Sunday 7: If Patriots reach Super Bowl, it may be Bill Belichick’s greatest coaching job of his career

Ryan Hannable
January 20, 2019 - 7:37 am

1. With a win Sunday, the Patriots will reach the Super Bowl for the third straight season and ninth time in the Bill Belichick era. That would be a remarkable accomplishment and even more so considering the team he had this season. An argument could be made that if it happens, it would be the least talented of all nine of those teams, and because of that could be deemed Belichick’s greatest job as head coach. The roster simply doesn’t compare to many teams of the past. Just look at what the team was forced to do at wide receiver — bring in a troubled Josh Gordon after Week 2. And of course, he’s no longer with the team after being suspended indefinitely for violating terms of his reinstatement. Now, the passing game has Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski (who is not even close to what he’s been in the past), Chris Hogan (who has struggled to earn Tom Brady’s trust), Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson. Defensively, besides All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore, there just aren’t any true dominant players. As a team, the Patriots only had two Pro Bowlers, their fewest since 2008. This also speaks to the lack of talent. After a 1-2 start, the team won six in a row. After the back-to-back road losses in Weeks 14 and 15, the team closed the year strong to earn a first-round bye. Belchick deserves a lot of credit for that, and also for dealing with some things behind the scenes that he hasn’t had to deal with in recent years because of personalities with some of the players. Lastly, give him props for adjusting to the times. It’s hard to believe he didn’t hear some of the criticism last offseason from former players and players on other teams, especially when we saw things we’ve never seen like canceling the final day of OTAs and playing fun games during training camp. When Belichick goes into Canton, the great Patriots teams will certainly be talked about most, but when it comes to the coach himself, this may be his greatest season.

2. Speaking of Belichick, his comment Friday when asked about Robert Kraft and the 25th anniversary of him buying the team stood out. “We have a good setup here. He’s been very supportive, gives us great opportunity to go out and compete every week,” he said. “We’ve done that. I hope we can continue it for a long time.” Those last two words, “long time” would seem to say the 66-year-old doesn’t plan on retiring any time soon. There hasn’t been any indication that he would, but there hasn’t really been any indication that he wouldn’t. Belichick rarely comments on his own situation, so this comment was as close as it gets.

3. One of the more underrated things about this Patriots team is how healthy they’ve been. They didn’t lose much when it came to season-ending injuries: rookies Ja’Whaun Bentley and Isaiah Wynn, Eric Rowe and Jeremy Hill. Then, the team didn’t have a single player on the final injury report this week. This is not the norm. For instance, last year the team had Domt’a Hightower, Julian Edelman, Marcus Cannon, Malcolm Mitchell and others on IR and then five players questionable for the AFC title game. Nothing will top the 2015 title game when besides having LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, Jerod Mayo and Nate Solder on IR, the team had 15 players questionable for the game in Denver.

4. The Chiefs have given Brady issues his entire career. His 88.5 QB rating against them is the lowest against any AFC team. Also, he hasn’t done that great against defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. In eight games, he is 155-for-255 (61 percent) passing, with 1,850 yards, 10 touchdowns, five interceptions and 12 sacks. “Bob Sutton’s a hell of a coordinator,” he said this week. “They’ve had some incredible units that we’ve played against. They’ve got play-makers at each level. Obviously, a good scheme. They make you work for it. It’s a very tough, hard-nosed team. They compete on every snap.”

5. It’s never too early to talk about the NFL draft and an interesting name was surfaced this week in NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah’s mock draft. He has the Patriots selecting Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray in the first round. There’s a long, long way to go, but it is a reminder the Patriots will be looking at all quarterbacks as they try to find Brady’s eventual replacement. 

6. It’s basically a certainly de facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores will be going to Miami to become its next head coach. Not only will the Patriots need to replace him, but it’s also worth wondering if he takes any coaches from the Patriots with him? Our best guess is he will take at least a couple, so there could be a good amount of change with the coaching staff in 2019.

7. Finally, taking a step back and reflecting on this being the Patriots’ eighth straight trip to the AFC title game is really a remarkable feat, especially considering the salary cap and the parity around the league. There’s no question many in New England do take this for granted and do not appreciate just how special this run is that will likely never happen again.

Related: David Ortiz gives Tom Brady advice on when to retire, predicts Patriots will win Super Bowl