FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In his 19 years as New England Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick has had a small number of notable postgame handshakes. The one with Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy at Lambeau Field in 2014 is definitely among them.
His extended postgame chat and desire to share his thoughts with an opposing coach was a decisive show of his respect for McCarthy, which he later added context to when he said a few years later, “Mike’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever gone up against.”
Belichick truly seemed to appreciate the challenge that McCarthy presented at the highest level of competition, with McCarthy explaining that day that Belichick was “very gracious” in his remarks.
Now, for the first time since that game, the two coaches will square off again.
“Stating the obvious, he’s the best in football, for a number of reasons,” McCarthy said this week when asked about Belichick. “I think not only do they challenge you schematically week to week, [it’s] how their research and development and game-planning process is put together. They’re going to challenge [you].
“We like to feel we do the same, but the thing I’ve always admired is the consistency and the fundamentals, the techniques, and their discipline in situational football. You don’t ever see his teams beat themselves.”
Belichick is currently the NFL’s longest tenured head coach with the same team (now in his 19th season with the Patriots), while McCarthy is tied for the third-longest tenure, 13 years, along with the Saints’ Sean Payton. The Bengals’ Marvin Lewis is second, at 16 years.
“Coach McCarthy does a great job with this team, this organization,” Belichick said as the team’s preparations to face the Packers shifted into high gear. “It’s one of the great organizations in all of sports, certainly in the National Football League. I have a ton of respect for the way they’re run, what they do, how they do it, and how consistently they’ve done it.”
What made the 2014 game between Belichick’s Patriots and McCarthy’s Packers so unique was New England’s unconventional defensive approach. Intent on not allowing quarterback Aaron Rodgers to extend plays by breaking the pocket, Belichick had his defenders sink at the line of scrimmage and essentially mirror Rodgers.
That often gave Rodgers extended time to throw -- during one play he held the ball for more than 10 seconds -- and forced cornerbacks to cover longer by using a “plaster” technique of mirroring pass-catchers. Rodgers, who led the Packers to a 26-21 victory, noted that it was a different approach compared to what he usually saw.
What unique twist will both coaches come up Sunday night?
A Belichick-McCarthy matchup -- bound by mutual respect -- adds to the intrigue of one of the NFL’s most highly anticipated games of the season.