In a 24-hour period between Sunday and Monday, we watched the NFL’s response to the Soviet Union come to an inevitable end.
In Las Vegas, Raiders players lit cigars and celebrated a 30-6 victory over the New York Giants in an Instagram Live session – cheerfully blowing smoke into a camera lens as if the Berlin Wall was directly above the toppled one Head coach Josh McDaniels collapsed . Across the country, the New England Patriots had already suffered a home loss to the Washington Commanders earlier in the day, and coach Bill Belichick was about to host a media conference Monday that would address questions about his job security. Belichick acted stern and generally disdainful of it all, but the exchange felt like a once-powerful dictator who could be overthrown at any time. And somewhere between those two coaches, benched Raiders quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo maneuvered silently beneath it all, representing one last mothballed relic of a fading New England ideology.
This all felt like the end of the “Patriot Way,” the greatest and most poorly replicated corporate doctrine in NFL history that is now just scraping the dust.
Over the course of six titles and decades of dominance, we’ve occasionally wondered what the collapse of a joyless but remarkably successful philosophy would look like. Now we know: It would involve the failure of one last franchisee; with the quarterback who never replicated Tom Brady’s magic losing; and the head of the monarchy faced open questioning about the increasing failures of his throne.
Ultimately, the epitaph – focused through the lens of history years from now – will be a singular conclusion: The Patriot Way was really just that Brady Away. And proving this reality will be a simple matter of subtraction. Remove Brady and the championship calculus collapses. You can apply it to organizations, coaches, players and even many of the personnel executives who laid the foundation for the Patriots’ titles. Brady was forever New England’s prime number. Lasting organizational and individual success was only divisible by Brady and the number 12.
It’s been three and a half years since this equation failed for the Patriots. A host of assistant coaches left the nest only to fail. A number of HR workers were looking for new horizons and striving for a plan that only led them to unemployment. And New England’s quarterback position? It’s no closer to grooming a capable Brady successor than it was when he walked out the door after the 2019 season.
The collection of records speaks for itself when it comes to the history books – from Belichick’s extremely average resume as a head coach without Brady to his assistant coaches’ repeated failures after his departure to… Garoppolo’s a special season in a decade (I repeat: he had one special season in 10 years) – but it’s worth at least taking a quick look at each one as we announce the end of The Patriot Way.
Invoice? He’s a bottom line “what have you done lately” “results” guy, so we’ll just stick with that mantra and give it without any frills. His regular-season coaching record with Brady as the starter in New England was 219 wins and 64 losses (a win rate of 77.4 percent). His regular-season coaching record with the Patriots since Brady left? 27 wins and 32 defeats (a win rate of 45.8 percent). The Patriot Way didn’t change when Brady left. Nor was Bill’s influence on the organization. But the quarterback position did – apparently taking Bill’s golden touch with it. And for those who like to argue, “Every great coach is a function of their quarterback.” The guy Belichick is chasing for the all-time winning record, Don Shula, has increased his success with six (six!) starting quarterbacks in 33 years as a head coach: Johnny Unitas, Earl Morrall, Bob Griese, David Woodley, Dan Marino and Scott Mitchell.
Conversely, Brady was the primary starting quarterback in 18 of Belichick’s 20 winning seasons in New England. In that time, Brady made crucial plays that changed playoff games, covered for a multitude of poor draft picks on offense, somehow managed to survive two decades of Belichick’s cheerless demeanor, and had to endure constant debate about who ” “most responsible for the success” … despite demonstrable evidence that Belichick’s assistants (whom he was most responsible for grooming) repeatedly left without Brady and fell miserably behind. The simple truth is that Belichick’s track record flourished when he had a second head coach at quarterback — not to mention one capable of making up for his draft and free agency mistakes. That was the true Patriot Way. And it only worked if Brady moved both up and down the organization.
A fact we should have seen with McDaniels, whose career coaching highlights were Everest-like with Tom and a deep Taco Bell parking lot without him. A man who told Yahoo Sports in 2022 that he wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes from his failed Denver Broncos era then somehow managed to turn the Raiders’ locker room against him in fewer games than his previous disastrous stint as head coach . A Palace coup so complete that when this weekend’s locker room celebration was broadcast live, owner Mark Davis also took part in the celebration. In the entirety of NFL shootings, you’d be hard-pressed to find a scene where players are smoking cigars like they’ve just won the lottery and the owner is bouncing around next to them after cashing in his winning ticket.
Of course, McDaniels isn’t the first. What many people don’t remember is that he’s not even the first failed Patriot Way disciple to get a second chance… and that second chance also fails and burns. Eric Mangini failed as a head coach twice, with the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns. Romeo Crennel was also with the Browns and the Kansas City Chiefs. After that trio, it was pure bloodbath for Belichick’s Patriot Way assistants. Joe Judge won 10:23 against the New York Giants and ended with a revolt. Matt Patricia? He was 13-29-1 with the Detroit Lions and was reportedly loathed in the locker room. Bill O’Brien is touted as a success story, but he endured a rollercoaster ride with the Houston Texans that ended badly, and there were locker room disagreements between him and former Patriots manager-turned-Texans Jack Easterly. Charlie Weis? Floped at Notre Dame and Kansas. Brian Flores? The most memorable part of his tenure with the Miami Dolphins was attempting to replace Tua Tagovailoa with Deshaun Watson and subsequently filing a lawsuit against the team and league for discriminatory practices. And Brian Daboll? He got the Giants out of the ditch in 2022 and then drove them right back into it in 2023.
Is there a common denominator between all of these coaches and Belichick? Almost all of them had significant quarterback issues and no Tom Brady to cover.
All of which brings us to Jimmy Garoppolo, who may truly be the nicest, most locker room-friendly guy to catch a few strays in this final reckoning of “The Patriot Way.” To Garoppolo’s credit, there isn’t a long list of people he’s ever accused, insulted, or thrown under the bus. All in all, he was always a good teammate who just did what he could when he got on the field. Arguably his biggest infraction in all of this was simply having someone put him in the back of Brady’s head during his three years with the Patriots. He had talent. He had skill. And early in his career, it wasn’t clear how physically fragile he was. All of this fueled Belichick’s enduring notion that Brady was a player who, like every other star on the Patriots’ roster, could be replaced at some point if the time warranted. Garoppolo was not responsible for this performance. But he’s lived under a version of that throughout his career.
When he moved to the 49ers, it was assumed that Garoppolo brought two things with him: the ability to at least challenge Brady in New England and the focused attitude of having been The Patriot Way for three seasons. Both were undermined by Garoppolo’s average arm strength, questionable decisions under pressure and general inability to be a consistent player. Had he stayed in New England and eventually replaced Brady, he would have been an unmitigated disaster by Belichick’s expectations. Even his success in San Francisco, which was basically just the 2019 season, looks good, but not great, in retrospect. But it was McDaniels’ grab at him in Las Vegas — trying to recapture The Patriot Way with a quarterback who had experienced it — that threw Garoppolo back into the gravity of a dying star. He didn’t ask for it. Maybe he didn’t want to. But when he joined the Raiders, he must have known he would sign up for it again. Especially given the pedigree of the Patriots head coach and front office. And the results, for both Garoppolo and the staff, were predictable. Maybe even as simple as trusting history rather than indulging in the still-futile hope that this is the case This time it will work.
After Sunday, it should be carved in granite and placed in the lobby of every NFL franchise: The Patriot Way as a championship formula not Work without Brady. It has never worked without Brady. It doesn’t matter how many head coaches or quarterbacks you throw at it. It’s a square wheel, an airplane without wings, a submarine with screen doors. It’s a design that doesn’t even work for the architect who invented it in New England.
Which brings us to a conclusion. The most successful monolithic culture in NFL history is dead. The last remnants are falling. We now know that the Patriot Way has always been the Brady Way. Often imitated, never duplicated. And since Sunday it’s finally over.