Beware of a jilted Bill Belichick.
With many eager to declare the Patriots’ season dead on arrival, retired two-time Pro Bowl safety Rodney Harrison said his former head coach is fired up to prove the team can win without the Greatest of All Time Tom Brady under center.
“(Belichick) might bring up a couple articles … everybody saying it’s over, Brady this, Brady that,” Harrison told the Boston Herald on Tuesday. “Of course he’ll say something about that. But at the end of the day, whether he makes the point or not, he knows the team will be motivated to prove they can win without Tom.”
Brady, 42, departed for warmer pastures in Tampa this offseason at the outset of free agency, leaving Belichick with the uphill task of rebuilding a dynasty with a significantly less talented quarterback corps at his disposal.
“It’s not just talk, not with the Patriots. It’s a chip you carry in the weight room, you carry in the film room, in the dining room, you carry at home watching extra film, it’s a chip that motivates you,” said Harrison, 47, who played alongside Brady from 2003 to 2008 and won two Super Bowls (38 and 39) as a member of Belichick’s squad.
Rebuilding from scratch won’t be easy, even for the seasoned 67-year-old coach, who currently has 23-year-old Jarrett Stidham — the largely untested Auburn product who was selected in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft — atop the QB depth chart. The Patriots added journeyman Brian Hoyer and undrafted free agents Brian Lewerke of Michigan State and J’mar Smith from Louisiana Tech, but did not make a move for any of the top-tier free agents due in part to salary cap constraints.
“Stid worked really hard last year,” Belichick said back in May. “He was our backup quarterback the entire season, and I know he’s working hard in the offseason.
Since entering the league as the Patriots’ sixth-round pick of the 2000 NFL Draft, Brady has thrown for 74,571 regular season passing yards, 541 touchdowns and 179 interceptions and has a 63.8 completion percentage. In that span, he and Belichick enjoyed unprecedented success and advanced to the playoffs in 17 of 20 seasons, accruing nine AFC Championship wins and six Super Bowl wins.
The new and unfamiliar Brady-less era in New England will also begin to answer the nagging question of whether Brady’s success was a byproduct of Belichick’s system — or vice versa. Belichick’s lone head coaching gig prior to the Patriots was with the Browns from 1991-95. He and the team went 36-44 through five seasons before he was fired in 1996.
“It’s motivating for people to say you can’t win without Brady,” Harrison added. “I know I would be pissed. … So these guys are going to be motivated, pumped up and ready to go.”