Death, taxes and the Patriots
"You know, things have turned for the worst awfully quick for this franchise, and it’s my job to get it straightened out."
- Jeff Fisher, Tennessee Titans coach, following Sunday’s 59-0 loss to the Patriots
In retrospect, maybe the bigger story was right there under our noses, buried along with the Tennessee Titans in the snow and slush on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. Maybe the bigger story is not what happened in Foxborough, but rather what did not.
The Patriots did not lose. They have not lost consecutive games since Nov. 5 and Nov. 12 of 2006, when they slipped to 6-3. The Patriots since have played 51 regular season and postseason games without losing consecutive affairs – they are 41-10 during that span – though that is only part of the story. Just as important is the fact that the Patriots have not had a single season this decade like the one the Titans are having right now.
Since the start of the 2001 campaign that marked Bill Belichick’s second season as head coach in New England, the Patriots are the only team in the NFL to have had a winning record every year. In fact, everyone else has had at least one losing season.
All of this brings us back to the Titans, who opened last season 10-0 en route to a 13-3 finish. This year, the Titans were expected to be among the elite teams in the NFL. Tennessee is now learning what everyone has long known to be true, namely that the NFL is a wildly unpredictable league where winning consistently has been virtually impossible.
More than anyone else, this is obviously a reflection on Belichick, who has had his chances to stumble. Last season, in particular, stands out above all others. Coming off the disappointment of Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots lost Tom Brady to a knee injury in the first quarter of Week 1. Throughout the year, the New England pass defense was exposed. New England played the 2008 campaign with a quarterback who had not started a game since high school and a defense on the cusp of a major restructuring, and yet the Pats still managed to go 11-5, playoffs or no playoffs.
That Patriots team had as much right as the Titans (or more) to completely unravel and spin wildly out of control. Instead, the Patriots beat the teams they were supposed to beat and generally maxed out given their level of talent and assorted issues.
Does this mean Belichick is perfect? No, no, no. A thousand times no. As colleague Chris Gasper pointed out in today’s Globe, the Joey Galloway failure rests exclusively on Belichick, who buys the groceries with which he prepares dinner. Galloway was in the league for 14 seasons before the Patriots signed him during the offseason, so the body of work was considerable. There are countless people who have coached and/or played alongside him. The fact that Galloway got here (and left) without being able to pick up the New England offense suggests that the Patriots made some serious blunder in evaluating him because there are simply no secrets in this age of the internet, scouting reports and loose lips.
And lest the most blindly loyal Belichick supporter thinks Galloway stands alone, he does not. In 2006, the shortage of wide receivers hurt the Patriots amid the Deion Branch affair; Belichick himself admitted as much when he subsequently went out and acquired both Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Monty Beisel was a bust. So was Chad Brown. And again given the events of Sunday in Foxboro, maybe it is time to wonder whether the real problem with Adalius Thomas is the player himself or what the Patriots saw in him in the first place.
None of that makes Belichick any different than any other evaluator in any sport because they all get some wrong.
Regardless, this is much is clear – he doesn’t get bogged down by his mistakes. He doesn’t dwell on the problems so much as he focuses on the solutions. As coach, Belichick remains one of the absolute best ever in evaluating his own talent and putting together the weekly puzzle that is his game plan. The Patriots almost never come out and beat themselves, and they certainly do not come out and roll over the way the Titans did on Sunday.
Amid the runs to the Super Bowl titles and the distorted expectations, maybe we all forget that sometimes.
Maybe we forget what New England football once was compared to what it is.
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