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For getting the Patriots back in the playoffs, Bill Belichick should take a bow

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 1/3/2022 Christopher L. Gasper
"You certainly want to be playing in the postseason," Bill Belichick said Monday, a day after clinching a postseason berth. "That’s the idea.” © Maddie Malhotra "You certainly want to be playing in the postseason," Bill Belichick said Monday, a day after clinching a postseason berth. "That’s the idea.”

Pound your chest, Bill Belichick. You proved playoff life after Tom Brady exists for you and this franchise. You stamped your playoff passport as Patriots coach without That Guy for the first time and accomplished it with a rookie quarterback.

There was no victory lap for Belichick following a no-doubter 50-10 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, Monday he allowed some satisfaction over his postseason return engagement.

Who would be the most desirable first-round playoff opponent for the Patriots?

“Definitely, yeah, absolutely. When you start the year, you want to be in the postseason, so the fact that we’re one of the playoff teams is obviously part of the goal,” said Belichick. “Long way to go … but you certainly want to be playing in the postseason. That’s the idea.”

Belichick went all in and against his grain during the offseason, drafting a quarterback in the first round for the first time — perfectly programmed Patriots passer Mac Jones — and backing up the Brink’s truck in free agency to rebuild on the fly after his first losing season since his inaugural one in New England, 2000.

It paid off. Belichick is back and back in the postseason. His brand equity reestablished, evidenced by players taking less money to play for him.

“Really just the culture,” said safety Adrian Phillips, explaining why he recently accepted a team-friendly three-year extension. “You do your job. You win games. You have fun going to the postseason. And being coached by somebody like Coach Belichick, who doesn’t want that opportunity?

“He’s the greatest coach in the game.”

Belichick made the restoration job look as quick and easy as his team’s romp over the Jaguars Sunday that, combined with the Dolphins loss at Tennessee, reinstated the Patriots’ playoff operating privileges, securing at least a wild card.

Belichick restored the faith after a 7-9 2020 season and a 2-4 start this season.

“We all kind of came in here with goals and aspirations to make it to the postseason,” said wide receiver Jakobi Meyers. “So, it wasn’t really a doubt of ourselves or like, ‘Hopefully, we’ll see if we can make it later.’ Even when we were losing, we had a feeling that we were a good team, and we had goals to reach and obtain.”

The dismantling of the 2-14 Jaguars delivered Belichick’s 19th playoff appearance and 20th season of 10 or more wins, both equalling Don Shula-held NFL records, although it’s debatable whether a win over this year’s Jaguars should count as defeating an NFL team. Sunday marked the 321st win of Belichick’s career, leaving the 69-year-old gridiron guru 26 wins shy of tying Shula’s all-time mark.

Sunday’s performance proved lucrative for Patriots receiver Kendrick Bourne

Video: Brady calls for help for AB after exit from Bucs (Yahoo! Sports)

Replay Video

Belichick’s CV vs. the JV Jags was an even bigger mismatch on the field than on paper. The playoff path of least resistance, thy name is Jacksonville.

The Mariana Trench depths of the ineptitude of the Jags and No. 1 overall pick QB Trevor Lawrence provided the perfect elixir for all that ailed the Belichick FC in two straight losses to playoff contenders.

By halftime, with the Patriots scoring touchdowns on all four first-half touches and leading. 28-3 (familiar?), the most intriguing and meaningful football for Patriots fans was happening elsewhere.

It was a great day to watch the Patriots in the red zone (6 for 6 on TDs) or to watch the Red Zone channel. New England was winning on both fronts.

Buffalo’s Josh Allen was melting down in the snow, throwing three interceptions in four attempts, cracking open the door to the division. The cherry on the Sunday sundae was Brady and the Buccaneers scuffling against the feckless Jets, facing a 24-10 deficit.

Alas, it didn’t all go the way of the Fightin’ Belichicks of Foxborough. The Bills rummaged through a few old drawers and found a run game to outlast the Atlanta Falcons. Brady summoned some of his trademark magic to avoid leaving MetLife Stadium marred by both an embarrassing defeat and the embarrassing end to Antonio Brown’s Buccaneers career.

Bumptious Patriots fans had to settle for simply celebrating returning to the playoffs instead of rejoicing in QB comeuppance for those who’ve dented Belichick’s reputation for omnipotence.

Chris Berman famously remarked that nobody circles the wagons like the Bills. Nobody basks in beatdowns of hopeless or undermanned teams like the Patriots.

Sensei Belichick had the Patriots playing Cobra Kai football: No mercy.

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Jones was flinging the ball around, inflating his stats like balloons at a birthday party. Up, 41-3, he was in the shotgun with 11:59 left, throwing deep to Kristian Wilkerson, another Belichick find, who caught four passes for 42 yards and two touchdowns.

The Hoodie loves hammering helpless and hapless teams. (Ask Joe Gibbs.) He finally pulled the plug with 10:53 to go, turning the game over to backup Brian Hoyer.

It’s a tribute to Belichick how rare it is for the Patriots to blow games against such hapless opponents. You don’t see his teams losing as the Cardinals did to the woeful Detroit Lions in Week 15.

The 2015 mortar-kick loss to the Eagles came to a team that was 5-7 and finished 7-9. The Miami Miracle in 2018 gave the Dolphins a 7-6 record.

You have to go back to the 2015 season finale when Belichick decided he was going to try to conjure a running game out of thin air and the aged legs of Steven Jackson and fell to a 5-10 Miami team.

Unfortunately, none of that success against inferior opponents matters moving forward, because the Patriots won’t see such football futility again. They won’t see Gillette Stadium, where they waxed the Jaguars and the Jets by a combined score of 104-23, again this season unless they beat Miami in the season finale while the Bills collapse against the J-E-T-S.

If Belichick is going to pick up his first playoff win as Patriots coach without TB12, he’s probably going to have to do it away from Fort Foxborough. But it would be wise not to bet against him in a rubber match with Buffalo or a matchup with young gunslinger Joe Burrow and a Bengals franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since the Paleolithic era.

As Belichick’s old boss Bill Parcells used to say, the Patriots are in The Dance.

If the rest of the NFL was hoping to tap-dance on the Patriots’ post-Brady grave, they’re out of luck because Belichick waltzed right back into the playoffs with a new partner.

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