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Belichick? Brady? It’s both of them.

The NFL media has been embroiled in a national debate as of late around who was responsible for the Patriots 2 decade dynasty in New England. Did super-genius Bill Belichick’s team building and defensive prowess carry a mediocre Tom Brady, or did the GOAT QB cover the flaws of a middling head coach who hasn’t displayed success without TB12 at the helm of his offense?

Spoiler alert: it was both of them.

Yes, they are both world class examples of their respective positions in the NFL. Tom Brady is a legendary quarterback who holds almost every NFL passing record at the time of this writing. He has won more Super Bowls than any other team in the NFL.

Bill Belichick has been one step ahead of the game for his entire coaching career. His defensive game plan that defeated the K-Gun era Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV is in the Hall of Fame. And he did it again in Super Bowl LIII by holding the 7th highest scoring team ever to 3 total points en route to a 6th Lombardi as a head coach.

Would these two have been successful had they not joined forces back in 2000? Probably, yes. Would they have been as successful as they were together? Probably not. Let me explain.

Brady’s First Start vs Colts

There’s been a lot made of comments allegedly said by Belichick before the week 2 game vs the Jets in 2001 (the game where franchise QB Drew Bledsoe was injured on a hit by Mo Lewis). Belichick was said to have been heard talking about how he was worried for his job because his team “stinks.” One week later, with Brady at the helm, the Patriots blew out the red-hot Colts at home by a score of 44-13. All because of Tom Brady, right?

Well…not really. The Patriots defense had a career day, returning two of Peyton Manning’s three INTs for TDs and sacking him twice. Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk accounted for 142 yards and 3 TDs on the ground. Brady had 13 whole completions for less than 200 yards. So this win was all Belichick, right?

Otis Smith Pick Six

Ty Law Pick Six

Not quite. Six of Brady’s 13 completions came on third down, and one came on 4th down. All 7 of those converted for a first down. Brady kept the team on the field by completing smart passes in a way that Bledsoe sometimes struggled. Brady did what he was asked to do, and did it well.

Super Bowl XXXVI vs Rams

Another great example of complimentary success came at the culmination of the 2001 season. Coming into the game as a 14-point underdog to the high octane St. Louis Cardinals, the Patriots shocked the football world by holding a Rams team to only 17 points; the same Rams team that had averaged 32 points per game up until the Super Bowl, including putting up 24 points in Foxboro earlier in the season.

Richard Seymour sack
Ty Law Pick 6

And to top it all off, Tom Brady engineered a cool, calm and collected last minute drive to set up a game winning FG by Adam Vinatieri as time expired. An incredible feat for a first year starter in only his second season in the NFL.

Would the Patriots have been successful in driving down the field with no timeouts and only 1:21 left on the clock if another QB was under center? Probably not. Would Brady have been in that position if Belichick hadn’t created an ultra-physical defensive game plan that forced 3 St. Louis turnovers and kept their record-setting offense at bay? Nope.

2003 Week 9 @ Broncos

Known around New England as the Intentional Safety Game, this might be the best example of how Belichick and Brady complimented each other so well. The Patriots are visiting Mile High Stadium, where they’ve historically struggled in the past. And this Monday night seems to be no different. The Patriots, down 23-24 with just under 3 minutes left in the game have just gone 3 and out from their own 1 yard line.

While most teams would punt the ball back to the opposition, Belichick instead instructs his long snapper to snap the ball over the head of punter Ken Walter for an intentional safety. Why give the Broncos a free 2 points when you’re still going to have to kick it back to them?

Two words: field position.

Belichick’s commonly-criticized approach of focusing on bringing in quality special teams players is a popular refrain here in 2023, but without the next special teams play this game is never won. The Patriots managed to pin the Broncos back on their own 15 yard line on the ensuing free kick, after Deltha O’Neil (who had scored the go-ahead punt return TD earlier in the game) misplayed the punt.

The Patriots defense followed that up by forcing a quick 3 & out, giving the ball back to Brady and the offense near midfield thanks to a solid Troy Brown punt return. Brady then uses the remaining 2:15 to drive down the field and throw a dart to David Givens for the game winning TD with about 30 seconds left in the game.

2006 AFC Divisional @ Chargers

In a game where the Patriots were admittedly outgunned, they still managed to find a way to beat the top-seeded San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.

To set the scene, the Chargers had finished the season 14-2, with both losses coming by a combined 6 points. Their roster had 11 Pro Bowlers, 6 All Pros, and the league MVP in LaDanian Tomlinson. Tomlinson had set the regular season record for rushing TDs with 26 to go along with an eye-watering 1,815 rushing yards at a clip of 5.2 yards per carry. First year starter Philip Rivers had taken over for Drew Brees and had put up 3,388 passing yards and 22 TDs to only 9 INTs on the year.

Tom Brady and the offense struggled initially, going 3 & out on 4 of the 7 drives in the first half and throwing an interception), but managed to put together a TD drive right before halftime to keep the score at a respectable 10-14.

Belichick’s defense allowed the Patriots to stay in the game, recovering 3 San Diego fumbles and intercepting Rivers once. The Patriots turned 3 of those turnovers into points, giving Tom Brady a chance to tie the game late in the 4th quarter.

What happens next is the perfect microcosm of the Belichick/Brady relationship. Down by 8 with just under 7 minutes to play Brady tries to force a ball to Reche Caldwell on fourth and 5, only to have it intercepted by Marlon McCree. But Troy Brown, the prototypical Belichick Patriot, shows exceptional situational awareness and strips the ball from McCree.

The Patriots would recover and Brady would throw the tying TD to Caldwell 5 plays later. After the Pats defense held the vaunted Chargers offense to a 3 & out, Brady led his embattled offense down the field to set up a Gostkowski game winning FG. Another win, courtesy of both Brady and Belichick.

2009 Week 1 vs Bills

Tom Brady had missed the vast majority of the 2008 season after injuring his knee early in the season opener. This would be his first game back, and many were wondering if he’d be the same player as he was before (spoiler: he would).

But trailing 13-24 with just over 2 minutes left, things didn’t look good for the Patriots.

Even after Brady threw a beautiful TD to Ben Watson to close the gap to 5, the Bills were still in command, until KR Leodis McKelvin decided to return the ensuing kickoff instead of playing it safe.

This gave Brady the chance to redeem his shaky performance so far, and he took full advantage by throwing a second TD to Ben Watson to clinch the victory.

2014 Super Bowl vs Seahawks

It had been 10 whole years since the Patriots had last won a Super Bowl, and the Patriots were facing the legendary Legion of Boom Seahawks, who had annihilated the highest scoring team ever (2013 Broncos) in the Super Bowl the year before.

Bill practices the Super Bowl winning play in the prior week:

2018 AFC Championship @ Chiefs

Another wonderful and recent example of Belichick and Brady working together to pull off a victory under near-impossible circumstances.

Patriots defense holds the 3rd highest scoring offense in NFL history scoreless in the first half, and to only 7 points through 3 quarters.

Eventually, the dam breaks (thanks to some questionable calls/no calls). Tom Brady, at the age of 41, then goes blow-for-blow with NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes, all while having to deal with a fan shining a laser pointer in his face. This culminated in an overtime drive for the ages, where Brady converted three straight 3rd and longs on the way to a game winning TD to send the Patriots to the Super Bowl.

This is by no means a definitive list of all the times where Brady and Belichick combined to win a game in their 20 years together, but this should give you a good idea of how it took both of them to be able to create a successful NFL dynasty that will never be replicated.

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