Part of the relentless allure of spectator sports is that even a layperson can correctly observe when a genius does something dumb, and now it is Bill Belichick whose mistakes are on display. Belichick is the best football coach ever, and yet his team just committed perhaps the most foolish game-ending play in history, and now we get to watch him sort through his rubble.
Of course, Belichick did not want Jakobi Meyers to chuck the ball backwards to Las Vegas’s Chandler Jones with no time left in a tied game, but Meyers probably assumed that random backward throws into a crowd was the next step in Matt Patricia’s offensive plan. Patricia, of course, calls the plays for Belichick’s offense (the team doesn’t have a coach with the offensive coordinator title). He was a defensive coach for the past decade and a half, except for his years as the Lions head coach, which he spent alienating people and showing no real understanding of how a modern offense should be run.
Pretty much nobody else in the world thought Patricia was the best choice to run the Patriots’ offense. Belichick selected him anyway, and Patricia has been a disaster.
As hard as it was to watch Belichick’s players completely ignore him in a critical moment—running back Rhamondre Stevenson told reporters he was supposed to go down and he started a lateral contest instead—that was still one play. Weird stuff happens in football sometimes. Hiring Patricia against all available logic was a choice, and it probably killed the Pats’ season.
Belichick’s 2022 team is not just a disappointment. It is a disappointment that is entirely of his own doing. He built a great defense and squandered it by botching the offense. (Special teams have not helped lately, either.) Quarterback Mac Jones, who had such a promising rookie season in ’21, looks lost and miserable. That didn’t have to happen.
This sets the Patriots up for the most fascinating offseason in the NFL. Belichick is 70. He has not indicated he will retire. It is hard to imagine owner Robert Kraft just firing him. But when Kraft asks Belichick what he plans to do with the offense—a question Kraft must ask—what will Belichick say? Does he realize the depth of the problem he created? Is he willing to reach away from his own coaching tree for the solution? Or is he more interested in proving a point than winning games?
The only argument in favor of Patricia replacing Josh McDaniels was that Patricia is a New England guy, raised on Belichick ways. It looked, from the outside, like Belichick was so tired of people attributing his success to Tom Brady and (to a lesser extent) McDaniels that he was determined to go the other way: hire a coordinator who would never get the credit, and win with defense, his specialty.
Nothing else made sense, yet it’s still hard to believe that was the case. This is not the Bill Belichick we have watched over the years. He was nerveless, brilliant, calculating—some said ruthless—and famously unencumbered by sentiment or insecurity. He traded or cut stars; he made unconventional in-game decisions for sound reasons and cared what nobody else thought about it.
It is time for Belichick to be that guy again. You don’t have to be a football expert to see it. The Patriots are still very much in the playoff picture, but their next three games are against teams that are highly likely to make them look feeble by comparison: Joe Burrow’s Bengals, Josh Allen’s Bills and the Tua-Tyreek-Waddle Dolphins. This season is probably going to end with a large dose of embarrassment.
Assuming Belichick wants to keep coaching, the Patriots’ offseason hinges on this question: Is he desperate to validate all of his success, or is he going to make the same clear-eyed, cutthroat decisions he always made before?
You would hope he realizes his career does not need validating. People will say what they want about Spygate and other suspicions—right or wrong, there is nothing Belichick can do about that. At this point, there are far more people saying Belichick won because of Tom Brady than Belichick won because he cheated.
In the simplest telling of Brady vs. Belichick, Brady was more important because he won a Super Bowl after he left, and the Patriots have been the definition of mediocre. (The Patriots are now 24–23 post-Brady.) I see the past three years as proving a different point: Brady, the best quarterback ever, needed an elite roster to win the Super Bowl, and Belichick, the best coach ever, needs elite quarterback play to win one. Brady had that elite roster when he got to Tampa Bay. Belichick has not had elite quarterback play since Brady left.
Everything the Patriots do on offense from here has to be guided by that quest. We can debate how good Jones can be, but he can clearly be better than he has been under Patricia. The Patriots need fresh, creative thinking from a real offensive coordinator. If you and I can see that, then surely the best coach in history can see it, too.