Bill Belichick suffered his worst loss ever on Sunday. It couldn't have happened in a worse possible year.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, in significant comments that went largely overlooked in March, created the distinct impression that Belichick's ability to chase and catch Don Shula's all-time win record hinged on winning enough games to make the team competitive in the short term.
“You guys have posted a losing record two of the last three seasons . . . if that happens again, could Bill [Belichick’s] job be in jeopardy, or is he here to break Don Shula’s all-time wins record and beyond?” Kraft was asked at the league meetings.
“Look, I’d like him to break Don Shula’s record," Kraft replied, "but I’m not looking for any our players to get great stats. We’re about winning, and doing whatever we can to win. And that’s what our focus is now. And I -- it’s very important to me that we make the playoffs, and that’s what I hope happens next year.”
The answer was not, "Bill Belichick has won six Super Bowls. He will coach this team as long as he wishes." No, on the subject of the specific stat of wins, Kraft made it clear that the team needs plenty of those wins now. As in enough wins to get to the playoffs. Now.
Sunday's loss dropped the Patriots to 1-3. They've been 1-3 for three straight years. They were blown off the field by the Cowboys. Also, there's a very real rivalry between Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (who has a Hall of Fame jacket and bust) and Kraft (who has neither). Jones now holds bragging rights for at least two years, likely four.
Currently, the Krafts are not keeping up with the Joneses. The gap between the quality of the teams is enormous, and everyone saw it last night, as the appetizer to the Taylor Swift game.
In late June, Kraft made it clear that he would get satisfaction from only one thing: "Number 7." At this rate, they won't even get seven wins. At this rate, a "mutual parting" between the Patriots and Belichick feels like it is in the offing.
Really, what else can Kraft do but to start over? Belichick has had four seasons post-Brady. Belichick has been to the playoffs once without Tom Brady. Last year was a disaster. This year is shaping up to be another one.
It's unprecedented territory for any NFL owner. No coach has gone from being so great to so mediocre. But that's where the Patriots are. And no one cares much about championships that are now at least a half of a decade into the rear-view mirror.
As Jerry Glanville once said, the NFL means "not for long" — if you're not succeeding. Belichick currently is not succeeding. His past success only makes his present struggles more glaring.