It goes without saying, but if there’s one team that has dominated the AFC in the past decade and a half it’s the New England Patriots. In the past 15 years, the Patriots have made the playoffs 13 times, won the AFC East 13 times, and won four Super Bowls. They haven’t had a record below 9-7 since 2000 either. The coach behind all the success? None other than Bill Belichick. The quarterback behind the wins? None other than Tom Brady.
The coach/quarterback relationship can be hit or miss in the NFL. These two men have undoubtedly formed a special chemistry that comes around only once every century. Should one receive more credit than the other when it comes to the amount of New England victories?
First, let’s look at the background of each person. Brady played at Michigan and threw for only 30 touchdowns in four seasons. Entering the 2000 season, NFL scouts and analysts didn’t consider Brady a superior piece of talent. Six quarterbacks were picked before Brady including first round pick Chad Pennington, who turned out to be the definition of an average quarterback. In fact, none of the other quarterbacks drafted in 2000 have even come close to the level of play Brady has demonstrated.
Brady completed just one pass for six yards his rookie year, so his name was still relatively unknown at the start of the 2001 season. That all changed when starter Drew Bledsoe, who just signed a then record ten-year contract, went down to injury in week two. Brady finished the game and the 11-5 season, going from obscure backup to Super Bowl champion and MVP.
The rest was history that you are probably already aware of but I’ll say it anyway. Brady proved his worth as a starter, winning 11 Pro Bowl honors among various other achievements. His ability to read the defense is incredible and he possesses all the intangibles that you look for in a franchise quarterback: arm strength, accuracy, pocket awareness, big-play capability, adaptable mindset, and a relentless competitive attitude.
Funny enough, Coach Belichick in a way actually had a similar journey in the NFL prior to his success in New England. Just like Brady, Belichick had yet to establish himself as the best of his kind early on in his career. He coached the Browns for five seasons, only one of which was above .500. Then he was an assistant coach for the Jets for a couple of years. Finally, Belichick was hired as the head coach of the Patriots in 2000, also Brady’s first year with the team.
Belichick’s coaching record with New England so far is 187-69 (.730). 2008 marked the only year in which Belichick worked with another quarterback other than Brady for the whole season. Brady got injured in the first game of the season so Matt Cassel took the reins of the team. Cassel turned in fairly decent stats too (21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 89.4 quarterback rating). Was Cassel’s sudden success a product of Belichick’s coaching style or did he merely have a breakout year? The team as a whole went 11-5 that season, just missing the playoffs.
Belichick is a smart week by week coach and he knows the weaknesses of any given defense. But again, it’s always been with the same guy at the helm of the offense. Joe Gibbs won three Super Bowls with three different non-Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Joe Theisman, Doug Williams, Mark Rypien), a record that will probably never be broken. Mike Ditka created one of the best defenses to ever play the game with the 1985 Bears. The point is, every great coach has their strong area(s) of expertise and it appears that Belichick’s is his passing game.
The verdict: I’m going to give Brady the slight edge for New England’s success. He has performed consistently great with an inconsistent running game and numerous number one receivers. That’s what stands out as far as pinpointing Brady’s uniqueness is concerned.
Be sure to check out TGH’s newly revamped forums if you want to discuss with Michael or any of the other writers!