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National Columnist

Belichick gets credit, but it's Brady who keeps Patriots winning

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Wes Welker is gone, and Bill Belichick is right. Time will tell it. History will show it. Belichick let another superstar go, and his New England Patriots will go about their merry way, winning 10 or more games in 2013 and getting into the playoffs and making a run toward the AFC title game. Maybe the Super Bowl.

Because Bill Belichick is right. He's always right.

But does he know why he's right? Do you think he understands that he's right, that the Patriot Way will continue without Welker as it continued without Deion Branch and Ty Law and Asante Samuel and Richard Seymour and Randy Moss -- but not because he's Bill Belichick?

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But because his quarterback is Tom Brady?

That's what I think, and it's what I've always thought, but until this Wes Welker thing I wasn't moved to write it. Tom Brady made Bill Belichick, and not vice versa. That's been my opinion for a long time, but it took this Welker thing -- this astonishing show of disloyalty and even disrespect for Welker -- to irritate me enough to write it.

Because I think Belichick really thinks he's the key to the whole thing. That it starts with him. That he's the tree producing the fruit, and that Wes Welker can fall off the branch and land in someone else's orchard and everything in New England will be fine because Belichick will just grow another one.

And up to a certain point, Belichick is right. He will grow another one. He just did. Welker is gone, and out sprouts Danny Amendola, and next year the Patriots will be fine. You'll see. As long as Amendola stays healthy -- and while that's a crapshoot with Amendola, it's a risk with everyone in the NFL -- the Patriots will have more than enough offense to win 10 or more games, go to the playoffs, aim for the AFC title game, maybe even get into the Super Bowl.

And when it happens, Belichick will think he did that. He chose to let Welker go because this team, his team, can win without Welker just as it won without Ty Law and Adam Vinatieri and Mike Vrabel and all those other players let go by Belichick. The Patriots win because the players aren't the thing. The system is the thing, which means the coach is the thing. That's how Belichick thinks, if you ask me. His confidence in himself is unshakeable.

And misinformed.

Brady is the key to the Patriots. He's the genius on this team. He's the drawing card, too. Danny Amendola is a Patriot not because Bill Belichick will be holding the whistle, but because Tom Brady will be throwing the football. That's my opinion, and I don't care what these guys say. Guys like Chad Ochocinco have openly begged to play for the Patriots by buttering up Bill Belichick, because that's how the game is played. Kiss Belichick's ass, and Belichick will consider you. Kiss Brady's ass, and you're pressing your luck. So players say they want to play for Belichick, and Belichick falls for it because he's inclined to believe in his own greatness, and everyone gets their wish: Belichick gets great free agents. Great free agents get to play with Tom Brady. The Patriots keep winning.

Look around the NFL. Which teams are winning free agency this offseason? Teams with great quarterbacks. The Seahawks. The Colts. Broncos. Patriots. That's not a coincidence. Players aren't stupid. You think free agents are flocking to Denver to play for John Fox, or to Seattle to play for Pete Carroll? Not me. I think they know the easiest route to the playoffs is to hitch their wagon to the right guy, and by "the right guy" I mean the right quarterback.

Peyton Manning wins huge, whoever his coach is. Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell, John Fox. Doesn't matter. Tom Brady has always won huge, and will always do so. Rookies Andrew Luck of the Colts and Russell Wilson of the Seahawks have a similar look about them, which is why free agents are signing with those teams.

Doesn't matter what side of the ball they play on, either. Defensive players know the truth: A team will go only as far as its quarterback, so it's best to sign with a team that has a winner at that position. Defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett hooked up with Seattle. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (and Welker) signed with Denver. The Colts got safety LaRon Landry and cornerback Greg Toler. The Patriots re-signed cornerback Aqib Talib and added safety Adrian Wilson (and Amendola).

Belichick isn't the magnet in New England -- Brady is. Belichick isn't the certifiable genius at his job; Brady is. Belichick has made plenty of good decisions over the years, sure, but he has also made some of the worst player personnel calls in recent years. Albert Haynesworth? Chad Ochocinco? Belichick wanted those losers. Asante Samuel and Richard Seymour? Belichick let them go.

Tom Brady made all of it work, turning Belichick's occasional chicken crap into chicken salad because he -- Brady, not Belichick -- is that good.

Belichick is good, too. I'm sure of that. Above average? Yeah, probably. He went 11-5 with Matt Cassel at quarterback in 2008 when Brady got hurt, staying focused and using overwhelming talent -- talent that was attracted to New England because of Brady -- to have another good season. Belichick is above average as a head coach, but great? I'm not sure he's great. He's never been great without Tom Brady, and I'm positive Brady is great. The individual numbers don't lie; Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.

And the greatest quarterbacks win huge.

They win Super Bowls, or in the case of Dan Marino, Jim Kelly and Fran Tarkenton they win a ton of games. Those are probably the three best quarterbacks in NFL history without a Super Bowl ring, but they were a combined 106 games over .500 in their career. Why? Because great quarterbacks win.

And great coaches are damn lucky to have them.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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