Since Tom Brady decided to leave the Patriots for the Buccaneers after winning six Super Bowls in 20 NFL seasons, the debate has been endless. Who was more important to New England’s dynasty, the definite GOAT quarterback or the possible GOAT coach Bill Belichick?
There’s no reason to wait until after the result of Super Bowl 55 against the Chiefs to answer that. Brady has already put the tired argument to bed before Sunday’s kickoff with a dream season with the Bucs while the Patriots faded into the night.
There have been all kinds of opinions thrown out by pundits and Patriots past and present on the nature of Brady and Belichick’s relationship after their tough breakup. Regardless of their true feelings toward each other, they are fiery veteran competitors driven to achieve high levels of success.
Brady went to a 7-9 Buccaneers team and helped turn it into an 11-5 NFC wild-card force. Belichick, without Brady, saw a 12-4 Patriots team fall to a 7-9 AFC East third-place finisher. Tampa Bay did have other talent boosts that led to Super Bowl-level improvement. New England did have other personnel drains that ended its division-title reign. But bottom line, Brady’s play lifted a team much more than Belichick’s coaching did in 2020.
Belichick is the plotter and schemer in New England as well as the leader. But there’s no way the Patriots become a two-decade dynasty without Brady and someone else at quarterback instead. Belichick did the initial defensive-minded lifting to get them to a championship level. But after Brady quickly developed into an elite all-time passer, the Patriots could operate knowing he gave them a high winning floor every season.
The Patriots could plug in anyone at the skill positions and, because of Brady, the offense would still produce. Also because of Brady, Belichick’s defense had less of a burden and could be a more versatile, complementary unit.
After Super Bowl 36, when it was the Patriots’ defense fueling the upset of the Rams, Brady was the big reason the Patriots added five more rings in eight more chances. Every bit of Brady’s excellence was needed in those close victories, whether it was a back-and-forth shootout or a fourth-quarter comeback. Belichick and his staff brought the strong game plans, but none of it would have worked as well unless Brady was the chief executor.
Had Brady and Belichick stayed together, the answer on who meant more to the Patriots’ success might have remained cloudy. But it shouldn’t have.
As great as Phil Jackson was in Chicago, six rings don’t happen without Michael Jordan. Glen Sather needed Wayne Gretzky in Edmonton. Bill Walsh needed Joe Montana in San Francisco. Andy Reid has been a terrific coach in the NFL for a long time, but he didn’t transcend into Super Bowl champion without Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City.
As another all-time great athlete in the modern era, LeBron James hasn’t needed to worry about this debate while winning championships with Erik Spoelstra, Tyronn Lue and Frank Vogel. Everyone knows he’s the common dominant denominator.
The NBA and NHL have been the havens of individual excellence translating into ultimate team success because the smaller-roster nature of their sports are set up for one player to make a championship-winning difference. The NFL is by definition a more collective team effort, but that’s changing as the game’s most important position has never been more important in a pass-happy, high-scoring era.
During the Patriots’ run, the feeling that “defense wins championships” has started to fade away in the NFL. It’s getting harder to win without elite quarterbacks. That’s why everyone is always trying to upgrade until they find a transcendent talent. Brady raised the standard and Mahomes is taking that bar even higher.
At a time when more young guns are emerging, Brady is the last old man standing to duel Mahomes with another ring on the line. In one season in the NFC, he took his team further than three other Super Bowl-winning Hall of Famers could — Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson.
Belichick tried to replace Brady with Cam Newton. Everyone jumped to think Belichick and Josh McDaniels would prove their genius by flipping Newton back into a MVP-level QB. Or that Belichick could use a magical blend of the defense and special teams to keep the Patriots contending in the AFC. Neither happened.
Brady, meanwhile, hand-picked a supporting cast out of whom he could get the best. He recruited some friends such as Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown to come along for the ride. He made the Bucs play better and coach better. He pushed them to put the finishing touches on complementary personnel.
Brady proved in a LeBron-like way, he could be as powerful as Belichick with his influence on a team, all while reminding everyone he could still perform at a GOAT level at age 43. What was happening in New England got old in a hurry while Brady was rejuvenated in Tampa Bay.
Former teammate Danny Amendola went as far to say the “Patriot Way” was all about Brady’s play. While that might be a little extreme, there’s something telling about how many of Brady’s Patriots past pals have come out saying they’re rooting for him to get another ring — almost in gratitude of them winning a lot more because of him.
While the Patriots started to look discombobulated with Belichick and without Brady, the Buccaneers grew in a hurry and became more disciplined with Brady. The Patriots didn’t look like a lot of fun, whille Brady, along with Gronkowski, found his youthful joy again with the Buccaneers.
This is also isn’t about this year, this 10th shot at a ring. Brady may fall short ot helping his new team win the Super Bowl, but he is bound to back to give the Bucs another championship chance next season. It’s harder to believe Belichick will find quick answers to get his team back near the top of the AFC vs. closer to the bottom of the AFC East, still chasing a QB who can challenge Mahomes — or what Brady still is.
Brady vs. Belichick may have been an interesting case a year ago as they were breaking up. Now that Brady has put up and the Patriots have been put down, it’s open and shut.