By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Was it the coach or the quarterback? The quarterback or the coach? While we await the verdict, at least some members of the jury have spoken.
It’s Tom Brady in a landslide.
The good news, of course, is that the majority is often wrong, and nobody has thrived on disproving the masses more than the iconoclastic Bill Belichick, who is, simply, smarter than most everyone else when it comes to football. And we’re not being sarcastic or duplicitous about that. In Bill We Trust became a mantra for a reason, though one must wonder now whether we all neglected to read the full catchphrase.
In Bill We Trust.*
(* - Assumes Tom Brady is the quarterback.)
Here’s the point: Take a good look at most (or all) NFL predictions this year. On the high side, the over-under win total for the Patriots hovers around 9. Some media outlets, like Bleacher Report, have the Patriots pegged somewhere around 6-10 – and that was before the opt-outs of Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung, among others. Cam Newton surely helps the perception that New England will have Life After Tom, but this is something Belichick now has to deal with, whether he likes it or not.
In the football world outside of New England – players, coaches, executives, fans, media – most everyone believes the New England dynasty is over. Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are getting far more love than the Patriots. Rob Gronkowski wanted Tampa Bay and so did LeSean McCoy – and yes, both might be washed up. But it doesn’t feel like anyone is knocking down the door to play for Belichick, including Newton, who landed in Foxboro only after a long wait – and when there was seemingly nowhere else to go.
Even then, Newton openly wondered how he and Belichick were going to “mesh.”
Understand? Over the last 20 years, we’ve argued that players came to Foxboro because they wanted to win. But maybe they believed that largely because of the presence of Brady, whose impact on the Bucs has been profound. The Patriots had a league-high eight opt-outs this year. The Bucs had one – a backup offensive lineman. Tampa Bay is now a hot, trendy pick in the NFL and it doesn’t have anything to do with Coach Bruce Arians. It has everything to do with Brady.
Is it possible that everyone is wrong? Sure. Of course. But again, that would be missing the point. Over the last 20 years, when it has come to football, Belichick has almost always received the benefit of the doubt, but he isn’t really getting it now. And whether the masses are right or wrong doesn’t matter – at least for the moment – because in a matter like this, well, perception becomes reality.
Today, after all, the football world believes Brady had more to do with the success of the Patriots than Belichick did. The coach needed the quarterback more than the other way around. Belichick, notably, has lost the benefit of the doubt, at least beyond the corners of the six New England states.
If you are a Patriots fan, this is both a good-news and bad-news proposition.
Because whether you want to admit it or not, Bill Belichick now has something to prove.