Tom Brady advanced to his 10th career Super Bowl last Sunday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went on the road to defeat Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game. Brady’s performance late in the season with a new team may be providing clarity to a question people have been asking themselves for years. This may also serve as a well-needed wake-up call to Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots – at least that’s what many may have thought.
Brady and Belichick have been the manufacturers of one of the most unprecedented runs in sports history. During their 20-year tenure they appeared in nine Super Bowls and won six. Sports fans around New England and all of America have been asking themselves who deserves more of the praise for the Patriots success over the last two decades – Brady or Belichick?
It always remained uncertain if fans were ever going to get a concrete answer to this decade-long question. Nobody knew if Brady was really going to play until he’s 45 like he has always wanted. What was even more of an unknown was if Belichick was ever going to cut ties with the greatest to ever play the sport. Their relationship became fractured in 2017 when Belichick reportedly wanted to trade Brady and Rob Gronkowski in favor of keeping Jimmy Garoppolo; ownership eventually nixed this plan.
Today, Belichick sits at home while Brady is preparing to host Super Bowl LV in his home stadium. In their first season after Brady left in free agency, the Patriots went 7-9 with one of the worst passing offenses in football. The Bucs went 11-5, won three road playoff games and now are one of the final two teams standing after acquiring Brady.
Brady took his legacy to the NFL franchise who knows how to lose better than anybody. The Buccaneers own the worst winning percentage among all NFL franchises and it’s not particularly close. The Bucs all-time winning percentage sits at .393 while the Arizona Cardinals come in next at .424. In fact, the Buccaneers have the lowest all-time winning percentage among the four major sports, narrowly beating out the Minnesota Timberwolves. Despite a talented unit of skill position players from a season ago like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, this was simply a franchise that didn’t know how to win.
Under the watchful eye of Jameis Winston a season ago, the Buccaneers led football in passing yards and remained in the top-five of passing touchdowns, yards per attempt and first downs. It’s also worth noting that Winston led the NFL in interceptions.
After inserting Brady into the offense in 2020, the team remained in the top-five in passing yards, passing touchdowns and first downs while coming in eighth in yards per attempt. Despite the obvious improvement in interceptions, the major difference between the 7-9 Buccaneers of 2019 and the NFC Champion Buccaneers of today is the winning mentality that Brady brought to the biggest losers in the NFL. Some might call it the “Patriot Way.”
It was always assumed that the “Patriot Way” was a mindset instilled by Belichick to go along with his motto of “do your job.” Former Patriots wideout Danny Amendola seems to think otherwise, however. Amendola, who didn’t leave New England on the best terms amid a contract dispute with Belichick, has been more than happy to defend his former quarterback.
“When you see ‘Patriot Way’ in the dictionary, it’s going to have Tom Brady’s name next to it. None of those coaches threw any passes, none of those coaches caught any passes, none of those coaches made any tackles. They get guys in the right position because they watch a lot of film and they spend all their time at the facility,” said Amendola. “Tom Brady is the ‘Patriot Way,’ and that’s the reason why Tom Brady’s in the Super Bowl right now and the Patriots aren’t.”
These comments coming after reports came out that when Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions agreed to part ways his one request was to not be traded to New England. It later came out by way of Greg Bedard of Boston Sports Journal that the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers were also among teams on that list, but that doesn’t change the public embarrassment that came from Stafford’s request.
What makes this even worse for Belichick and the Patriots is that this is all coming after a season where Brady was able to lure players like Rob Gronkowski and Leonard Fournette to Tampa. He even convinced head coach Bruce Ariens to give Antonio Brown a shot after Ariens had gone on the record saying, “it’s just not going to happen.”
While it doesn’t help that the Patriots’ current roster is one of the worst in the NFL, at this point it doesn’t seem like Belichick moves the needle nearly as much as Brady. Belichick may have shot himself in the foot with the way he’s managed his assets as a general manager to this point. His lack of success in the draft recently remains the most glaring issue leading to his depleted roster. Amendola is also doing his former coach no favors this week exposing Belichick for his notoriously stingy contract negotiations when it comes to retaining his own players.
“I had to negotiate my contract with him three years in a row by myself and take pay cuts to help him and put rings on his fingers. It kind of wore me the wrong way,” Amendola told FOX Sports. “So, I felt like it was in the best interest for me to move on.”
Amendola’s comments, Stafford’s request and more importantly the success of Brady led many to believe that Belichick may be particularly aggressive this offseason in order to get back to being the successful franchise the league has come to know.
A common gripe of Belichick with his perennial playoff runs was that he was always five weeks behind the rest of the league in terms of preparation for the following season. After finishing 7-9 and in third place of the AFC East, Belichick finally had that extra time to prep for the draft that he’s always wished for. This year’s Senior Bowl will play an important factor in terms of college scouting due to the cancelation of the Draft Combine. The Patriots coaching staff was even offered the opportunity to coach the college all-star game, which would’ve given his organization the upper hand in terms of spending time with the prospects. The team declined, but certainly Belichick will at least be in attendance in search of the 15th overall selection, right?
Although Belichick’s whereabouts aren’t confirmed, he was not spotted by any of the media covering the Senior Bowl.
Again, this far from confirms what the head coach has been up to since his season ended. It certainly will be an interesting development though, if he failed to do his homework while Brady was preparing for his 10th Super Bowl.
Photo courtesy of Brynn Anderson; Benjamin Hager