By: Steve Balestrieri
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been together longer than any coach – quarterback duo in NFL history, a total of 191 games…and counting. And they’ve also had the most wins, by far of any coach – QB in NFL history with 148…and counting.
Bill Belichick did a masterful job with an injury ravaged roster in 2013.
(USA TODAY Images)
With a combined resume that includes 5 Super Bowl appearances in 13 seasons including 3 wins (2001, 2003, 2004), they’ve had tremendous success in both regular and the post season netting a career playoff record of 17-7 for a winning percentage of .708 to go along with a career regular season winning percentage of .775.
But the 2013 season may just be the very best season for each of them in their storied career. This was the season that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men wouldn’t put the Patriots back together again.
Off-Season For the Books: The off-season was tumultuous, Wes Welker left via free-agency for Denver about a month after Brady took a team-friendly contract re-negotiation that was supposed to keep talent surrounding him and the team for the foreseeable future. Danny Woodhead left via free agency for San Diego and Brandon Lloyd was cut loose to make low-budget horror films.
Rob Gronkowski, the team’s biggest weapon, figuratively and literally had numerous surgeries on his forearm that he broke twice during the 2012 season and then found out he needed back surgery that would delay his return to the field until at least six games into the season.
Aaron Hernandez who was rewarded in 2012 with a $40 million dollar contract extension and was supposed to be the focal point of the offense in Gronk’s absence was arrested for murder at his home shortly after Father’s Day in June and was released. He may never play in the NFL nor breathe free air again.
In their stead the team drafted Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce in the 2013 NFL Draft, signed Mark Harrison, T.J. Moe and Kenbrell Thompkins as UDFAs and signed the talented but oft-injured Danny Amendola in free agency.
The nay-sayers, never in short supply in Boston decried that the Patriots run was over, the familiar mantra was “Who is Brady going to throw the ball to?” and many picked Miami, the sexy, chic pick to dethrone the Patriots as kings of the AFC East.
Pre-season Doesn’t Start Well: With the Hernandez breaking story coupled with the added news of Gronkowski needing back surgery, it wasn’t the type of start the team envisioned. Worse, Moe went down with an injury in June mini-camp and Harrison suffering from an injury when he was signed, never took the field.
Then Julian Edelman, the only wide receiver on the roster who’d ever caught a pass from Brady re-injured his foot that was injured in 2012 and started training camp in street clothes.
Through all this Belichick and Brady preached patience (something uncommon for the competitive QB) and a day-by-day approach to the young players trying to learn the intricate New England offense on the fly.
Thompkins, Amendola and Zac Sudfeld made the most of their opportunities early and got some quality time gaining Brady’s confidence. But even on the rainy day to start training camp, ESPN’s Mike & Mike brought their show from a rain soaked Gillette Stadium parking lot and declared Miami was the team to beat and the Patriots would finish 10-6.
During joint practices with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New England collectively held their breath as Brady went down clutching his knee, after being rolled up during a passing drill. Fortunately the injury was minor and Brady had an excellent training camp.
Injuries Pile Up Early And Often: The regular season didn’t start much better for the Patriots, with Gronkowski on PUP the injuries started to fall like dominoes. Amendola pulled a groin and gutted through a fantastic performance on opening day to help the Patriots pull out a victory, but would miss the next three games.
Shane Vereen who had a 150 yard combined opening day in Buffalo, broke his wrist and was placed on IR-Return. Sudfeld couldn’t translate training camp success into the regular season and was jettisoned. Shortly thereafter key players on defense, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Tommy Kelly went down with injuries. Sebastian Vollmer the starting RT on offense, Stevan Ridley’s fumbling problems re-surfaced again but instead of the house fall in, something else was happening.
The Patriots were winning. Not the “blow them out, New England is running up the score” winning from a few years ago. But it seemed every week was a close, tough hard fought game and they were coming out on top every week. Brady’s stats were far from what we’ve been spoiled to expect but this team was more fun to watch.
Rookies Start To Catch On: After suffering through some growing pains which isn’t unexpected, the Patriots rookies began to contribute in a big way. Thompkins caught a beauty of a touchdown from Brady at the end of the Saints game to give the Pats the win. Dobson had a huge game against Pittsburgh and coupled with the return of Gronkowski the Patriots started to score points in bushels again.
Aaron Dobson has emerged in the Patriots offense.
(USA TODAY Images)
And for seven games it seemed that the Patriots were well on their way, especially after a huge come-back win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday Night Football, where the Pats erased a 24-point halftime deficit and beat Denver in OT. During a four-game stretch Gronk was averaging 6.75 catches a game for 104.75 yard per game. But Dobson, Thompkins and Josh Boyce all were suffering injuries as were much of the secondary and MLB Brandon Spikes as well.
Now Where? : The question became how many injuries would amount to too many. And once Gronkowski went down for the season against Cleveland, once again the doom-sayers predicted the Patriots will fall. But Belichick and Brady put together a nice finish to the season and New England finished on a roll at 12-4.
The upstart Dolphins, still taking victory laps over a last-minute win over the Pats in December, dropped their last two games badly and finished at 8-8 and out of the playoffs four games back in the division tied with the Jets for second place.
Belichick has kept the team on an even keel all season not letting the young roster get too high nor too low. And he and Brady continue a great partnership where their mutual respect allows them to constantly re-invent this team from week to week. No one changes their identity from week-to-week better than the Patriots under Belichick.
Brady’s new wide receiver core non-withstanding the results are the same, New England has a bye and will play at home for the divisional round of the playoffs.
“We’re fortunate to be at this point,” Brady told WEEI on Monday morning. “We’ve worked hard to get to this point. Now we have to go out and take advantage of it.”
Speaking on the crazy season it’s been so far,Brady told Dennis and Callahan that it is uncharted territory for him.
“I’ve never been part of a year like this,” Brady said. “Really, when we’ve been challenged the most, we’ve been at our best.”
So how far will the Patriots go this post-season? As resilient and tough as this team has played this season, it would be folly to count them out of any game as long as time remains on the clock.
Anything less than a Super Bowl berth would be a season of failure to Belichick and Brady. That’s in their DNA and how they’re constructed regardless of the injuries sustained by the team. But the fact of the matter is they are playing with house money in January.
No one gave them any chance to be where they’re at right now. And although both have had numbers far better than 2013, this has been their finest collaborative effort. And although neither will sniff anything close to an MVP or Coach of the Year award, they are truly deserving of either.
So who’s ready for the playoffs to start?…..
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