Here’s a question for you that might require some pondering, since he has 239 of ’em from which to choose:
What is Bill Belichick’s most impressive regular-season win as the Patriots' head coach?
A few that immediately popped to mind: The 31-0 win over the Bills in Week 17 in 2003, which bookended the 31-0 loss to Drew Bledsoe, Lawyer Milloy, and a few other former friends to open that championship season … The 38-35 win over the Giants to cap the 16-0 regular season in ’07 … The last-second TD to Kenbrell Thompkins to beat the Saints in ’13, just hours before magic was happening at Fenway … The famous Snap Through The Goal Posts game in Denver in ’03 … the “On To Cincinnati” win over the Bengals in ’14, which straightened out the compass of the team after an ugly loss to the Chiefs … pretty much any time they beat the Peyton Manning Colts. Or the Manning Broncos, specifically the comeback from down 24-0 in 2013.
It should be noted that the most encouraging regular-season game of the Belichick era was actually a loss. That would be the 24-17 loss to the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams in Week 10 of the 2001 season. The loss convinced the Patriots that they could play with anyone. They would not lose again that season, including against those same fatally-cocky Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
I bring this up for a reason that is probably rather obvious today. Should the Patriots somehow take down the undefeated and defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs Monday night — without COVID-19-stricken Cam Newton and with the fear that more players could test positive for the virus, while having to travel to Kansas City on two separate planes on the day of the game — I believe it would have to be considered Belichick’s most impressive regular-season feat in his 21 seasons with the franchise.
There is no precedent for this. None. Nothing like it. The closest comparison I could think of in modern Patriots lore would be the 27-0 victory over the Texans in Week 3 of 2016. You remember that one; a few of you mentioned it on Twitter when I asked Sunday what you recalled as Belichick’s best regular-season win.
The Texans came in 2-0, having defeated the Bears and Chiefs to begin the season. With Tom Brady serving his four-game suspension for his supposed “more probable than not” role in Deflategate, and backup Jimmy Garoppolo injured, the Patriots had to start third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
It went quite well. He was raw but remarkably poised, scoring the first touchdown of the game on a 27-yard run, and the Texans, as is their longtime habit, shriveled. Brissett had plenty of support — Jamie Collins led a phenomenal defensive effort with 14 tackles and an interception — but it was a stirring win even for a franchise used to such things.
Monday’s task is exponentially more difficult than what Brissett and the eventual Super Bowl champs pulled off four years ago. Patrick Mahomes helms the most explosive offense in the league. Brian Hoyer, who will start in place of Newton, is far more experienced but probably as limited as Brissett was four years ago. There is almost an unprecedented measure of degree of difficulty for the Patriots in this game.
If they somehow pull it off, Belichick’s 240th regular-season win as Patriots coach will vault to the top as the most impressive.
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I’ll happily admit, I’ve been wrong about a few things on how professional sports should proceed since the COVID-19 outbreak changed everything in March.
I thought MLB should shut it down when the Marlins had their early-season outbreak; turns out baseball proceeded with proper caution, and the Marlins even made the playoffs.
I put Freddie Freeman, who contracted COVID-19 and was frighteningly candid on how it affected him, on my Do Not Draft lists in my one fantasy baseball league that decided to play this year; Freeman ended up playing all 60 games for the Braves and put up a 1.102 OPS.
I suspected the NBA bubble in Orlando might be punctured by, oh, something like bored players sneaking out to go get chicken wings at a strip club; only Lou Williams dared pull such a stunt.
There’s a decent chance I’ll be wrong about this too. But I’m somewhere between queasy and harrowed that the league is making this game be played this week. Frankly, there should be at least one extra bye week for every team built into the schedule to allow for some leeway when it comes to situations like this. Because this will not be the last time this happens this season.
The negative tests are encouraging, but there hasn’t been enough time to determine whether the rest of the Patriots — or Chiefs, for that matter, considering practice squad quarterback Jordan Ta’amu also tested positive — are in the clear when it comes to the virus.
We’ve heard so many stories this fall about how Newton has gone out of his way to get to know players in different position groups, to be a true leader. All of that takes on a different tenor now.
We’re not going to know if they’re in the clear until days after the final whistle blows Monday night.
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Whenever Tom Brady is mentioned in this space these days, there’s an inevitable deluge of emails saying, “He’s gone. Stop writing about him. We don’t care.” Uh-huh. Sure. He was here 20 years. He won six Super Bowls. You care. And the local TV ratings of those Bucs games — our new NFC team in this market — have proved it so far.
But to spare you too much Brady talk, I’ll ask a simple question after he led the Bucs on a very familiar-looking comeback win Sunday over the Chargers, one posited by reader Joe P. on Twitter:
Didn’t Brady’s duel with Chargers rookie Justin Herbert Sunday remind you of the Dan Marino-Drew Bledsoe battle of gunslingers in September 1994, when the Dolphins prevailed, 39-35, but Bledsoe announced his presence with authority, throwing for 421 yards and four touchdowns?
I thought it was a perfect comp. Brady even has late-career Marino’s scowly attitude at this point.
Wait, what’s that? We’re not supposed to mention Bledsoe anymore, either? Wow, you don’t mess around when it comes to cutting ties, huh?