For years, arguably decades, the ethos of Bill Belichick guiding the New England Patriots has been impenetrable: We do what's best for the team.
Along with do your job, he has embraced this principle through nearly every decision that has come to define the franchise. He espouses it in coaching staff meetings. Reiterates it in corporate speaking engagements. Repeats it so often in news conferences that clips of him saying some version of the ideology can be found in nearly every year of his Patriots reign.
If anyone were to question his dedication to it, they would need only look inside the roll call of Belichick's rosters through history — a march of attrition showcasing his priority of cold calculus over sentimentality or blind loyalty. Start Tom Brady over Drew Bledsoe? Do what's best for the team. Release Pro Bowl safety Lawyer Milloy just days before the start of the 2003 season? Do what's best for the team. Spend decades trading, cutting or walking away from core players who were aging or threatening a salary cap squeeze? Do what's best for the team.
The team’s future mattered. Which means that when it came to a difficult business decision, so many dynasty-building names didn’t: Milloy, Ty Law, Deion Branch, Asante Samuel, Richard Seymour, Randy Moss, Logan Mankins, Jamie Collins, Stephon Gilmore … and many, many more. In the end, long-term success or failure would never be wagered on one man. And for decades, Belichick was right.
Then came Matt Patricia and the 2022 season. The moment when Belichick's incorruptible doctine of "what's best for the team" was blindsided by his own hubris.
Somewhere at the intersection of failing to have a plan for Josh McDaniels’ departure and overestimating his own ability to continually fit a square peg into a round hole, Belichick violated his own credo. He failed to do what was best for the team, choosing audacity over logic and a coaching friend over a much-needed young quarterback. Prioritizing trust and familiarity over roster-building necessity.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft should be taking note. Because his team is nearing an offseason where it’s time for him to start treating Belichick the way Belichick has treated his players for decades. This is where the coach’s playbook should be on the owner’s lips.
Do your job. Do what’s best for the team.
In this moment, Kraft must be Belichick. Unsentimental. Calculating. Driven. With no lines of credit for what was accomplished in the past. Rather than once again applying grace in the face of Belichick making a mistake, choose force instead. Reach for an inexorable mandate rather than some form of diplomacy.
In short: tell Belichick that Patricia must be stripped of offensive play-calling duties and the head coach must find a tested offensive coordinator to take control of the scheme and guide Mac Jones. Because what's happening this season is going from unacceptable to malpractice. The offensive trajectory looks similar to what the New York Giants did to Daniel Jones — taking a promising start and systematically destroying his ability to properly develop as a quarterback. A blunder that not only irreparably damaged Jones' chance at being the team's answer at quarterback, but also helped put the team into a multi-year spiral that is only now slowing down under head coach Brian Daboll. Now Patriots fans are staring at Mac Jones the same way Giants fans did at Daniel Jones in his second and third seasons, wondering if the early success was nothing more than a mirage.
They might not be alone, either. Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown made news this week when his Instagram account “liked” a post suggesting that the franchise should pursue a return of Brady or Jimmy Garoppolo at the quarterback spot. While there’s no way to know whether it was Brown or someone running his account that clicked that button, the fact remains that this is a very un-Patriot-like bit of drama bubbling up between an offensive tackle and the quarterback he’s being paid to protect. That’s not great, no matter how you process it.
But that's the kind of drama that this Patricia experiment is inviting, from the dalliance with Bailey Zappe to the disjointed play-calling to Jones having some emotional outbursts over a game plan that shows minimal trust in him. None of which was a problem in 2021, when McDaniels was running the offense. The same McDaniels who walked off the field in Las Vegas on Sunday with a wildly improbable win that would have gone to overtime if Patricia had simply chosen to take a knee at the end of regulation. Instead, Patricia dialed up a running play that opened up the possibility of an asinine set of decisions by two players who should have never been in that position in the first place.
No, that’s not blaming Patricia entirely for the Raiders loss. But when you review the game, he certainly made plenty of questionable decisions that were ultimately forgotten by the ending. And the fact remains: If you didn’t have the confidence to have Jone throw a Hail Mary to end regulation and presumed that a running play would end in a simple tackle, why not just take the knee and eliminate any possibility of some mental mistake? That’s the job of a seasoned play-caller, to both enhance the probability of success while simultaneously removing as much opportunity for errors as possible.
Patricia didn’t do that. And in the wake of it, the Patriots lost a game that threatens to bounce them from the postseason for the second time in three years.
That kind of bottom line, where the Patriots are sitting at home again during the postseason, has to be on Kraft’s mind. Nobody should forget that last March at the NFL’s largest annual owners meetings, Kraft made an unprompted point to apply pressure to Belichick moving forward. He was irked that New England had so quickly fallen off the league’s map as a contender after the departure of Brady. And he was pissed that the Patriots hadn’t won a single playoff game since Super Bowl LIII, following the 2018 season.
“I think about that a lot,” Kraft said.
And that’s why he has to do something he has resisted doing for decades: getting into Belichick’s kitchen when it comes to the coaching staff decisions and making it clear that Patricia doesn’t have a future on the team as a play-caller. That might sound like the owner crossing the line, but the fact remains that it happens all the time in the NFL in other franchises. Most especially when the head coach is making ego-driven decisions that are clearly hurting the team.
In this instance with Patricia, that has clearly happened. Now Kraft has to take it upon himself to take a page from Belichick and think of the team first. No room for nostalgia about past glory or what was happening when Tom Brady was still in the fold. For this franchise to move forward, it has to move on.
Treating Belichick the way he has always treated his players would be a good start for ownership.