So Bill Belichick has his signature 2020 moment for social media now: throwing down his sideline phone during the New England Patriots’ blowout loss to the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football. You can watch it over and over in 7-second gift-wrapped clips. That’s the beauty of social media.
Temper tantrums are funny, and this one made an all-time great coach, who has spent 20 years pretending to be nonplussed by his own undeniable greatness, look like the old Looney Tunes character Yosemite Sam.
Yes, there is satisfaction in watching Yosemite Bill get hoppin’ mad.
But if you really want to enjoy the moment of the Patriots’ collapse, it’s better to let it linger. Savor it a little. This isn’t a 7-second thing. Belichick has humiliated the Bills for two consecutive decades. Why else do you think that on Monday, with the nation watching, the Bills decided to run the score up on him?
It was 38-9 for the Bills, who did a three-hour touchdown dance on Belichick, took ownership of his division and gave him his worst loss ever as Patriots’ coach. It was his biggest margin of defeat in a New England home game. And ESPN’s Brian Griese said a few times that Belichick had told him he wasn’t buying into the hype of Bills quarterback Josh Allen as MVP.
Then, Allen threw for 320 yards and four touchdowns on Yosemite Bill. And the Bills, mercifully, took Allen out in the fourth quarter because he really wasn’t needed anymore.
Wow, what a moment. What a night.
There was also that creepy, computer-generated ESPN graphic of Belichick, harkening to the movie Love Actually, showing up at Tom Brady’s door with a bunch of cue cards to express his love:
“Since you left, Tom,’’ said Belichick’s first card. The others went on to talk about the lost run of 10-win seasons and consecutive division titles and playoff appearances. CGI Brady, in Keira Knightley’s role, then shut the door in Belichick’s face.
Belichick is 68 years old now, and the Patriots are 6-9. He’s not exactly going to go down as a broken man. But you take what you can get when one unlovable, joyless person gets a little too much and doesn’t mind using his smugness to rub it in.
The truth is that the NFL isn’t built for prolonged dynasties. There are salary cap issues and the bad teams get the early draft choices, meaning first dibs on potential superstars. Eventually, stars get big contracts and you sort of have to dismantle and develop at the same time.
Belichick always had a way of taking other teams’ failed projects and getting a lot out of them in his system. This time, he let old Tom Brady go to Tampa Bay and picked up Cam Newton to be his quarterback.
It just didn’t work. Newton isn’t any good anymore. He threw for 34 yards Monday. And it’s hard to understand why Belichick keeps playing Newton when young QB Jarrett Stidham sits on the bench, never showing if he might be any good.
It seems as if Belichick is just stubbornly insisting that Newton is not a failure, is not evidence that Belichick’s genius or system isn’t working this time.
But now, Belichick just looks like so many coaches around the league: a coach without a quarterback. You search desperately for one and end up getting a guy who has shown flashes of very-goodness and hope that he can be great.
And then he isn’t.
For so ridiculously long, nothing could break through Belichick’s greatness. Not Spygate, when he recorded the Jets’ signals. When the Houston Astros did it, there were lengthy suspensions. When Belichick did it, he went on to win NFL coach of the year and got back to the Super Bowl.
The deflated-ball thing to help Brady didn’t really stick, either.
Belichick just kept beating the system and acting smugly while doing it. Until this year.
Including his years as coach of the Cleveland Browns, Belichick now has a losing overall record and one playoff appearance in eight years without Brady. With Brady, he got to nine Super Bowls. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is going back to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.
Last week, Belichick got obstinate with the media again, declining to answer questions about whether Newton would remain the quarterback. On the radio, he complained that he’d been asked that question every week and wasn’t going to talk about it anymore.
When you’re winning Super Bowls, that’s fine. When you’re 6-9 and out of the playoffs, ESPN is mocking you and Buffalo is running up the score, it just makes you look like, well, Yosemite Bill.
Anyone would gladly take one bad 7-second video if it came with two decades of dominance. Belichick’s reputation will survive, but it’s not going to be easy for him to figure out how to get the Patriots back to being the Patriots.
“All right, all right,’’ Yosemite Sam once said. “Don’t rush me. I’m a thinkin’. . . And my head hurts.’’