This is how a dynasty ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper.
After decades of dominance, eight Super Bowls, and one of the best coaching runs in professional sports history, it looks like Bill Belichick’s days in New England are numbered.
Over the weekend, NFL insiders like Dan Orlovsky and Dianna Russini both suggested Belichick and the Patriots will part ways at the end of the season. So, if this is the end, what went wrong? And where do the Patriots go from here?
BREAKING: There may be ‘mutual parting of ways at the end of the season’ between Bill Belichick and the #Patriots, per @DMRussini— Ben Belford-Peltzman (@thepatriotsbeat) November 12, 2023
From her article: “I don’t expect anything to be determined with so much season remaining. But if people I talk to had to bet, their money is on a… pic.twitter.com/4qGDLxpsx2
What Went Wrong?
The Patriots won the AFC East every season from 2009 through 2019, winning 16 playoff games in that run. But since 2019, they haven't even sniffed the AFC East lead and have zero playoff wins to show. There's no coincidence the demise started after 2019.
Tom Brady Left
The Patriots went from Super Bowl contenders to impressively mediocre overnight between the 2019 and 2020 seasons. That slide just so happens to line up perfectly with Tom Brady's departure to Tampa Bay. While the Pats faltered, Brady was passing for 40 touchdowns, competing for MVPs, and winning a Super Bowl in Florida. It's pretty clear that letting Brady leave was a fatal mistake for Belichick in New England. Sure, keeping the legendary QB around would've been committing to a 45-year-old QB instead of building for 'the future.' But, in retrospect, it would've been the right call.
Mac Jones Isn't The Guy
Replacing Brady with anybody would've been a big task for Belichick. But the guy he chose was mistake number two.
After flashing some real promise as a rookie in 2021, Mac Jones has consistently proven to not be 'the guy' in New England the last two seasons. Sure his completion rates are fine (career 66.2%) but he's never averaged over 225 passing yards per game and is turning the ball over as much as he's finding the end zone.
Maybe Belichick saw another pocket-passing guy in very average shape from a college football powerhouse as the natural replacement for Brady? Instead, he got an interception-prone QB with no big-play upside.
There Isn't Much Talent Anywhere Else
Jones isn't gonna cut it at QB for New England, but it's not like he was set up to succeed either. The Patriots don't have a single receiver on pace for over 1000 yards and running backs Rhamondre Stevenson and former Cowboy Ezekiel Elliott have both averaged well under 4.0 yards per carry in 2023.
The Pats used to get by with bargain-bin shopping at receiver and RB — LaGarrette Blount became a touchdown god in New England and late-round WRs like Wes Welker and Julian Edelman turned into stars. But without Brady anchoring the offense, it doesn't work.
Where Do The Patriots Go From Here?
When Belichick leaves, the Patriots are going to have to change. For too long they've been reliant on the greatest quarterback of all time and the aura of a legendary coach. The haven't had to invest in explosive talent, because the QB/coach tandem elevated the teams.
Now, the investment in playmakers must come. The Patriot way is over, and New England must now take the same path every other NFL franchise has to go on to become great: draft talent, develop it, and find an elite quarterback.
If there's one positive, it's that the Pats seemed to start that rebuild last year, with their first two picks in the 2023 NFL Draft (CB Christian Gonzalez, DE Keion White) both looking like legit NFL players. Now the talent injection must turn to the offense. They'll need to add some talent at WR, TE, and running back, but first they need someone to give them the ball.
The '24 class is full of elite quarterbacks and the Pats are on pace for a top-five pick. Figuring out who the fresh QB face of the new Patriots will be is the next question in Massachusetts.
Next New England Coach
While no oddsmakers have put out next Patriots coach odds in the last few weeks, we do have a preseason market to go off of:
Long-time Patriots defender and current New England linebackers coach Jerod Mayo is the clear favorite to take over. Earlier this year, Mayo actually turned down the opportunity to interview for other teams' coordinator and head coaching jobs, suggesting he has a pretty good idea there's an opportunity to climb in New England. Has he already been chosen as Belichick's heir?
Whoever ends up taking over from Belichick has some work to do. The Pats have long over-performed due to great coaching, elite quarterback play, and collective buy-in. They've already lost the QB, and when Belichick moves on, they may lose those other two strengths, too.