FOXBORO — We’ve enjoyed a lot of unique Sundays thanks to the New England Patriots. But this upcoming Sunday is a new one.
The last-place Patriots closing out their regular season against the almost-as-bad New York Jets is merely a footnote. There’s a draft pick on the line for New England instead of a home playoff game. And though a loss would improve that 2024 pick, there is a 15-game win streak over the hated Jets at stake.
Mix in a snowstorm that will likely be blanketing Gillette Stadium come kickoff, and this is going to be one interesting Sunday in Foxboro.
But the real focus centers squarely on Bill Belichick. Is this it for the greatest coach of all time in New England? Could this really be the final Sunday that the hooded one roams the sideline and barks at officials for the Patriots?
After 24 years, 266 regular-season wins and another 30 in the playoffs — resulting in those six banners hanging at Gillette Stadium — Belichick’s future with the Patriots remains the great unknown. NBC Sports Boston’s Tom E. Curran reported weeks ago that after the team’s frustrating and embarrassing loss to the Colts in Germany, Robert Kraft decided to move on from Belichick at the end of the season. On Thursday, ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss reported on First Take that nothing has been decided, and Belichick will be meeting with Robert and Jonathan Kraft on Monday. But Kraft is so disappointed that he’s “strongly considered” moving on from Belichick, and wants answers why the team has fallen off so quickly.
A four- or five-win season usually spells doom for a head coach. And usually, it wouldn’t take an after-season meeting for an owner to decide a coach’s fate after such tumultuous year.
But this is no ordinary coach. Belichick will have a chance to convince his bosses that he’s the right guy to fix this ship (again), and that pricey final year of his contract may help his cause, too. It seems like the door is open for Belichick to retain his job, so long as he has a plan in place to fix the team’s broken offense — and is potentially willing to cede some power when it comes to building the roster.
Will he go for that though? He comes from Bill Parcells’ school of shopping for groceries, so that seems unlikely.
Belichick is still a great coach and there are very few of those out there in the wild these days. There have been cracks over the last few years, but the way the team has played throughout this season — especially on defense — has made it clear that they’re still playing for Bill.
His roster management has been his biggest downfall though, and the blame of the team’s lack of talent on offense falls on his shoulders. So does the dysfunction among the staff highlighted Thursday by The Boston Herald’s Andrew Callahan and Doug Kyed. This is Bill’s ship, so he’s responsible when it takes on water like it did throughout 2023.
Will he go down with the ship, or will he get another life raft and a chance to repair the leaks? Kraft has all the reason to move on from Belichick and usher in a new era of Patriots football, and with a top draft pick likely coming in April, this would be a good time to do it. But moving on from an all-timer is never easy. If Kraft did make his decision back in November, will he get cold feet when the time actually comes to move on from Bill Belichick?
Sunday will certainly have a weird aura to it. While many would like to voice their frustration with the coach and the results since Tom Brady left town, this could be the last time fans get cheer on Belichick during a game. Through the snowflakes, those inside Gillette should make sure to thank Belichick before potentially having to say farewell.
There will never be another run like this. Not in the NFL, and probably not in any other sport, either. What Belichick did with the Patriots will never be repeated, and the way he did it won’t soon be replicated either.
He got the best out of the best, and the best out of players no one else saw anything in. As football went offensive, Belichick remained defensive — and usually got the best of those high-powered teams. He did everything his way, and that way — along with Tom Brady’s buy-in, of course — led to nine trips to the Super Bowl and those six banners.
In between, we were treated to thousands — maybe even millions — of grunts and snorts. There were countless times when we heard the phrase “It is what it is.” He gave us the greatest My Cousin Vinny reference ever and other phrases like “Do your job” and “No days off!” — the latter of which was shouted to thousands of people who took the day off to celebrate yet another Super Bowl title under Belichick’s watch. Fans will be “On to Cincinnati” whenever it comes time to move on to the next week. And some day, someone is going to find a giant pile of cut-off hoodie sleeves that was built up over the last 24 years.
If this is the end of the road for the Patriots and Bill Belichick, it has been one heck of a run and one heck of a ride — a run that will never be matched, and a ride that was a whole lot of fun to tag along for.
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