FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Football had yet to kick off in the New England Patriots’ regular season finale against the Miami Dolphins when CBS analyst Jay Feely shared his take on the team’s unexpected position found herself – with 10 wins and having already landed a playoff berth.
“It’s the best coaching job Bill Belichick has ever done. He’s the best coach ever, but I think this year he and [offensive coordinator] Josh McDaniels did a phenomenal job, ”Feely said.
Belichick’s 2021 season has a lot of competition – his resume is quite impressive, after all – but ESPN analyst Damien Woody can understand why Feely believes him.
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Belichick leads his Patriots (10-7) in Saturday’s wildcard game (8:15 p.m. ET, CBS) against the Buffalo Bills (11-6) after earning the respect of many around the NFL, like his former player. offensive line.
“You could say it’s the best job he’s ever done,” said Woody, who played for the Patriots from 1999 to 2003. “He’s going out and signing a slew of free agents in the offseason. Then he selects Mac Jones, fifth on the “Big 5” [of first-round quarterbacks], and proceeds to the constitution of this team. It’s not easy to mix up a bunch of free agents and prepare a rookie quarterback to step into this culture. Being able to do that and bring this team back to the playoffs is a very, very good job as a coach. “
Former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, the team’s longtime radio analyst, highlighted these obstacles when he discussed what makes Belichick’s job as coach in 2021 unique from those of the past. .
“They’re pleasantly surprised where they are at. Bill wouldn’t admit it, but I think they’re ahead of schedule,” he said. “Maybe next year you’re thinking of the playoffs, where this year you’re thinking ‘find yourself, reload, wet quarterback’s feet’ and then you turn it up.”
There is, however, one area that is problematic.
“The special teams mistakes are surprising,” Zolak said, referring to three blocked punters and other costly penalties, such as defensive tackle Lawrence Guy lining up for the snapper on a punt Sunday to give Miami a first goal in the New England 33-24. loss.
Taking an overview of Belichick’s 2021 season, Zolak sees a mix of the early and late years of the team’s two decades with quarterback Tom Brady.
“We all know what it was like early on – a lot of older veterans who kind of had that chip on their shoulders with a young quarterback who developed. They found their way,” he said. he declares. “Later you had the quarterback as a veteran and you’re dealing with a younger defense with the offense that carries you. Now I think they have a good balance.”
Where does Belichick’s 2021 campaign rank among his best coaching jobs with the Patriots? While officials could penalize this list for a false start because the season isn’t over, here are a longtime journalist’s top 10:
1. 2001: Belichick had just finished a 5-11 season in his first year as Patriots coach and the team were 0-2 when starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe suffered a serious injury. The Patriots had fought 5-5 when Belichick made the decision to stick with his sophomore quarterback Brady in one of the most important moves of his career.
The Patriots, with what former Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf called a “quitting team,” won Super Bowl XXXVI, upsetting the much-favored Rams 20-17.
Woody was part of that team.
“Look, you can absolutely put it # 1. I won’t argue with you,” he said. “We were 0-2, then 1-3, and there was a lot of noise with people asking, ‘Is Belichick even the guy?’ To be able to navigate those waters and beat the biggest Super Bowl lawn show… who had expectations in 2001? “
2. 2008: It was a year that could have sunk for the Patriots, who were trying to bounce back after losing Super Bowl XLII and seeing their 19-0 season hopes dashed in the process. Then Brady tore up his ACL in the 15th offensive game of the season and was out for the year.
“Come on now! This 2008 team is up there – if not the best, they’re in the top two,” Woody said excitedly. “[Backup QB] Matt Cassel, who by the way had never started at university at USC, intervenes and makes him coach … I know the whole team is around him, but think how incredible it is . “
The Patriots finished 11-5 and did not advance to the playoffs, benefiting from what some saw as a softer schedule against the AFC West and NFC West divisions, which were down at the time.
3. 2014: “We are going to Cincinnati.” Need we say more? It had been a decade since the Patriots won the Super Bowl. They opened the season 2-2, with a 41-14 road loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Monday Night Football in which Brady was pulled out in the fourth quarter. Recovering from that and winning the Super Bowl with a spectacular fourth quarter save against the Seattle Seahawks was epic.
4. 2003: The Patriots had missed the playoffs in 2002, then popular safety attorney Milloy was cut the week before the season opener – a 31-0 loss at Buffalo with Milloy leaving for the Bills. With a 2-2 record, the Patriots have never lost again, led by one of the best defenses in Belichick’s tenure en route to their second Super Bowl championship.
5. 2018: They appeared to be buried in December with a heartbreaking loss in the final game in Miami in Week 14 and another loss the following week in Pittsburgh, to reinvent themselves as a power team in the last five games en route to a surprising Super Bowl. championship. The victory at Kansas City in the AFC championship game was an advertisement for Patriots-style complementary football under Belichick.
6. 2021: Maybe this year benefits from a recency bias, but making the playoffs with Jones at the helm (many thought he would sit behind Cam Newton this season) and so many new plays is a credit to the excellence of Belichick and his team.
7. 2016: Any coach overseeing a team recovering from a 28-3 second-half deficit to win a Super Bowl will see this season ranked among their best simply because of that comeback. Tight end Rob Gronkowski has missed a good chunk of the season (25 catches), but the defense has allowed an average of 15.6 points per game at the top of the league despite there not being much stars in good faith.
8. 2007: The Patriots were loaded, but listening to veterans like Tedy Bruschi remember what went on behind the scenes, they say Belichick never trained them harder than during that undefeated regular season. There has never been a disappointment. Sometimes the best coaching jobs can come with the best teams, forcing them to strive to do more.
9. 2004: The last NFL team to win back-to-back Super Bowl championships, the Patriots were so affected by the cornerback that they had wide receiver Troy Brown playing there. Belichick has long favored a rotation in running back, but he led Corey Dillon (a single-season franchise record 1,635 rushing yards) to a Super Bowl title.
10. 2006: The Patriots receiving corps was led by Reche Caldwell (61 catches at the top of the squad) after the Deion Branch trade before the start of the season. Either way, the Patriots were one game away from playing in the Super Bowl, if not for a landslide 38-34 loss in the AFC Championship game to the Peyton Manning Colts in Indianapolis. In that game, the Patriots seriously missed safety Rodney Harrison, who was lost to injury in the regular season finale.