And the winner in Brady-Belichick divorce is: the QB

It’s time to declare a winner in the divorce between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the coach and quarterback who combined to lead the New England Patriots to six Super Bowl championships before splitting up this year.

And it wasn’t even close.

Since signing with the Buccaneers as a free agent, Brady has led Tampa Bay to a 9-5 record and the cusp of a playoff berth. The team he left behind was officially eliminated from postseason contention on Sunday with a 22-12 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

That means the Patriots (6-8) will be sitting home for the first time since 2008 and just the second since Belichick made Brady the starter in 2001. In those 19 seasons, New England won 17 AFC East titles — including the past 11 — along with nine conference titles and six NFL championships.

For Patriots fans who spent two decades debating whether the coach or quarterback deserved more credit for the dynasty, the split this year offered a chance to find out. And to borrow a phrase from Cam Newton: “No need to dwell on the obvious.”

In all, Belichick is 219-64 with Brady at starting quarterback and 60-71 without him, including a 36-44 record in Cleveland. This is his third season in New England without Brady at quarterback, and in those years the Patriots are 22-24, missing the playoffs all three times.

“You get used to being out there and playing and having the opportunity to do what every guy dreams of,” said defensive back Devin McCourty, who earned an AFC East title in each of his first 10 years in the league. “And to fall short is disappointing.”

Now the Patriots will have nothing to play for during the final two games. Belichick has indicated he will stick with Newton at quarterback rather than give 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham a tryout.

“I will be the first to tell you this year has been unacceptable in more ways than one,” Newton said on Instagram on Monday. “The standard has been and always has been set; and unfortunately we did not live up to what the standard was at all times.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The Patriots settled for a field goal four times after driving inside the Miami 30. But Nick Folk made them all. He is 25 for 27 for the year on field goals. (He did not get an extra point attempt Sunday.) After relying on Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski for much of his time in New England, Belichick has once again found a reliable kicker.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The Patriots gave up 250 rushing yards on Sunday — the most they have allowed since 2013 and the fourth most under Belichick. New England’s secondary has been one of its strengths, but there was no need for Miami to throw the ball with yards so easily gained on the ground.

STOCK UP

Don Shula. The former Dolphins coach is the NFL’s leader with 328 career regular-season victories, but Belichick (279) was gaining on him. In 19 years with Brady at quarterback, Belichick won 232 games. If he kept going at that rate, the hoodie would have passed Shula in about five years.

But if the Patriots go .500 from here, it would take Belichick six years. If six wins is the new standard, it would take him nine years; Belichick would be 78 by then. (Shula retired at 65 and even George Halas had hung up his clipboard before he turned 73.)

STOCK DOWN

Cam Newton. “Superman” has thrown for five touchdowns with 10 interceptions — the worst ratio for a starting quarterback in the NFL. On Sunday, he completed 17 of 27 passes for 209 yards and ran nine times for 38 yards more. He was also sacked on a last-ditch fourth down and had a fumble; it was returned for a touchdown, but the play was called back because the ball touched a player who was out of bounds.

INJURED

Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore left Sunday’s game in the first half with what was called a knee injury and did not return. Belichick provided no update on his condition on Monday.

KEY NUMBER

11 — Belichick had won 11 straight games against a rookie quarterback before Tua Tagovailoa bested him on Sunday. His record is now 25-6.

NEXT STEPS

If Newton isn’t the long-term replacement for Brady, who is? Stidham has shown nothing to indicate that he is the heir, so the Patriots will be looking for a new quarterback for the second straight offseason.

___

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