MINNEAPOLIS — Conventional wisdom holds that Bill Belichick is the best football coach ever, and that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback ever, and that Aaron Rodgers is this year’s Most Valuable Player.
After watching the NFL playoffs this weekend, you have to wonder if only one of those three presumptions holds true.
On Sunday, Brady, playing with a bunch of reserve skill-position players, lost his best offensive lineman to yet another injury and led Tampa Bay to a 31-0 lead before coasting to a 31-15 victory over Philadelphia.
On Saturday, Belichick played the third playoff game of his career without Brady. He lost 47-17 to Buffalo, and it was 33-3 early in the third quarter and 47-10 before a late Patriots touchdown.
Brady’s career playoff record is 30-11 with Belichick and 5-0 without him.
Belichick’s career playoff record is 30-11 with Brady and 1-2 without him.
In the past two playoff games Belichick has coached without Brady, he is 0-2 while being outscored 76-26.
Brady won with an odd assortment of skill position players in New England, and now has the greatest quarterbacking résumé in the history of the sport. This year, despite Tampa Bay’s many injuries on offense, he led the NFL with 5,316 yards and 43 touchdown passes. He also ranked second in the NFL in QBR, behind Rodgers.
Brady excelled in the regular season the way he excelled Sunday — by using his intelligence and experience to read defenses and release passes so quickly that defenses had little chance to react.
Belichick is undoubtedly a great coach. He won a Super Bowl over a great Rams team when Brady was a young game manager, and he won a Super Bowl against the defending champion Seahawks by befuddling counterpart Pete Carroll, a great coach, in the final minutes.
What Belichick’s relative struggles without Brady suggest is that great quarterbacking is more important than great coaching.
Brady’s ability to excel no matter who is on the receiving end of his passes, and his remarkable durability and availability at the age of 44, also calls into question the presumption that Rodgers is this year’s MVP.
Rodgers’ statistical excellence, his QBR, his mobility and his remarkably-low total of four interceptions make him seem like the obvious choice for the award.
His willingness to remain unvaccinated, though, ruled him out of one game and endangered his teammates and other members of the Packers organization.
Brady got vaccinated and played in every game. If you think their performances were similarly impressive, vaccination status is a pretty good tie-breaker.
Brady’s ability to elevate Belichick’s career provides a reminder of what a lot of old-school football writers have argued for decades: The mark of a great coach is winning with a variety of quarterbacks.
Which brings us to Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells.
Gibbs won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks who are not in the Hall of Fame — Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien. He also won Super Bowls with three different running backs — John Riggins, Timmy Smith and Earnest Byner.
Gibbs should get extra credit for having to make a smaller playoff field while competing in the same division as Parcells.
Parcells won two Super Bowls — with Phil Simms and Jeff Hostetler at quarterback, and Joe Morris and the aged Ottis Anderson as featured backs.
Parcells and Belichick shutting down a stunningly talented Bills team to win Super Bowl XXV, 20-19, might be the most obvious example of coaching genius in NFL history. Parcells also took over a Jets team that went 1-15 in 1996 and two years later had Vinny Testaverde playing quarterback and holding a 10-0 lead in Denver in the AFC Championship Game, before the Broncos rallied and went on to win the Super Bowl.
Until the recent rise of the Bills, Belichick had an easy time in the woeful AFC East. Gibbs and Parcells spent their primes vying for the same division title.
That might have been the best coaching rivalry in league history, because neither coach was dependent upon a great quarterback.