Felger & Mazz

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  • His place in football history is indisputable, but that hardly means Bill Belichick is perfect. He chased away Tom Brady. He has been at or near the core of two cheating scandals. Those are the most obvious mistakes made by perhaps the greatest football coach in history, which doesn’t alter Belichick’s place in the story of the NFL.

    But if we’re being more specific, those missteps really had more to do with Belichick’s off-field work as an executive or general manager than they did as coach.

    On Monday night, Belichick the coach drew national criticism for the way he handled his quarterbacks, pulling Mac Jones after the player threw an interception on his third series of the game. While Belichick said the decision to replace Jones with Bailey Zappe was not a benching, his comments and explanations – as usual – left much to be desired. The Patriots subsequently endured a 33-14 beating at the hands of the Chicago Bears, who entered the game with a 2-4 record and possessed (at least entering the game) one of the worst offenses in the NFL.

    Where does this game-management decision rank among Belichick’s most controversial? That is open to debate. But starting with Monday and working backwards, here’s a chronological look at a handful of Belichick’s most curious decisions. And we’re open to suggestions on others.

  • The handling of Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 24: Mac Jones #10 and Bailey Zappe #4 of the New England Patriots stand on the field prior to the game against the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium on October 24, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 24: Mac Jones #10 and Bailey Zappe #4 of the New England Patriots stand on the field prior to the game against the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium on October 24, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Where will this rank in the long term? Good question. And at the end of the day, the story is really about Jones. The Patriots used a first-round pick on him and, by all accounts, he had a good rookie season. But in the wake of Josh McDaniels’ departure, Belichick has put Jones development in the hands of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, neither of whom had any real experience on the offensive side of the ball. Jones has since gone backwards, though he was showing signs of improvement before being injured in a Week 3 game against Baltimore. That’s when rookie Zappe entered the picture and began making a case for himself.

    Should Zappe now be first on the depth chart? Or should that honor go back to Jones? Both are fair questions. But on Monday, Belichick seemingly chose neither, thrusting his quarterback room (and locker room?) into a state of disarray. Belichick had weeks to say there was no quarterback controversy in Foxboro, but he didn’t – at least not publicly. In the process, he punctured both Jones and Zappe, the latter of whom turned the ball over three times on Monday night. Can Bill regain order? Sure. But if he doesn’t, this mistake will prove to be a whopper.

  • Malcolm Butler’s benching in Super Bowl LII

    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Malcolm Butler #21 of the New England Patriots warms up prior to Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

    MINNEAPOLIS, MN – FEBRUARY 04: Malcolm Butler #21 of the New England Patriots warms up prior to Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

    The above photo, as noted, was taken prior to Super LII between the Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles in Minneapolis. Little did anyone know at the time that Butler, for all intents and purposes, had already spent the majority of his time on the field. After Butler openly wept while standing on the sideline during the national anthem, the Patriots suffered a 41-33 loss to the Eagles despite amassing a record 613 yards of offense. Why? Because the Patriots defense allowed 538 yards, including¬† 374 through the air. Three years after Butler made perhaps the greatest play in Super Bowl history and sealed New England’s win over the Seattle Seahawks, he remained in mothballs during perhaps the most mind-boggling defeat of the Belichick Era. So why was he benched? Again, in true Belichick fashion, we still don’t know for sure.

  • Fourth and 2

    INDIANAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 15: Melvin Bullitt #33 of the Indianapolis Colts tackles Kevin Faulk #33 of the New England Patriots short of a first down to gain possesion late in the fourth quarter of the game at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 15, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Colts won the 35-34. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

    INDIANAPOLIS – NOVEMBER 15: Melvin Bullitt #33 of the Indianapolis Colts tackles Kevin Faulk #33 of the New England Patriots short of a first down to gain possesion late in the fourth quarter of the game at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 15, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Colts won the 35-34. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

    OK, so it wasn’t a personnel decision. But in terms of actual play calls, it might have been the most stunning single play in the Belichick Era. The Patriots led the Colts 34-28 with roughly two-and-a-half minutes to play when New England faced a fourth-and-2 at its own 28-yard line. Having effectively lost leads of 24-7 and 31-14 when Colts quarterback Peyton Manning caught fire in the fourth quarter, Belichick seemingly lost any faith in his defense’s ability to get a stop and decided to go for it rather than punt. When Melvin Bullitt tackled Kevin Faulk short of the first down marker after a short reception, the Patriots’ fate was sealed. Manning easily converted another touchdown and the Colts held on for a 35-34 victory that altered the NFL playoff landscape and sent the Patriots reeling.

    Possessors of a 6-2 record entering the Colts game, the the Patriots went just 4-4 over their final eight games and got blasted by the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the playoffs. Months later, an NFL documentary showed Belichick defiantly refusing to apologize for “trying to win.”¬† While the decision to go for it made sense of some levels, the cracks between Belichick and his locker room were magnified, leading to the demise of the 2009 team.