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Patriots, Bill Belichick part ways: Memorable, viral moments from legendary coach’s 24 seasons in New England

Jan. 11, 2024 will now forever be a date remembered in New England sports history: the day the Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick parted ways. While the term is oftentimes overused, it is truly the end of an era, one that the NFL probably will never see the likes of again. For the bulk of Belichick’s 24 seasons as the leader in Foxborough, the Patriots enjoyed unprecedented success, including all six of the franchise’s Super Bowl titles. 

Mixed in between Lombardi Trophies and duck boat parades came some of the greatest coaching moments and decisions that the league has ever seen under Belichick. As the Patriots depart from their franchise icon, let’s take a look back at some of his more memorable coaching moments/decisions in New England. 

Brady over Bledsoe

Given that Tom Brady became the greatest player in the history of the sport, it might sound crazy that there was ever a debate to play him over someone else, but that was absolutely the case in 2001. After Drew Bledsoe was ready to return from a sheared blood vessel in his chest from that infamous hit from Mo Lewis, Belichick ultimately decided to stick with the then-second-year quarterback in Brady. That decision was as polarizing as it gets, especially considering that Bledsoe had just signed an NFL-record 10-year, $103 million contract back in March of that year. 

Belichick split the reps between the two quarterbacks leading up to the Week 10 matchup against the Rams — who they’d eventually beat in Super Bowl XXXVI — and ended up losing the game. It was after that contest Belichick decided to give the full reps to Brady, start him for the remainder of the year and the rest is history, proving to be the most pivotal decision the organization has ever seen. 

End of Super Bowl XLIX 

The end of Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks was a coaching masterclass by Belichick. Of course, we all know that Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson at the goal line on a play the Patriots specifically practiced leading up to that Super Bowl. That alone makes this an all-time moment during Bill Belichick’s tenure, but not calling a timeout just before that iconic play was legendary.

As Belichick noted in the “Do Your Job” documentary about the 2014 Patriots, he thought about taking the timeout, but something about how the Seahawks were operating on their sideline told him to keep the timeout in his pocket and not bail them out with a clock stoppage. He then told his staff to simply play goal line, Butler entered the game in the package and pulled off one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history. 

Playing the wind

Belichick always had a keen eye for the elements and how they impacted a given game. That was on full display in a 34-31 overtime win over the Denver Broncos on “Monday Night Football” at Gillette Stadium in 2013. The head coach made the unorthodox call to kick off and give the ball to Peyton Manning’s offense rather than take the football with a chance to win the game after winning the coin toss. After the game, Belichick noted that he preferred to have the wind given the gusty conditions in Foxborough that day. 

“The wind, it was a strong wind,” Belichick said at the time, via NFL.com. “We just had to keep them out of the end zone, obviously. I just felt like the wind would be an advantage if we could keep them out of the end zone on that first drive. We were able to do that. The wind was significant in the game, it was definitely significant.”

Denver couldn’t move the ball in those conditions, the Patriots got the football back and Stephen Gostkowski nailed a game-winning field goal. 

‘We’re on to Cincinnati’

The Patriots were fresh off a blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs to fall to 2-2 on the season in 2014, which sparked questions about whether or not the New England dynasty had come to an end. There were even questions, with Jimmy Garoppolo sitting as the backup quarterback, if a change under center was possible, which Belichick scoffed at. Then, during Belichick’s midweek press conference, he responded to essentially every big-picture question about the organization with “We’re on to Cincinnati.”

That became a rallying cry throughout the region, especially after the Patriots proceeded to beat the Bengals 43-17 that following week and eventually win the Super Bowl. 

Hurry up in Super Bowl XXXVI

This is one that I think Belichick doesn’t get enough credit for. As masterful as Tom Brady was during the final drive of Super Bowl XXXVI, it was a gutsy call for Belichick to even allow the offense to try and push for what proved to be the game-winning field goal. Hall of Fame coach John Madden said on the broadcast that the Patriots simply should have played for overtime, but Belichick had trust in his quarterback and it ultimately resulted in the franchise’s first title.

Malcolm Butler’s Super Bowl benching

One of the most mysterious moments from Belichick’s tenure that has still largely gone unanswered was Butler’s benching in Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles. After his heroics in Super Bowl XLIX, Butler had become an All-Pro-caliber cornerback within Belichick’s defense and had played 98% of the defensive snaps during the 2017 regular season. However, in that eventual loss to the Eagles, Butler did not play a single defensive snap, triggering questions about a potential team punishment. Neither side truly revealed the genesis of what caused the benching, but the Patriots secondary allowed Nick Foles to pass for 373 yards and three touchdowns in the loss. That led to an outcry of second-guessing around the head coach and is still one of the more talked about decisions from his tenure.

Releasing Lawyer Milloy

Belichick, who also served as the team’s general manager, wasn’t shy at making bold personnel decisions and moving off popular players. That was evident in 2003 when the Patriots cut star safety Lawyer Milloy. Instead of looking to deal with Milloy, Belichick simply cut the then-29-year-old to eliminate his salary cap hit. That decision made waves throughout New England’s locker room, especially after Milloy signed with division-rival Buffalo and helped beat the Patriots in Week 1 of that season, 31-0. However, Rodney Harrison was able to come in after being acquired that offseason and proved to be a key piece in multiple championships. 

Fourth-and-2

In today’s NFL where going for it on fourth down is much more commonplace, Belichick’s decision to keep his offense on the field in a 2009 matchup against the Colts in Indianapolis may not even be front-page news. However, it was a hot-button issue back then. In the final minutes of that game and leading 34-28, Belichick went for it on his own 28-yard line. Brady completed a pass to running back Kevin Faulk, but was driven backward and was ultimately short of the line to gain. Just three plays later, Peyton Manning and the Colts would score and hit the extra point to squeak a 35-34 victory away from the Patriots. 

Nike, the draft expert

One of the more viral moments of Belichick’s tenure came during the 2020 NFL Draft, which had to be conducted remotely due to the pandemic. While the league couldn’t get together in person for the draft, it did lead to the public debut of Belichick’s dog Nike, who the head coach made it seem like was running the draft board for New England over the weekend. 

‘Mona Lisa Vito’ 

The Patriots were caught up in the Deflategate saga while also preparing for Super Bowl XLIX. The allegations that New England deflated footballs during the AFC Championship against the Colts that year took the league by storm and led to Belichick holding a press conference regarding the situation just before the team departed to Arizona. It was during that presser that Belichick inexplicably made a “My Cousin Vinny” reference while explaining that he had no idea about the alleged deflating air pressure out of the footballs for that game. 

“I’m not a scientist. I’m not an expert in footballs. I’m not an expert in football measurements. I’m just telling you what I know,” Belichick said at the time. “I would not say I’m Mona Lisa Vito of the football world, as she was in the car-expertise area.”

Belichick was not personally punished for any wrongdoing in this saga, but the Patriots were forfeited multiple draft picks and fined $1 million while Tom Brady eventually served a four-game suspension.

‘Candy and costumes’

Who would have thought Belichick was a big Halloween guy? NFL Films followed the 2009 Patriots around for a documentary, and one of the more lighthearted moments from that came via a conversation between Belichick and receiver Randy Moss, who invited him and the rest of the coaches to a Halloween costume party. Belichick not only showed up, but dressed up as a pirate. 

“It’s a great holiday,” Belichick said. “Candy and costumes, how could you beat that?” 

SnapFace

In case you didn’t know, Bill Belichick is not exactly a social media savant. In fact, he outwardly despises it so much that he refuses to learn any of the platforms’ names. 

Back in 2011, he famously mashed MySpace and Facebook together. 

“I don’t Twitter, I don’t MyFace, I don’t Yearbook,” Belichick said at the time. “I don’t do any of those things, so I’d probably be the last to know.”

That continued throughout the years with Belichick saying things like “My Face, YourFace, and InstantFace” which always drew a laugh among those, ironically, on social media. Leading up to the AFC Championship in 2016, he was asked about comments made by Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin about their matchup to which he answered, “Not on SnapFace, not too worried what they put on InstaChat.”

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