Considering the depth of the hole the Patriots hitherto managed to dig themselves into, it was a wonder they still had a chance to make the playoffs when they met the Bills over the weekend. Not that it was much of an opportunity; they were heavily favored to lose, what with the prospective Number Two seed in the American Football Conference likewise aiming to triumph for hospitalized safety Damar Hamlin. That said, the fact that they could still salvage a campaign filled with disappointment off self-inflicted wounds was not lost on them. And so they prepared as well as they could for the do-or-die affair.
As things turned out, not even the vaunted Bill Belichick attention to detail could prevent the Patriots from missing the postseason for the second time in three years. Significantly, they had a Hail Mary shot all the same; had the Jets and the Browns been able to upend the Dolphins and Steelers, respectively, they still would have been able to secure the final wild card spot. That, however, would have been tantamount to fate tempting itself and rewarding the undeserved.
Make no mistake: Unworthy is precisely what the Patriots were in the face of Belichick’s chutzpah. Instead of scouring the market for an outstanding — or, at the very least, competent — offensive coordinator following the departure of would-be Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels, he stayed within his own circle and tapped erstwhile defensive specialist Matt Patricia for the role, backstopped by Joe Judge as quarterbacks mentor. The offshoot was so predictable that even diehard fans braced for a negative outcome.
It bears noting that Belichick would add to his folly by refusing to make any changes midstream. “It’s just too hard,” he said. Besides, all that’s needed is for everybody to “do consistently what we were doing.” Meanwhile, the Patriots would struggle to rise above mediocrity, with the offense unequivocally cratering year on year. And in the midst of his stubbornness, supposed future under center Mac Jones became a casualty and regressed.
The letdown notwithstanding, Belichick plans to continue pacing the sidelines. In the aftermath of the Patriots’ elimination, he indicated his desire to keep his status as the longest-tenured coach in the National Football League — at 24 years and counting. If he is to improve his plight, however, he would do well to set aside his personal relationships in order to do what’s right. A better offensive coordinator should be at the top of his list of To Dos. Else, he will just be setting himself up for the same old, same old.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.