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Tucker’s Takes: Bill Belichick’s biggest miscalculation

Ex-Patriots offensive lineman Ross Tucker reflects on the importance of a QB to team psychology.

Sep 13, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick talks with quarterback Cam Newton (1) before the start of the game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.  David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

It might be Bill Belichick’s biggest miscalculation ever.

It cost him dearly last season and there’s a good chance it’ll hurt just as much this season.

No, it’s not his decision to allow Tom Brady to move on in general that I’m talking about; it’s much more specific than that. It’s the psychological edge on multiple levels that having a quarterback like Brady gives a team.

In an offseason with a tremendous amount of quarterback movement already, and perhaps even more to come, teams better be taking into account the mental advantage that certain quarterbacks can bring to the table that others simply cannot for various reasons.

Belichick is too smart to think that there wouldn’t be some repercussions within the psyche of his football team when letting go of the greatest quarterback the sport has ever known. What seems clear now is that he greatly underestimated them. If he truly knew the psychological impact that Brady’s presence brings to a team there’s no way he would have let Brady walk in the manner in which he did.

Having played in New England for parts of the 2005 and 2006 seasons, the best way I can explain psychological advantage #1 is that when Tom Brady is your quarterback you know you’re going to win the game.

It might be a close game late or even a contest in which you find yourself down by multiple scores early. Frankly, it really doesn’t matter. When you have Brady on the team you still know you are going to somehow win that game.

As a point of comparison, when I was in Buffalo, I thought we would win those same situations because we had a good quarterback in Drew Bledsoe. With other quarterbacks, who shall remain nameless (pretty easy for you to look up), I hoped they could find a way to get it done. We all did.

That doesn’t mean Brady’s team wins every game. They don’t, obviously. But in the moment, you believe with all your heart and soul that you will. There’s a big difference between that and either thinking or hoping you’ll win. The Bucs acquired that at the same time the Patriots lost it and the outcomes for both squads as a result were evident.

Psychological advantage #2 is more about accountability. I always mention during speaking engagements that Brady cared more about the center/QB exchange than any other quarterback I ever played with in my 18 years of football. For most, the snap is a mundane thing. It’s the boring, monotonous drill that you start practice with every day.

Not for Brady.

He wanted it perfect every time, even during spring OTAs, and he made that very clear by looking at me in the huddle when I was in at center and saying “great snap first, Ross, great snap first” pretty much every play and I felt a huge responsibility to deliver that to him and not let him down.

That’s really how the whole team feels when you have a guy like Brady.

I think Belichick believed his “Patriot Way” and the culture that had been built over the previous 20 years was the driving force behind individual accountability throughout the organization. My personal example is a good reason why that’s not the case. I didn’t want to have a good snap because of Belichick or the Patriot Way. I didn’t want to have a bad snap because I didn’t want to let down Tom.

And clearly, I wasn’t the only one.

“I think anyone who is jumping out of bed and your quarterback is Tom Brady, all of a sudden you’re a lot less likely to skip that workout or go with your girlfriend and go to the beach and skip your workout with the phone session,” Bucs quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen told The Tampa Times. “It just kind of brings the level of play up for everybody in the whole building. That’s players as well as the kitchen (staff) as well as the sports information department ― all those things, everyone tightens things up a little bit.”

“...I think Tom and Peyton (Manning, whom Christensen coached in Indy) have such a love and respect and hunger for the game that you don’t want to let them down.”

Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy said some of the players the Colts picked up from New England like Dan Klecko and Adam Viniateri mentioned the same thing.

“They said what Peyton did, it’s just like Tom,” Dungy said. “You had to be at a certain level. You can’t let down. He’s not going to let you. So, there’s that part of it that just impacts how everybody practices.”

The question in my mind is no longer what it means for the Bucs and the Patriots. I’m more curious about teams like the Rams and the Lions or the Colts and the Eagles.

Will having a veteran stud and the Super Bowl expectations that come with him in Matthew Stafford give the Rams a psychological edge that they just didn’t have with Jared Goff? Or does Stafford lack the requisite pelts on the wall to really make that kind of an impact off the field?

I don’t think either Carson Wentz in Indy or Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia have done enough to bring any sort of edge like that to the table right now, but I do think how they conduct themselves and, perhaps more importantly, perform on the field early in the season, could have a big impact on both the level of faith in and accountability towards them from their teammates the rest of the way.

Because that faith and accountability mean a lot more than some people realize.

Just ask Belichick.