, he’d look for something else, something even more distant, maybe in the flying wedge aisle under the guise of, “If it was good enough for the Kenosha Maroons, damn it, it’s good enough for you.” You could imagine him yelling, “Get off my lawn!” and for once you’d actually comply, because somewhere in that angry old face there is the wisdom of the ages, and if you promise to stop throwing his newspaper into the wet rose bushes, he might someday invite you in and tell you about the 1962 Bears-Lions game that Chicago won, 3-0, on a late-game nine-yard field goal by Roger LeClerc, and close the story with a cheery, “Now piss off back to your house, and don’t tell anyone we talked.”
Yep. Bears-Lions has sucked for that long. And Bill Belichick has thought about nutty old football ideas since way before that.