By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It’s a big week for Tom Brady. He’s 43, he’s playing in the Super Bowl, and he’s getting a lot of praise from all over. Rightfully so.READ MORE: CVS Lists Teachers As Eligible For COVID Vaccine Appointments In Massachusetts
The contrast of Brady’s success with the Patriots’ mediocrity in their first year without him has, obviously, forced just about everybody to view one situation as it relates to the other. Some of it is more than fair, as the legends of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are intertwined for eternity, despite the relationship ending after 20 years.
Other parts of it? Not so much.
Whether it’s Danny Amendola giving all the credit to Patriots players and not much at all to Patriots coaches, or Rex Ryan spouting the same thoughts, or the flurry of articles or tweets or sports radio calls that crown Brady as the reason for most or all of the Patriots’ success during two dynastic runs, some grand conclusions are being drawn on much too vast a subject matter to be summed up so succinctly.
For one, both Belichick and Brady have stated plainly numerous times that they needed each other to reach the heights they reached.
“Tom was not just a player who bought into our program. He was one of its original creators. Tom lived and perpetuated our culture. On a daily basis, he was a tone setter and a bar raiser,” Belichick said when Brady left New England. “Sometimes in life, it takes some time to pass before truly appreciating something or someone but that has not been the case with Tom. He is a special person and the greatest quarterback of all-time.”
A common refrain from Belichick has always been that he doesn’t make any passes or catches or tackles or kicks; he just coaches. Whenever he’s spoken on stage with the confetti raining down on him, his first words are always used to praise the work of the players who won the game. And as NESN’s Doug Kyed recently chronicled, he does that much more often than just after Super Bowl wins.
“The only reason I’ve won a lot of games is because I’ve coached a lot of good players,” Belichick said this year after beating the Chargers. “Players win games and I’ve been fortunate to coach a lot of great players through the years. We won today because our players made big plays to win. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to coach some outstanding players and they turned those into outstanding teams.”
OK. Got that part of it.
Now to Brady, who this week was asked what message he would send to Belichick. Instead of choosing a message to send his former boss, Brady decided to credit Belichick for just about everything that the Patriots accomplished.
“I certainly could never have accomplished the things in my career without his support and his teachings,” Brady said. “He’s an incredible coach and mentor for me. I’ve had a lot of those in my career, but obviously he’s at the top of the list.”
Is Brady biting his tongue and holding back some feelings about the man who essentially gave up on him in New England? Probably. But he’s also telling the truth.
The Brady vs. Belichick thing is overdone and far too simplistic, when the obvious answer to the question is “both of them.” It’s common sense.
Alas, it’s Brady who’s getting a lot of shine this week. And so, in an exercise to kind of remind the world how vital Belichick was to the Patriots’ 20-year run of dominance (that sounds silly to even say), here’s a top-of-the-head run-through of all the times that Belichick’s unmatched coaching acumen guided to the Patriots to success.
This is not a comprehensive list. Notably, we’ll only look at the championship seasons. And surely, some moments will be missed. But that is exactly the point.
–Kept Brady on the roster through final cuts, choosing to keep four quarterbacks instead of risking losing Brady to another team. That was a year prior in 2000, when most teams might not have been so concerned about a sixth-round pick getting snatched by another team. But Belichick clearly saw something in Brady that made him go the extra mile to not risk losing him.
–Stuck with Brady even when Drew Bledsoe was cleared to return. The Patriots went 5-2 without Bledsoe before Brady and the Pats lost to the Rams in mid-November, so it’s not as if this was a total no-doubt-about-it kind of move. Belichick received plenty of criticism from the Drew backers at the time.
–Won the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh after losing Brady before halftime. Belichick’s team beat the 13-3 Steelers in their own building with two touchdowns on special teams and a touchdown pass from Bledsoe to David Patten. The Patriots’ defense held Jerome Bettis to eight yards on nine carries.
–Super Bowl XXXVI. I mean, just look at the defensive game plan to slow down the world’s best offense. The players were coached to be overly physical with Marshall Faulk/Torry Holt/Isaac Bruce and Co., and it worked. This was probably the easiest capsule for Brady and Belichick helping each other. First, Belichick went with Brady as the starter, despite the ankle injury suffered a week earlier and Bledsoe’s capable play in relief. The game was largely won with defense (Ty Law’s pick-six, punishing sacks from Willie McGinest and Mike Vrabel come to mind), but in the final minute, Brady showed that he was special with a game-winning drive for the ages. He only had that opportunity, though, because he was in a tie game with 81 seconds left.
–Bringing in Rodney Harrison and jettisoning Lawyer Milloy was a huge risk. But it was necessary, and it worked. Harrison brought a level of nasty that the 2002 Patriots were sorely missing.
–The goal line stand at the RCA Dome to beat the Colts. McGinest’s miraculous recovery from injury might have violated the spirit of the rules, but it didn’t violate any actual rules. And that four-play defensive sequence at the goal line was ice cold.
–The intentional safety in Denver. Backed up on their own 1-yard line with 2:51 left in the fourth quarter and trailing by a single point, Belichick made the decision to snap the ball through the end zone, thus giving up two points while giving Denver much worse field position on the resulting possession. It was brilliant. The defense came up with a stop, and Brady took over near midfield, throwing the game-winning touchdown to David Givens with 30 seconds left.
–The Patriots won a mud bowl against the Giants and a winter wonderland matchup over the Dolphins. Brady had 275 combined passing yards in those two games. The Patriots won by a combined score of 29-6.
–New England faced the NFL co-MVPs in consecutive weeks in the playoffs. Steve McNair threw for 210 yards with one touchdown and one pick. Peyton Manning was a bumbling mess and threw four interceptions. Belichick clearly saved his best work for the playoffs. Brady averaged 219 yards per game in those two wins, with two touchdowns and one interception.
–Belichick built the perfect team. It’s hard to pick out individual moments because the 2004 Patriots were so good. Trading for Corey Dillon was another worthwhile gamble (he had 1,635 yards and 12 TDs in the regular season, plus 292 more yards and two more TDs in the playoffs).
–Drafted Vince Wilfork. Any time you can draft one of the best defensive tackles of an era with the 21st overall pick, you’ve done pretty well.
–The misery continued for Peyton Manning. This time visiting Foxboro in the divisional round, Manning (the league’s MVP for the second straight year) threw zero touchdowns and one pick in the Colts’ 20-3 loss at Gillette Stadium. Brady was 18-for-27 for 144 yards with a touchdown. The Colts averaged 32.6 points per game during the regular season but mustered just a field goal in this one.
–Beating the 15-1 Steelers in Pittsburgh was pretty impressive. Brady had a ton to do with that. He played with a high fever and threw one of the best passes of his life on a long bomb to Deion Branch. But Belichick’s defense also came up with three interceptions and a sack on Ben Roethlisberger, with one of those picks going 87 yards the other way for a touchdown.READ MORE: Watch Live @ 9 AM: Baker Announcement On COVID Vaccinations In Massachusetts
–For the second straight year, Bill Belichick was the more composed coach in the Super Bowl. I don’t have stats or numbers for you here, but having Belichick instead of John Fox or Andy Reid at this moment in time was critical for the Patriots in their two Super Bowl wins, which came by a combined six points.
–Signed Darrelle Revis. If it seemed suspicious when Revis signed with the Pats about 8 seconds after getting released by the Bucs … that’s because Revis quite obviously knew exactly where he wanted to play to win a ring. It worked out. He earned All-Pro honors for the fourth and final time of his career, giving Belichick the final lockdown corner season of his career.
–Discovered Malcolm Butler and kept him through final cuts. I remember asking Belichick how in the world he even thought to look at and/or acquire tape on a player from West Alabama. He didn’t reveal his secret. But keeping the athletic Butler on the roster sure paid dividends at the end of the season.
–Replaced Kyle Arrington with Butler in the Super Bowl. Remember when a total nobody (no offense) named Chris Matthews went from zero career catches to 100 yards vs. the Patriots in the Super Bowl? Bill didn’t hesitate to throw his undrafted rookie into the fire of the freaking Super Bowl. And again … that decision worked out.
–Coached the pants off John Harbaugh in the divisional round. Harbaugh’s still baffled about the formations that, while innovative, were not impossible to figure out. Watching Harbaugh stomp onto the field to take an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was a tough scene.
–Saving Julian Edelman’s arm for the right moment. “Julian Edelman was a college quarterback” is something Patriots fans heard on every single broadcast for five years, yet they never saw him throw a pass. Belichick kept that one in his back pocket, for a “break glass in case of emergency moment.” And when on the cusp of erasing a 14-point deficit for the second time, Belichick decided the moment was right. The result was one of the most electric moments in Gillette Stadium’s history.
–Scoffed at a question about quarterback controversy. After a sad performance from Brady in Kansas City, Belichick was asked if the QB position would be evaluated. Belichick rolled his eyes and let out a disgusted laugh. He offered zero words in response to the question. It said a lot.
–Utterly dominated the Colts. In the AFC title game, the Colts — who averaged 28.6 points and 407 yards per game during the season — were held to seven points and 209 yards. It was as non-competitive as a championship game could ever be.
–Won the staredown with Pete Carroll. Is there another coach on earth who wouldn’t have called a timeout after the first-down stop of Marshawn Lynch near the goal line? No, reader, there is not. Granted, if Pete Carroll had just not been a bozo and overruled his OC on the pass call, we wouldn’t be looking at this as a great moment. But we work in reality, and the reality is that Belichick calmly stood on the sideline and waited for Pete to blink. Bill won.
–Went 3-1 with Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie Jacoby Brissett at QB. When Brady finally had to serve his absurdly bogus suspension, it figured to be an interesting time to watch the Patriots. And the fact that they were nine-point underdogs in Arizona for Week 1 showed that not a lot of people believed in them. But thanks to a gruesome kick by Chandler Catanzaro, they won that game. Garoppolo got hurt a week later, and the Patriots completely altered their playbook for Brissett on a short week against Houston; the Patriots won 27-0. They lost the final game without Brady, but the 3-1 record without him went a long way in earning the AFC’s top seed.
–Acquired Kyle Van Noy and traded Jamie Collins. Did he have to get rid of Collins? Probably not. Did it hurt the Patriots in any way? Considering they went on a 10-game winning streak en route to a title after the trade, it doesn’t seem like it did. Also adding Van Noy was peak Belichick, sending a sixth-round pick to Detroit for the player and a sixth. Van Noy had tremendous talent but was poorly utilized in Detroit. In New England, he contributed to three AFC championships and a pair of Super Bowls.
–Dominated the AFC Playoffs. Brady had an off night in the divisional round vs. Houston, but baffling Brock Osweiler was no challenge for Belichick’s defense in a 34-16 win. And the AFC title game vs. Pittsburgh was no contest, as Mike Tomlin’s house of horrors was unfriendly to his Steelers in a 36-17 blowout.
–Kept things together while trailing 28-3. Ideally, the Patriots wouldn’t have fallen behind by 25 points in the Super Bowl. But once they did, they didn’t panic. On the other side, the Falcons absolutely melted. With Atlanta calling for five-step drops on third-and-1’s while in field goal range, the Patriots didn’t press. Belichick easily did the math and sent the field goal unit onto the field instead of forcing a fourth-and-goal try from the 15. He had two dynamite two-point plays ready to roll when needed, and the difference in coaching ability was painfully obvious through the latter half of that game.
–Traded for Josh Gordon. He didn’t end the season as an active player, so his story has been diminished. But Gordon was absolutely huge for the offense when the team needed a boost. (Remember how terrible the offense looked in Jacksonville and Detroit in Weeks 2 and 3?) Gordon caught 40 passes for 720 yards and three touchdowns, and the Patriots went 8-3 when he was active, after starting the year 1-2. Making that trade was a risk, but Belichick deemed it worthwhile. Gordon’s contributions helped the team to earning a first-round bye.
–Was once again the better coach in all three playoff matchups. Anthony Lynn, Andy Reid, and Sean McVay were no match for Belichick. We could get into the specifics, but that’s not really necessary.
–Got into a fight with Adam Thielen. This wasn’t impactful or anything. But it was funny. And the world needs some lulz.
— Kevin Boilard (@KevinBoilard) December 2, 2018
–Reminded Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady what the offense was good at. After losing Gordon late in the year, the Patriots’ offense needed to find a new identity. The “Do Your Job” NFL Films special showed that Belichick got in McDaniels’ ear and reminded him that he had two monstrous tight ends, a beastly fullback, giants at the tackle spots and arguably the best interior line in the NFL. Perhaps they should lean on the run game. New England ran for 404 yards in their final two regular-season tuneups before averaging 162 rushing yards per game in the playoffs. Sony Michel ran for six playoff TDs, with Rex Burkhead adding another three.
–Beat the Chiefs twice. The 2018 championship probably should have belonged to Kansas City. But the Patriots ruined those plans. Brady was, obviously, significant in that, but so was the coach. The Patriots held the Chiefs to nine first-half points in the regular season meeting before shutting them out in the first half of the AFC title game. Both games were won by one possession, so those first-half game plans were, quite simply, massive.
OK, so that wasn’t entirely necessary. Most people understand that Belichick — while great — benefited from Brady’s greatness. They also understand that Brady — while great — benefited from Belichick’s greatness. It’s not particularly complicated, but some conclusions are being drawn right now, so it’s worth providing some documentation.
You no doubt scanned through this list and thought, “How could you have missed this one?” several times. And that’s kind of the point. Belichick’s impact has been massive. As has Brady’s. As have Vinatieri’s, Bruschi’s, Hightower’s, White’s, Blount’s, Dillon’s, Edelman’s, Amendola’s, Gostkowski’s, Phifer’s, Law’s, Crennel’s, Weis’, McDaniels’, etc., etc., etc. Trying to distill everything down to just one man — coach or player — is an idiotic endeavor.
Yet the fact remains, Bill Belichick has been head and shoulders better than 90 percent of his “peers” during his tenure, and notably better than the remaining few who have been somewhat comparable, too. He has not been perfect, obviously, and he’s made some clear misses in the draft, free agency, and trades. But he’s been right a lot, and there aren’t many people who’ve built comparable success.
And again, Brady has a lot to do with that. Does Belichick win six Super Bowls without Brady? No, he does not. Does Brady win six Super Bowls and become the QB that he still is at 43 without Belichick? It’s unlikely.
To many, that’s common sense, but that doesn’t do much to quell the wild take cycle that tends to take place. So let this exercise serve the function of providing a reality-based foundation to provide a clearer picture.
Let’s agree, though, to never do this again. It’s demeaning.MORE NEWS: Boston May Transition Away From Fenway Park As Mass COVID Vaccination Site