The Patriots dynasty, or the Brady–Belichick era, was the greatest in National Football League (NFL) history.
Starting in 2000 and ending in 2019, the New England Patriots accomplished more than any other team to date. They won six of nine Super Bowl appearances, played in 13 American Football Conference (AFC) Championships and won their division (AFC East) 17 of 19 times. Most of the credit is attributed to Bill Belichick, widely considered to be the greatest coach of all time, and Tom Brady, considered the greatest quarterback of all time.
With Brady leaving the Patriots and signing with the Buccaneers earlier this year, the Patriots dynasty ended. But who was responsible for almost two decades of success?
Of course, it was the jack of all trades, master of all, Bill Belichick.
I’ll put it bluntly: The head coach is the architect. The head coach is the one that comes up with game plans, the playbook and the formula to win. They have to adjust to every second of every game and think of potential schemes on the spot. The players, no matter what position, are to execute the plan. Of course, they use their own intuition on the field, but they do what they’re told to do. Without a plan, how are you supposed to win the game?
Football is a team sport. Although the camera is usually on the quarterback or wide receivers, every player on the field matters to some degree. Brady has always had weapons. They include phenomenal receivers such as Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Troy Brown, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Also prominent members of the defense like Devin McCourty, Willie McGinest and Dont’a Hightower, as well as kicker Adam Vinatieri. Defense and special teams are important too. Belichick has always made sure to give Brady and the Patriots team the proper resources to succeed. You don't win on quarterback play alone.
Apart from being head coach, Belichick is also the de facto general manager (GM), meaning he has never been officially named GM, but he has the final say in football operations. Essentially, GM’s trade game pieces and decide their worth or monetary value.
As former Patriots running back Kevin Faulk wrote, “If you play in New England, it means that Coach Belichick thinks you can fit as a piece of his puzzle. He has a specific job that he needs done, and he thinks you can do it... That’s the Patriot Way.”
One of his talents as GM is knowing the worth of a player regardless of whether they’re an undrafted free agent that’s never started an NFL game or a seasoned player with a gigantic contract. He also builds a team based on the idea of having the strongest weakest link rather than having the best superstar player.
If you look at cap numbers, the Patriots have more players earning $2 million or more than any other team. They also have more players earning $1 million or more than any other team. Josh McDaniels, Patriots offensive coordinator since 2012, praises Belichick for his success as both head coach and GM.
“Having gone to Denver and come back and now having a chance to look at it through a different lens, I can see what he has to deal with,” he said. “There’s a lot of information, obviously, that comes across your desk as a head coach, a lot of decisions you need to be responsible for, and the volume of those things he’s able to handle on a daily basis is just remarkable.”
One might ask if another quarterback would’ve been able to do what Brady did in New England. Probably not, but we’ve seen proof of Belichick’s system working for other players — specifically quarterbacks.
After winning Most Valuable Player in the 2007 regular season, Brady fell to a torn ACL in the 2008 season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs and missed the rest of the season. Backup quarterback Matt Cassel played out the remainder of the season. Cassel graduated from the University of Southern California and was picked during the seventh round of the 2005 NFL draft.
In his only starting year with the Patriots, Cassel threw for 3,693 yards compared to Brady’s starting four year average of 3,480 yards. Cassel completed 63.4% of his passes and had an 89.4 passer rating. Brady on the other hand had a 61.8% completion rate and an 87.7 passer rating.
After the season, Cassel was traded to the Chiefs where he played for four mediocre years, never showing the stats he displayed in New England, eventually retiring without coming close to his career prime. It seems that once outside Belichick’s system, Cassel became a different player.
Brady playing in Belichick’s system for 19 years has been a bigger factor in his success compared to his innate ability as a quarterback. Coming out of Michigan, Brady was an above-average quarterback with combine stats that wouldn’t turn many heads. Belichick put him in a position to succeed, a position that other quarterbacks like Cassel would also succeed in.
As sports writer and analyst Patrick Daugherty put it, “Belichick never focuses on what he doesn’t have. He takes his best shot at putting together a 53-man roster then molds and manipulates it as needed. It’s never flawless, but there are no excuses. Only Bill.”
Belichick is a genius. He has a greater and more in-depth knowledge of football than any other coach. His players have nothing but respect for him, and he has complete control over his locker room. He is more cutthroat and rational than any other.
We have to give credit where credit is due, and Brady deserves a lot of credit for what he’s done, but he’s just one player in the system. Good coaches put good players in a position to win. A coach can only go so far with a certain player.
Brady has an extremely high threshold, and Belichick has utilized his talent to maximum potential. But when it comes to who contributed more to the overall success of the New England Patriots, the vast majority of the credit needs to go to the man running the entire organization.