Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are a pairing the likes of which we’ve never seen.
If you’re a Patriots hater, you’re not alone. Millions of football fans across America hate the Patriots. That’s fine. Hating the other team is part of sports fandom.
But I hope even a Patriots hater can agree that what we’re seeing the Patriots do, after earning their eighth trip to the Super Bowl in the Belichick/Brady era, is something truly special. It hasn’t happened before in NFL history and probably won’t happen again.
Brady is going to his eighth Super Bowl as the Patriots’ starting quarterback. No other NFL player has even been to seven Super Bowls, and only one other player at any position, a backup defensive lineman named Mike Lodish who played for the Bills and Broncos, has been to six. John Elway is the only other quarterback who has been to five Super Bowls. Brady has been the Patriots’ starting quarterback for 16 seasons (every year since 2001, minus 2008 when he missed the season with a knee injury), and he has ended up in the Super Bowl in eight of those seasons. That’s extraordinary.
Belichick is going to his eighth Super Bowl as the Patriots’ head coach. No other head coach has even been to seven Super Bowls, and only Don Shula has coached in six. Belichick is already the only head coach with five Super Bowl rings, and he’s doing it at a time with more teams in the league and with greater parity than the league saw in Shula’s day. Belichick has seven Super Bowl rings when you include the two he won as a Giants assistant coach, and if he gets his eighth in two weeks he’ll be the only person ever to earn eight Super Bowl rings in any role with a team. The only other person with seven Super Bowl rings is a former team executive named Neal Dahlen, who received five Super Bowl rings while working for the 49ers and two while working for the Broncos.
Since Brady became the starting quarterback in 2001, the Patriots have won 27 postseason games. You can combine the total postseason wins of 15 NFL teams and it doesn’t equal the number the Patriots have won: The Titans, Bears, Texans, Rams, Raiders, Buccaneers, Jaguars, Cowboys, Chiefs, Redskins, Bengals, Lions, Dolphins, Bills and Browns combined have won 25 postseason games since 2001.
Despite the ESPN story about friction between Brady and Belichick, I’m not so sure the Patriots’ eighth Super Bowl will be their last together. Yes, Brady is 40, but in the AFC Championship Game he went 26-for-38 for 290 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions, with an injured throwing hand against the best pass defense in the NFL. He’s got plenty of good football left in him, and I think Belichick does too. These two men are a pairing like we’ve never seen.
Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:
Nick Foles may be offseason trade bait. I’m sure Eagles fans aren’t thinking ahead to anything beyond Super Bowl Sunday, but the fact is that Foles, who will be their starting quarterback in the Super Bowl, is not going to start for the Eagles going forward. Carson Wentz is the Eagles’ franchise quarterback. Period. So what do they do with Foles, who is under contract in 2018 at a very affordable salary? Maybe they’ll keep him to have one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league, but I think they’re more likely to trade him. Foles played very well on Sunday against the Vikings and if he plays well again in the Super Bowl, there will be teams calling the Eagles with trade offers. The 2018 Eagles could put a better team around Wentz by dealing Foles.
Where do the Vikings’ quarterbacks go from here? Case Keenum, after having such a great season with the Vikings, did not play well in yesterday’s loss to the Eagles. Now he hits free agency this offseason. Sam Bradford, who opened the season as the Vikings’ starting quarterback, hits free agency as well. And Teddy Bridgewater, who was supposed to be the franchise quarterback, hasn’t played in two years after suffering a knee injury and has an uncertain contract situation that may see him as a free agent in March as well. Complicating matters is that Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is leaving to become the head coach of the Giants, so whoever their starting quarterback will be next year, he’ll be playing in a different offense. So who do the Vikings keep? I think it should be Keenum, and they should put the franchise tag on him if they can’t come to a long-term deal. But I won’t be surprised if the Vikings try to keep Bradford, especially if they can get him to agree to a lower-cost deal than the $23 million it would take to franchise Keenum. And Bridgewater is the wild card because we still wonder whether he can stay healthy after that tough knee injury. The Vikings’ quarterback situation is going to be one of the most interesting stories of the offseason.
Alshon Jeffery was a big get. It’s hard to believe it now, but the talented Jeffery signed with the Eagles this year for just a one-year, $14 million contract before signing a long-term extension during the season. Jeffery was a great signing for the Eagles. In the NFC Championship Game he caught all five of the passes thrown to him for 85 yards and two touchdowns, and his performance raised the question: Why didn’t some team out-bid the Eagles for his services during the offseason? Why not Washington, which declined as a team when it lost its two starting wide receivers in free agency? Why not Cleveland, which gave more money to a vastly inferior wide receiver, Kenny Britt, who was cut before the season was over? Why didn’t Chicago keep Jeffery? I guess the answer to that is because they spent all their free agent money on paying Mike Glennon $18.5 million in 2018. And why did they spend so much on Mike Glennon? Because they didn’t want to sign a much cheaper quarterback like Nick Foles or Case Keenum.
The Jaguars chickened out at the worst time. With 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Jaguars up 20-10, Jacksonville faced fourth-and-1 on their own 42-yard line. I immediately tweeted, “Go for it.” The Jaguars did not go for it. They punted, and the Patriots got the ball and marched down the field for a touchdown. Doug Marrone’s decision to put the ball back in Tom Brady’s hands, rather than trust his team to gain one yard, was a huge mistake — especially considering that the Jaguars had the best fourth-down offense in the NFL this season. Pick up one yard there, keep marching down the field, and there’s a very good chance the Jaguars are on their way to the Super Bowl. Instead, the Jaguars punted the ball away, and now the Patriots are on their way to the Super Bowl.