The Patriots paid tight end Jonnu Smith more than $31 million in guaranteed money and seldom use him. So during Bill Belichick’s press conference Wednesday, an enterprising reporter asked him what’s going on.
Unsurprisingly, Belichick bristled at the second-guess, and shut down the question with his signature verbal scowl.
“We talked about this multiple times. It’s not just throwing the ball to one guy in the passing game unless it’s a screen pass,” he grumbled. “When you throw the ball, you need to have good team execution: protection, route-running spacing in zone, and win our individual matchups based on leverage in man-to-man coverage. Then the quarterback throws the ball to the guy who’s open. The concept of just throwing one guy 10 passes — I don’t really understand that.”
If that’s the case, then Belichick doesn’t really understand the offense he’s been running for the last 20 years. As ESPN’s Bill Barnwell facetiously noted, the Patriots have “only thrown a guy 10 passes in a game 267 times since Belichick got there.” Slot receivers Troy Brown, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman were routinely targeted at least 10 times per game. This season, Mac Jones has even targeted Jakobi Meyers at least 10 times on two occasions.
Belichick’s contemptuous grousing is a lot less charming when the Patriots are 2-4, and 13-18 in their last 31 games — dating back to November 2019. Overall, Belichick is now 63-76 in games that Tom Brady didn’t start, including 27-32 with the Patriots. His winning percentage in Cleveland (.450) is nearly identical to his winning percentage in New England without Brady (.457).
When Belichick stonewalls reporters, he no longer comes across as a football savant straining himself to deal with the uneducated masses; but rather a defensive coach on the decline. Take his nonsensical explanation for why the Patriots ran the ball and then kneeled-down at the end of the first half against Dallas, even though there was 1:30 left on the clock.
“We were getting the ball to start the second half,” Belichick said.
When ESPN’s Mike Reiss followed up Monday morning, Belichick gave the same ridiculous response. “Yeah. Same answer I gave last night, Mike. Nothing’s changed,” he said.
Nothing has changed, except the way Belichick manages his football team. The Patriots popularized the double-score with Brady, regularly deferring the ball so they could set themselves up to score at the end of the first half and start of the second half. In fact, Belichick seemed to be preparing for the same trick Sunday, until the opportunity actually arose. The Patriots opted to kick when they won the coin toss, and took their last timeout during the Cowboys’ previous drive.
If Belichick always intended to just run the clock out, why did he stop it before getting the ball back? It’s a fair question that will never get answered.
Years ago, Belichick correctly calculated that the media can’t hurt you when you win, nor can it help you when you lose. But his disdainful attitude towards the press, and anybody who dares to question him, is causing others to relish in his demise. Nobody knows Gregg Popovich’s record without Tim Duncan, but Belichick’s record sans Brady is constantly repeated. Robert Kraft is almost certainly aware of it.
After years of being dismissed — Belichick is memorably captured chowing down on fruit salad with Kraft on speaker phone in his 2011 “Football Life” documentary — it’s possible the Patriots’ owner is running out of patience. Last offseason, Kraft publicly questioned Belichick for the first time, criticizing his team’s recent performances in the NFL Draft.
“I don't feel like we've done the greatest job the last few years and I really hope and believe I've seen a different approach this year,” he told reporters.
Seth Wickersham chronicles the reported long-running tension between Kraft and Belichick in his new tell-all Patriots book, “It’s Better to Be Feared.” One scene recounts how Kraft once called Belichick the “biggest (expletive) a--hole in my life” to his billionaire buddies in Aspen, Colo., and told a confidant Belichick was an “idiot savant” before he hired him.
Obviously, six Super Bowl rings buys leeway. But two straight losing seasons may test it, especially since those six rings all came with No. 12 under center.
If the Patriots keep stumbling, Belichick could soon find himself spending more time on his beloved “VIII Rings” boat, where he can just float off into the sunset. His mystique and aura is already well on its way.
What hurts Romo the most?: Earlier this week, I wrote a column about how Tony Romo’s act is starting to wear thin. His perform