From 2001 to 2019, the New England Patriots have won the AFC East 17 times. The other two years ended in a tie in first place.
In that time frame, they went to 12 AFC championship games and nine Super bowls. Six have won.
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been together for the entire race and – thanks to the past two decades – are now recognized as the best coach and quarterback in NFL history respectively.
Trying to share credit for a race never seen before the NFL domination and perhaps the most incredible trait in the history of professional sport – to some extent – is missing the point.
Did the ancient Egyptians stand in front of the pyramids and discuss whether the architect or builders deserved more credit? Did Mrs Wright analyze which of her children – Wilbur or Orville – was primarily responsible for the invention, construction and flight of the first plane?
There is something to be said just to close and appreciate the realization, isn’t there? Yup.
And we will get there.
But right now, with the engines going down Route 1 to pack Tom Brady’s remaining stuff and take him out of Foxboro forever, the question hangs on everything. Which man was most responsible for creating the story we’ve seen written in the past two decades: Belichick or Brady?
Results may vary. In fact, I know they will. But here’s how I see it.
If it hadn’t been for Belichick, there would never have been the mini-dynasty that they became in the decade 2000-2009.
If it weren’t for Brady, the Patriots would never have become the Super Dynasty that they became from 2010 to 2019 when they blew up the 60s Packers, 70s Steelers, 80s Niners and 90s Cowboys to become the only franchise that has dominated two decades.
Bill gets the first decade
The moment Mo Lewis cut an artery in Drew Bledsoe’s chest in September 2001, he is touched as the history of the NFL has changed. It wasn’t. It will only speed up a trial that began when Robert Kraft decided to hire Belichick to succeed Pete Carroll in January 2000.
Belichick took a look at the team’s register and management and started fumigating and renewing. In the end – despite the heavy contract that the Patriots gave Bledsoe in January 2001 to help strengthen public confidence and private investment in building CMGI Field (possibly Gillette Stadium) – Belichick was wary of being tied to a quarterback that the coach was able to routinely undress whenever he trained against him.
Especially a quarterback who had to be paid as the top of the market, as Bledsoe and his agent David Dunn made clear.
Brady was not enlisted in the sixth round of the 2000 draft as Bledsoe’s successor, but in September it became clear to Belichick that he had something. And it became obvious during the 2001 offseason and the training camp that – although not better than Bledsoe in all – the child who made $ 298,000 was more mobile, more precise, more ready in his pocket and destined to be more suited to handling a Bledsoe game.
Mo Lewis accelerated the process and – with a painful stroke – made the transition relatively painless. But the credit goes to Belichick for seeing what he had, promoting it and having the decision to pull the trigger.
The fact that the Patriots went 14-5 under Brady after starting 5-13 under Bledsoe is persuasive evidence that Brady was the missing piece. But Belichick created the register, built the culture and hired the right people – from managers to coaches – to put the team in a position to succeed. It deserves more credit.
Brady may have helped them get where they did, but the Patriots were undoubtedly headed in the right direction and the fruits of Belichick’s designs were collected in 2003 and 2004.
Those Super Bowl wins – the first at the end of a season that started with the shooting down of lawyer Milloy in favor of Rodney Harrison; the second thanks largely to a dice throw on Corey Dillon – they were the victories for “culture”.
Disinterest imposed. All done for the greatest good of the team. Everything ego in your pocket. The most impressive aspect of the patriots was therefore their stamina and mental endurance. Brady was an important part. But so were Tedy Bruschi and Harrison, Matt Light, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel and so on.
Fifty-three very intelligent and capable players row together in the hold of the big ship while Belichick was over the bridge to trace a route. It was from 2001 to 2004.
The dips in 2005 and 2006 began the process that would have led Brady to become, largely on Belichick’s design, the engine.
The 2005 Patriots were hit by injuries – not a hindsight surprise when you consider the nine extra games played in the previous four seasons and the difficulty of staying on top. They started to see some friction to grow old – Troy Brown was 34 then – and the ongoing game was marked as well as their defense on the run. They went 10-6 and lost in the division round.
The following season, a protracted squabble over the contract led to the Deion Branch being swapped with Seattle shortly before the season began. Reche Caldwell led the team in receptions followed by Ben Watson, Troy Brown and Kevin Faulk. However, they were unable to advance to the Super Bowl, but lost on the road to the Colts.
That season, Brady got a toy he had never had in Randy Moss and a Troy Brown replica model named Wes Welker. The entire set of record sets went 16-0 and lost in the Super Bowl.
Which brings us to 2008. This is the season that many are aiming for when they say that it is Belichick’s genius that is most responsible for twenty-year success. The Patriots went 11-5 with Matt Cassel starting in quarterback. Hadn’t he been a beginner from high school, yet the patriots still went 11-5?
Cassel was exceptional, better than anyone could hope for. But it’s still a sharp drop from 16-0 to 11-5.
In 2009, the central defense core was expelled or withdrawn: Vrabel, Bruschi, Seymour and Harrison. Belichick complained to Brady on the sidelines during a defeat for the Saints that season that “I just can’t get these kids to play the way I want them. So frustrating.”
The season ended with an ignominious home defeat against the crows in the AFC division playoff round.
Brady gets the second decade
The patriots renewed in the off-season and, in my opinion, Brady was at the forefront of finding their places where they had no business at that stage of their reconstruction. In 2010, the Patriots went 14-2, they were seed no. 1 and Brady was the unanimous MVP.
The offense, moving away from the narrow final position, enlisted two – Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez – and their production would become historic in 2011 when the Patriots arrived at the Super Bowl and lost again to the Giants. Brady launched for 5,235 career yards with 39 touchdowns and 12 picks.
In the 2012 season, he launched 637 times, a career high and one of three times in four seasons that attempted more than 600 passes. With a defense that too often seemed to resist better teams, it was Brady and the offense to score and score and score a little more. They were the first, third, first and third in points marked from 2010 to 2013. Defensively in that period they were eighth, 15th, ninth and tenth.
Even in 2013, when Hernandez was jailed for murder, Gronkowski was grounded due to back surgery and then with an ACL, Brady still ran by hitting the ball with Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and – to a lesser extent – Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson and Shane Vereen.
They won the Super Bowl in 2014, winning a shootout against the Ravens in the Divisional Round, 35-31, and then overcoming a 24-14 deficit against the Seahawks in the fourth quarter when Brady moved to a completely different level in the fourth quarter.
The previous April, Belichick had enlisted Brady’s aspiring successor, Jimmy Garoppolo, in the second round. Brady, perhaps remembering the shrug that Drew Bledsoe had encountered Brady’s arrival 14 years earlier, would not have fallen asleep on the move with the team that ran Garoppolo.
Brady went on to launch 69 touchdowns and 16 predictions in 2014 and 15. He lost four suspension games in 2016 – Garoppolo overcame six quarters of Brady’s relief before hurting himself and giving way to Jacoby Brissett – but he still threw 28 touchdowns and two interceptions before ending that season with a 43- record. by-62, 466 yards in the Super Bowl when the Patriots canceled out a deficit of 28-3. Brady did it at 39.
At 40 in the AFCCG, without Edelman, without an injured Gronkowski, Brady and Amendola joined together to push the Patriots beyond the Jaguars and in the Super Bowl against Philly where he would have launched for 505 yards.
So let’s tell here. From 2010 to 2017, the Patriots have reached seven consecutive AFC Championship Games and the year they didn’t, Brady was the unanimous MVP. He wrote the filming of the playoffs against Ravens and Seahawks in 2014, the Falcons in 2016, the Jaguars in 2017 and led the team to two Super Bowl wins.
In 2018, Edelman was exiting an ACL and was therefore suspended for the first four games. Gronk was injured for a large chunk of the year. Phillip Dorsett and Chris Hogan were the main gimmicks for a while until the team faced Josh Gordon. It’s still? The team went 11-5, Brady put them on his back in the fourth quarter and overtime in Kansas City in the AFCCG and then the Patriots defense checked against the Rams and delivered a Super Bowl to Brady – apart from the shot at Gronk which led to the game’s winning touchdown – he just had to play OK to win the team.
The final verdict
So, see what my answer to this debate is now. Bill gets a bigger share of the first three Lombards. Tom gets a higher share than the second three.
So many people over the years have speculated that Belichick wants to prove that he can win a championship without Brady. I don’t know if it’s true.
I think if Brady was gone, Belichick would appreciate the opportunity, but I never thought he would have wanted to get rid of what he thinks is a quarterback capable of giving him a title that the others couldn’t.
Maybe that’s why we’re here. Belichick doesn’t see Brady as special as he once was. Great? Sure. Are there other guys who can do things they can’t do now? Belichick seems to think so. Brady has apparently survived its usefulness here.
Bill will do what he has done to so many other players. Go ahead. But this is the life cycle of the NFL.
From what I’ve been told and what I’ve collected, Brady agrees. He hoped to be special and to be able to write a different ending here, but to realize he couldn’t shock him. For a legend, it is rather well established.
Playing for Bill Belichick will help keep a player that way. And maybe even for that, Belichick deserves a lot of credit. He allowed Tom Brady to become Tom Brady because he was eternally and exasperatedly Bill Belichick.
Every. Single. Year.