New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick will one day be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Belichick has led the Patriots to three Super Bowl titles in five appearances, and the Patriots were a circus play/helmet catch away from going 19-0 and a Wes Welker drop plus an amazing Mario Manningham sideline catch from winning another Super Bowl. After reading that every Patriots fan is softly banging his/her head against a wall. Hang on, I’ll be right back as I go do the same.
Okay, I’m back.
Under Belichick, the Patriots have put together 13 consecutive winning seasons (including 2008, when future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady was lost for the season). The Patriots have reached the playoffs 11 times with Belichick as their head coach — one season they missed the playoffs was 2008 when they still went 11-5 with Matt Cassel at QB. This Sunday will be the eighth time (third in a row) that the Patriots have reached the AFC Championship Game with Belichick — the most ever for a head coach.
I understand the Patriots play in the AFC East and get to play two games against the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets each season, but there have been plenty of weak divisions and no other team has shown this much consistency. Even when the Indianapolis Colts had Peyton Manning as their QB they only put together nine straight winning seasons (2002-2010). Then Manning missed the entire 2011 season because of neck surgeries and the Colts went 2-14. That just doesn’t happen under Belichick.
In a league that strives for parity it is amazing Belichick and the Patriots continue to be so successful, and given Belichick’s accomplishments, some may consider the next sentence to be incredibly bold, considering the Patriots still have to play the AFC Championship game. But…
This could be Belichick’s best season as a head coach in the NFL.
Think about that for a second. Let that really sink in. With all of his achievements, could this really be Belichick’s best season as a head coach in the NFL? Is Belichick really at his best now at the age of 61?
Belichick won his first Super Bowl in 2001. At that time there were virtually no read-option quarterbacks or spread offenses in the NFL, and defenders weren’t severely limited in how they could hit receivers and QBs. There wasn’t a whole lot of “running back by committee,” and every team wanted a franchise running back. The NFL is very different now — there are more read-option QBs and spread offenses, defenders are flagged for looking at a receiver or QB who is still in the pocket the wrong way and many more teams are using multiple running backs.
What has stayed the same in the NFL? Bill Belichick leading the Patriots deep into the playoffs. Belichick and the Patriots adapt and keep winning.
I know almost every team has to deal with injuries each season, but the Patriots have put DL Vince Wilfork, LB Brandon Spikes, DL Tommy Kelly and LB Jerod Mayo on IR — and that’s just on defense. Other players on defense have missed time as well but were not put on IR. On offense OT Sebastian Vollmer was put on IR, and after TE Rob Gronkowski finally got back into the lineup after recovering from his back and forearm issues, he quickly tore his ACL and MCL in his right leg and was put on IR. The Patriots’ top receiver, Wes Welker, left the team for the Denver Broncos in free agency during the offseason. Read my article on whether or not the Patriots miss Welker this season.
In addition, the Patriots’ other All-Pro TE Aaron Hernandez did not play a down for the Patriots this season. Hernandez was cut as he is currently in jail, awaiting trial in the murder of Odin Lloyd and has now been linked to a double homicide in 2012. The way Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft handled the Hernandez situation was incredible. It was because of Belichick and Kraft that the Hernandez story didn’t become a distraction. They both handled the situation with class and allowed the organization to focus on football.
I know it’s a bold statement, but with the injuries suffered by important Patriots players on both offense and defense and his ability to adapt to a changing NFL landscape, this just might be Belichick’s best season as an NFL head coach.