Is stage set for Patriots coach Bill Belichick to trump Tom Brady's 2020?

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Tom E. Curran
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Curran: A rejuvenated Belichick seems set to make amends in 2021 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

There was a hop in Bill Belichick’s virtual step on Thursday.

Speaking with the media for the first time since the end of the season -- and on the eve of his 69th birthday -- we were getting the best version of the Patriots head coach.

The more than 20-minute session was low on “We’re just trying to make the football team better ...” responses and heavy on patient, careful answers that -- while not incredibly illuminating -- are appreciated because the guy’s a living legend and when he deigns to engage we all get smarter.

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Engaged Bill is not an outlier event. Even though we give outsized attention to Prickly Bill, Belichick’s 2020 tenor was about a 7.6 out of 10 during garden variety media sessions. He was predictably miffed after games in which Cam Newton needed to be benched and opposing offenses went through them like poop through a goose. But he was mostly fine in a unique year.  

Thursday, though, he was upbeat. And after getting beat up a bit for the last couple years, you can appreciate why. In a lot of ways, 2020 was a cleanse.

The six-year endgame that played out with his former quarterback and all that entailed was ... a lot. The financial machinations, the future planning, the “build vs. win now” balancing act, the constant, breathless scrutiny, the human elements, all of it topped off by Brady’s departure and then a pandemic during a rebuilding year? The period from November 2017 through this past January (February if you want to add Brady’s knife-twisting triumph in Tampa) had to have been Belichick’s Gethsemane.

Now? Roll back the stone, baby, Billy is back!

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“All those too-cute niche buys in the draft? All the cash and collateral launched into the wind to try and get Brady the toys the team needed? In one fell free agency swoop Belichick bought back the tight end position, upgraded the edge, helped the D-Line and maybe even got some wideouts. Donta Hightower’s back. So are the guys who Belichick really needs to keep the culture intact -- David Andrews, James White, etc.

He’s drafting 15th -- highest he’s been since 2008 when he got Jerod Mayo. He’s got a different crew -- Elliot Wolf, Dave Ziegler, Matt Groh and Matt Patricia -- working with him in a different way than when it was mostly Belichick and Nick Caserio doing the lion’s share of the “who’s it gonna be” conversing at the very end. He’s got his sons enmeshed in the program now. He’s got his health (far as I know).

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It’s all laid out in front of him at 69. He took the necessary lumps last year -- even acknowledged he knew they were coming. (From last October: “Because of our cap situation -- in this particular year, this is kind of the year that we've taken to, I would say, adjust our cap from the spending that we've had in accumulation of prior years.”) And now?

He’s probably got the same rejuvenated feeling his former quarterback did around this time last year. That Belichick’s birthday -- April 16, 1952 -- coincides with Brady’s NFL birthday -- April 16, 2000 -- is some beautiful synchronicity.

The best coach of all time and the best quarterback of all time on a never-ending loop of NFL birth and rebirth. Could it be that Belichick’s 2021 will mirror Brady’s 2020? At 69? Nice.