The Rise and Fall of the New England Patriots: Blame Belichick

I’m not sure the Patriots previous 18 wins this season actually served them as well as history and Bostonians might have liked.

Had they lost tonight with a regular season of, say, 14-2, as they had in 2004 when they won the Superbowl, I don’t think they infamy of their loss would be great. Or even noticed. And the Giants would still have had an upset by any sports writing standard.

But with all the hoopla from Boston fans - the ever-increasing magnanimity that prompted magazine covers to proclaim such lofty and circumspect titles to the team - sometimes even as early in mid-season - the world slowly turned against them. The crowd in Phoenix was more than two-thirds Giant’s fans and one would suspect that the rest of the world watching felt similarly.

As the rest of the NFL watched these tired underdogs, the NY Giants, beat prediction after prediction, as they fought, clawed, and scrapped their way to meager victory after meager victory, we were stirred and remembered what football was all about.

It wasn’t about “perfection”. It wasn’t about attitude, pretty boys, or ignominious coaches who spuriously defied NFL regulation after regulation. Football is, as the NFL pre-game show labeled the Giants team, about “resiliency”. The word, defined for millions of viewers by team members, gave heart to every fan of any sport, and to every person whose ever had a tough time in their life.

We don’t want to believe that a well-oiled machine of perfect teamwork is the key to success. We want to believe, instead, that despite the odds against us, that there is hope - that if we struggle long enough, if we keep pushing back against the establishment, if we pursue our dreams with all our heart… that we have a chance. A real chance.

Through a mere three games of post-season play, the New England Patriots went from being viewed as a team of destiny to a team of self-righteousness. Even after New York’s defeat of the Dallas Cowboys, the Patriots didn’t seem to think the battle was real. One would have thought that self-assured quarterback Tony Romo’s abandonment of his team would have been a wake-up call to any similar quarterbacks in the league who might have been over confident.

Sure, the Patriots made all the token platitudes about the quality of the Giants. But, if there is anything that is consistent about the Patriots (besides their win-loss record) it’s their record for speaking out of the side of their mouth. Even late in the season when the Patriots were preparing to play a hapless Dolphins team who had only just gotten their first win the week before, Belichick opined that the Miami quarterback was “athletic” and that his mobility “will be a big challenge for us”. Most of South Florida was wondering if Belichick had lapsed into a coma of some kind and was talking about Dan Marino.

But, we’ve known that Belichick, despite his impressive win-loss record as head coach of the Patriots is two things also: dishonest and a sore loser. He claims to admire legendary Coach Don Shula, but one wonders if it isn’t just jealousy. There’s little doubt in most minds that Belichick will ever be placed in the same standing as great men like Vince Lombardi or Tom Landry.

It seems increasingly doubtful that Belichick will even make it into the Hall of Fame. The now infamous spygate incident seems reason enough. One U.S. Senator wants a deeper investigation of it and now there’s even a newer allegation that the Patriots did it in 2002 against the St. Louis Rams (which was denied by the Patriots today). That incident, which garnered Belichick the highest fine ever for a NFL head coach, would seem to preclude any chance of membership in the Hall of Fame (especially when you consider how that nomination process works).

Today’s loss didn’t help his cause - and walking off the field early and leaving his team in the lurch only further showcased his sour attitude.

But, even if Belichick got into the NFL Hall of Fame, would they make a wax model of him wearing his cutoff sweats? Just the picture of him in those torn sweats (also against NFL rules) standing next to Tom Landry’s suit, tie, and fedora hat would be enough reason for visitors to spraypaint graffiti on Belichick’s wax museum figure: “Killroy was here” - or perhaps “Videotape me. It’s legal.”

As outrageous as this might sound to die-hard Boston fans,Robert Kraft should consider firing Belichick and finding a new head coach. Even the lowly Dolphins wouldn’t hire Belichick at this stage. And that’s saying a lot, because the Dolphins have taken some real bottom-of-the barrel guys since Shula’s departure. I’d even venture to argue that Fins fans would take back Nick Saban before hiring Belichick. Okay, maybe we wouldn’t go that far, but it would be debate nonetheless - and that should be a real concern to a competitive owner like Robert Kraft.

You can’t blame Tom Brady. Really. And maybe it was about time he lost a Superbowl anyway. It only seemed fair. He tried his best against a ferocious pass rush the likes of which the Patriots hadn’t seen since, well, the last game of their regular season when they played the NY Giants.

Besides, the NY Giants only did what I advised over three months ago. After the Patriots went to town on my Miami Dolphins, I saw New England’s weaknesses rather clearly. Somebody in New York must be reading my blog and got the message to Tom Coughlin and his men.

See if the following doesn’t sound like something the Giants used in their win over Brady tonight:

We learned that the Patriots have no running game anymore. They once did. But the Dolphins defense - notoriously weak in stopping the run the past six games - held the Pats to 84 yards rushing.

If you watched the game, or if you know Brady as well as Dolphins do, you’ll know his utter disdain (and ability to be rattled) from being hit. Even late hits could be worth their price in gold, even with the penalty yardage, when it comes to pretty boy Brady. He hates being touched at all. So getting in his face would seem a sure way to get him off his game.

We also never saw Brady once out of the pocket today. That is a key for every team - rush early, rush often, hit late, hit often. Keep Brady on the ropes. Clearly, without him, they have no running game, and they have no other quarterbacks who can make significant contributions.

Rushers should make sure Brady feels the dirt and mud of the game on every play possible.

One other important note: When the Pat’s opponent grinds out the ball, as the Fins did in the second half, keeping Brady on the sidelines, he paces. Like a caged lion. He can’t stand not playing. He gets frustrated. Say what you want about whether or not his frustration produces mistakes (we didn’t see any today), but its arguably better to have a frustrated quarterback than a calm, collected one. Brady loves to have a shootout. Don’t give it to him. Keep him benched and you stand a chance to win.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, the Pats don’t have much of a run defense. This would correspond great for a team that likes to run. Grind it out, keep Brady pacing on the sideline, and make long, slow drives that result in touchdowns.

Prior to tonight, teams would try this, but only for a quarter or two, or sometimes only for a drive. They simply couldn’t do it for an entire game and I have no idea why. But I felt early on in the post-season that the Giants had the heart and will to keep at it the entire game - and they did that.

The Giants had 91 yards rushing. The Patriots didn’t really stop them and allowed Eli Manning to have the luxury of fairly short yardage third downs.

But most importantly, they sacked Brady five times, and hit him dozens of times as he threw or a split-second afterward. Brady was rushed numerous times and the Giants never gave him a breather between plays. They kept coming like an angry mob - even when they got burned a few times. They never gave up.

We’ll see Brady again. After all, this is only his seventh full season in the NFL. Despite some very serious records that he broke this year (most notably his 50 touchdowns), Brady still has many years to go before he starts getting in the real record books as a quarterback. Most 400-yard games, all-time passing yards, career touchdowns, etc.

I don’t doubt for a second that we’ll see him up there one day, but just how far depends on his team mates. The Patriots pre-game show highlighted one word which New England felt defined their team: Teamwork. Nothing wrong with that choice, but there is no doubt that many parts of their team need some serious work - the run defense, the offensive line, and special teams. And maybe most importantly, the head coach.

There was a lot of talk about a New England dynasty - and there’s certainly a chance that could happen for them. Even without a fourth Superbowl win, there’s nothing laughable about three Superbowl wins (and now one appearance) in only seven years.

But, I’m starting to think that maybe a new dynasty is forming: a Manning dynasty. There’s plenty to suggest we’ll be seeing a lot out of both Mannings in the next ten years. And Brady and company will have to contend with that - along with major shakeups in the NY Jets and Dolphins that will present a much greater challenge to him the next few years in his own division.

And for that, he’s going to need a coach not hell-bent on ego and chasing records, but one who understands that the NFL isn’t just about working long hours and “studying” your opponents. Pardon the quotes but the jury is still out on how Belichick exactly accomplishes some of his information gathering.

Being in the NFL is also about setting an example to children and helping our local communities. It’s about helping those less fortunate. So, maybe it’s no surprise that Jason Taylor, the Miami Dolphin defensive end whose team ended their season with their worst record in franchise history (1-15), was awarded the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award at the start of tonight’s Superbowl. His heart and dedication to the community of South Florida was recognized publicly and positively.

In the end, the heart of the Giants, the dedication of men like Jason Taylor, and the love of families like the Mannings, is a micro-reflection of America itself. And for that reason, its a tough loss for Boston to swallow. It wasn’t just another loss in sports. It was a repudiation of their arrogance, pride, and wholesale snobbery. Hopefully, they can learn something from it. Hopefully, they can reshape themselves and remember what’s really important in life. Hopefully, they’ll get their head coach in line and teach him to be a positive role model.

If they can do that, they still have a chance at being a dynasty. If they stay on their present course, this may be the last time we see the Patriots in a Superbowl for many years.

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