Belichick assumes starring role in Patriots soap opera

Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard answers questions during a press conference at the NFL football team's practice facility in Indianapolis, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

As entertainment goes, big-league soap operas are light years ahead of anything TV has ever offered.

There are several common threads – heroes and villains, innocent victims and heartless scoundrels who occasionally get precisely what they deserve.

All of these assigned roles are, of course, determined by the beholders’ eyes. So here is one man’s take on “As the Patriots Turn.”

The main character is, as always, Bill Belichick. The GOAT of NFL coaches is in the eye of all Patriots’ storms, never more so than today’s.

Sunday evening, for reasons the world may never fully know, Malcolm Butler was benched for all but one special teams play. Presumably, Belichick benched him under the eternal coaches’ creed that says all players must obey the rules. Scofflaws must be punished, particularly the highest profile scofflaws.

In the modern era of professional sports, benching someone for a game that decides a championship is noble, in a quaint sort of way. It is also selfish, arrogant and hurtful to everyone in the locker room.

The Patriots had an opportunity Sunday to win their sixth championship. They lost because their defense was the most wretched to ever poison a Super Bowl.

This isn’t to suggest that Butler would have made enough difference to flip the results. Hypothetical conclusions are, as Belichick clearly agrees, a waste of time. And setting such disciplinary examples does have its place, even in the NFL.

But not when a team is playing one game with all the chips on the table. There are other forms of punishment available.

The other players, coaches and anyone else who works for the franchise – and the paying customers – were punished alongside Butler. Or we can take Belichick at his word and suppose that benching Butler was simply a football decision.

Either way, Belichick did not put his best team on the field Sunday. He sort of took responsibility for that poor call.

And maybe he is entitled to one, as those who proclaim “In Bill We Trust” each time someone dares question his judgment. What Belichick has done in New England for the last 17 years is unprecedented – or has there been another team that was a legit Super Bowl contender for such a stretch?

When a team scores 33 points on more than 600 yards of total offense, it should win – as long as the defense is minimally presentable.

It wasn’t. And they lost. If anyone from the Detroit Lions front office watched that defensive meltdown, someone should have called Matt Patricia a heartbeat after the final gun and said, “Sorry Matt, we’ve changed our minds.”

Which brings us to Josh McDaniels, who resigned as HC of the IC about 30 seconds before he was to officially become HC of the IC. With an introductory press conference scheduled for Wednesday, McDaniels let the Colts know Tuesday that he changed his mind and will stay in New England.

The Colts’ brass did some public whining. Saint Tony Dungy, the only Indianapolis coach to win a Super Bowl, did some self-righteous lecturing. Wielding a fully loaded water pistol, Colts General Manager Chris Ballard proclaimed “The rivalry is back on.”

The Indianapolis Colts were born in a puddle of sleaze. Robert Irsay loaded up the moving trucks and abandoned Baltimore under cover of darkness. When his son, Jim Irsay, apologizes to the people of Baltimore for his father’s gutless pursuit of money, we’ll consider some empathy.

Not to mention the living Irsay’s role in pumping up the greatest non-story in the history of -gates, causing no shortage of angst for Robert Kraft and his franchise’s fandom over the inflation level of footballs.

Kraft saved New England’s franchise by buying its ramshackle stadium, then buying the team to prevent its move to St. Louis. He eventually hired Belichick, left Coach Hoodie alone, and saw the Patriots soar to heights Rod Rust could never have imagined.

Alas, Kraft’s greatest interference may ultimately punctuate Belichick’s New England reign. If reports are to believed, Kraft allowed Tom Brady to talk him into ordering a trade of Jimmy Garoppolo, the GOAT’s presumptive successor. If Kraft actually ordered Belichick to ship out Garoppolo for a second-round draft pick, he is guilty of first-degree meddling, costing the Patriots a worthy successor to Brady.

Sadly, Brady would then be guilty of breathtaking selfishness. At some point, even the GOAT will start looking his age. No one, Brady included, knows when that will happen. The benefits of avacado ice cream only go so far.

And now the team has no safety net to let Brady’s demise happen gracefully.

Stay tuned for All About Gronk; is the best tight end in football ready to retire?

Alan Greenwood can be reached at 594-1248, agreenwood or @Telegraph_ AlanG.