Written by Mendy Cohen, @mendy_coh
For twenty years, the New England Patriots have been run with one goal in mind: Win the Super Bowl. All teams want to win a championship, so why are the Patriots so successful and why might that success continue, even without Brady?
As is well known across the league, up in New England they have a mantra, “The Patriot Way”. What it is, is a clear understanding among players, coaches, and the owner that to accomplish their annual objective, they must adhere to the highest standards of character and work ethic to achieve optimal success as a team.
One of the reasons that sports dynasties are hard to build and perpetuate is due to the challenge of managing out-of-control egos. In the recent documentary “The Last Dance” we were shown first-hand what power, ego and selfishness did to one of the greatest teams in NBA history, when Jerry Krause split up the formidable 90’s Bulls team, because he couldn’t look past his relationship with the HC Phil Jackson, who was holding the team together, whilst winning multiple championships.
More recently, the Golden State Warriors, also an all-time great NBA team, had their unraveling when stars butted heads. Kevin Durant and Draymond Green got into a heated argument on the court when Green appeared to question Durant’s stance with the team. As Durant admitted during an interview with ESPN First Take, it was one of the reasons why he ultimately left the team to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn. "I mean, your teammate talked to you that way, you think about it a bit," he said. "But ... we talked about it, but definitely [it was a factor], for sure, I'm not going to lie about it."
The Belichick and Brady relationship had its frictions. Then again, what marriage remains peaceful 100% of the time for 19 years? Football is not a two-man sport, but when the two leaders of your team stand united for one purpose, it trickles down to the rest of the roster. Two competitive people, even with their differences, can become quite a force when personal goals are set aside for the bigger picture.
What Belichick and Brady share in common is humility; the key ingredient to the most successful dynasties of any sport. It’s well-known that Belichick treated Brady essentially the same in 2019 as he did when he entered the league in 2001 as many Patriot teammates have attested to, as Chad Johnson told Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe on FS1 "Undisputed".
When an erratic star player like Chad Johnson walks into the Patriots facility and sees Tom Brady getting berated over a missed assignment in a team meeting, that can make a positive impact on someone like Johnson by encouraging him to lower his ego. With egos held in check, a team can be a team, not a group of 53 men who are trying to pad their Fantasy Football rating.
When working towards a goal as a team, once personal endeavors get in the way, it becomes difficult to complete the goal. You see this with Antonio Brown, who was traded from the Steelers to the Raiders and was unable to lower his ego for his teammates around him. He distracted the whole team with his helmet situation and was more concerned about his equipment than winning a football game.
With Tom Brady gone, people should not expect the attitude in Foxborough to change. The brilliance of Bill Belichick and the DO YOUR JOB attitude remains. It is now Jarret Stidham or Brian Hoyer’s job and in a video interview with Rich Eisen, Belichick talks about why he isn’t worried about the upcoming season. “Well, we’ve played at other times without Tom, Whether it was the (2008) season after he was injured — we played 15 games with (Matt) Cassel and went 11-5 — or heading into the ’16 season with Jimmy (Garoppolo) and then Jacoby (Brissett) and Tom coming back after the four-game suspension. So there have been other times where we’ve dealt with that. We’ll do what we always do, which is to try to prepare the team the best that we can, utilize our players and the skills that they have and put ourselves in the best position we can to be competitive and win. That’s what we always do, and we’ll continue to do that.”
If Belichick can go 11-5 with Matt Cassel, and create a $63 million free-agent signee in him, just imagine what could be done with Jarret Stidham.
An area where fans can see Belichick’s genius is how adaptable he is to the innovations across the league. When he took over as head coach in 2000, the shotgun formation wasn’t a staple of a number of NFL offenses. After the NFL saw the physicality that secondaries like the Patriots imposed on offenses, which severely limited the ability for quarterbacks and receivers to stay in rhythm, the NFL became hell-bent on giving the fans what they want: higher scoring games. By creating harsher guidelines on what constitutes a Defensive Pass Interference, the historical style of physical defense that the 2000 Ravens and early 2000 Patriots were famously known for was brought to an end. NFL offenses took advantage of this opportunity, and employed shotgun and spread formations at a record-pace.
Now in 2020, the NFL is seeing a minority style-offense take over the NFL. RPO’s with a running QB scheme that was perfected by Chip Kelly and Greg Roman, is becoming more and more popular. After Greg Roman saw this style have immense success in SF with Colin Kaepernick, he has moved across the country to Baltimore, showcasing what you can do with freakish athletes like Lamar Jackson in this system. Teams across the league are employing their version of this offense, and defensive coaching staffs everywhere are trying to figure out how to stop this new offense.
The Patriots have struggled in past years against quarterbacks that can move around the pocket, so Belichick had to act fast and shore up for the 2020 season when the Patriots will be facing quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson and many others who fit the “athletic, move around the pocket” quarterback profile. While many fans were perplexed at the Patriots draft choices this year, they were doing exactly what should be done: Building a team to contest the style of offense now terrorizing the NFL.
At the draft, the Patriots addressed one of their bigger weaknesses, their inability to keep up with mobile quarterbacks. With their first pick in the draft (which wasn’t until the second round), they selected Kyle Duggar from a Div 2 college. This is the type of pick only Belichick would make; an underrated, little known DB, from a D2 college, with a perfect physical skill set to defend against the modern-day offenses. A defense replete with athletic and versatile defenders is the best antidote for RPO’s.
Belichick didn’t stop there, taking linebackers Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, and Cassh Maluia in the second, third, and sixth-round respectively. After losing 3 of his top 4 linebackers in free agency, Belichick ventured into the draft to acquire younger, more athletic and more versatile players. Duggar, a DB/LB hybrid, and the three LBs, can play in space against speedy QBs and TEs while also providing the versatility to clog up running lanes and blitz the QB.
Combining the “Patriot Way” and Bill Belichick’s willingness to adopt any style of play to win, the Pats should never be counted out as a team. Realistically, another Super Bowl ring this year doesn’t seem likely for the New England Patriots. But the chances of them winning their division should not be dismissed out of hand. With Belichick’s genius at the helm, they could very well still come out on top of the AFC East.