Twenty-one years ago, the Patriots dynasty unofficially was born when the Tuck Rule salvaged a certain loss to the Raiders in the playoffs. On Sunday, in another game against the Raiders, the curtain finally may have fallen on the Patriot Way.
It’s been coming, slowly creeping down from the rafters to the footlights. But it quite possibly dropped the rest of the way when receiver Jakobi Meyers made the kind of boneheaded gaffe that teams coached by Bill Belichick never make.
Well, not never. Not anymore.
Obsessive focus on situational football? Nope.
Do your job? Double nope.
It was a failure of everything that made the Patriots a consistent contender and six-time champion under Belichick. Really, of all 32 teams in the NFL, most would have dubbed the Patriots the least likely to attempt a Stanford band play in a tie game.
As Hall of Fame head coach Tony Dungy says in the attached video, Belichick quite possibly is so focused on fixing the offense that he’s not spending as much time coaching other things. Some would say that Meyers didn’t need any specific coaching to not do what he tried to do.
Regardless, it’s not what the Patriots do. And ownership surely notices.
It’s very easy to stay the course when things are working. When things aren’t working, it becomes more difficult. Then comes the question of whether ownership even wants to stay the course.
Coaches constantly fire players, invoking “the best interests of the team.” How can the Krafts not at least ask the question of whether change is in the best interests of the team?
Yes, Belichick has won six Super Bowls. He also hasn’t won a playoff game since Super Bowl LIII. And he may not get a chance to lose another playoff game this year.
Again, it’s not “what have you done for me lately?” It’s “what are you doing for me right now, and what will you do for me tomorrow?”
Currently, Belichick continues to experiment with the offense, entrusting it to a couple of guys who were never offensive coaches. There has been unconfirmed chatter that Bill O’Brien will be back in 2023. Maybe it hasn’t been confirmed because it’s still not certain that Belichick will be back.
Ownership also needs to be sensitive to the customer base. Will they tolerate an extended period of failure, simply for nostalgia or blind loyalty or anything other than enjoying the relentless pursuit of more championships? At some point, the folks who buy tickets (or don’t) and support the team (or don’t) have a very loud voice.
Belichick surely wouldn’t be fired. Instead, word more likely would be circulated that Belichick is available to be hired away from the Patriots for fair compensation. And, surely, another team would be willing to give it a whirl with Belichick.
If, that is, he’s willing to coach elsewhere. No one knows the answer to that question, because that question has never been relevant. It may not be relevant yet, but it seems to be moving that way.
After yesterday’s embarrassment against the Raiders, it could be moving that way even faster.