Bill Belichick is a coaching legend, but his team’s struggles this season have invited criticism and raised questions of how long he will last in New England. Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bill Belichick has never been a pleaser, and he is as slit-eyed and lip-curled in these bitter end days with the New England Patriots as he ever was in his most triumphant ones. If the man is going out – and he may well be – it won’t be with any show of sentiment. He seems intent on doing so as a man of whole drab cloth and dour expression, his stoniness intact.

The swiftness with which Belichick has gone from a candidate for greatest coach ever to a man just trying to coax a 2-7 team into competence has allowed all of his backbiters in the door. Anyone he’s ever been rude to or uncooperative with – and the numbers are apparently legion in the press – is now predicting he will be fired by season’s end, and maybe before then, given Sunday’s 20-17 loss to an unseasoned Washington Commanders team that gave up two turnovers. Gillette Stadium felt like a mansion gone to seed, as the once-great Patriots heard scattered boos rain down. Belichick’s demeanor afterward was his perpetual one, that of a druid in a dank cell, his murmurs barely audible and lapsing into silence.

“It was all the way across the board,” he said, his words trailing off.

Here are some other samples of his postgame conversation:

“You should talk to them about it.”



“Because it was.”

This was a hinge game, a clear flex point for two franchises fighting to find their identities and weighing whether to clean house. The results left Washington feeling far better about its quarterback, Sam Howell, and a host of rookies, while on the other side of the stadium there was a growing sense that a door is about to slam shut on the tenure of Belichick, who at 71 has not led a team to a playoff win in four years and counting, and whose boss, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, has expressed his unhappiness over that fact.

“The Patriot Way is dead,” Mike Florio announced on NBC’s Pro Football Talk Sunday morning. He proceeded to shred Belichick’s career, positing that Belichick was always overrated and had been saved by Tom Brady, and his influence on the league has been “a cocktail of arrogance and dismissiveness.” The New York Post blared, “Bill Belichick’s coaching tree has an alarming number of dead branches.” The Athletic jumped in on the pummeling by quoting an unnamed NFL executive calling for Belichick to be relieved sooner rather than later and labeling the Patriots’ descent from perennial contender to missing the playoffs “an indictment.” The theme of all these critiques is that Belichick’s demanding nature no longer works in the modern NFL, and that maybe he never really was that good.

This is unjust nonsense.

If it’s time to unpack Belichick’s legacy, then it’s also time to observe that the quality Belichick is blamed for now, his unwillingness to compromise and refusal to go with “the theme of the week,” as he once said, is the same one that made him for two decades, right up until 2021, a dynastic overlord whose only historical rivals are Don Shula and George Halas. Whose teams from 2000 through 2019 won a higher percentage of games than any other American franchise and racked up a 31-13 record in the playoffs, along with six Super Bowls. That guy was not a hidden bum, covered up for by great quarterbacking.

One of the reasons Belichick has been such an uncooperative cuss all these years with the press is that he deeply suspects the effect of popularity, and finds it … interruptive, corrosive. He’s an ingrained anti-elitist who, yes, has preferred to win with squads of thankless overstriving and underpaid “dependables” rather than superstars. That’s because he has always understood that football has far too many manifold dependencies to rest on one man’s arm or a genius headset.


And he’s lived out the consequences of that view of the game, for better and for worse.

Once, at an event, Belichick agreed to have dinner with Peyton Manning. When a limo pulled up at their hotel, Belichick got in the front seat with the driver, leaving Manning alone in the plush back while he chatted up the working man at the wheel.

At his best, Belichick’s teams had a mechanistic, comprehensive excellence that could not be attributed to the virtues of any one player, no matter how great Brady was. Example: During their run of dominance, the Patriots committed fewer penalties than any other team in the league. In 18 playoff games between 2011 and 2017, they were whistled for infractions at about a 25% lower rate than their opponents. Think about that. They were fully one-quarter better than their opponents operationally when it counted most.

The one time I talked to Belichick at any length about his philosophy he said this: “The No. 1 thing is unforced errors. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. They don’t even have to be out there. If you can’t do things properly without resistance from an opponent, you’re in trouble. Start with that. Once you eliminate things like penalties, turnovers, mental errors, you know, you just go out there and get a play called and run it the way you’re supposed to run it. Until then – until you can do that – there’s not much of a chance to win.”

It’s not a bad diagnosis of what’s gone wrong with these Patriots, a team that plays as if its shoelaces aren’t quite pulled tight. No play killed them against the Commanders more than a ticky-tacky offsides call when the Commanders were forced to punt with 2:29 to go, giving Washington a fresh set of downs. “It’s not on one person or one player, at all,” quarterback Mac Jones said later.

Sure, maybe Belichick’s manner is the main problem. But it seems far more likely that the Patriots are playing inconsistently simply because they’ve had a cycle of poor drafts that cheap unheralded sweat couldn’t make up for, coupled with an extraordinary amount of coaching staff churn. It’s not just that Brady is gone. They’ve shuffled coaches at several key positions since 2021, and two of their most superb teachers, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and running backs coach Ivan Fears, retired. It’s hard to maintain operational excellence with that much change.

Another possibility, of course, and one that can’t be discounted, is that Belichick could simply be more tired than he shows. But if that’s the case, don’t expect him to voice it.

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