by Evan Bruner
For 20 years, the New England Patriots were untouchable, the gold standard for all North American Sports teams. An organization that had experienced little success went on a historic run to kick off the 21st century. Listing every single feat accomplished by New England during this stretch would be a full-length article in itself. In short, the team won six Super Bowls, appeared in nine, and recorded 20 consecutive winning seasons.
Winning is a privilege, not a right, and all fanbases, no matter the city or sport, ultimately want to win. In 20 years, the Patriots did more winning than many teams have in double the time.
But the more a franchise wins, the more entitled its fanbase becomes, and the harder it is to return to normalcy. It has been four years since Tom Brady packed his bags for Tampa Bay, and since then, the Patriots have become just another football team.
A total record of 26-29 and one playoff appearance since the start of the 2020 season is a far cry from the perennial juggernaut that terrorized the rest of the league. Most recently, the team has gotten off to a dreadful 1-4 start and has been outscored by 76 points. Replacing Brady was never going to be easy, but keeping the team competitive wasn’t supposed to be this difficult, either.
Success can breed stubbornness, and there isn’t a man in the league today who’s as successful or stubborn as head coach Bill Belichick. No matter how you spin it, Belichick is culpable for the Patriots current situation.
A bad team can usually be explained one of two ways: the team doesn’t have the right personnel, or the team doesn’t know how to use the personnel. As both head coach and general manager, Belichick would be considered responsible either way. Even though Brady left Foxborough nearly four years ago, Belichick is operating as if he were still suiting up for New England on Sundays. His team-building approach has stayed almost identical.
The problem is the single most crucial component of those teams is no longer there. Even if Brady wasn’t the only reason those Patriots teams were so great, it’s hard to argue he wasn’t the biggest. As a result, Belichick has continued his attempt at making Mac Jones Tom Brady 2.0. There are some abstract similarities between the two, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that Jones is no Brady.
When Jones was at his best at Alabama, he was surrounded by elite pass catchers. Jones was able to showcase his timing and accuracy and led one of the greatest teams in college football history. New England, however, has done him no favors. The wide receiver depth chart comprises largely of back-ups and fringe practice squad players. Jones can still, in theory, be a solid starting quarterback, but he isn’t equipped to lead an offense with such little help. He needs his receivers to pull their weight, and the more the Patriots ask him to do, the more conspicuous his limitations become.
The truth is both Brady and Belichick benefited immensely from the other’s presence. But as fans, we seldom allow narratives to be that simple. Brady left Belichick and was still highly successful, while Belichick has faltered.
Adaptability is hard to maintain, especially for a 71-year-old head coach, but it’s necessary. As much goodwill as six championships give a head coach, it doesn’t make them immortal, and with Belichick in what is likely the twilight of his legendary coaching career, it’ll be up to him to change his ways.