Monday, October 1, 2012

THE PATRIOTS WAY


Each and every year we all ask how do the Patriots do it?  For as long as Bill Belichick's been coaching in New England, he and Patriots' management seems to find a veritable star in a player the rest of the NFL dismissed.

In 1998, Troy Brown was drafted in the eighth round out of Marshall by the New England Patriots.  For seven years he floundered among different coaches and systems.  Enter Bill Belichick in 2000, and Brown had career highs in receptions (83), yards (944) and returned his first kick for a touchdown.  He'd break those totals the following year with his only 1,000 yard season as a receiver.
Just when you think you've accounted for everyone on the Pats
offense, this guy shows up.

In 2001, New England acquired Bills castoff Antowain Smith, a back that had never gained more than 3.7 yards per carry for his career.  He had a 1,000 yard season for the Bills in 1998, but fell out of favor with management.  He gained four yards per carry in his first season under Belichick, managed his second 1,000 yard season, added 19 receptions and scored 13 times, helping to lead the Patriots to their first Super Bowl appearance.  He rushed 18 times for 92 yards in the Super Bowl, and the Patriots defeated the St. Louis Rams 20-13 for their first world championship.
In 2004, the Patriots traded for RB Corey Dillon.  Relegated to second position by Bengals third year up-and-comer Rudi Johnson, Dillon started eleven of 13 games with the Bengals in 2003 and managed just 541 yards on 138 carries.  His reputation sullied by past run-ins with the law, including spousal abuse and drunk driving, Dillon was truculent with both the media and the Bengals.  The Patriots saw his numbers, and grabbed him.  Though under Bill Belichick the Patriots were hardly known for pounding the ball on the ground, Dillon became their starter in 2004.  Before Dillon, the most a Patriots running back had garnered in terms of attempts under Belichick was 287.  Dillion shattered that with 345 attempts in 2004 and broke the New England Patriots all-time rushing yards high in a single season with 1635, a mark previous held by Curtis Martin.  The Patriots went 14-2 and won their third Super Bowl.

Three short years later, the Patriots snagged a hardly known receiver named Wes Welker, who had thrived in the Dolphins system as a punt return specialist, but was coming off a 67-catch season.  They traded a second round and seventh round selection to Miami for the diminutive receiver.  Yet in 2007, Welker led the Patriots with 112 receptions for his first 1,000 yard receiving season while scoring eight touchdowns.  It was also 2007, that the Patriots picked up a talented but troubled receiver who had worn out his welcome in Minnesota named Randy Moss.   Moss provided 98 receptions, over 1,400 yards and added 23 touchdowns.  The Patriots put up a perfect 16-0 season, and won two playoff games before being shocked in the Super Bowl against the New York Giants.

Linebacker Mike Vrabel never started a single game for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  However, by the time the New England Patriots were done with him, he had led the team twice in sacks, once in 2003 when they won their second championship, and again in 2007.

The list goes on, and every year it seems the Patriots astound the critics, shock the scouts and find talent where no one else can.  Bill Belichick's system has been labeled The Patriot Way.  The truth of the matter is there is no Patriot Way.  The Patriot Way is simply scouting talent and adapting the system to the talents of the players you acquire.  No one can argue that the team that highlighted Troy Brown and Antowain Smith looked anything like the team with Randy Moss and Wes Welker, which in turn, looked nothing like the team scoring a bevy of touchdowns with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.  So why is it so shocking?  Perhaps it's because Belichick is so quietly impudent.  He's stand-offish, and doesn't feel the need to be press friendly.  He's like the kid who was picked last for kickball finally exacting revenge, yet has no desire to celebrate it.  He just wants to do it repeatedly, over and over to prove he was as overlooked as some of his players.  Perhaps it's because in an era of coaching egos that say it's my way or the highway, Belichick adapts his road map so that his players fit it.  The team comes before even the coach.

In 2012, his newest discovery may be Brandon Bolden, an undrafted free agent from Ole Miss, who just plowed over the Bills defense for 137 yards in his first ever game with more than two rushing attempts.  Whether or not Bolden continues that kind of play is irrelevant.  The Patriots have given defensive coordinators another player to fear in their system, another guy with little game tape on who opponents will have to figure out.  Yet nobody has been able to figure out Bill Belichick.  And if Belichick has any say on the matter, The Patriot Way will continue to stun those who look to pigeon-hole and label teams as a certain type of franchise.  The Patriot Way is one such label, except it's pretty clear from the success that continues to come New England's way, few understand it.