Bill Belichick wastes so little time looking back you wonder if he ever uses the rear-view mirror when he drives. Belichick is always looking ahead, focused, fixated on the next task, the next assignment, the next season.
Sunday’s disappointing 26-16 season-ending loss to the Broncos in the AFC Championship game had barely been given an All-22 tape autopsy before the practical Patriots coach pronounced he was on to the 2014 season.
But sometimes looking back is necessary to make sure something is not catching up with you, like New England’s lack of high-end offensive talent or defensive line depth did in Denver on Sunday.
Here is a piece of advice for Belichick in his endless, joyless pursuit of excellence. Since you are entrusted with plenipotentiary duties in Fort Foxborough, serving as both general manager and head coach, cut yourself a break, Bill. Build a team that doesn’t force you to use every ounce of your considerable coaching acumen to make it a title contender.
If there is a simple truth from the last three Patriots’ playoff exits it’s that the more talented team won each time. That was the case with the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. It was the case when the Patriots lost the 2012 AFC Championship game to a deeper, more balanced Ravens team. It was self-evident last Sunday, when they went down in Denver.
This year’s Final Four in the NFL featured the four best teams in the league, and if you were ranking the rosters on raw talent you would have ranked the Patriots’ fourth.
Belichick is the best coach in the NFL. He is the greatest coach of his generation. He is arguably the greatest coach ever. His game plans could be displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But that alone is not a substitute for talent, not in the most important games of the season.
Everyone knows Belichick can wring every drop of ability out of a team like it’s a wet dish towel. Some would argue 2013 was his best job, overcoming a plague of injuries and a lack of offensive firepower to return to a third straight AFC Championship game.
Any discussion of Belichick’s best coaching jobs has to include the 2001 Super Bowl season, winning 11 games without Tom Brady in 2008, and going to the Super Bowl in 2011 with the assorted Sterling Moores, Antwaun Moldens running around the secondary of his 31st-ranked defense.
The Vatican should recognize any of these miracles.
The narrative in New England is that a head coach and The System can triumph over all, that an erudite coach is more valuable than any player, including Brady. The other 31 NFL locales don’t have the luxury of believing this fairy tale.
With all due respect to Tom Coughlin, John Harbaugh, and John Fox, the last three coaches to end Belichick’s season, does anyone think they’re better coaches than His Hoodiness? Of course not. That’s not heresy, it’s lunacy.
If Belichick had been handed the Broncos on Sunday, Fox could have lit every candle and, ahem, source of creative inspiration, in Colorado and he wouldn’t have had a prayer of winning.
It’s great that Belichick can be praised every season for being an X’s and O’s alchemist, turning coal into gold, but maybe that’s part of the problem.
We can crow about Belichick being a Coach of the Year candidate every year because he deserves it, but at what point are we giving him extra credit for overcoming adversity of his own doing?
Fate and the inveterately violent nature of football robbed him of key players Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Jerod Mayo, and, most importantly, Rob Gronkowski this season.
No one plans for a dynamic tight end like Aaron Hernandez to end up behind bars, instead of getting behind defenses for big plays.
I get that.
However, forcing Brady to play with three rookie wide receivers was Belichick’s idea.
Swapping out Wes Welker, the leading pass-catcher infranchise history, for Danny Amendola, who couldn’t have been found on Sunday with a search party, was part of the Belichick blueprint for 2013.
Not signing a proven pass rusher to supplement Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich was also his decision.
Belichick needs to build a team for 2014 that doesn’t force us to shine the spotlight on how great a coach he is, a team that doesn’t make him look like a football survivalist, fashioning Super Bowl salvation out of spare parts and a hodgepodge of abandoned household items.
The Patriots deserve credit for their scrap-heap discoveries like defensive tackle Chris Jones and their late-round draft finds like Julian Edelman.
But you don’t get bonus points for degree of difficulty in assembling a winning team. It doesn’t mean less if you go out this offseason and trade for a true No. 1 wide receiver such as Vincent Jackson or sign a promising free agent such as Golden Tate. Continued...