FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When Bill Belichick’s Patriots visit Matt Patricia’s Detroit Lions on Sunday night, it will mark the fifth chapter in Belichick’s “teacher vs. pupil” book during his time in New England.
One of the most notable chapters came in 2009, when the Patriots visited the Denver Broncos in the fifth game of the season, which also was the fifth game of Josh McDaniels’ head-coaching tenure.
McDaniels recalled what it was like to prepare his team that week, which probably reflects what Patricia is currently experiencing in Detroit.
“It was tough, because you know you came from a place that really gave you your foundation,” McDaniels said. “[Patricia] knows our system very well [but] you have to balance that out. You can’t try to get every guy in your building to know everything that [the Patriots] are doing, or could do, or you could potentially overwhelm them. There’s a balance there.”
At the same time, McDaniels acknowledged there is a level of excitement that comes with the matchup.
“He knows a lot of us here, we know him, he’s a great friend and a good person and we’ve had a lot of great memories to work together over the years,” he said. “I’m sure he’s going to be eager to have the opportunity to compete against some of the guys that he’s been with for a number of years, as we will. That’s what it’s all about.”
Before this chapter unfolds, it’s timely to revisit Belichick's four previous initial meetings with former Patriots assistants:
Belichick vs. Eric Mangini
Sept. 17, 2006
Winner: Teacher (Patriots 24, Jets 17)
This was the first of eight matchups between the two, and there was a bright media spotlight on the postgame handshake between them. Mangini, who first broke into the NFL under Belichick with the Browns, had spent the previous year as New England's defensive coordinator before bolting for the rival Jets. He recruited some Patriots coaches to join him, which might have rankled Belichick. In just the second game of the season, the Patriots opened a 24-0 lead midway through the third quarter -- thanks to touchdowns from first-round draft choice Laurence Maroney and second-rounder Chad Jackson -- and held on for the win. Belichick vs. Mangini overall: 5-3
Belichick vs. Romeo Crennel
Oct. 7, 2007
Winner: Teacher (Patriots 34, Browns 17)
Crennel was in his third year as Browns head coach, a position he ascended to after serving as Belichick’s defensive coordinator during the Patriots’ first three Super Bowl championships. The mutual respect between them has never seemed to wane, with Belichick saying earlier this month, “Romeo is an outstanding coach, one of the top coaches in the game, and has been for a long time. Nobody’s better than Romeo in running a defense and creating problems for the offense.” But that year, with Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker & Co., the Patriots were unstoppable. They jumped out to a 20-0 halftime lead (with touchdown catches from Donte’ Stallworth and Benjamin Watson) and never looked back. Belichick vs. Crennel overall: 1-0
Belichick vs. McDaniels
Oct. 11, 2009
Winner: Pupil (Broncos 20, Patriots 17, OT)
This was just the fifth game of McDaniels’ tenure as Broncos coach, and he was so fired up after the game that he ran to a corner of the field where his family sits and pumped his fists in jubilation. His youth at age 33 and energy were noted by players after the game, as the Broncos remained undefeated in part due to a brilliant game plan that featured a wrinkle called “Wild Horses” -- a variation of the Wildcat offense. The Patriots had been driving for a potential victory with less than two minutes remaining, but Brady was sacked and lost the ball, setting up the overtime period in which Denver won the toss and drove for a 41-yard field goal on the opening drive. Belichick vs. McDaniels overall: 0-1.
Belichick vs. Bill O’Brien
Dec. 13, 2015
Winner: Teacher (Patriots 27, Texans 6)
O’Brien had worked his way up from a Patriots coaching assistant to offensive coordinator in five seasons in New England before departing for Penn State (2012-13). He then returned to the NFL as the Texans' coach (2014-present). While this matchup came with some hype -- in part because it was played in prime time -- the action wasn’t particularly enthralling, as the Patriots harassed quarterback Brian Hoyer (five sacks) while jumping out to a 17-6 halftime lead. The Patriots have had the upper hand in all ensuing meetings, as well. Belichick vs. O’Brien overall: 5-0.