Whether it was an ill-advised moment of braggadocios truth or a simply an incredibly unfortunate poor choice of words, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick nearly undid a quarter-century of coach speak consistency with four not-so-humble words this week.
And after saying that Patriots fans should be optimistic for the 2023 season in New England because of “the last 25 years,” the man who’s spent decades in many ways manipulating players, fans and media alike with is words had to issue a clarification through the Boston Globe.
Trying to put the Patriot Way paste back in the team-guiding tube after the football world bristled, most notably former Patriots captain Tedy Bruschi who seemed genuinely disillusioned by the original answer, Belichick told the Globe that neither he nor his team “are resting on our past laurels.”
Whether Belichick didn’t mean his “the last 25 years” remark or didn’t mean to say it aloud for all the critical world to hear may not matter at this point. It’s out there. Forever. A monumental if momentary misstep that threatened to undercut everything Belichick has previously said and stood for.
So, what should Belichick have said when asked at the annual AFC coaches’ breakfast at the NFL owners’ meetings about reasons for optimism in New England moving forward? Well, that’s actually pretty easy to answer. And is in no way controversial in any way other than its inherent optimism five-plus months from an actual game.
Belichick easily could have promoted his new-look coaching staff that has seemingly brought unquestioned competence to all three phases, two of which seemed to be so lacking in that fundamental area a year ago. Bill O’Brien is indeed a popular choice to run the New England offense, everyone from owner Robert Kraft to the most cynical fan bullish on the upgrade that includes a twist of new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm for good measure. Meanwhile keeping Jerod Mayo in the leadership mix “long term” is nothing but a benefit to Belichick and his team, as is Joe Judge seemingly sliding into a role that he’s actually qualified for.
Or, the legendary coach could have chosen to focus on the returning talent in New England that probably isn’t nearly as inept as some critics would have us believe. That would begin with a third-year quarterback who indeed may now actually be in line for the critical Year Two Jump thanks to the coaching changes. Mac Jones is a former first-round pick with a playoff trip on his young resume. He’s a potential franchise QB, something even his coach was alluding to less than 12 months ago. Jones may not be Lamar Jackson or even in line with other young QBs like Justin Herbert or Joe Burrow, but he’s also not the incapable brat that detractors claim. At worst Jones has potential and upside, in many ways similar to the team he’ll once again likely lead.
But the quarterback position is only part of the optimistic potential in Foxborough. Belichick could have talked up key young defensive core players like Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche Christian Barmore or Jack Jones. Might have noted that Rhamondre Stevenson is one of the best young running backs in the NFL, a guy who shows himself more capable of more production the more chances he gets.
Heck, with those recent successful draft picks in mind, Belichick could have even pointed to the opportunities that exist for the Patriots in the next step of the NFL offseason process, New England’s 11 selections in April’s draft. That potential injection of youth and talent includes the No. 14 overall selection that could bring a mainstay stud for years to come at a position of major need like cornerback, tackle, wide receiver or any other spot Belichick and Matt Groh choose to invest in. Do it right, taking advantage of last season’s missed opportunities, and No. 14 could help lay the foundation for the future.
Reasons for optimism? Whether it’s new coaching, returning talent or ongoing roster additions, they exist in relative fashion for all of Patriot Nation to see!
All Belichick had to do was live in the present, as he’s preached for his entire tenure. Be where his feet are, as his young QB likes to say. Because while New England will still face plenty of questions and long odds for contender-level success in 2023, the simple reality is there is indeed glass-half-full reason to believe that the Patriots have taken steps toward improvement this offseason, at least baby steps toward returning to the kind of team Belichick has had for “the last 25 years.”