No wonder Bill Belichick has seemed happy lately: He knows his team is pretty good

"He’s made a lot of people look foolish."

Ron Schwane
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been right, or at least is trending the right way, about an awful lot lately.

Confession: Ever since the NFL, in its annoyingly successful efforts to wring every dollar and ratings point out of its television content, decided to spread the draft over three days back in 2010, I’ve usually paid very little attention to Day 3.

There are usually better things to do on a New England spring Saturday than hang on every draft pick from the fourth to seventh rounds. Even if the team you follow strikes gold with its later selections (see 2000 NFL Draft, pick No. 199, for the ultimate example), it’s usually a few years before you discover the player is something more than pyrite. In a related note, instant draft grades are silly.


Now, I recognize I probably should amend that policy of disregarding Day 3 considering that since 2017, Bill Belichick has selected Rhamondre Stevenson, Deatrich Wise, Jack Jones, Michael Onwenu, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Bailey Zappe in the fourth round or later. That’s a high-quality late-round haul.

And sometimes, it turns out, behind-the-scenes content that the league and teams put out can make you like a player before you ever see him play. In early May, the NFL posted a 2½-minute video clip on its official Twitter account of the scene at the Zappes’ house when Bailey received the call from Belichick that the Patriots were drafting him. I missed it then — fourth-round pick, Western Kentucky, c’mon, when is he ever going to play? — but it’s been bouncing around on social media lately as Zappe has emerged as one of the more compelling stories of the season.

The clip is a gem. Zappe and his family can’t believe his good fortune. But the clip also contains a few moments of intrigue. When Belichick jumps on the line to give Zappe the official word, he stays on for a few beats longer than the usual cursory, “Welcome to the team/we look forward to seeing you at rookie camp and getting to work/OK, here’s Berj with the logistics.”


The clip leaves you wondering what was said. Given how spot-on Belichick has been about almost everything recently, the conversation probably went something like this.

“Listen, here’s how it’s going to go. You’ll come in, probably feel a little overwhelmed at first. That’s normal. But keep working, because in Week 3, Mac is going to get hurt, and assistant coach Hoyer won’t last long in Game 4. So be ready for the Green Bay game, OK? Things will go well after you get your sea legs. Oh, and don’t shake hands for long with Aaron Rodgers. He might get some ayahuasca remnants on you. OK, see you at camp. [click]”

Fine, so maybe Belichick isn’t quite that omniscient. But from what looks like an excellent draft to winning two in a row with Zappe as the starter to, heck, even recognizing competence in Matt Patricia and Joe Judge as offensive coaches, he has been right — or at least is trending the right way — about an awful lot lately. And he’s made a lot of people look foolish … and to no one’s shock, that includes me.

I wrote this back on Sept. 16, in the Unconventional Preview for the Week 2 matchup with Pittsburgh, which I astutely predicted would be a 16-13 Steelers win: “Here’s my working theory on why Belichick is giving his team all sorts of benefits of the doubt and saying stuff that would have seemed ridiculous in the past, such as the suggestion that September games are an extension of preseason: He knows his team doesn’t have the talent to elude mediocrity. This, I suspect more and more, is a bridge year in his master plan. A time to implement new offensive concepts, get reps for and evaluate younger players, and hope it looks a heck of a lot better at the end than the beginning.”


I don’t think that last sentence is technically wrong. But what precedes it was clearly a misread of his generally good spirits at the time, and I should have known better. Belichick wasn’t punting on this season. No, he knew then that this season has a chance to be a more fulfilling one for his team than any hot-take-wielding goobers like me could recognize at that point.

He knew, before we did, that his defense was fast, aggressive, and versatile. He knew that he had something special parked in the garage in Stevenson. He knew he had a heck of a rookie class. He knew they could beat the favored Packers in Week 4, which is why he was so animated the entire game. And he knew the chance to win some games in impressive fashion would come soon, when the schedule softened up.

He couldn’t have figured Zappe would be this unflappable, and I still don’t understand why the coaching staff made the degree of difficulty so unnecessarily high for Jones when he was running the offense. It’s also worth remembering that the Patriots got exposed against top-end teams last season after a seven-game winning streak had fans chanting, “Bill still knows best.” Perhaps that will happen again.

But I don’t think it will, and I do think I’m going to be right this time. No matter whether Jones or Zappe is at quarterback — and it should be the well-liked, hard-working, more talented Jones once he’s healthy, with firm orders to do a better job of protecting the football or else — the Patriots have found something here.


They’re built around a fierce running game, sturdiness in the trenches, and a talented, underestimated defense. They’re scheming up ways to involve multiple receivers and keep the quarterback out of harm’s way — and from harming the best-laid game plans with turnovers. Oh, and they can do the whole “no one believed in us” routine and have it be accurate for once.

No wonder Belichick has seemed happy. It’s one of his favorite ways to win. And nobody but him saw it coming.


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