The Patriots lost but Belichick won
Thomas Zwiller | Tuesday, October 5, 2021
Never in my life have I associated Adele’s “Hello” with the NFL. After last night’s Sunday Night Football game, I do not think I can unlink the two.
The game featured the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) traveling to the New England Patriots (1-2) in a game not expected to be close by most. Vegas set the spread with Tampa as a -7 point favorite.
Of course, this game was not a game of two heavyweights, Superbowl favorites slugging it out for a critical advantage later in the postseason. After last night, the Patriots are in danger of missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season; the last time that happened was in 1999 and 2000.
So what made the matchup so intriguing, a matchup that had the eyes of the football world on it? It was former New England quarterback Tom Brady returning to face down with his old coach Bill Belichick.
The two are arguably one of the greatest coach-player duos in all of sports history. The two won six Super Bowls together and combined for fifteen (each has six in New England, Brady one in Tampa, and Belichick with two as the defensive coordinator with the NY Giants). Both are architects of one of the greatest sports dynasties in history, spanning from 2001 with a Super Bowl title to Tom Brady’s abrupt departure in 2019.
As Tom Brady left New England for sunnier pastures in Tampa, people immediately began to ask the question: who was most responsible for the Patriots run?
When Brady led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl Championship while Belichick watched at home, having missed the playoffs, some felt content that that was an answer. Then the NFL released the schedule, and the football world circled this Week 4 matchup.
Brady won that matchup, too, leading Tampa to a 19-17 victory. Just a bit closer than that 7-point spread.
But here is the thing. I do not think that Brady won that matchup. Let me rephrase that the Buccaneers won the game, but I believe Belichick won the rematch.
The Patriots should not have been as competitive as they were last night. They were starting a rookie QB who was coming off a three-interception loss to the Saints. Tampa Bay is a defending Superbowl Champion: experts had legitimately made the case they could go 17-0 and repeat their title. New England was not even the favorite to win their division.
And yet, they were a field goal attempt being mere inches to the right from beating Tampa.
So while I do not think that we will ever be able to say that it was Brady or Belichick definitively, I want to defend Belichick from his critics who think his success is solely due to Tom Brady.
Belichick entered the game at a massive disadvantage offensively. While the Patriots have some solid offensive weapons in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, their best wide receiver is Nelson Agholor, who is okay as a #1.
Belichick also entered the game with a rookie QB who, as I mentioned before, had a terrible performance in the week prior. Before playing the Saints, Mac Jones had not had a bad throw percentage above 7%, and against the Saints, it was 19.6%.
However, the problems do not stop there. While the Patriots have an excellent pass block win rate of 64%, they have an abysmal run block win rate of 62%, ranking 32nd in the league.
I do think that the Patriots can draw even with the Buccaneer’s defense. Sportsnaut.com ranks Tampa as the 6th best defense in the league, whereas New England is 4th.
The major disadvantage was that Belichick was facing an overwhelming Buccaneers offense.
Tampa ranks first in passing touchdowns, first in attempts and completions and second in passing yards. Tampa is incredible in the red zone, ranking second in red zone attempts and first in red-zone touchdowns. They do leave something to desire in both rushing yards and touchdowns, but it otherwise is incredible.
The cards felt stacked against New England, which explains the seven-point spread. But that is not the game we got.
Looking at the Tampa side of the game, Tom had a respectable performance. On 43 attempts, he had 22 completions, 269 yards, and averaged 6.3 yards per completion. He may not have had a touchdown, but he did not have an interception, either.
Brady did not lose the game for Tampa Bay; he made minimal mistakes. But I do not think he won the game either.
I think that was primarily due to the scheming of Bill Belichick. The announcers said it early on in the game; Belichick would force Brady to be patient, limiting the explosive play Brady could make.
Brady needed a strong run game to help support him; runningbacks Jones and Fournette combined for 116 rushing yards. 117 rushing yards more than the Patriots had.
Brady also needed his kicker, Succop, to score 13-points, 4/5 on field goals, and 1/1 on extra points. Those four made field goals added up to 148 yards.
On the flipside, Mac Jones had an excellent performance with the context of his opponent and the weather he had to battle. Jones passed 40 times, netting 31 completions, 275 yards and two touchdowns as well as an interception.
I legitimately think that Jones outplayed Brady, and he certainly had to; his rushing game combined for -1 yards. JJ Taylor also fumbled the ball, which considering it was a first and ten on the Tampa 28, I think that hurt the Patriot’s chances.
Considering that the Buccaneers were a team in its Super Bowl window, that they have one of the greatest QBs of all time, and their opponents are a young rebuilding squad, this game should have been a blowout. I was expecting a blowout.
But because Belichick is one of the greatest coaches of all time, he was able to minimize his weaknesses and utilize his strengths. He limited what Tampa did best, and attacked them where they were vulnerable.
So next time you listen to Adeles’ “Hello,” remember, the Patriots may have lost, but Belichick actually won.