The coach and the quarterback. Truth be told, were it not for the simple presence of those two men, many of us would not be giving the Patriots any chance at all this postseason.
But when Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are involved – and they forever will be joined at the hip in any recollection of this Patriots era – to dismiss them would be illogical, foolish, and downright reckless. For all of the debate that has existed over the last several years – Belichick or Brady? Brady or Belichick? – we all know that the success of the Patriots largely has been built on the fusion of coach and quarterback, just as it was in Pittsburgh (1970s), San Francisco (1980s,) or Dallas (1990s).
Now, as the Patriots enter their seventh postseason in nine years since Brady became the starter in 2001, the coach and quarterback are pretty much all they have.
"He's had a tremendous year. I think we all know that," Belichick said of Brady earlier this week after learning that Brady was named Comeback Player of the Year. "Tom just brings so much to this team and our organization on and off the field: his preparation, his leadership, his performance, his unselfishness. All the things that he gives us are just top shelf, whether he did or didn’t play last year. The fact that he didn’t I guess qualifies him for this award, but he brings those things on a daily basis and they’re exceptional."
Generally speaking, the same is true of Belichick. And yet the question remains:
Is that enough to get the Pats a fourth Vince Lombardi Trophy?
Objectively speaking, this has not been Belichick’s best season in New England. Rather, it has been one of his worst. Belichick made some shaky fourth down decisions in a pair of one-point losses – one at Indianapolis, the other at Miami – and there have been more questionable personnel decisions than during perhaps his entire previous career in New England. Richard Seymour. Mike Vrabel. Joey Galloway. Ron Brace. The Pats lost four meaningful games by a combined 12 points, frequently spending the final minutes looking like they were stumbling around in the dark in search of the light switch.
As for Brady, only heaven knows what he has been through this season. A year ago at roughly this time, there were media reports that Brady already was behind schedule in his recovery from reconstructive knee surgery. He has played this season with, according to various reports, a broken finger on his throwing hand, three broken ribs, and a sore shoulder. Brady’s numbers suggest he struggled in the most critical moments – his fourth-quarter rating this year is 75.9 – though he posted better numbers this season than he did in any other year but the record-breaking campaign of 2007.
Meanwhile, the Patriots have operated with no viable threat at the third wide receiver position, a transitional defense (to say the least) and offensive play-calling that sometimes made us wonder if they were playing pickup hoops.
Along the way, from Boston to Baja, the questions were asked: is Brady the same guy? Does Belichick still have his touch? Do the Patriots have the necessary talent to compete with Indianapolis, New Orleans, San Diego, and New Orleans?
The answers were obvious.
No, no, and no.
And yet, here we are on the verge of the playoffs, and the greatest hopes of all Patriots followers rest on the coach and the quarterback. Together, Belichick and Brady are 14-3 in their postseason career. They are 8-0 in Foxborough. For all intents and purposes, Belichick and Brady are the only true link these Patriots have to the Patriots from the fall of 2001 through January 2005, a group that won three Super Bowls in four seasons and established itself as the preeminent franchise in sports. With the exception of perhaps Kevin Faulk, the rest of the Pats have been turned over and shaken about, from the punters to the kickers to the touchdown makers.
Let’s be honest, folks. The Patriots are who they are, not who they were. At this stage, that might be true of even the quarterback and coach. The greatest dynasties in history all came to an end at some point, leaving reality and perception to inevitably clash.
"Tom does everything pretty well. He's smart. He's well-prepared. He can handle all elements of the game: the running game, the passing game, play-action, third down," Belichick said of his quarterback this week. "He’s a very experienced quarterback. He's got good talent, good skill and he’s done it."
There you go.
He’s done it.
Thanks to the coach and quarterback of the Patriots, that is pretty much what we cling to now.
The hope is that this means they can do it again.
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