Patriots need to find a way to beat Cowboy Wade

ATLANTA – This is the guy the Patriots have to beat on Sunday.

He’s not a bright, young, 30-something whiz kid. He’s not a 6-foot-6 pound defensive lineman, or a hard hitting 5-11, 210-pound cornerback.

Nope. He’s just a nice, easygoing, grandfather-type who you could probably see relaxing on a ranch, riding a horse, sitting outside casting a fishing line in a pond.

Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has been around the National Football League forever, and he’s always been around successful teams. Hard to remember when he was a young 32-year-old coordinator, son of Bum Phillips, the late former Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints coach who always wore a Cowboy hat.

Like Patriots coach Bill Belichick, there’s virtually nothing he hasn’t seen. He took a Von Miller-led Denver defense to the Super Bowl a few years ago, beating the Patriots along the way en route to a championship. You wonder if he ever thinks this could be his last one.

“At my age, you wonder if it’s the last time in life I’ll do anything,” Phillips said with a chuckle. “Most of our players have never been to the Super Bowl. Some great players I’ve coached have never been to a Super Bowl, and some great coaches, too. It’s a great opportunity and it’s thrilling to be here.”

Thrilling for a 71-year-old who will be coaching in his third Super Bowl (previous two with Denver). That Von Miller-led Denver defense in 2016 was, in his opinon, “one of the best defenses ever in the NFL. You beat (Ben)Roethlisberger, Brady, and then Cam Newton, and they were averaging 40 points a game, and play like we did on defense, I think that was one of the great defenses all-time.”

And Phillips knows he’s playing one of the best franchises of all-time that can beat you in so many different ways because the quarterback is so good.

“They’ve got a stronger running game than he’s had, probably anytime since I’ve played them,” Phillips said. “They’ve got that strong running game to go with his talent. So you say you’ve got to stop the run to make Tom Brady throw it. I don’t know if that’s a great combination. But it is what you have to do.”

Don’t be fooled by Phillips’ easygoing demeanor. Those wheels are constantly turning; his mind is really working fulltime on the Patriots, because he knows it’s the only way.

“The one thing about, again, Belichick not only on defense but on offense, they can run any scheme offensively,” he said, and then started getting technical like coaches do. He knows he’s going to see something really different from the Patriots on Sunday.

But the one thing Phillips knows he’ll see is Brady’s ability to, well, win.

“He gets rid of the ball quicker, he makes decisions quicker than any quarterback,” Phillips said. “That’s the key, his decisions. He can go from one, two, three quicker than anybody else. Or he can see one open and boom, he’s going to hit it right now. It doesn’t matter whether you play zone or man. …. He’s going to move the ball, make plays. You’ve got to make a play on him.”

Phillips is having fun this week. There’s not a question he won’t answer, including one from a German reporter who asked how the heck he’s still coaching at age 71.

“You mean I can’t go to Germany and coach, huh?” the answer came with a huge grin. “Shoot. I’m past 66. I’m gonna have to retire.”

Nah, that’s not going to happen.

“I enjoy doing it,” he said. “I love what I’m doing. As long as I can be pretty good at what I do, and helpful to our team, I gotta keep doing it.”

Some of the Rams players say Phillips, who showed up in Atlanta wearing a Cowboy hat and fur coat as a tribute to Bum, say they can’t wait to see him dance.

“Hopefully I’ll be doing that after the ballgame,” he said. “That’s when I like to dance.”

Last dance? Sure, it would be natural for Cowboy Wade to ride off into the sunset if the Rams, much to the chagrin of the Patriots, win.

“They’re trying to retire me, and it sounds like Germany is already trying to retire me,” Phillips said. “This week is the most important week, and this ball game, and that’s where we’ll go from there.

“Everywhere I’ve been, we’ve done pretty well. They keep you around if you win.”

The Patriots would then probably love to host a retirement party for Dancin’ Wade.

Beat Wade Phillips and his defensive scheme on Sunday, and they’ll be the ones dancing instead.

Tom King may be reached at 594-1251,tking@nashuatelegraph.com, or@Telegraph _TomK.