Belichick, Brady can defy Super Bowl odds in 2012
Say this about the New England Patriots, a team that has made an NFL-best five Super Bowl appearances in the last decade: The landscape looks a little different since Eli Manning came around.
The franchise has met its share of big game success, but the initial thrill of the last two Super Bowl trips have ended in stinging disappointment.
This is especially true for the 2011 squad. The team’s second consecutive championship loss at the hands of the New York Giants reaffirmed a belief that the Coughlin-Manning dominance is on the rise, while the Belichick-Brady marriage is … well … slightly vulnerable.
Coach and quarterback are still eager to prove themselves, but their return to glory this season will not be easy.
Will Belichick’s boys be able to ditch their Super Bowl hangover, and win it all this year?
REASONS FOR DOUBT:
No one expected the 2011 Patriots to do as well as they did, however if there’s any team that is expected to compete year in and year out, it’s New England. This season the Patriots will attempt to become the first team in eight years to make back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. Seems reasonable, since the 2003 and 2004 Pats grabbed a pair of Lombardi trophies on the heels of Adam Vinatieri’s steady and unflappable foot.
Try to find a franchise that has surged from Super Bowl dunce to champion in the same year? You’d have to go all the way back to 1972, when Don Shula led the Dolphins on an undefeated campaign to Vince Lombardi glory.
The road to XLVII begins with the Tennessee Titans in Week 1, wanders through the NFC West, and ends with a divisional match up at Foxboro with the Dolphins in Week 17. Here’s the funky part: Based on 2011 numbers, New England will face opponents’ with a combined 116-140 record, making this season the easiest combined strength of schedule in the league.
Can’t be that bad, except the team on easy street has missed the postseason in all of the last five years, including the 2008 Patriots—sans Brady—who finished 11-5 with Matt Cassel as their signal caller.
Talk about stacking your odds against history.
REASONS FOR HOPE:
Even with the league’s easiest schedule, don’t expect the Patriots to take any opponent lightly. The NFL is no cakewalk, and Patriots are not playing 10 games against the near-winless Indianapolis Colts. Really guys. Stats are for losers. And records don’t matter.
Forgive me while I give Coach Belichick the podium.
“They’ve heard me talk about it every week, saying we don’t care about the record, and we don’t,” Belichick said before facing the 0-11 Colts last season. “What difference does it make? Look, how somebody played two weeks ago against somebody else, who cares? It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is how we and the Colts perform against each other on Sunday…. The rest of it is just a bunch of garbage.”
Belichick might not be the perfect media darling, but he has his players to buying into the mindset. The “Man Behind the Hoodie” builds his locker room from sheer volume. In years past, Belichick has attacked first in the draft with a unique strategy, trading down to acquire additional late round selections in current, and future drafts. By bringing as many players as possible into camp, the coaching staff is able to breaking down the team based on talent, regardless of where you were drafted. Belichick has a history of cutting 2nd or 3rd round talent if they don’t make the grade.
As rosters constantly shift and players battle injury, Belichick’s scouting preferences has helped the team pull out of a few tight spots. He has a sharp-eye for football IQ, and an appetite for athletes with versatile skill sets. More often than not, those two-way and sometimes three-way players come in handy when the depth chart wears thin. Just ask Julian Edelman or Troy Brown, who were both called on to play an array of positions in the past. Building an adaptable workforce is essential to the success of the organization.
Belichick has won 153 regular season games as a head coach, and owns the second highest playoff winning percentage (.789) trailing only Vince Lombardi.
The NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement has expanded the training camp rosters, increasing from 80 to 90 players. Providing a larger talent pool, elicits stronger competition, and puts pressure on the veterans to compete for their slot on the final-53 year in a year out. The cutthroat competition will help the best players float to the top.
Additionally, Patriots scouting personnel addressed their immediate needs in the NFL draft by adding defensive specimens DE Chandler Jones and LB Dont’a Hightower to the fold. New England proceeded to use four of their five remaining selections on defensive players in hopes of improving on the league’s worst ranked pass defense, a patchwork backfield with more interchangeable parts than a Mr. Potato Head.
As the uncertainty over Wes Welker’s franchise tag unfolded this offseason, the Patriots took little chances. The team collected its fair share of receiving personnel over free agency, bringing back Brady’s old buddies Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth, and adding deep threat Brandon Lloyd.
A similar situation applies to the men in the trenches. Veteran tackle Robert Gallery—a former second overall pick—joins the offensive line as guard Logan Mankins and tackle Sebastian Vollmer recover from offseason surgery. The Patriots are also keeping competition tight at outside linebacker, and safety positions.
This offseason also featured a line-up switch on the coaching staff, with longtime offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien departing for Penn State. The Pats also brought back Josh McDaniels and officially promoted de facto defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.
The competition and character of this team begins under center with No. 12. We’ve all been witness to the maturation of Tom Brady: the scrawny, undiscovered Michigan talent morphs from irrelevant quarterback of the century. Watching Tom Terrific lose another Lombardi trophy was heartbreaking.
How can anyone forget Yahoo! Sports poignant account of Brady after Super Bowl XVLI at his locker, head hung pendulous, unable to flinch or speak for nearly 30 minutes.
In a recent Q&A with Sports Illustrated, Brady admitted the XVLI nightmares still linger:
“There’s something to losing to them twice in the Super Bowl in the most meaningful game of the year and the most meaningful game of our lives,” Brady told Sports Illustrated. “You think about some bad memories from games you lose and there’s that blue uniform with white numbers. That’s what you think about it.”
Entering his 13th NFL season, 34-year-old Brady has shown more initiative and enthusiasm during team mini-camp and OTAs than 24-year-old Brady. Numerous reports say during this offseason, Brady has been working harder than ever. It could appear to some, as though a ‘Super’ hit to his legacy has fueled a new desire for the future Hall of Famer.
Perhaps it’s the prospect leaving his fourth championship on the podium in Indianapolis. Maybe it’s the prospect of playing until he’s 40. Any way you spin it, the Patriots philosophy will always remain the same as long as Belichick and Brady keep their permanent address at One Patriot Place.
Belichick and Brady are the first coach and quarterback duo to reach five Super Bowls. They share 124 regular season wins together, the most in NFL history. They haven’t fallen below 10 wins since 2002, and have owned the AFC East eight out of the last nine seasons.
History also tells us that Brady and Belichick have become the greatest quarterback/head coaching combo of all-time. By now we should all have learned that as long as the Patriots have Brady and Belichick, they will always have a chance.
They’ve made a habit of defying the odds.