The Best Around

Jim Rogash

The Patriots have toppled the proclaimed best team in conference, yet still fly under the radar. Who's responsible?

Take any, average, run-of-the-mill team. Sure, they've had plenty of success lately, but they've lost some players from prior seasons.

They lost four of their top five receivers from the prior season, and that fifth player misses almost half of the season due to injury. Of the players tabbed to replace that production, three are rookies (one who misses a quarter of the season due to injury) and the veteran they sign tears his groin. The most productive receiver is a former college quarterback.

They lose their most regaled offensive lineman (a tackle, which is of more importance than other other lineman role) to an injury in the middle of the season and have to place him on the injured reserve. Then they lose his replacement to an injury of his own.

On defense, they've lost both starting defensive tackles, one a multiple-time All-Pro and team captain and the other an experienced and highly regarded veteran, both to season ending injuries. Their replacements are both rookies, one undrafted and one a late round pick who was cut multiple times before signing on with this hypothetical team. The additional depth is comprised of a promoted practice squad player (also undrafted) and a player gained from a mid-season trade for a late round pick.

The hits don't stop there, as they lose their best linebacker (also an All-Pro and team captain) to a season ending injury. His replacement is a tandem comprised of a rookie and a veteran- undrafted and a former college defensive end.

In the secondary, they've missed both of their top cornerbacks for extensive periods of time- one cornerback who was in the running for defensive player of the year before his injury- as well as their starting strong safety who was put in charge of defensive playcalls once the aforementioned linebacker was lost for the season. In their place, the Patriots have played both of their rookie third round picks.

For those keeping score, they've replaced five top talents at the heart of their defense with rookies.

Now let's say that this team isn't just doing well with these rookies, but that it's in the running for the number one seed in its conference, having actually defeated the current number one team.

Someone deserves credit for such an astonishing season, right?

Unfortunately for Bill Belichick (who honestly doesn't give two sleeves about personal awards), he's not really earning the recognition that he deserves.

Bill Belichick the coach has put together one of the best seasons of any coaching staff in the league. Sure, you could point to the turnaround by Andy Reid, or Ron Rivera, or Chip Kelly and you wouldn't hear any complaints from here that they deserve the recognition of putting together fantastic seasons. But for Belichick to not be mentioned by anyone as being a credible selection? Hogwash.

Belichick has heavily featured eight rookies in the starting roster (Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, Ryan Allen, Joe Vellano, Chris Jones, Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon), as well as three sophomores (Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower, Alfonzo Dennard) and his team has stayed on the same track that his historical veteran teams played on. Th Patriots were the 22nd youngest team in the league at the start of the season, which has fallen due to the IR of Wilfork and Kelly.

The coach deserves some credit for mixing together the absurd youth, unprecedented injuries, and extreme roster turnover and still managing to put one one of the league's elite teams, right?

Or would you consider the value of Belichick the GM, who crafted the roster from top to bottom?

This is the GM who replaced three of his top five receivers from the previous season with rookies. Who stacked the roster with enough depth that the third offensive tackle was a starter in league two years prior. Who found all those rookies who were able to step in and have an immediate impact from day one. Who signed back the shutdown corner Aqib Talib and transformed the defense. Who extended replacement captain Rob Ninkovich in the middle of the season. Who traded away a seventh round pick for a thousand yard running back. Who swapped late round picks for a mid-season band-aid at defensive tackle.

Now Belichick the GM isn't the same class as the Cardinals Steve Keim or the Panthers Dave Gettleman who put together two of the most impressive off-seasons, but doesn't that just reinforce the value of Belichick the coach? Or does Belichick just transcend such silly things as "titles" and put him in the running for "Benevolent Dictator of the Year" against Roger Goodell?

Or perhaps does the existence of Tom Brady prevent Belichick from winning any of these awards for the foreseeable future? Even though Brady put up extraordinarily subpedestrian numbers for the first half of the season, and is now just seeing his stats recover, does Brady hold that much weight that Belichick can't shine on his own?

Let's look at the facts: Brady's offense didn't win the games early in the season, so much as the defense prevented the opposition from winning. That has since flipped due to defensive injuries and the health of Gronkowski and Vereen.

Brady's not putting up MVP numbers this season, although he has just creeped back into the top 10 in yards and touchdowns for quarterbacks.

Brady was playing with rookies and new receivers, as well as missed starting running backs Vereen (half the season) and Stevan Ridley (one game). He had no tight ends, which the offense has changed to focus on in recent times. Brady was playing upcreek without a paddle and he kept the team afloat until help arrived.

But does Brady's value account for enough that it nullifies Belichick's value this season as a coach and a GM? And if so, should that catapult Brady into the MVP conversation in his own right?

What we're witnessing is a team that has no business being as successful this season as it has been, that's still fighting its way to the top. Most is result of Belichick's job as a coach/GM, as well as Brady's ability to overcome most obstacles. The rest comes with the hearts and minds of the ragtag group of players that are still able to stand on the field and their ability to do do their job.

So whether Belichick's success has reduced Brady's chance of winning an award, or Brady's success has returned the favor, the case remains the same: This year's Patriots owe plenty to two men who are best in the business who won't be receiving the recognition they deserve for their performance and production this season.

Maybe if the aforementioned hypothetical team was literally any other team in the league the spotlight would shine brightly on those responsible for keeping the team in front of the competition. Maybe if Belichick didn't have Brady, or vice versa, they'd warrant some additional attention.

All I know is that regardless of the outcome of the end of year awards, both Belichick and Brady wouldn't have this team playing and performing any other way- as a team, shirking individual praise, and fighting for one unified goal.

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