Last off-season, there was a bit of controversy surrounding the New England Patriots. Seth Wickersham wrote a very daring article insisting that there was a schism forming in the New England locker room. The article claimed that there was a power struggle between Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. As the Patriots have dominated yet again in 2018, it seems those reports were greatly exaggerated. Sensationalist clickbait aside, it does raise a good quesiton. Who deserves the most credit for New England’s success?
Who Deserves the Credit for New England’s Success?
The alleged power struggle wasn’t just between Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, Wickersham also included owner Robert Kraft in the article. But, we’re going to go ahead and 86 his involvement right now. It’s true that he made the right hires, and he laid the groundwork for what would become the greatest dynasty in NFL history, but he’s hardly a personnel wizard. The proof? During Tom Brady’s rookie year, he attempted to introduce himself to Kraft, and the owner called him Kyle, thinking he was talking to the tight end, Kyle Brady. Robert Kraft looked at gangly rookie Tom Brady and mistook him for a tight end. He deserves credit, but significantly less than Brady or Belichick.
It is impossible to have the “greatest quarterback of all time” debate without Tom Brady. He’ll likely finish his career in the top three of every statistical category, if not the top two, and his five Super Bowls (so far) are the most of any quarterback in history. The 199th overall pick in the 2000 draft, nobody saw Brady’s phenomenal rise to greatness coming, but when Drew Bledsoe was knocked out of the game by Mo Lewis in week two of the 2001 season, the NFL was changed forever.
In a way, Brady’s first season as New England’s starting quarterback perfectly epitomized the rest of his career. Early in the season, Brady and the Patriots were counted out. There’s no way that a nobody like Tom Brady could possibly fill Drew Bledsoe’s shoes, right? Well, apparently so, as the team made it to the post-season, pulled off a dramatic comeback against the Oakland Raiders, and went on to do the same in the Super Bowl against Kurt Warner and the St. Louis Rams.
I don’t need to tell you Tom Brady’s story, you’ve heard it 1,000 times. He’s won five Super Bowls, and next weekend, he’s playing in his seventh straight AFC Championship game, with a chance to go to his eighth Super Bowl. But what is it that makes Tom Brady so great? He’s not as athletic as Cam Newton or as accurate as Drew Brees, he doesn’t have Joe Flacco‘s arm, and I’ve never heard him say the word Omaha once, let alone as often as Peyton Manning did. So what is it?
The Excellence of Execution
Tom Brady rarely makes mistakes, he takes what the defense gives him, and he adapts with the times. That seems simple, but it’s the truth. The guy just doesn’t make many mistakes, and it’s helped him dominate the NFL for most of the last twenty years. Lazy analysts will insist that Brady is nothing more than a system quarterback, but if you’ve watched the Patriots over the years, their offense has transformed with the times.
When the Patriots won their first title in 2001, they did it by leaning on the run and the defense, with Brady only throwing about 28 times a game. In 2004, when they won their third title, Brady was throwing the ball more, and taking a bigger role in the offense. In 2007, the Patriots went out and got Brady some weapons, and suddenly they were running a vertical passing offense. Brady basically missed the 2008 season with a torn ACL, but when he came back in 2009, the offense changed again, favoring underneath routes to Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, and tailback Kevin Faulk, using Moss as their big play target. Fast-forward to 2010, when they started using a two-tight end set with future hall of famer Rob Gronkowski and the quicker Aaron Hernandez.
The point being that the only constant on New England’s offense has been the quarterback. Throughout all the changes in personnel and offense, it’s been Brady that has stayed the same. We’ve seen Brady run pretty much every offense an immobile quarterback can run, and he’s dominated each and every one of them. How many quarterbacks can you really say that for?
And that’s not all. Brady’s ability to adapt to a changing climate has been important, but nowhere near as important as his ability to make the right decision mid-play. Tom Brady has only thrown 17 interceptions over the last few years, which is about as many as Cam Newton threw in 2017 alone. Brady doesn’t force passes because he always takes what the defense gives him. And part of that is due to the team around him.
Let’s take the 2017 Patriots. Rob Gronkowski is always going to need at least two men in coverage, right? Okay, well then someone had to keep an eye on speedster Brandin Cooks on the outside. Even then, there’s the “deceptively quick” Chris Hogan who can kill you deep. If you covered all of those guys, then he could just dunk it off to slot receiver Danny Amendola or one of the seemingly endless rotation of tailbacks. Brady will take whatever you give him, and he’ll take it all day.
I just explained how the offense of the New England Patriots has evolved over the years, and while Brady has played a big part, Belichick deserves much of the credit. New England’s head coach has an unmatched understanding of the scheme he wants to run, and he gets the perfect personnel to fit it. And the way that Belichick gets the best of his players is legendary.
There’s something about the no-nonsense approach that Belichick runs that defines the Patriot’s success. He is a perfectionist and doesn’t accept anything but the best from his players. It doesn’t matter who the player is or how well they’ve played, if they have a stupid penalty or a turnover, they’ll find themselves buried on the depth chart. Belichick expects perfection from his players and accepts nothing less.
He also doesn’t get sentimental with his players. Once a player starts getting too expensive or stops performing at a certain level, Belichick has no problem shipping them away, just ask Jamie Collins, Lawyer Milloy, or Randy Moss.
Bill Belichick is a coaching chameleon, constantly adapting to the trends of the NFL, doing whatever it takes to make sure his team is in the best position to win. He’s a ruthless monster who would much rather keep his starters in the entire game, running up the score, than risk giving up a massive comeback.
The reason that nobody can settle on an answer for this debate is simple. The Patriots have experienced as much success as they have because these two have stuck together. Like Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader, the two are the perfect team. Belichick has the vision and Brady makes it real. Belichick has incredibly high expectations for his team, and Brady’s so competitive that he enforces that on the field.
It seems like a cop-out, but if we’re being honest, they’ve needed each other. Without Tom Brady, Bill Belichick has only made the playoffs once in seven seasons. Bill Belichick’s record without Brady is 55-62, and his record with Brady is 202-59. That’s right, despite the fact that Belichick has coached significantly more games with Brady than without, he still has yet to lose as many games as he did without him.
And without Bill Belichick, would we have ever known Tom Brady’s name? Belichick fought to keep Brady on the roster before he became the greatest quarterback of all time, and the ruthless, no-quarter coaching style helped mold Brady into the Ugg-wearing touchdown machine we all know and loathe. Belichick’s commitment to building the best team possible to be competitive and No BS attitude have given Brady the best possible situation to thrive it.
These are two incredibly driven, wildly competitive men that have built the most dominant force in NFL history. You can argue Lennon vs. McCartney all you want, but at the end of the day, the Beatles wouldn’t have been the same band without both men. It remains to be seen whether Wickersham’s article is based on smoke or fire, but for the NFL historians out there, the debate of Belichick vs. Brady is an endless one that will never find closure.