With the signing of Tim Tebow, this would seem like the perfect time to ask: is Bill Belichick failing Tom Brady or is luck just finally catching up with him?
After three Super Bowl victories, five Super Bowl appearances, countless AFC East crowns and 60 wins over the last five years, it’s amusing to think that Bill Belichick would somehow be failing his superstar quarterback. But, is it really that blasphemous?
Just a few years ago, Belichick was a coach who got it, a coach who understood that his quarterback was vastly more important to the blueprint than the guy actually drawing up the blueprint. When Troy Brown and Deion Branch were his offensive weapons, his game plan was to do just enough to not screw things up for the defense. When he was gifted Randy Moss, the plan became, “Hey, uh, we can throw this thing really far, huh?” Then, as soon as Moss was jettisoned, the offense evolved, once again, into a smaller, precision-based, quick-strike attack. The careful tweaking of the game plan, to always stay within their strengths, was masterful.
Granted, all of that was made much easier by the guy running the offense being one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, but it was refreshing, for once, to see a coach not try and force his philosophy onto a roster that wasn’t necessarily equipped to handle it.
Somewhere along the line, though, it began to feel like Belichick lost his way, like it was more about “The Patriot Way” than the way that actually works. How many times was Belichick going to find his team down late in a game, still calling for 10-yard slants to Wes Welker because the team had no real deep threat?
But, the more I wanted to crucify Bill Belichick for his stubbornness, the more I came to realize that it wasn’t necessarily his fault, just like the success wasn’t necessarily his genius.
Replacing Randy Moss is, Um, Hard
It’s fair to question the Patriots insistence on rolling into every season without a legitimate deep threat. What isn’t fair to question is the Patriots insistence on rolling into every season without a Randy Moss.
Strangely, and quite inexplicably, Bill Belichick and “The Patriot Way” somehow seemed to have overshadowed the fact that what Tom Brady was throwing the football to was possibly the best wide receiver in the history of the NFL. We forget this in part because of the two miserable seasons he spent in Oakland just before his tenure in New England, but we’re talking about Randy. Bleeping. Moss. You don’t just get to replace that.
And it’s not like they aren’t trying.
Despite the White Receiver Shuffle and his collection of tiny, shifty halfbacks, Belichick knows he’ll have a hard time winning without getting Brady more help, which is why they brought in Brandon Lloyd, who’s definitely a deep threat, but is also still Brandon Lloyd. They’ve also tried their share of retreads (Donte Stallworth, Chad Johnson, Kellen Winslow, etc.) hoping to recreate at least a little of that magic they were able to work on Moss’ career. They’re doing what most teams in the NFL do; it only looks more like failure in New England because they’re (sort of) being unfairly compared to Randy Moss, who was the primary reason that offense averaged 37 points and 15 unicorns per game.
One fair criticism of the Patriots is that they could have done a better job going after top wide receiver talent, either in free agency or the draft. In their own division, alone, they’ve watched as teams landed guys like Brandon Marshall, Santonio Holmes and Mike Wallace. They’ve stockpiled draft picks while teams like the Falcons and Ravens, who were already pretty good, drafted Julio Jones and Torrey Smith. Legitimate help has been out there; they just haven’t done a good enough job of finding it.
Belichick Keeps Getting Gronk’d
What they have done is find Rob Gronkowski, which could very well be considered the help Brady needs, except he keeps getting hurt when Brady needs him most. Most notably, in the playoffs, where a high-ankle sprain severely limited his effectiveness in Super Bowl XLVI, and a broken arm kept him out of last year’s AFC Championship game. The Patriots offense is drastically different without him on the field, and it showed in both games.
In a sport that more or less begs for injuries, though, them’s the breaks. (Terrible pun intended.)
Belichick a Failure or Just Unlucky?
“Luck” is a dirty word in the sports community. We like to attribute success to any number of tangible or intangible qualities, but the reality is, luck (or “chance”, if that makes you want to punch me less) is more significant to the outcome of a particular game than any eye of the tiger or fire-filled belly.
You can’t predict injuries or fluky plays, they just kind of happen. Think of it this way:
The Patriots are only a helmet catch and Welker drop away from winning five Super Bowls. But, they’re also just as easily a bad snap and gust of wind away from winning only one.
Luck has worked in Bill Belichick’s favor for a long time. An unprecedented amount of luck, if we’re being honest. From drafting Tom Brady in the 83rd round, to the tuck rule, to coming across Randy Moss in the WalMart bargain bin, it’s hard to think of another person in professional sports who’s had that kind of run.
It doesn’t last forever. In the NFL, good health and good fortune are uncontrollable and fleeting.
The Patriots signed Tim Tebow this week, and it’s probably not Bill Belichick thinking that he’s smarter than everybody else, so much as it is Bill Belichick trying to catch a little lightning in a bottle again. Like old times. Maybe it’ll work. But it probably won’t.
And when it doesn’t, will it be Bill Belichick who, once again, continues to fail Tom Brady? Or will it be his luck?