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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Football had not yet kicked off in the New England Patriots’ regular season finale against the Miami Dolphins, as CBS analyst Jay Feely shared his view on the unexpected position the team was in – with 10 wins and already having won a playoff spot.
“This is the best coaching job Bill Belichick has done. He’s the best coach ever, but I think this year he has and [offensive coordinator] Josh McDaniels has done a phenomenal job, “Feely said.
Belichick’s 2021 season has plenty of competition – his resume is pretty impressive after all – but ESPN analyst Damien Woody can understand why Feely believes in it.
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Belichick leads his Patriots (10-7) into Saturday’s wildcard game (20:15 ET, CBS) against the Buffalo Bills (11-6) after gaining the respect of many around the NFL, such as his former offensive lineman.
“You could say this is the best job he’s ever done,” said Woody, who played for the Patriots from 1999 to 2003. “He goes out and signs a number of free agents in the offseason. five out of ‘Big 5’ [of first-round quarterbacks], and continues to put that team together. It’s not easy to mix a bunch of free agents together and get a rookie quarterback ready to go in that culture. Being able to do that and get that team back in the off-season, it’s a really, really good coaching job. “
Former Patriots backup quarterback Scott Zolak, the team’s longtime radio analyst, highlighted these obstacles as he discussed what makes Belichick’s 2021 coaching job unique compared to the past.
“They are pleasantly surprised at where they are. Bill would not admit it, but I think they are ahead of schedule,” he said. “Maybe you’re thinking of next year’s playoffs, where this year you think ‘find yourself, reload, get the quarterback’s feet wet’ and then you screw things up.”
However, there is one area that has been problematic.
“The special team’s mistakes are surprising,” Zolak said, referring to three blocked points and other costly penalties, such as defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, who lined up over the snapper during a punt on Sunday to give Miami a gift first in New England’s 33-24. loss.
By taking a big picture of Belichick’s 2021 season, Zolak sees a mix of the first years and final years of the team’s two decades of running with quarterback Tom Brady.
“We all know what it was early on – a lot of older veterans who had that chip on their shoulder with a young quarterback evolving. They found their way,” he said. “Later you had the quarterback as a veteran and you are dealing with a younger defense where the attack carries you. Now I think they have a good balance.”
Where is Belichick’s 2021 campaign among his best coaching jobs with the Patriots? While officials may penalize this list for a false start because the season is not over, here is a longtime reporter’s top 10:
2001: Belichick came after a 5-11 season in his first year as the Patriots coach, and the team was 0-2 when starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe suffered a serious injury. The Patriots had battled for a 5-5 record when Belichick made the decision to stick with Brady, his second-year quarterback, in one of the most important moves of his career.
The Patriots, with what former Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf referred to as a “waiver wire team,” won Super Bowl XXXVI, disrupting the highly-favored Rams 20-17.
Woody was part of that team.
“Listen, you can definitely put it as No. 1. I do not want to quarrel with you,” he said. “We were 0-2, then 1-3, and there was a lot of noise with people asking, ‘Is Belichick the guy at all?’ To be able to navigate these waters and beat The Greatest Show on Turf in the Super Bowl … who had expectations in 2001? “
2. 2008: This was a year that could have lowered the Patriots, who were trying to come back after losing Super Bowl XLII and having their hopes of a 19-0 season shattered in the process. Then Brady tore his ACL in the season’s 15th offensive game and was out for the year.
“Come on! The 2008 team that’s up there – if not the best, then it’s in the top two,” Woody said excitedly. “[Backup QB] Matt Cassel, who by the way had never started college at USC, steps in and out to get him trained … I know you have the whole team around him, but think about how incredible it is. “
The Patriots finished 11-5 and did not qualify for the playoffs as they take advantage of what some saw as a softer schedule against the AFC West and NFC West divisions, which were in decline cycles at the time.
3. 2014: “We’re on our way to Cincinnati.” Need I say more? It was a decade ago that the Patriots won a Super Bowl. They opened the season 2-2 with a 41-14 away loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Monday Night Football, where Brady was drawn in the fourth quarter. Getting over it and continuing to win the Super Bowl with a dramatic stop in the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks was epic.
2003: The Patriots had missed the playoffs in ’02, and then the popular safety lawyer Milloy was cut the week before the season opener – a 31-0 loss in Buffalo, where Milloy started for the Bills. With a record of 2-2, the Patriots never lost again, led by one of the best defenses from Belichick’s tenure, on their way to their second Super Bowl championship.
5. 2018: They looked buried in December with a heartbreaking defeat in the final game in Miami in Week 14 and another defeat the following week in Pittsburgh, only to reinvent themselves as a power-running team over the last five games on their way to a surprising Super Bowl championship. The victory in Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game was an advertisement for Belichick-led, clutch, Patriots-style complementary football.
6. 2021: Maybe this year benefits from recent bias, but getting into the playoffs with Jones at the helm (many thought he would sit this season behind Cam Newton) and so many new pieces is an honor to Belichicks and his staff.
7. 2016: Any coach who oversees a team that gathers from a 28-3 deficit in the second half to win a Super Bowl will have that season rated among its best, simply because of that comeback. Tight-end Rob Gronkowski missed a good chunk of the season (25 catches), but the defense allowed a league-leading average of 15.6 points per game. fight despite not having many bona fide stars.
8. 2007: The Patriots were full, but when listening to veterans like Tedy Bruschi they remember what was going on behind the scenes, they say Belichick never trained them harder than in the undefeated regular season. There was never a downturn. Sometimes the best coaching jobs can come with the best teams by striving for more.
9. 2004: The Patriots, who were the last team in the NFL to win back-to-back Super Bowl championships, were so turned up on cornerback that receiver Troy Brown played there. Belichick has long advocated for a rotation as a running back, but he rode Corey Dillon (single-season franchise record of 1,635 rushing yards) to a Super Bowl title.
October 2006: The Patriots’ receiving corps was led by Reche Caldwell (team height 61 catches) after Deion Branch was traded before the season began. Somehow, the Patriots were a game away from playing in the Super Bowl, if not for a crushing 38-34 loss in the AFC Championship Game to the Peyton Mannings Colts in Indianapolis. In that game, the Patriots missed out on safety Rodney Harrison, who was lost due to injury in the finals of the regular season.