Belichick's Coach of the Year honor worth debate

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Belichick's Coach of the Year honor worth debate

By TomE. Curran
CSNNE.com

DALLAS --Bill Belichick's beennamed NFL Coach of the Year for the third time. He joins Chuck Knox and four-time winner Don Shula as the only coaches to be honored more than twice. Voting was done at the end of the regular season before the Patriots' faceplant against the Jets in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Would voters minds' have changed if the voting was done now? Probably. Hours before the award was announced, I spoke with a handful of folks who cover a lot of NFL. None of them would have picked Belichick thanks to the Patriots one-and-done season. "Based on the regular season, I would say Tampa Bay's Raheem Morris," said Mike Florio, owner-operator of Pro Football Talk.com. "Seeing as we're in the postseason, I'll say Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin. Belichick's near the top if you just factor the regular season, but if you don't and you look at the playoffs, it's another playoff loss for the Patriots and that's three straight. "Raheem Morris is a guy I like because he did a lot with a little," added Florio. "Even though they didn't make it to the postseason they had 10 wins in a tough division with a lot of young guys. They got the most out of what they had and Raheem Morris gets the credit for it. With Bill Belichick, 14-2 is nothing to sneeze at, but losing three straight postseason games is something that's alarming and that's got to stick to the coach at a certain level." Andrew Siciliano, host of DirecTV's Red Zone Channel, was a Morris guy as well. "With Raheem Morrisand the number of rookies Tampa Bay had,how little money they spent -- how far under thecap they would have been if there was a cap? -- that was a great job," said Siciliano. "You had an undraftedrookie at running back LeGarrette Blount. You had a kid who got kicked out of Syracuse catching all your passes Mike Williams. You had a second-year quarterback Josh Freeman and no one came to their games. They were blacked out almost every single week. Nobody came to their games and they did this in one of the toughest divisions in football. I think he absolutely deserves consideration." All year-end award decisions are subjective, whether it's MVP, Comeback Player of the Year or Coach of the Year. But for some reason, extra love is normally given to the coach who takes over a crap team and gets them halfway decent. Since 1991, only two coaches have won the Super Bowl the year they were named COY (Dick Vermeil, Rams, in 1999 and Belichick in 2003). Two coaches got to the Super Bowl and lost the year they were named COY (Belichick in 2007 and Dan Reeves, Falcons, 1998). That would lead one to conclude that sustained coaching excellence is less valued than renovation jobs. Or that the presumption exists that coaches of winning teams have better players and hence should win. Pat Kirwan of NFL.com and SIRIUS NFL Radio said, "I think there's a tendency to want to pick the hot guy that came out of nowhere. All the young kids did do great jobs this year. Belichick was in the middle of a youth movement and we really didn't recognize it because he was winning. "Philadelphia's Andy Reid has to be considered," Kirwan added. "The bold move of moving on from Donovan McNabb and putting his faith in Michael Vick? We also start to ignore the guys who get to these games. Green Bay's Mike McCarthy and Mike Tomlin. Tomlin to be without his quarterback at the start of the season, now back to his second Super Bowl in three seasons. The fact he really replaced a legend in Bill Cowher. But at the end of the day, I think Mike McCarthy's been building something for a while. He's got 15 guys on IR. Mike McCarthy's my guy." The Patriots weren't a classic renovation job in 2010. They were a 10-win playoff team in 2009. But the team went through a massive transformation in concrete and abstract ways, to the point where they were far and away the best team in football during the regular season. The fact they started four rookies on defense, two at the tight-end spots and had castoffs at running back was only part of the story. The jettisoning of Randy Moss -- the last and biggest move made by Belichick to recapture a team that had gone soft -- was a watershed moment. It took a lot of guts. And it worked. Voters recognized that. But one of them wanted a mulligan. Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News said, "I picked Bill Belichick. It should have been Mike McCarthy.McCarthy lost 91 games by starters and he's still playing in the Super Bowl. That's 19 more games lost by starters than anyother team. And there's only three teams since 2000 that lost more games by starters in a season and none of them finished above .500. To lose 91 games to starters and still be in the Super Bowl? They lost a Pro Bowl running back Ryan Grant, they lost a guy they thought would be a Pro Bowl tight end Jermichael Finley, they lost the leading tackler on a top-10 defense last year Nick Barnett. They lost a lot and they found a way to get through it, and that's coaching."So what was his rationale on Belichick? "Everybody thought the thing was gonna fall apart when they traded Randy Moss. It didn't. It got better . . . I think a lot of times Belichick gets overlooked because he's expected to win. But he remade his team on the fly. He changed the whole character of the team trading Moss and going to those two rookie tight ends," said Gosselin.
"I think there are a lot of good candidates. I would have considered the Rams' Steve Spagnuolo. You got a rookie quarterback Sam Bradford and you lose your top receiver Donnie Avery in training camp and you go into the final game of the season with a shot at a playoff spot?"The "games lost by starters" point by Gosselin -- who took the time to compile the full list -- is a great one. The Colts were theteam hit second-hardest by injury (72 games lost). The Panthers were at 69 and the Patriots were at 62. The Falcons led the NFL with onlynine games missed by starters. The Jets, it's interesting to note, had just three games missed by offensive starters, according to Gosselin. Belichick also won in 2003 and 2007. Arguably his best coaching job ever came in 2001, when he led the upstart Patriots to their first Super Bowl win. Belichick had 30 of the 50 votes (including mine). Morris had 11.5. Chiefs coach Todd Haley had 4.5. The Bears' Lovie Smith, the Falcons' Mike Smith, Spagnuolo and Reid received a vote apiece. Tom E. Curran canbe reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Brady, Harbaugh found common ground on plane ride back from Michigan

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Brady, Harbaugh found common ground on plane ride back from Michigan

FOXBORO -- What could have been an awkward plane ride for Tom Brady and John Harbaugh was made less so thanks to a high school lacrosse player. 

Brady and Harbaugh shared a private plane back from Michigan where Jim Harbaugh and his University of Michigan program put on an event for National Signing Day. About a year earlier, Brady told a room full of reporters that Harbaugh and his coaching staff should study the rule book and "figure it out" after hearing that they were pretty upset about the unusual formations the Patriots ran during their AFC Divisional Round win over Baltimore. 

They may not have been on the best of terms.

"I was pissed off," he told ESPN's Ian O'Connor before the start of this season. "It was uncalled for. And the rules are deeper than that, and I know the rules, and I stand by why that play shouldn't have been allowed. ... So yeah, that should never have been said."

But on the flight was Harbaugh's daughter Alison, a high school lacrosse player. When Brady took some time to share a few thoughts on competitiveness with her, he and Harbaugh found common ground.

"We had a lot of fun," Harbaugh said of the flight. "I don't know if he's talked about that at all, but we ended up sharing a plane ride along with my daughter and a couple of his people, friends of his. We just had a chance to just talk for a couple hours. And really more than anything, Alison got a chance to listen to Tom Brady talk about competing and what it takes to be great at what you do.

"And one of the funny things about it was, he was so nice to her. He gets off and they go, and we get back on the plane and we're talking, and she says something like, 'Boy, Tom really is a nice guy.' And I look at here and go, 'Tom?' I'm thinking 'Mr. Brady' would have been more appropriate. She said, 'He said to call me Tom.' I got a kick out of that.

"It was good. Lot of respect for him and a lot of respect for what he's accomplished. He's very tough to compete against. The best quarterback that's played, certainly in this era, without question in my mind. That's how I would rank him. And it's just another tough challenge to have to play against him."

Friday Bag: What’s the Patriots' future at running back look like?

Friday Bag: What’s the Patriots' future at running back look like?

Every Friday Tom E. Curran, Mike Giardi and Phil Perry will take your Patriots questions (Curran is sitting this one out) on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as they call it. 

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag.

MG: Q leading off my portion of the always popular, always exciting, always (occasionally?) informative #FridayBag. I think it would be easy to think that way from the outside looking in, or knowing how callous some organizations can be, but I just don’t believe that to be the case here. Players talk. Agents talk. Hell, coaches talk. If the Pats were to operate that way, it would get around the league in a heartbeat. Then why would someone want to play here knowing they’ll be treated even more like a disposable commodity then normal? The flip side to this is actually protecting the player from himself. Guys in the last year of a deal sometimes feel compelled to play through every damn thing so they can at least say “look at me, I’m a warrior!” And on that note, I’d sit Marty Bennett next week in Denver and probably the following week against the Jets if that will help the ankle and whatever else is ailing him heal to the point where he’s a hell of a lot more effective than what we just saw versus the Rams (He was awful). Bennett’s too valuable going forward. 

MG: Lisa, my understanding is teams nominate their player and then it goes to a panel (one that includes the NFL Commish) to decide who wins for the league (It was Anquan Boldin in 2015). Can’t quibble with Rob Gronkowski being the team’s nominee this year. People have no idea how much he does for the community. Heck, we don’t even know the extent of it, but the great Don Rodman of Rodman Car Dealer fame and one of the most incredibly charitable individuals to ever grace this area said that there are few if any athletes who devote more time and effort to charitable works/foundations. I hope he wins. It would mean a lot to Gronk.

MG: You never figured you’d have to worry about the offense, did you Steve? But the season-ending injury to Gronk and now the injury to Danny Amendola does concern me. Both of those guys are incredibly reliable 3rd down targets, and in Gronk’s case, he’s usually the first or second option on 3rd down. Bennett hasn’t been able to pick up the slack because he’s clearly not healthy either. That means the Pats and Josh McDaniels will be going through a trial and error period here to best determine how to improve that number and become more efficient. I suspect more will fall on Julian Edelman, but also look for the continued evolution of the two back set with James White and Dion Lewis.

MG: Ambrose, the Pats have remained incredibly committed to the run because they don’t want to find themselves in the same spot they were a year ago, when the run game was so pathetic that neither Miami in the regular season finale nor Denver in the AFC title game paid it one mind. That means rushers pinning their ears back and smashing into Tom Brady at rates no one is comfortable with. So while I won’t be surprise if Brady throws it 45 times, I don’t think they shelve the ground game, at least in the first half. 

MG: Ok Bunk, I stole a comment of yours for the mailbag. Trying to make you famous…yes, I stand by my tweet in which I stated the Ravens and Broncos are bigger threats than the Chiefs or Raiders. Oakland’s defense would give up 40 to Brady. 45 if the Pats needed it. Or 50. I’m dead serious. As for the Chiefs, Alex Smith is not coming into Foxboro and beating this team, even with some of it’s defensive issues. And Belichick will make damn sure that rookie Hill doesn’t get many cracks at touching the football in the return game. Oh, and now the Chiefs best linebacker, Johnson, is out for the year with an Achilles. Should I continue???

MG: History tells us no, David. Brady would throw a fit and argue that he needs to play to remain sharp or iron out this problem or that problem. There’s also the possibility of a bye week looming, meaning he’d go 3 weeks without actually playing in a game. Seems like a good idea in the sense that you don’t risk a 39-year old to a blindside shot, but neither he nor Belichick would ever go for it.

PP: The running back position might be the toughest to project moving forward because there are so many injuries there and there are so many backs who come from nowhere to earn significant roles. I'll say this though: The backs they have on the roster -- not including Brandon Bolden, who has turned into strictly a special teamer after having a difficult time holding onto the football this year -- don't seem to be slowing down. LeGarrette Blount just turned 30 but is in the middle of his best season. Dion Lewis looks strong after two surgeries. James White has taken his game to a new level in his third season. I could see the same group coming back next season, but given the volatility of the position, you know the Patriots will always be scouring for talent there. 

PP: Tom E. touched on this yesterday, Big Wally. Brandon Pettigrew, who was released by the Lions on Friday, might make sense. Otherwise, there's not a whole lot out there. Zach Sudfeld? He's available. Would be an unlikely reunion, but desperate times . . . I think the Patriots will continue to roll out Martellus Bennett at less than 100 percent. I think Matt Lengel could see more work as a blocking tight end as he becomes more familiar with the system. I think we'll see more Cameron Fleming, and we could see more two-back sets with no tight ends. In my opinion, Bennett could use a rest, but I don't think it's coming any time soon. As far as Sarge's question about the hurry-up, I'm not sure we'll start to see more that. It's possible, but one of the benefits with the hurry-up is to keep a defense from substituting to shift matchups in its favor. With Gronkowski or Bennett on the field in a hurry-up situation would have even further highlighted the matchup issues they present. If either one found himself with a slow linebacker on him, the Patriots could have rushed to the line and continued...to exploit...that matchup. Without Gronkowski and without Bennett at full strength, the advantage of the no-huddle is somewhat sapped.  

PP: It's so late into the season, I'm not sure there's much in the way of opportunity for a breakout game this week, Paul. I guess the obvious choice would be Griff Whalen. If he can give the Patriots a pair of sure hands as a punt-returner, that would be a significant enough add that I might qualify it as a "breakout." Bill Belichick made it clear this morning that the team views him as more than just a returner, though, so he could see some offensive snaps in four-receiver sets and provide the Patriots with a presence in the slot. I'd deem a four-catch, 50-yard performance as a "breakout" as well. To me, that's the range of his ceiling for this week. One other name as a potential "breakout" candidate? Justin Coleman. He could be used defensively after being inactive for the last three weeks due to Eric Rowe's hamstring injury. If he's able to help slow down the combination of Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Steve Smith, that'd be a breakout in my book. 

PP: The combined record of opponents they've beaten is actually 26-57-1, including the Browns 0-12 mark twice, but now it's out there. 'Preciate you, Dave!

PP:  There's still so much up for grabs in the AFC West that it's hard to determine the likelihood of Patriots playoff matchups and where those games will be. However, without getting into the nitty gritty details, I'll just point out that it's still possible that the Patriots end up on the road in either of these cities in the postseason. On the road, Denver is the tougher matchup. Always has been a brutal place for the Patriots to play, and Denver's defense is still good enough to cause them problems. At home? I'd say, of these two teams, Kansas City would be the one that would provide the Patriots with a slightly tougher test. In my mind, they're a little more balanced and I have more faith in Alex Smith to make plays than I do Trevor Siemien.