By Gregory Hunt
In winning 11 AFC East Division titles in the 14 seasons he has coached the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick has been a master of consistency. The 2013 season marks the 13th consecutive year in which the Patriots have finished above .500. The next longest such streak in the NFL is a mere four seasons, held by the Green Bay Packers.
Naturally, the one consistent factor in this stretch of excellence is the presence of quarterback Tom Brady. Brady and Belichick have combined for 148 wins, more than any other coach-quarterback tandem since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970. The next closest pair is the Miami Dolphins tandem of head coach Don Shula and quarterback Dan Marino, who accumulated 116 wins during a 13-year partnership.
However, football is a team sport, so while having a franchise quarterback certain helps put a team in a position to win a lot of games, a head coach needs plenty of talent elsewhere on the field in order to be successful. This is why Belichick’s coaching job in 2013 is so remarkable. He led this year’s squad to a 12-4 record and a division championship in spite of an apparent lack of talent (yes, Belichick is responsible for selecting that talent, but it has long been the team’s philosophy to manage the salary cap by stocking up on a lot of mid-level players rather than blowing money on a few superstars).
Prior to the season, there were already questions about whether New England had all of the pieces of the puzzle necessary to contend for a championship. Due largely to free agency and injury, the team had lost its most dangerous weapons in wide receiver Wes Welker, running back Danny Woodhead and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. On defense, while the front seven looked sound, the secondary looked incredibly shaky. The roster was littered with rookies and undrafted free agents, and no one knew how well they would perform.
Things got worse over the course of the season as several key players ended up on injured reserve. New England lost two of its starting defensive lineman, Tommy Kelly and perennial Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork, and also lost its best linbacker, Jerod Mayo. This made a strong front seven considerably weaker. On offense, tackle Sebastian Vollmer was lost, as was Gronkowski again after he returned to play in seven games. Various other players, such as cornerback Aqib Talib and wide receiver Danny Amendola, missed games during the season although they avoided the IR list.
Yet, this team earned the #2 seed in the AFC playoffs, just one game behind the 13-3 Denver Broncos, a team they beat 34-31 in overtime at Gillette Stadium in November. For such an achievement, Belichick ought to receive serious consideration for NFL Coach of the Year, regardless of what happens in the playoffs. The Patriots earned a first-round playoff bye, so after the wild card round this weekend, New England will play the highest-seeded wild card winner on Saturday, January 11 at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots cannot meet the #6 seed San Diego Chargers, so they will face either the #3 Cincinnati Bengals, and #4 Indianapolis Colts or the #5 Kansas City Chiefs.
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Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on