This was the easiest piece Jeff has ever assigned me!
Seriously, though. The Patriots are back in the Super Bowl for the eighth time in the Brady/Belichick era, and unless the Eagles play absolutely lights out and/or Brady gets legitimately injured and Hoyer has to play, they’re likely going to be lifting up their sixth Lombardi. Love them, hate them, every single football fan would kill to have their team be even half as successful as the Patriots have been these past 16 seasons. So with that in mind, what lessons can our beloved Chicago Bears take from the Patriots as they seek to build their own winning franchise?
1. Consistency is Key
In the 16 years they’ve been paired together as starting QB and head coach, Brady and Belichick have:
- Made it to the Super Bowl 50% of the time.
- Been 1st in their division 14 of 16 seasons.
- Only missed the playoffs twice, and one of those years Brady was out for the entire season.
- Never had a losing season.
Now it’s impossible to say exactly what their career trajectories would’ve looked like had they never been paired together (obviously Belichick already had success as a coach pre-Brady, and Brady is clearly the GOAT), but you can pretty much guarantee they wouldn’t have achieved this insane level of greatness separately.
While Brady and Belichick have remained constant, the team has gone through a slew of players, coordinators and assistants on both sides of the ball while seeing no dip in their success rate. That’s because Belichick has kept the same system in place on both sides of the ball. This is something the Bears (and really every team) can learn from. Keep the two most important pieces (head coach and QB) together for as long as possible, and keep the system intact while others come and go.
2. Be Bolder
On the Patriots’ first possession against the Jaguars Sunday they converted a 4th-and-2 from Jacksonville’s 31-yard-line instead of settling for the field goal, with Brady completing a 21-yard pass to Danny Amendola.
Granted a few plays later the Jags defense made a stop and forced them to settle for that field goal anyways, but still. It was the first drive of the AFC Championship Game and Belichick wanted to go for more. The Patriots understand the importance of grabbing the momentum early, and Belichick trusted his offense to make the play.
Throughout the 2017 season the Patriots had the fourth highest conversion percentage on 4th down. (The Bears, if you were wondering, were ranked 23rd.) Obviously there is a lot more involved in being bold than simply going for it on fourth down, and there is a fine line between boldness and stupidity, but the Bears were painfully, excruciatingly conservative under John Fox, and it robbed Trubisky and other young, developing players of the opportunity to gain the valuable learning experience by being more aggressive. We have to hope that with a new offensive-minded coach, more offensive weapons, and a talented young quarterback with a year of professional football under his belt, the Bears will play a bit more fearlessly.
It won’t always work out the way they want (just as it doesn’t for the Patriots), but as Michael Scott wisely said:
3. Take Away The Opponents Best Weapon
“If you’re a blitzing team, he’s going to come up with things to take away the blitz. If we’re playing them, he’s not going to let Marvin Harrison have a 200-yard day. You know that — but you don’t know how.”
That was former coach and current analyst Tony Dungy in a USA Today article discussing why the Patriots have continued to dominate under Belichick. Now this might seem like really obvious advice, and something that most all teams try to do, but the Patriots do it better than anyone else in history of the league. The last few years the Bears seem to be a team that lets non-weapons dominate them (See: Hundley, Brett / Gabbert, Blaine). The Chicago Bears need to learn how to dictate. They need to identify their opponent’s biggest weapon, shut it down, and dare the opposing team to find another way to beat them.
Now the Patriots haven’t had a whole lot of adversity on the field these past 16 years, but they’ve had their share of bad losses that caused the media to ask “IS THIS THE BEGINNING OF THE END FOR TOM BRADY” (Spoiler alert: No. It never is. Dude will probably be playing into his 50s….)
Remember their blowout loss to the Chiefs on Monday Night Football in 2014? They lost 41-14. Brady threw for just 159 yards and two interceptions, before they decided to put in Garoppolo. They had also lost 33-20 to the Miami Dolphins in the season opener. They were 2-2 and had everyone thinking this was the year Brady was finally starting to lose it. What did they do the rest of the season, you ask? Oh, not much. Just finished out 10-2, won their division, and beat the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
Great teams find ways to win when they’re struggling. They don’t let a bad game spiral into a bad season. The Bears on the other hand have struggled to shake off disappointing losses, closing out the last few seasons especially meekly. All teams, hell all athletes, have bad moments, and even though I expect the Bears to improve dramatically in 2018, more than likely they’ll still hit a rough patch or two. It’s how they respond that will really show us what kind of team they’re becoming.
5. Adjust and Adapt
Things weren’t looking great for the Patriots for much of the first half on Sunday.
After scoring on their first drive the Jaguars defense shut the Pats offense down, while putting together two strong, extended touchdown drives in a row. It was 14-3 and a lot of America was thinking “Holy shit. I think Blake Bortles might actually make it to the Super Bowl!”
A few stupid penalties, and Brady being Brady, let the Patriots sneak in a touchdown right before the half, and they went into the locker room only trailing 14-10.
What did they do after halftime?
They adjusted their game plan. They ALWAYS adjust their game plan.
Their defense came out, found new ways to pressure Bortles, and completely shut down Leonard Fournette. Their offense (sans Brady’s favorite target Gronk) was able to protect their QB, and they made some big plays at the right times. The Patriots are flexible, adaptable, and Belichick is a genius at making in-game adjustments. If you were watching, you undoubtedly heard Tony Romo say that very thing about twelve times. Tony Dungy agrees. From the same USA Today article mentioned above:
“They do a great job of getting the players to adapt and understand that they can do different things. Those kind of situations, they don’t bother them. He’s the best adjustment coach in football, in adjusting to the strength of his players and masking the weaknesses of their team.”
The Patriots defense sucked at the beginning of the year: Matt Patricia came up with a solution. They lost Julian Edelman for the entire season: They worked without him. They lost Tom Brady in 2016 for the first four games: They went 3-1. Hell, even when they lost Brady for all of 2008 and missed the playoffs they still managed to go 11-5 with Matt Cassel!
The Patriots work with what they’ve got. They problem solve. If something isn’t right, they find a way to fix it. The Bears drove each and every one of their fans crazy with boredom this season with the same predictable, unimaginative offense. Run, run, pass. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t working. It didn’t matter that literally every defense knew exactly what they were going to run. They just kept doing it. They didn’t adjust, they didn’t adapt, and they didn’t know how to respond when Plan A stopped working.
Granted a lot of you are probably thinking that the Patriots can only do all these things because of the immense talent around them, and in some ways you’re right. They have the GOAT QB and the GOAT head coach. You can’t just replicate that overnight.
But you can adopt a more aggressive, more creative mindset.
You can be bolder, and try new things.
You can look at what works for one of the greatest franchises in modern football history, and see what you can learn from them, and apply it to your game plan.
It sure as hell couldn’t hurt to try.