New England Patriots

Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston is as plugged-in as any Patriots beat writer in the market. And he’s written some curiously incendiary recent stories that have proved to be prescient.

Last spring, Curran hinted at a “tsunami” involving the team’s decision between Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo, months before Bill Belichick’s stunning deadline trade. He also wrote about the possibility of the Patriots’ dynastic run “winding down” a week before Seth Wickersham’s controversial ESPN story about the so-called “beginning of the end” came out.

When he writes pieces like these, you should listen. However over-dramatic they may seem, they’re not based in pure fiction. Curran knows things, hears things. And his latest story alludes to an organization that may have finally ceded complete deference to Belichick.

To the point that Curran wonders if the head coach has “advanced to a point where he’ll brook no opposition”. It would be the opposite of the Patriots’ early run, where Belichick would regularly face said opposition from the likes of Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel.

Belichick’s total grip on control of the team appears to have been set in motion after the 2009 debacle, which ended with the Patriots’ 33-14 Wild Card loss to the Ravens. It was clear in the aftermath of that season that Belichick had lost control of a group of players that did not buy in to the so-called “Patriot Way”. A group that Belichick famously said he couldn’t get to play the way he wanted them to play.

Curran asked Belichick at the time if he’d received any pushback from coaches or the front office during the season, and Belichick seemed to agree on the importance of said pushback.

“We try to have an open communication, an open forum on some things,” he said after that infamous loss. “And some things aren’t open. Some things are: ‘This is the way they’re going to be.’ But I understand what you’re getting at and I think that’s something, as a head coach, you have to be conscious of. And I am. I’m not saying a do a great job of it. I don’t know whether I do or not. But I’m definitely conscious of that and I get what you’re saying there.”

Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick talk during the New England Patriots' Super Bowl LII practice on Feb. 2, 2018 at Winter Park in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick talk during the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl LII practice on Feb. 2, 2018 at Winter Park in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Curran also points to a comment by Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer in April of 2017, when he revealed that Belichick said he preferred to coach players he got along with and who would actually listen to what he says.

“I started asking [Belichick] about it and he made this point to me,” said Meyer. “He said, ‘At this point in my career, I want to coach guys I like. I want to coach guys I want to be around and that’s it. I’m not going to coach anybody else.'”

The change in Belichick’s approach since the 2009 season has inarguably paid massive dividends. There hasn’t been an uglier loss, in terms of both significance and aesthetics, since that ghastly afternoon in Foxboro.

In fact, there’s been as much winning as ever. The Pats have won at least 12 games in the regular season in the eight years since, and have made seven straight AFC Championship Games. Oh, and they’ve been to four Super Bowls and won two of them.

Turning Point?

But now, the Malcolm Butler decision and the curiously low return on the Jimmy Garoppolo trade have shaken the confidence in some circles of Patriots observers after the disappointing end to the 2017 season. Belichick has faced scrutiny and questions over his decision-making perhaps like never before in his Patriots tenure. He’s made other shocking decisions like this in recent years, but for the first time it feels like he directly cost the Patriots a Super Bowl.

As overblown as one single Super Bowl decision may be, the fact is Butler played zero defensive snaps and then the Patriots defense played their worst game of the season on the biggest stage.

Bill Belichick reacts after the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl LII. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick reacts after the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl LII. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

You’d think that these decisions could have been a good time for at least a little pushback. But it seems that Belichick got none of that. And Curran is wondering if he’s getting any “opposition” at all.

It’s normal and understandable for fans to be reluctant to question a coach who has won five Super Bowls and continues to roll along for one of the most successful runs in sports history. But once upon a time, Belichick himself agreed that some questioning within the organization is healthy.

Based on what Curran appears to be hearing from inside the walls of Gillette Stadium, the communication between coach and subordinates may have ventured into unhealthy territory. It obviously didn’t hurt the Patriots much over the last eight seasons, but in the wake of Super Bowl LII, there’s a different feel this time.

— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.