It’s been a wild few days all around the National Football League, beginning around 9:45 a.m. Monday when the guillotines started falling like snowflakes, one after another.
There were seven coaches and five general managers fired, including those with big names in big NFL cities. There are three more coaches in Jacksonville, Hempstead, N.Y., and Detroit who very easily could have (and should have) brought that number to 10.
It’s been ESPN’s and the NFL Network’s dream. There have been breaking news stories, press conferences, tears, big tabloid headlines, rumors, owners in hiding, etc.
But there might as well be a bubble around the six-state New England region, where there has been zero anxiety surrounding their favorite football franchise. There has been no drama and no big news splashes.
Which means one thing: Business as usual.
Well here’s some business that slipped under the radar this week after the Philadelphia Eagles canned Andy Reid: Bill Belichick is the longest-tenured coach — 12th season with the Patriots — in the NFL.
But here’s even better news:
Belichick’s team might be as good now as it has ever been, with one of the youngest defenses in the league and one that may not be far from being one of the best. And we all know the offense is not going to struggle putting points on the scoreboard for another handful of seasons with Tom Brady still bringing his “A” game.
Sure, there have been some “recent” low points.
It’s been three years since Belichick and “Fourth-and-Two,” when he chose to go for it on fourth down from the Patriots own 28-yard line with 2:08 remaining against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. The decision was called “wreckless,” “arrogant,” and “football suicide” after it failed to work and the Colts eventually scored the winning touchdown to win 35-34.
It’s been two years since the loss to the N.Y. Jets in the AFC Divisional playoff game (28-21).
It’s been one year since the loss to the dreaded N.Y. Giants in a Super Bowl, following another blown fourth-quarter lead.
Every one of those losses has brought on a slew of comments, including and especially those in the “know” and/or cover football.
The game, it has been said and written, may have passed Belichick by. The comparison to former NFL coaching greats Chuck Noll, Don Shula, Tom Landry and Joe Gibbs — guys that lost their “fastballs” as they were near their 60s — seemed plausible after some of his and his team’s failings.
But those people were wrong.
The Patriots, with a more rugged approach on both sides of the football, are comparable to their teams from the early part of the last decade. It’s easy to lose sight of the team’s versatility in those forty-something to twenty-something victories.
Even without these playoffs, the 2012 season is one for the record books. This current team is coming off a disheartening Super Bowl loss. The recent history of teams that lose the Super Bowl is that they fall off the map the next year. The reason probably has more to do with that runner-up team having its weaknesses exposed under the bright lights.
Nine of the last 18 Super Bowl losers didn’t make the playoffs. Of the nine that did, five didn’t get past the Wild Card round and the other four lost in the Divisional games. That means not one Super Bowl loser since 1994 has made the conference championship game.
The point is most franchises crumble after their disappointing loss in February. This is not to say the Patriots will blow through the Divisional and AFC Championship games, but thus far, under Belichick’s guidance, their response to the Giants loss has been remarkable.
After the game, then-Giants running back Brandon Jacobs claimed, “We’ve finally cut their head off ... The dynasty is over!”
Instead, the World Champs were home to celebrate the New Year, dumbfounded and perplexed.
Sometimes we take for granted what is still happening around here. Other than the San Francisco 49ers incredible run of consistency from 1981 to 1998 (five Super Bowls and double-digit wins every year except the strike-shortened season in 1982), the Patriots are second to nobody in the history of the game when it comes to championship football.
And while the quarterback, Tom Brady, is an all-time great, the day-in and day-out consistency of the Patriots is on Belchick’s shoulders. The Patriots are 12-4 and ready for bear. Again.
Sure, it’s quiet around Foxboro this week. But the silence among his (former) critics is deafening.
Bill Burt is a sports columnist for The Eagle-Tribune in North Andover, Mass. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.