It was like the good old days in Pittsburgh Thursday. Bill Belichick pantsed Mike Tomlin (the two longest-tenured NFL coaches) and the 3-10 Patriots snapped a five-game losing streak with a 21-18 win over the 7-6 Steelers. Bailey Zappe threw three first-half TD passes while frustrated Steelers fans showered their team with mock cheers and begged Tomlin to insert his third-string quarterback.
“Had a lot of guys really come through in a game that we needed,” Belichick said after the win. “We had our moments . . . obviously very good defense . . . We played competitively against them.”
No tanking in this one. The moribund Pats beat a team that’s trying to make the playoffs.
All of which got me to thinking . . . what if Belichick is still head coach of the Patriots next season?
Crazy, right? The talk-show drumbeat and headlines in just about every publication indicate that Bill is history. This horrible season, on the heels of other bad seasons since Tom Brady left, is simply not survivable. Things have to change. The Patriots can’t possibly be thinking about bringing back the Belichick band for another NFL tour.
But what if they do? What if Bill’s running the Patriots’ draft room in late April, and then — tanned, rested, and Nixonian ever-ready — back on the Gillette practice fields, twirling his whistle at rookie minicamp?
Maybe this is all going to go down like “Ocean’s Eleven” with Bill summoning the original crew, rounding up Romeo, Charlie, Josh, Dante, Pepper, Matty P., and the inimitable Ernie Adams. For good measure, Bill could bring back Matt Estrella, Matt Walsh, John Jastremski, and Jimmy “Hotfingers” McNally.
What if . . . after all this . . . Bill is back for 2024?
The Pats are 30-40 since Thanksgiving of Brady’s last season. Their last playoff win was Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, a 13-3 win over the Rams in February of 2019. It’s been firmly established that Bill is not the same coach without Tom. Belichick’s record (including playoffs) with Tom as QB is 250-75. Without Tom it’s 82-100.
After the Patriots finished out of the playoffs with an 8-9 record in 2022, Bob Kraft delivered a letter of apology to Patriots fans, stating, “When we welcome you back for the 2023 season, we anticipate presenting you with an improved product on the field . . .”
Hollow. Even with Thursday’s win, the 2023 Patriots season is the worst of Kraft’s 30-season stewardship and will rank as one of the worst in the 63-year history of the franchise.
And yet . . . Bill seems to like it here and he’s still talking and coaching like a man with his eye on the 2024 season. Against the Steelers, he summoned some of his old magic as the Zappe-led Pats bolted to a 21-3 lead in the first 23 minutes.
Think about that. New England scored more points in a half than they’d scored in the last three games. They managed their first opening-drive touchdown of the season and Zappe became the first Pats QB to throw three touchdowns in a first half since Brady in 2018. The Pats and Steelers blasted past the hideously-low over-under (30) before halftime.
Bill schemed a perfect defense when the Steelers went for a first down on a critical fourth and 2 in the red zone early in the fourth. Then he stood back and watched Tomlin try a home run ball on a critical fourth and 2 from near midfield with 2:01 left on the clock. It failed. Naturally.
Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.
Bill got the got the better of Tomlin. Again.
Is this something to build on over the final four games? Do we now have to start wondering if Bill might be back?
Remember that the Hoodie is under contract for at least another year at a hefty salary ($25 million?). In cozy Foxborough, he gets to work with his two sons and he’s got dozens of cronies in the football offices. He can sit in the front row at Celtics playoff games and in the summertime he’s got the Nantucket compound and the “VIII Rings” boat.
And maybe he thinks he’s identified the quarterback of the future (OK, let’s not get carried away).
Why would Bill want to leave?
After last weekend’s 6-0 loss to the Chargers, the Globe’s Khari Thompson asked Bill, “Do you want to stay here and keep coaching the Patriots?"
“I’m looking forward to this week, getting ready for the Steelers," answered Belichick.
And that’s what he did. He got his team ready for Pittsburgh. And he did a good job. Just like the old days.
After midnight, Belichick took questions for almost 6½ minutes. Five minutes in, a Patriots PR guy attempted to cut things off, saying, “Final question."
Same old, same old.
Four games remain and there’s going to be a lot of noise about tanking and draft position. The Patriots did not look like a team that’s tanking in Pittsburgh. And Bill didn’t coach like a man who’s given up trying to win football games in New England.
The final game of this Patriot season is Sunday, Jan. 7, at Gillette against the (gulp) Jets.
That postgame presser should be a doozy.
Read more about the Patriots’ win over the Steelers
- Bailey Zappe’s winning effort begs the question: What took so long to change quarterbacks?
- Ezekiel Elliott, JuJu Smith-Schuster empower Patriots offense in win
- Patriots catch big break in fourth quarter with controversial false-start call on Steelers
- Bailey Zappe’s confidence, aggression shines during impressive first half in Patriots’ win vs. Steelers