On January 4, 2020, the New England Patriots lost a wild-card playoff game to the Tennessee Titans. There had been rumors throughout the season that it might be Tom Brady’s last hurrah as a Patriot. If so, it would be the first time in 20 years that the Pats would be without him.
The postgame interview room felt like a morgue. Even Brady seemed subdued when fielding questions about his future with the team he’d led to six Super Bowl victories. It cast a pall over the offseason.
Sure enough, despite Brady’s efforts to re-up with the team, he was allowed to walk away. At 42 years old, it seemed like it was time. Head coach Bill Belichick certainly thought so. And in his defense, he had good cause to think that.
No previous quarterback had stayed on top of his game for as long as Brady. It was irrational to expect that he would maintain that level of play into his mid-40s, as he said he wanted to do. And there were signs that his decline had started: his last pass was an interception to seal the Patriots’ defeat.
It had to happen sooner or later. It was time to cut the cord.
So it was a sad time in Patriot Nation. The region’s adopted son was moving on from the franchise that drafted him. But he didn’t want to stop playing, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were more than happy to witness his “declining” years firsthand.
In New England, football fans were secure in the knowledge that Belichick would make the transition to the next dynasty in short order. He even elicited high praise in the media for signing Cam Newton as Brady’s replacement at quarterback, while everyone else slept on him.
Sadly, unlike Brady, Cam Newton’s expiration date truly had come and gone. The Patriots won seven games and lost eight with him as their quarterback. To add insult to injury, Tampa won the Super Bowl with you-know-who as QB.
This is when the debate shifted about whether Brady or Belichick was more responsible for the Patriots’ success. Opinion had always gone back-and-forth between the coach and the quarterback as to who was more indispensable; now, opinion shifted decisively to Brady as the key reason the team had such an unprecedented run of excellence.
However, some level-headed analyst credibly stated that it was probably more Belichick early on, then Brady thereafter. In any case, I still had faith in Bill’s ability to bring the team back to greatness.
In 2021, rookie Mac Jones beat out Cam Newton for the starting quarterback job. After a slow start, the Patriots reeled off seven wins in a row.
Now this is what I expected of a Belichick-coached team!
The next dynasty was taking shape — or so we thought. The team finished 10-7 after losing three of its last four games. Then they suffered a 30-point playoff defeat to the Buffalo Bills — a team they used to own.
Still, they had improved from the season before. There was reason for hope.
In 2022, Belichick inexplicably put defensive coach Matt Patricia and special-teams coach Joe Judge in charge of the offense. Neither had coached offense before. Belichick also changed the team’s whole offensive playbook and added Offensive Line Coach to Matt Patricia’s list of duties for which he had no experience.
Talk about setting someone up for failure! And fail he did. And fail they did.
Understandably, Mac Jones regressed. And week after week, the players on offense made the Keystone Cops look like an elite, efficiently-run police unit. Assigning Patricia and Judge to the offensive coaching staff was an egregious error in judgment, coming from the alleged greatest coach of all time.
In retrospect, it seems miraculous that they won eight games.
Next season, — this season — they brought in Billy O’Brien, a professional offensive coach. There were high hopes that he would right the offensive ship and put Mac Jones back on a positive career trajectory.
At this writing, we’d kill for the good old days last season when the Keystone Cops took the field on offense. They actually scored more points-per-game than the current squad.
This season’s team can be counted on to find ways to lose. Midway through the season, they’re making the same dumb mistakes they made at the beginning. That’s so atypical for a Belichick-coached team.
They are a long way off from dynasty status.
These are not our father’s Patriots; they’re not even our older brother’s Patriots. I’m afraid to say that all New Englanders have to accept the fact that the Patriots suck, and Belichick is not the answer. So…
Click on the book cover below for Cord’s newest adventure.
“CORD DEVLIN” takes readers on a thrilling journey into a world where Star Trek fandom meets global intrigue.
Preston Mathis, Newcastle upon Tyne Evening Chronicle
For a free primer into the world of Cord Devlin click here.