Remember when Brady Vs. Was Belichick a thing? It was considered a compelling Legacy Bowl. Who had more influence on the Patriot dynasty? How they remained separate will settle the debate. This should never have been a question.
The superstar player always matters the most. Brady made a loud statement by joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the middle of the pandemic and immediately capturing his seventh championship. Brady didn’t need to prove anything, but at age 43, he did so anyway. After the surprise wore off, the natural reaction was to vote for the coach who built the organization that helped the quarterback win his first six titles.
Who is Belichick without Brady? This is an unfair question to which you already know the answer. His record is not good: 80–92 record, two postseason appearances, one playoff win as the Cleveland Browns coach during the 1994 season. With Brady as the franchise player, the Patriots set an NFL record for 17 consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins, a streak that did not end until the quarterback left.
In the 10-plus seasons Belichick has coached without Brady, his teams have posted double-digit wins only three times. This includes an 11-5 campaign in 2008, when Matt Cassel started 15 games after Brady suffered a left knee injury. New England did not reach the playoffs that season, but it may have been Belichick’s best coaching job. This reinforced the belief that the Patriots had a way of doing things that impressed anyone. This may be true in many cases, but Brady was indispensable.
Belichick’s job was to service the superstar’s continued greatness and build an empire on top of it. As the coach falls to earth and attempts to bluster through vulnerability in his typical, brutal way, it’s easy to get tired of his act and pretend that Belichick had no extraordinary influence on that win. It’s easy to wonder whether his legacy should now be changed. But the foundation upon which ecstatic spectators built Belichick’s genius pedestal was flawed from the beginning. His story should be reframed to better capture his role in activating and maintaining the Brady-run dynasty.
It’s foolish to suggest that Belichick and the coaching staff made Brady just because he came in as a sixth-round draft pick. Likewise, it is a misinterpretation of Belichick’s Hall of Fame career to downplay wins and draw the flat conclusion that the coach was only good when he had Brady. Great coaches don’t create great players, but they hone them with their tactics and put the proper pieces around them to hone their skills. When Brady entered the team in 2001 as an injury replacement for Drew Bledsoe, he was born into the perfect situation: a solid veteran team with good balance that needed composure and efficiency from its quarterback.
As Brady’s stardom grew, Belichick and the front office were able to think differently about talent and roster construction. He valued dependability over sheer athleticism. He was ruthless in salary cap management. If there were holes in their offense, Brady could cover them. If they weren’t great on defense, Belichick could design a game plan to challenge offenses by going to extraordinary lengths to confuse the opposing quarterback and take away a specific strength. For two decades, the Patriots exploited every tactical advantage and held on. Sometimes, he bent the rules. Even if you don’t like them, you have to appreciate their organizational alignment and the commitment of owner Robert Kraft.
But with all the Patriots rooting for him, Brady was the one who lifted him up. At their level, it’s not about a system. He was a once-in-a-lifetime superstar who could hide any shortcomings.
Now, after much struggle, they have Jones’ remains. Beyond the quarterback, the roster is poorly constructed, which may be Belichick’s biggest problem. If the 71-year-old continues this season, his dual role as coach and top football executive should be reconsidered. The Patriots had only one All-Pro last season, punt returner Marcus Jones. The talent is inadequate and on the field they look more and more disorganized each season.
Last season was defined by silly mistakes. Now, they have entered the competitive no-show zone. The call for change is becoming louder. It’s hard to imagine Kraft firing him outright, especially in the middle of the season. But since last season’s offensive coordinator debacle, I’ve thought this relationship is headed toward a mutual agreement to part ways.
Belichick will have to fight for an amicable ending. Losing by five touchdowns in back-to-back games is unacceptable. When he repeatedly made references to the need to “start over” after Sunday’s 34-0 home loss to the New Orleans Saints, it was Belichick’s way of acknowledging how dire the situation had become.
As Belichick stumbles, you’re left to contemplate his entire journey. He’s still a mastermind, but with Brady gone, there’s no one to mirror his cleverness. The coach needed that anchor more than he would ever admit.