How are things going for Bill Belichick this season when he coaches against someone who formerly worked under him as either a player or a coach?
Not too great. He’s done it three times now in 2018, and two of those coaches have beaten his New England Patriots.
The most recent example came on Sunday, when the Patriots were obliterated 34-10 in a shocking blowout defeat by the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. The head coach of the Titans is Mike Vrabel, a former player and Super Bowl winner under Belichick as a member of the Patriots.
Vrabel played as a linebacker for the Patriots from 2001 through 2008, though he was also used on offense as a tight end every once in a great while. Vrabel is famous for having caught a touchdown pass from Tom Brady in each of New England’s victories in Super Bowls 38 and 39.
But Vrabel’s days as a Patriot are far, far behind him. After Belichick traded him away following the 2008 season, there is no doubt Vrabel took a little bit of extra satisfaction in handing his former coach this defeat. And it wasn’t just a defeat; it was an absolute thrashing.
The Patriots offense that seemed to work so flawlessly in recent weeks (minus the Buffalo game) was absolutely bamboozled all afternoon long. There was no rhythm whatsoever, and Brady was clearly frustrated. He only completed 21 of 41 pass attempts, didn’t throw a single touchdown all game, and was sacked three times. Vrabel’s Tennessee defense really took it to him on Sunday.
And it felt kind of like de ja vu, because we saw this exact same thing earlier in the season when the Patriots faced another former Belichick student back in Week 3. Matt Patricia, who was with the Patriots from 2004 through 2017 and spent his last six seasons in New England as the team’s defensive coordinator, is now the head coach of the Detroit Lions. In what may have been the most embarrassing loss of the season, Patricia’s Lions handed the Patriots a brutal 26-10 defeat on Sunday Night Football.
Only in the season opener, against Bill O’Brien’s Houston Texans, did the Patriots not look totally baffled and hopeless against a former Belichick apprentice.
It sure is a heck of a coincidence that two of New England’s three losses in 2018 have come at the hands of coaches who were brought up in the Belichick system. They have certainly been his kryptonite this season.
It wouldn’t be a total surprise to see the Patriots get matched up with the red hot Texans in the playoffs, which would give O’Brien another opportunity to join Vrabel and Patricia in the “We Beat Bill” club.