In the total heyday of the New England Patriots, Coach Bill Belichick (pronounced Beli-check) was so known for his fanatic, frenetic attention to detail that it was known as "Belichicking". He was obsessed to know every detail of the game plan, the organization of the team, who was responsible for everything that it became legendary, and the Patriots success was legendary as was his hooded sweatshirt he wore on the sidelines of every game (thus the nickname "the hoody").
They won 3 of 4 super bowls from 2001-2004. And after "disappointing" seasons in 2005-2006 (they only won their division both years, but lost in the playoffs) they delivered finest regular season performance (sorry Dolphins) in the history of the NFL, going 16-0 and steamrolling opponents.
And then the wheels came off the bus. The New York Giants shocked them in the Super Bowl, improbably winning (and saving their coach's job) in what must be one of the greatest upsets of all time in sport.
As a passionate observer of the Patriots I have a few thoughts. But before I give my thoughts, here are my credentials and history here. While my heart is with the Dallas Cowboys, over the past 10 years I have admired the Patriots organization so much that I am far more likely to watch their games than any other team. I like the way the team rotates players around, isn't afraid to make roster moves, ditch big name players in favor of a new younger guy, try new things and innovate. All these pieces are still part of the Patriot puzzle, yet losing when it matters seems to be a new and disturbing trend in Foxboro. Why? I have three thoughts...
1) Failure to recognize scarcity: Several times last night Tom Brady simply threw the ball away when he saw the coverage had him foiled. That works in the regular season, in fact it is a great strategy and use of time and energy. But in the post-season, downs, series, possessions become much scarcer. You just can't assume they will be there. But they have been there so often, maybe they have forgotten that. Their fourth quarter drive that ate up 8 minutes or so of clock, then came away with nothing to show for this.
2) Failure to RUN THE FREAKIN BALL: Their running attack is tepid, they utilize the short pass instead of encouraging the creative running of the ball on a regular basis (like they did on the successful 2 point conversion). Those who know me, know anytime a team other than a service academy loses, I assume they should have run the ball more/better. If Brady can sit in the pocket, untouched and still not find a receiver, you aren't running the ball.
3) Failure of Passion: The hoody should be feared, but I fear he is becoming a caricature. Standing alone on the sideline, hood up, expressionless. Now, I don't want Rex Ryan or his feet anywhere near a team I care about, but you cannot doubt he is passionate, involving others, getting input, giving input. The hoody seems to be in his own world out there, befuddled by why they aren't winning and demonstrating little passion.
Overall, perhaps this is simply the result of setting the bar too high too fast. As a leader, too much success can sometimes be just as bad as failure. Early success brings resources, accolades and the assumption of others you are capable of anything. But what happens when you come back to earth a bit. There are many teams in the NFL who would love to have lost 3 playoff games in the last 4 years, because that would mean they were in three playoff games in the last four years (see Cowboys, Dallas; Chiefs, Kansas City etc...) but those teams aren't in Foxboro.
The Belichicking seems to have gotten off course somewhere. The hoody has lost some mojo. Where will they find it, will they find it? The great thing about football, assuming you don't get fired, you get to play again next fall.