Bill Belichick is unchanged, at the height of the Patriots dynasty and at the end

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Bill Belichick has never been one to please, and he’s as slanted-eyed and furrowed-lipped in these bitter final days with the New England Patriots as he was in his most triumphant days. If the man goes out – and this may well be the case – he will not show any feelings at all. He seems to be intent on this, as a man with completely monotonous clothes and a sullen expression, whose stone solidity is intact.

The speed with which Belichick has transformed from a candidate for the greatest coach of all time to a man just trying to coax a 2-7 team into competence has allowed all of his detractors in. Anyone with whom he has ever been rude or uncooperative – and the numbers are apparently numerous in the press – is now predicting that he will be fired by the end of the season, perhaps even sooner, given the 20-17 loss on Sunday against an inexperienced Washington Commanders team that committed two turnovers. Gillette Stadium felt like a run-down mansion as the once-great Patriots heard scattered boos. After that, Belichick always behaved like a druid in a damp cell, his murmurs barely audible and silent.

“It was across the board,” he said, trailing off.

Here are some more examples of his post-game conversation:

“You should talk to them about it.”

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This was a crucial game, a clear turning point for two franchises struggling to find their identity and weighing whether to clean up their act. The results left Washington feeling far better about its quarterback Sam Howell and a number of rookies, while on the other side of the stadium there was a growing feeling that the door was closed on the tenure of Belichick, who is 71 years old , soon to be struck, hasn’t led a team to a playoff victory in the last four years, and his boss, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, has expressed his dissatisfaction about it.

“The Patriot Way is dead,” Mike Florio announced on NBC’s Pro Football Talk Sunday morning. He went on to destroy Belichick’s career by postulating that Belichick was always overrated and saved by Tom Brady and that his influence on the league was “a cocktail of arrogance and contempt.” The New York Post raved: “Bill Belichick’s coaching staff has done it [an] alarming number of dead branches.” The Athletic weighed in on the criticism, quoting an unnamed NFL executive who replaced Belichick sooner rather than later, calling the Patriots’ descent from perennial contender to miss the playoffs “an indictment “ referred to. The theme of all of these criticisms is that Belichick’s demanding nature no longer works in the modern NFL and that perhaps he was never really that good.

This is unwarranted nonsense. If it is time to expose Belichick’s legacy, then it is also time to note that the quality Belichick is currently accused of is his unwillingness to compromise and his refusal to give in to the “issue of the week,” as he once said , the same thing made him a dynastic overlord for two decades, until 2021, whose only historical rivals are Don Shula and George Halas. Whose teams won a higher percentage of games than any other American franchise from 2000 to 2019 and who compiled a 31-13 playoff record and six Super Bowls in his career. This guy wasn’t a hidden bum covered up by a great quarterback.

One of the reasons Belichick has been so uncooperative with the press over the years is that he deeply suspects the effect of popularity and finds it…disturbing and corrosive. He is a deep-rooted anti-elitist who actually preferred to win with troops of ungrateful, over-stretched and underpaid “reliables” rather than with superstars. Because he always understood that football has far too many dependencies to rely on one man’s arm or an ingenious headset.

And he has lived the consequences of this view of the game, for better or for worse.

Once at an event, Belichick agreed to have dinner with Peyton Manning. When a limousine pulled up to their hotel, Belichick sat in the front seat next to the driver, leaving Manning alone in the plush seat while he chatted with the worker behind the wheel.

At his best, Belichick’s teams possessed a mechanistic, all-round excellence that couldn’t be attributed to the virtues of any one player, no matter how great Brady was. Example: During their period of dominance, the Patriots committed fewer penalties than any other team in the league. In 18 playoff games between 2011 and 2017, they were whistled for violations about 25 percent less often than their opponents. Think about it. They were a full quarter better than their opponents operational when it mattered most.

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When I once spoke to Belichick at length about his philosophy, he said this: “The No. 1 thing is unforced errors.” It doesn’t matter who you play. You don’t even have to be out there. If you can’t do things right without opposition from an opponent, you’re in trouble. Start with this. Once you’ve eliminated things like penalties, turnovers, and mental errors, you just go out, get a play called, and execute it the way you’re supposed to execute it. Until then – until you do that – there’s not much chance of winning.”

It’s not a bad diagnostic of what went wrong with these Patriots, a team that plays like its shoelaces aren’t fully tightened. No play killed them more against the Commanders than a tricky offside call when the Commanders were forced to punt with 2:29 left, handing Washington another loss. “It’s not at all up to one person or one player,” quarterback Mac Jones later said.

Sure, maybe Belichick’s behavior is the main problem. But it seems far more likely that the Patriots are playing inconsistently simply because they’ve had a cycle of bad drafts that cheap, unheralded sweat couldn’t make up for, coupled with exceptionally high coaching staff churn. It’s not just that Brady is gone. Since 2021, they have replaced coaches at several key positions, and two of their best teachers, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and running backs coach Ivan Fears, have retired in the past three years. With so much change, it is difficult to maintain operational excellence.

Of course, another possibility that cannot be ruled out is that Belichick could simply be more tired than he is showing. But if that’s the case, don’t expect him to voice it. Bill Belichick is unchanged, at the height of the Patriots dynasty and at the end

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