Bill Belichick seems to be evolving … and that’s not necessarily worthy of a compliment.
In case you missed it, perhaps while ingesting the latest updates surrounding former MVP Lamar Jackson – and Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh stood by his guy during Monday’s AFC coaches breakfast at the annual league meeting – “BB” was a few tables away offering what amounted to a jarring about-face.
When asked why New England Patriots fans should be optimistic about the upcoming season, the franchise’s longtime coach – Mr. “We’re onto Cincinnati” – replied with this:
“The last 25 years.”
The man who has told us for decades that this year’s team has nothing to do with last year’s edition and unfailingly stresses looking forward rather than reflecting – flash back to that lame “no days off” chant he tried to ignite at the Boston parade following the Pats’ Super Bowl 51 escape six years ago – suddenly wants to lean on his résumé?
Let’s do that then. Six Lombardi Trophies, most ever by an NFL head coach? Extremely impressive, to say the least.
But when studying résumés, recency bias tends to creep in. And it says here there are zero playoff wins the past three years, the lone postseason appearance a 47-17 defeat to the Buffalo Bills? And that implosion came just weeks after a fluky victory in a wind tunnel at Orchard Park, New York, when Buffalo coach Sean McDermott said, “Let’s not give more credit than we need to give credit to Bill Belichick in this one.”
It also seems all of Belichick’s Super Bowl victories as an HC coincided with one Thomas Edward Patrick Brady as New England’s quarterback and – speaking of résumés – it appears this TEPB12 won his seventh ring and went 37-20 (5-2 in postseason) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after ditching the Patriots in 2020? And Belichick is 25-26 since Brady bolted?
Well, Bill, since the résumé seems a touch skewed by this Brady fella, we decided to check a few references. One, recently retired safety and long-serving team captain Devin McCourty, said in a recent Boston radio interview regarding the 2022 season, when the Patriots went 8-9 and occasionally couldn’t seem to settle on a quarterback (or who should coach the position): “We never were solidified as an offensive group that guys had full confidence in anything we were doing. There was never true hope.”
Hardly sounds like a roster purportedly programmed to row in the same direction, regardless of circumstances. (And, as of Monday, Belichick still wasn’t ready to publicly commit to 2021 first-rounder Mac Jones or 2022 fourth-rounder Bailey Zappe.)
We also notice there’s no mention of the “Patriot Way” on Belichick’s (mostly) glowing CV. We’ve heard it entails doing whatever’s in the best interest of the team collectively, regardless of collateral damage to individuals, and doesn’t involve dwelling on faded laurels. But Belichick has disavowed the phrase.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever used that term,” he said in 2019, when Brady was still a Patriot. “I’m not really sure what that is, either.”
Maybe it’s nothing.
We cross-checked other files and turns out Nick Caserio, Romeo Crennel, Thomas Dimitroff, Brian Flores, Joe Judge, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, Bill O’Brien, Matt Patricia, Scott Pioli – all steeped in the so-called “Patriot Way” as coaches or executives – failed to replicate Super Bowl success elsewhere and frequently didn’t sniff .500.
We do see O’Brien is back in the building as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach after Judge and Patricia mucked those jobs up in 2022. And let’s note O’Brien didn’t win a ring in his initial five-year hitch in Foxborough, perhaps best remembered for a sideline rant directed at Brady in 2011, before managing moderate success with the Houston Texans – an organization O’Brien left in shambles amid a series of egregiously miscalculated moves as general manager.
Point being, maybe this whole “Patriot Way” deal is a myth. Or more likely a misnomer that makes infinitely more sense if we call it the “Brady Way.”
But I digress.
Back to Monday’s flex, and the implication that a quarter century’s worth (almost) of institutional knowledge and success in New England means that Belichick and Co. – less Brady, of course – can course correct in a division now owned by McDermott’s Bills and apparently soon to welcome Aaron Rodgers, to say nothing of larger challenges in a conference that includes the Bengals and Super Bowl-champion Kansas City Chiefs, who annually host the AFC title game.
Welp, turns out another former Patriots defensive leader had some thoughts, Tedy Bruschi, a member of Belichick’s first three Super Bowl winners, weighing in from the ESPN analyst pulpit Monday.
“I’m very surprised that Bill Belichick would say that – how he would refer to the past – because I’ve been in countless team meeting rooms when the very first meeting of the season, what comes out of his mouth is this: ‘I don’t care what you’ve done in the past. … The past does not matter.’ So this is a shift, to me, in the mentality of Bill. I don’t know what he was thinking saying that. And if I was in the locker room, I’d check him right now. That’s something that he should not say, and that’s not a message he should convey to his players,” said Bruschi.
“Maybe he needs to refocus just a little bit, because that is an answer that I have never heard come out of his mouth. And for him to say that, I am shocked that that would be his answer.”
Same, Tedy. Same.
Perhaps it’s simply an admission that Belichick, never very expansive with answers anyway (unless they relate to league history), has effectively run out of them in a post-Brady reality that’s shed an increasingly differential light on the coach’s once unassailable legacy.
And the Patriot Way? With a daunting campaign ahead, worth wondering if Belichick and his team have lost their way.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.