Two Months After Moss, Bill Belichick Looks Like The Smartest Guy In The Room (Again)

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Two Months After Moss, Bill Belichick Looks Like The Smartest Guy In The Room (Again)

It seems like just yesterday we were whispering the death of the Patriots dynasty. That it looked Bill Belichick could die by his own sword—trading Randy Moss in the name of the Patriot way—made the fate seem all the more inevitable.

There would be no graceful fading away in New England. If someone like Bill Belichick was going to slip into the NFL's second tier, it made sense that he'd do it on his terms, with an offense built around Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, and something called Rob Gronkowski. It seemed like destiny. The life cycle of NFL wisdom running its course.

But good GOD were we wrong. When New England traded Moss, I wrote that "New England's about to find out exactly what they're losing." And then asked, "You think an offense geared around Welker and Julian Edelman is going to strike fear in the AFC?"

(cringing ... hiding under desk)

Of course, none of us counted on the Patriots contingency plan—trading for Deion Branch, a player that fits the Patriots mold better than Moss ever did and provides nearly as many big plays. Nobody counted on Rob Gronkowski becoming a star. Nobody realized an offense built around tight ends and screens would be deadly. Nobody wanted Danny Woodhead for a reason, we said. And nobody realized that while the Moss saga was attracting headlines, Tom Brady had quietly become the best quarterback in football again. And that's how Bill Belichick fooled us all. Again.

It's too early to crown the Patriots as anything more than the NFL's best team in December, but whatever happens in January, this has got to be considered Belichick's best coaching performance in years. Nobody else would have been shrewd enough to cut ties with Moss halfway through the year, nobody would have flipped a problem (Moss) for a solution (Branch) so effortlessly, and nobody else could have made the offense click better than ever after all this turnover.

To review: Who believed in "The Patriot Way" two months ago? Nobody.

And who doubts Belichick now? Well, you know.


About a month ago, after it became obvious that the Patriots didn't miss Moss nearly as much as expected, I came to the sobering realization that New England could very well win another Super Bowl:

It might be time to start thinking of the Patriots as a powerhouse again. They just constantly find a way to win. Brady's been great this year, and even though the Moss trade seemed insane when it happened, the offense does look more cohesive without him. It's distressing, but sort of indisputable.

This week, New England plays the Browns. Then comes a matchup against the Steelers, and a week later, the Colts. And I'm not saying the Patriots are going to be 9-1 in three weeks, but at this point, it's hard to imagine them coming through at anything less than 8-2. And if they win all three... Then what?

"Maybe Belichick is every bit the genius we've always feared," I said then. And at this point, that question seems like sort of an open-and-shut case, doesn't it?

Here's what we're talking about with this year's Patriots team: with the Moss trade, we basically got a referendum on The Patriot Way, the cliched approach to team-building that's made the Patriots personnel department infamous for the past few years. By trading a player as high-profile as Randy Moss, Belichick doubled down against the skeptics in the most public way possible. And two months later, New England's more dominant than ever, blowing out playoff teams almost every week, looking borderline invincible.


It'd be unfair to crow about New England's inflexibility when they look like fools and not praise them when it's proven brilliant. So for posterity's sake, let's just say put this on record: If trading Moss created a spectacle that turned into a referendum on the Patriot Way and Belichick's legacy as a manager, then the answer has been no less spectacular. 

And the answer makes all of us look foolish for having nodded at logic like this in October:

It's an organizational philosophy, honed to an art form by Bill Belichick, of being strategically unappreciative — of treating football players as coldly and cynically as the rules allow. Moss was just pointing out the obvious, and he got killed for it, and now Brett Favre's a happier man, and poor Wes Welker will have two defenders in his earhole from here on out. Belichick just sacrificed a Hall of Famer at the altar of the local stupids. Hope you guys are happy.

Ugh. Two months later, I shudder to imagine how happy Patriots fans are.

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