Bill Belichick has twice won the AP Coach of the Year Award. In 2003, when his team went 14-2 and won Super Bowl XXXVIII, and in 2007, when the Patriots went 16-0 before being upset by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
But as Week 17 of the 2010 NFL regular season comes to a close, I would argue that this year, with the Patriots finishing 14-2 and the best record in the NFL, may be one of his finest jobs coaching since 2000, when he first arrived in New England.
And it's not just because of his 14-2 record.
According to Wikipedia: "The National Football League Coach of the Year Award is presented annually by various news and sports organizations to the NFL head coach who has done the most outstanding job of working with the talent he has at his disposal."
Going into the 2010 season, most believed the Patriots were going to have a bridge year—a transition year in which not much is expected. Las Vegas had the Patriots' over/under at nine-and-a-half games, meaning the bet was they would likely not exceed 10 wins.
Belichick entered the season with the youngest defense in football after he lost veteran starters Ty Warren and Leigh Bodden, and he lacked veteran leadership in the secondary. He's lost at least eight starting players to injured reserve and one due to suspension.
Yet, his coaching philosophy of plug 'em in, coach 'em up, get 'em ready to play, has never been more evident than during this regular season. Consider some of these key injuries and how his team was able to overcome them with success:
CB—Leigh Bodden, IR, replaced by Kyle Arrington, who helped hold then-Vikings' receiver Randy Moss to one catch for eight yards. Returned a blocked field goal by Patrick Chung 35 yards for a touchdown against Miami in his second career start
RB—Kevin Faulk, IR, replaced by Danny Woodhead, who was signed by the Patriots on September 18th, four days after being cut by the Jets. His 36-yard run against the Colts helped close a big win. He is also the first Patriots player to have 60 or more rushing yards and 50 or more receiving yards in the same game since Dec. 31, 2006, when Corey Dillon had 67 rushing yards and 59 receiving yards at Tennessee.
K—Stephen Gostkowski, IR, replaced by Shayne Graham, who made three field goals in blinding snow against the Bears. He also made a season-long 41-yard field goal and connected on all six extra points he attempted against the Jets.
G—Nick Kaczur, IR, replaced by Dan Connolly and started in place of Logan Mankins and Nick Kaczur. He also started at right guard in place of the injured Stephen Neal against the Steelers (11/14), Colts (11/21), Lions (11/25) and Jets (12/6). Connolly helped the Patriots become the first team in 2010 to record over 100 rushing yards (103) against a stingy Steelers defense, including a 17-yard rush by BenJarvus Green-Ellis that was the longest run by any player against the Steelers this season.
S—Brandon McGowan, IR, replaced by James Sanders, who made a game-saving interception and clinched a Patriots victory against the Colts when he picked off a Peyton Manning pass at the Patriots' six-yard line with the Patriots up by three with 31 seconds left in the game. The interception was Sanders' second in two weeks. He also contributed seven tackles in a start at defensive back against the Colts.
G—Stephen Neal, IR, replaced by Logan Mankins and selected to the Pro Bowl after only playing in eight games with the No. one ranked offensive in the NFL.
LB—Brandon Spikes, suspended four games, replaced by Gary Guyton, who had a key fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown and an interception versus the Chicago Bears. He also tallied eight tackles against the Colts.
DE—Ty Warren, IR, replaced by Brandon Deaderick, who made his first NFL start and was credited with his first career sack, after chasing Joe Flacco out of bounds on second down, setting up a third-and-9 that the Ravens did not convert and had to settle for a field goal (10/17). Also recorded five tackles.
CB—Jonathan Wilhite, IR, replaced by Darius Butler, a former starter who had a pass deflection versus a potent Bears offense. He also started and registered seven tackles against the Jets.
So here's where Belichick really deserves some extra credit and separates himself from any other Coach of the Year candidate.
Belichick is the one who selected Devin McCourty at corner and saw the potential Defensive Rookie of the Year selected to the Pro Bowl in 15 games. It was he who also picked not one, but two rookie tight ends that combined for 16 touchdowns and made Tom Brady's life a heck of a lot easier.
He also pulled off three trades by shipping out Randy Moss and bringing back Deion Branch, who led all wide receivers on the Patriots in receiving yards (in 12 games) since joining the team after Week Four. He never should have left the team to begin with.
Belichick also traded Laurence Maroney after Week 1 to the Denver Broncos in exchange for a 2011 fourth-round draft choice to give more playing time to an undrafted free agent named BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who all but rushed for over 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns. He's the first player on the Patriots to rush for over 1,000 yards since 2004.
Now, combine that with coordinating a young, inexperienced defense, the No. 1 ranked offense in the NFL, six players chosen to the Pro Bowl and a team now selected by some as a favorite to represent the AFC and advance to the Super Bowl. What you come up with is a Coach of the Year.
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