A few weeks after this year’s Super Bowl, it might not seem newsworthy to write about the New England Patriots winning another championship. But because I grew up in Boston during some very lean years for our local team, I have more reason than most people to appreciate this long run of sustained excellence under coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.
I know that for most folks around the country, the Patriots have probably surpassed the Dallas Cowboys as the team that everyone loves to hate. The rest of the league and their fan bases are simply tired of seeing us win. I’ve recently seen maps showing every state outside of New England rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs in this year’s AFC Championship game. Only Louisiana, whose Saints fans were still seething about bad officiating in their NFC Championship game against the Rams, joined New England residents in pulling for the Patriots in this year’s Super Bowl. But even fans of other teams ought to take a few moments to reflect on the sheer improbability of what the Patriots keep doing, year after year, in the Brady/Belichick era.
Bill Belichick began his long tenure as head coach of the Patriots in 2000, the same year that Tom Brady was drafted in the sixth round. Prior to that time, Belichick had served as an assistant coach for a variety of teams for decades, and had been the head coach from 1991-1995 for the Cleveland Browns, where he had compiled an unimpressive 36-44 record.
Brady sat on the bench in 2000 as a rookie, but took over during Game 2 of his second season in 2001, when starter Drew Bledsoe was severely injured after a blow to the chest that nearly killed him. By the end of that game, the Patriots were 0-2, and Belichick’s starting record with the Patriots after a little more than one season was a paltry 5-13.
But here began the Brady/Belichick combination, and everything changed. The Patriots rallied to earn an 11-5 record that year and later won their first Super Bowl Championship against the Rams.
Over the 17 years that Brady and Belichick have worked as a team (not counting 2008, when Brady was knocked out for the season in the opening game with an Achilles tear, or the first four games of 2016, when he served a suspension), the Patriots have compiled an astonishing regular season record of 207-60, winning 16 AFC East Division titles along the way. Once Brady took over as his starting quarterback, Bill Belichick has never again had a losing record as a head coach.
The Patriots postseason record during this run has been even more amazing. At every level of the playoffs, their winning percentage is at least 66 percent. In Wild Card games in those years, the Patriots are a modest 2-1. But in most years, they did not have to play in the Wild Card round, because they earned a bye. While those byes do not count as postseason wins, they probably should, because in 13 seasons, the Patriots earned a week off and an extra week to prepare for their opponent in the Division Round, where they have amassed an unbelievable record of 13-2.
Those 13 wins moved them into the AFC Championship game in those seasons, where their record stands at 9-4. And then in their nine Super Bowls beginning in 2001, Brady and Belichick have won six times. If you are keeping track, that means that the overall playoff record of the Patriots in the Brady/Belichick era is a phenomenal 30-10, which is even more remarkable when you consider that every one of these games was a single elimination situation.
Some people are more impressed that Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana are both 4-0 in their Super Bowl appearances, while Tom Brady has three Super Bowl losses to go along with his six wins. But even in his losses, Brady played great in the clutch, and steered his team to fourth quarter leads that the defense was not able to hold onto. And considering that second place is still better than everything except first, Brady’s career accomplishments of winning stand alone among quarterbacks, just as Belichick’s now do among coaches.
So please take a moment to tip your hat, even if you are not rooting for the Patriots. And beware! Because Bill Belichick the General Manager has accumulated twelve draft picks for this year, and Tom Brady plans to play four more seasons, until he is 45. Yikes!