Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Belichick the Head Coach
A shortened preseason following the labor dispute led Belichick to install a more conventional base 4-3 defense and a slimmer playbook for his 2011 roster. The early results were shaky, giving up an average of 369 yards passing over the first four games.
Over time, the team grew in confidence and their consistency from week to week earned them a reputation for mental toughness, which Belichick put down to the maturity and hard-working nature of his players.
The emergence of tight end Rob Gronkowski as a genuine superstar—surpassing NFL single-season yardage and touchdown records for tight ends—elevated the offense to almost unstoppable heights, while contributing to a 36 points per game average across the final eight regular-season wins.
A fifth Super Bowl appearance in the Belichick era surprised many who dismissed the Patriots defense as lacking in talent. Key performances by Vince Wilfork and Sterling Moore in the playoffs proved that the unit was capable of making plays in pressure situations.
Belichick the GM
The end justified the means. Many questioned Belichick's sanity after releasing a boatload of experienced members of the secondary.
Brandon Meriweather, James Sanders, Darius Butler, Leigh Bodden and Jonathan Wilhite were all discarded, with career special-teams talent such as James Ihedigbo, Sergio Brown and Antwaun Molden taking their place.
Even wide receiver Julian Edelman finished the season as a two-way player, taking crucial reps at the cornerback position down the stretch.
The effects were at times downright ugly. By conceding 4,703 yards in pass coverage, the 2011 Patriots were statistically the second-worst defense in NFL history.
Belichick's new signings took the best part of a season to settle in, but the unit was transformed in the playoffs, forcing 3-and-outs and playing with a drive and urgency previously unseen.
Free agency delivered Mark Anderson, Andre Carter and Brian Waters to New England, all of whom were pivotal in the team's success. They outweighed the mistakes made in recruiting busts Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco.
Another solid draft appears to have secured the future left tackle for the franchise in Nate Solder, along with potential core contributors in the backfield with Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen.
Belichick's impact on the 2011 roster was felt in a number of ways. His impact as a coach and a motivator took the Patriots to within a couple of plays of their fourth Lombardi Trophy, while managing the disruption of a major roster overhaul.