JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Feb. 7 -- As confetti fluttered down, and their players began celebrating all around them, Coach Bill Belichick and his longtime assistants, Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis, embraced in an emotional group hug moments after the New England Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 24-21, on Sunday night in Super Bowl XXXIX.
"That was the last time we were going to coach together," said Crennel, the defensive coordinator who has accepted the Cleveland Browns' head coaching position. "It felt kind of different, a little strange, but if you have to go out a winner at the Super Bowl, that's a special feeling."
Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, above, is losing his top two assistants, Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, both of whom accepted coaching jobs elsewhere.
(Stephan Savoia -- AP)
Weis, the offensive coordinator, accepted the job as head coach at Notre Dame in December and has balanced preparations for the NFL postseason with putting together a staff and recruiting players.
The Belichick-Crennel-Weis triumvirate has been as much responsible for the Patriots winning three Super Bowls in the last four years as anyone, and less than 12 hours after being certified the first dynasty of the 21st century, they were breaking up after being together in various positions through two stints with the Patriots as well as with the New York Giants and Jets.
"There are changes every year on every team," Belichick said Monday, the day after joining Joe Gibbs, Chuck Noll and Bill Walsh as the only coaches to win at least three Super Bowls. "There's no team that stays the same from one year to the next in the NFL. Romeo and Charlie have done a great job. Their record speaks for itself and a lot of the success we've had, certainly a large share of the credit should go to them. We wish them well, and we'll have to adjust."
Belichick said the fallout from this championship will be no different, despite the coaching changes. "We treat every year the same. We'll start at the bottom of the heap with everyone else, the same record and all trying to get to the same point. We approach every year the same," Belichick said. "I don't feel it's my place to judge myself or our team in history. We're just trying to do what we're doing currently, and that's keeping us plenty busy."
Changes in personnel also are likely, although most of the Patriots' core group of veterans will return. Guard Joe Andruzzi and kicker Adam Vinatieri -- whose field goals have provided the winning margin in all three New England Super Bowl victories -- are unrestricted free agents, and the team most likely will try to keep both. David Givens, the No. 3 wide receiver, and injured starting tackle Tom Ashworth become restricted free agents and also seem likely to return.
Quarterback Tom Brady, already being mentioned in the same breath as Joe Montana as the greatest Super Bowl quarterback ever, has two years remaining on a contract that will pay him a bargain-basement price of $5.25 million next season, though the Patriots have talked about redoing his deal in the offseason.
Veteran cornerback Ty Law, who suffered a season-ending foot injury against Pittsburgh during the regular season, is scheduled to earn $8.75 million next year and count $12 million against the salary cap. He may be expendable, especially with the emergence of young cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Randall Gay over the second half of the season.
But the biggest adjustment will be on the coaching staff. There has been speculation that defensive backs coach Eric Mangini will succeed Crennel. Quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels and tight ends coach Jeff Davidson are most often mentioned as Weis's successor. Belichick declined to address the openings Monday, saying only, "We'll deal with that in due course." First, Belichick will play in a golf tournament at Pebble Beach later in the week.
Crennel's role has been critical. He and Belichick, who has always been a defensive specialist, came up with a game plan for Sunday night that focused on keeping Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and running back Brian Westbrook from beating the Patriots by running the football. As a result, the Patriots spent most of the game deploying two defensive linemen and five linebackers instead of their usual 3-4 defense.
"That was the number one objective," Belichick said. "We wanted to keep McNabb from getting out of the pocket, from what we call 'playing against extended plays,' where he goes back and runs around and then becomes a double threat in terms of running with it, running and picking up yardage, or buying more time in the pocket while the receivers uncover and get open.
"We wanted to get as much speed and athleticism to rush the passer on the field. We were trying to match up against their passing strength, but more importantly to get our best pass rushers . . . to contain McNabb and either keep him in the pocket or chase him down. . . . For the most part, we were able to contain [Brian Westbrook] in the running game. He hurt us in the passing game, but at least he didn't kill us."
McNabb completed 30 of 51 passes for 357 yards, but was intercepted three times, had another interception nullified by a penalty and more than occasionally seemed to throw the ball up for grabs into double coverage. He was credited with only one run, for no gain. Westbrook had 44 yards on 15 carries as the Eagles managed only 45 rushing yards.
Weis said the Super Bowl's extended halftime show, which lasted 25 minutes, gave him the opportunity to devise a strategy to combat blitzing linebackers and safeties.
"They were blitzing up the middle in an attempt to take Brady out of the pocket, so we had something to combat it," said Weis, whose offense managed nine first downs in the first half. "We started using screens and the shorter passing game and it really opened things up for us."
Brady finished with a 110.2 passer rating, completing 23 of 33 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns. He often found 5-foot-9 wide receiver Deion Branch, who tied a Super Bowl record for receptions with 11 (for 133 yards) and was the game's MVP.
"Maybe this one is special," said linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who had a critical fourth-quarter interception. "This shows everyone what kind of team we are and what kind of players we have to achieve this. People are going to have to start saying, 'These guys are one of the better teams in history.' "