Losses never mount
Patriot track record is most impressive
“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, 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 Titans in the snow and slush Sunday at Gillette Stadium. Maybe the bigger story is not what happened in Foxborough, but 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 have played 51 regular-season and postseason games without losing consecutive times - 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 season this decade like the one the Titans are having right now.
Since the start of the 2001 campaign, which marked Bill Belichick’s second season as head coach in New England, the Patriots are the only team in the NFL that has had a winning record every year. 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 - that the NFL is a wildly unpredictable league in which winning consistently is virtually impossible.
This is obviously a reflection on Belichick more than anyone else. And he 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 the first game. The Patriots played the season with a quarterback who had not started a game since high school and a defense on the cusp of a major restructuring, and yet they still managed to go 11-5, playoffs or no playoffs.
That Patriots team had as much right as the Titans (or more) to unravel. Instead, they 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 Chris Gasper pointed out in yesterday’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, 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 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 admitted as much when he subsequently went out and acquired Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Monty Beisel was a bust. So was Chad Brown.
And, again, given the events in Foxborough Sunday, 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 from any other evaluator in any sport because they all get some wrong.
But this 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 a 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 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 with what it is.