There's a scene in Gladiator in which one of Commodus' advisors gives a big speech about this sea snake that attracts its prey by laying on the bottom of the ocean, pretending to be wounded and inviting them to come eat it before it strikes. I never understood how anyone would know about that 2,000 years before Jacques Cousteau was born, but that's not why I mention it. I bring it up because there is no creature in all of nature right now being set upon by his enemies than Bill Belichick. They sense he is wounded, and the feeding is in full frenzy:
And I get it, to an extent. For all the deranged senselessness of trying to argue he's never been good at coaching or trying to argue in 2023 that Mr. Kraft should've fired him in 2019 because Tom Brady would be winning Super Bowls for us right now, I get it. The people who have spent 24 years resenting his success, carrying out grudges, and who never wanted him hired in the first place (in 2000, the Boston media was preparing a royal banquet to welcome the coronation of their choice, Dom fecking Capers), are feeling it. They've convinced themselves that THIS is the moment it all finally comes crashing down upon his hooded head.
Which is to say, they've convinced themselves now is the moment, yet again. The whole history of the Patriots in the 21st century has been full of moments like this. Where the jackals who've always despised Belichick for the way he doesn't play grabass with the media, won more than anyone else, made other coaching staffs look ridiculous, invented new ways to beat them and new ways to not care what anyone said or thought about him, believe they'll finally be right this time. It's a triumph of their optimism over their experience.
So with that in mind, here's one Belichick loyalist's rankings of the other low moments that they thought spelled doom for his career, in order of magnitude:
The 2010 Playoff Loss to the Jets
For my money, still the worst non-Super Bowl loss of the Dynasty Era. A month after beating this same team 45-3, the Pats hosted them after enjoying a bye week. And after leading 3-0 in the 1st quarter, never led again, thanks to one of Rex Ryan's most masterful defensive game plans that kept Brady under pressure and no open receivers all night. This was the one was pinned in large part on the fact Belichick benched Wes Welker for the opening series for his legendary Foot Fetish Puns press conference. So it was a perfect storm of his arrogance, overconfidence, and Ryan's superior abilities that had the zealots saying the game had passed him by.
"We're onto Cincinnati"
While we're talking about a slow start, a month into 2014, the Pats were 2-2 after getting their doors blown off at Kansas City, 41-14. At the time, I was doing the pre- and postgame TV show hosted by Mike Felger. And for me there was no putting down sandbags to stem the tidal wave of negativity. Brady was moping because they'd drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the 2nd round. (Why no one was making an issue out of Denver drafting Brock Osweiler in the 2nd to back up Peyton Manning, no one could explain to me.) Trent Dilfer was famously saying, "Let's face it! They're not good any more!" Brady didn't have enough weapons. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola could never replace Welker. It had been 10 years since the last championship and there would never be another one. That is, it turned out, until the end of this season. As an aside, on next week's pregame, I laid out a case for how it wasn't as bad as everyone was making it out to be. And was fired a few days later. Don't cry for me; I'm one of five different guys who got let go from that job. It was New England sports cable's Defense Against the Dark Arts position. I'm just going to spend the rest of my life repeating this Told You So.
The Lawyer Milloy Bowl
Week 1 of the 2003 season. In a personnel move that shocked everyone (back when Belichick personnel moves were still actually capable of shocking everyone) he released Lawyer Milloy in a contract dispute five days before the season started. After all, this was the second person Belichick hugged (after his daughter) once Adam Vinatieri's kick defeated the Rams two years earlier. In a matter of hours, Milloy signed with Buffalo, which was where the Pats were headed to open the season. The final score was 31-0. The lowlight was a Brady 37 yard Pick-6 to 350 pound DT Sam Adams, who was mockingly helped off the field by Drew Bledsoe, who had his own reasons to despise Belichick. After this one, Tom Jackson went viral by saying, "Let's face it, they hate their coach." Like with Dilfer, the "Let's face it" ended up with Jackson being the one getting faced, as Belichick refused his post-Super Bowl handshake and told him to go fuck himself. That loss kicked off the best back-to-back seasons in NFL history, a combined 34-4 record with two championships.
Malcolm Butler's Benching
In what is still a mystery for the ages, one that will be debated by scholars, historians and theologians until the sun goes nova, Butler took the field for the opening kickoff and then never again. In a game in which his defense couldn't get the Eagles off the field, Butler was replaced to varying degrees by Eric Rowe, Jonathan Bademosi and Jordan Richards, who combined to give up 10 receptions on 13 targets for 177 yards and a touchdown. Wasting Brady's 505 yard, 3 TD, 0 INT performance. I just so happened that Brady's film company was producing a documentary series at the time. And we got all the behind-the-scenes of him and Gisele seething with hostility about the whole situation. This was all in the aftermath of an explosive (and highly inaccurate) ESPN hit piece about how increasingly unhappy Brady was about the way he was being treated (reportedly hating Jimmy G, demanding everyone around the team call him "Sir," being bitter about never winning the "Patriot of the Week" award, which never existed). And the consensus was that this relationship would never be able to be put back together. That is, until the following season when they won a sixth banner. In a game in which Brady threw for just 262 yards, 0 TD and 1 INT, thanks to Belichick's defense.
Spygate and Deflategate
Not much needs to be said, here. Apart from the national outcry that Belichick should be suspended, fired, banned, banished, locked up, dragged before Congress, shunned by polite society, keel-hauled, drawn and quartered. In no particular order. And in the case of Deflategate, where he was found by the NFL's own witchhunt to have had no involvement, there was no shortage of hysterical maniacs screaming he shouldn't be allowed to coach Super Bowl XLIX or else we'll lose our democracy or something.
I save this one for last because, to the extend any of these previous examples do, this one at least has some legitimacy. Whether or not he found himself in the Salary Cap Penitentiary, there was no excuse for a roster as thin as the one he fielded. GM Bill's disastrous 2019 draft (the N'Keal Harry one) was already taking its toll. We were in our second straight year of zero production from the tight end position. And Cam Newton was brought in almost as an afterthought in late July. Just as they seemed to be putting it together in midseason, Covid cost them their most important players in Newton and Stephon Gilmore. And a final drive red zone fumble by Newton cost them a win at Buffalo, as they finished 7-9. But no excuses. Everybody had it tough that season. Except Tom Brady's Buccaneers, which only made the humiliation complete. That said, the coach and GM who didn't get fired that offseason went on to win the Executive of the Year award after having a huge free agency period and a great draft featuring the quarterback who would win the starter's job from Newton and lead this team back to the playoffs as a rookie.
So that was a fun trip down all the worst sections of our Memory Lane. And the one common factor in all of them is that the doubters and anti-Belichick jihadists were proven wrong in the long run. Each and every single time. I'm convinced with my heart and my soul (what's left of them) that this time out will be no exception. Unlike the haters, I've never been wrong.