Reaching Super Bowl XLIX is Tom Brady and Bill Belichick's greatest feat
The New England Patriots have done what many thought was impossible earlier this season, they have won the AFC championship and will steam into Super Bowl XLIX riding a train of momentum. Back on September 8, I wrote that this season could be the most difficult test Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have ever faced together. Well, they stared down that challenge and came out on top, making the 2014 season and their trip to Super Bowl XLIX the greatest achievement of their long quarterback-coach partnership.
Brady and Belichick have teamed up to win three Super Bowls, obviously each of those was an amazing accomplishment. But this season, with a depleted roster bereft of the kind of offensive weapons enjoyed by most of the league's top teams, they somehow turned around what looked like a disastrous campaign. After the Kansas City Chiefs handed them a brutal 41-14 Monday night beatdown to drop them to 2-2, the Patriots regrouped and reeled off seven wins in a row. Since that September 29 hammering at Arrowhead, New England has won 12 of its 14 games. That includes a 45-7 pasting of the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.
On February 1, Tom Brady will be starting in his sixth Super Bowl, which sets the record for starts by a quarterback. He has done all of that will Belichick as his head coach. The thing that makes this run to the big game different from the previous five, is the fact that this Patriots team isn't littered with star players. Other than Brady and Rob Gronkowski, there aren't any household names on New England's offense. While the defense got a great season out of Darrelle Revis, there aren't a ton of big names on that side of the ball either.
How down was this year's Patriots roster? Thanks to an early-season ACL injury to Stevan Ridley, the team's leading rusher wound up being Jonas Gray, who finished with 412 yards. He ran for 201 of those yards in Week 11 against the Indianapolis Colts. LeGarratte Blount appears to be the team's starting running back now and he wasn't even on the roster until Week 12. Shane Vereen was the team's second-leading rusher with 391 yards, but he's nothing more than a receiving threat out of the backfield who occasionally takes a hand-off. Somehow, Belichick and Brady have made it work.
As far as receiving targets go, other than Gronkowski it's not like Brady has a wealth of talent around him. Julian Edelman led the team with 92 receptions but he's basically half the player Wes Welker is, and that's with me factoring in Welker's Molly use and multiple concussions. The rest of the team's receiving depth chart looks like it belongs on the Island of Misfit Toys. Brandon LaFell (74 catches) is a guy the Carolina Panthers deemed not worth re-signing, Danny Amendola (27 catches) is one injury away from selling insurance and the team's sixth leading receiver (Tim Wright) is someone I'd never heard of before this season. Wright also has two whole receptions since the beginning of December.
Things got so bad this year, New England was trotting out Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson at receiver. Brady doesn't just deserve MVP votes, he deserves some kind of community service medal for managing to keep the members of his receiving corps employed. Yet despite all of those obstacles, the Patriots went 12-4, got the top seed in the AFC and are headed to Arizona to face the Seattle Seahawks in two weeks.
Belichick and Brady are unquestionably the greatest coach-quarterback duo of all-time. The only pair that even comes close to measuring up is Bill Walsh and Joe Montana, but they only went to three Super Bowls together, though they did win them all. Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll won four together, but those Pittsburgh Steelers teams were loaded on defense and ran the ball as well as anyone. The Patriots need Brady to perform if they want to win and that has always been the case.
For 14 seasons Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have terrorized the NFL. They have teamed up to win three Super Bowls, five AFC championships and a ridiculous 12 AFC East titles. Love 'em or hate 'em, that is a phenomenal track record that isn't likely to be equaled by another duo. Despite all of that, there is no doubt in my mind that reaching Super Bowl XLIX with this Patriots roster is their most impressive achievement to date.
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