EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Reuters) - Bill Belichick returned to Giants Stadium on Saturday to cap a perfect season and answer critics who wondered if the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl successes were tainted.
Belichick steered the Pats to a rousing 38-35 comeback win over a fired-up New York Giants team to complete a brilliant 16-0, record-setting regular season.
They are the first team since the Miami Dolphins (14-0) in 1972 to finish the regular season undefeated.
The season began with a 38-14 victory over the New York Jets in Giants Stadium but satisfaction turned sour when the National Football League punished the coach and the team for using videotape to try and steal the Jets’ defensive signals.
Belichick was fined $500,000 and the team was hit for $250,000 and the loss of a first-round draft pick after the whistle was blown by Jets head coach Eric Mangini, who was a Belichick assistant before he took the New York job.
The revelation led some league observers to question whether Belichick had used unfair advantage on his way to coaching the Patriots to three Super Bowl titles in four years from their initial triumph after the 2001 season.
Belichick and the Pats answered with a flawless season that produced the most regular season wins ever, using one of the most potent offenses the NFL had ever seen to pound opponents.
“That was some way to finish the season today,” said Belichick, who spent a dozen years as an assistant coach with the Giants under Bill Parcells, helping to win two Super Bowls before leaving to become a head coach.
“It is really exciting to be a part of this football team and what these guys did today, all the credit goes to the players. They stepped up and made a lot of outstanding plays at critical times in the game, especially there in the second half and in the fourth quarter,” he told reporters.
“They came through like they have all year. It’s a great feeling and now is the time to take a day or two and appreciate what this team has done, but at the same time we have our biggest game of the year coming up and we are going to have to be ready for that.”
The Patriots have a bye during next week’s opening round of the playoffs. The week following they begin what they hope is a three-game postseason campaign to another Super Bowl crown.
After some prodding, the poker-faced Belichick admitted to feeling good about the Patriots’ achievement.
“I’m happy,” he said. “You work all year to try and win every game and to win them all is great and I’m very happy about it.”
Belichick complimented the Giants (10-6) and New York coach Tom Coughlin, who was wide receivers coach during the Giants’ second Super Bowl run in 1990 when Belichick was the team’s defensive coordinator.
“They have a good football team, they are well coached and they certainly gave us all we can handle tonight,” said Belichick, whose team trailed 28-16 in the third quarter.
Finishing a dream season where it all started was sweet for the laconic Belichick.
“Giant Stadium has always been a special place for me. I spent 12 years here and they were 12 great years. We had some great seasons, some championship seasons ...
“It’s always special to come back here and the fact that what happened today was here, I don’t have any complaints about it, let’s put it that way.”
Editing by John Mehaffey