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December 11. 2013 10:28PM

Belichick’s magic act worthy of honor

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Police walked up the front steps of Aaron Hernandez’ North Attleboro home in June, whisked the then-Patriots tight end away in cuffs and later charged him with first-degree murder.

That day, and in the immediate aftermath, one of the qualities that makes Bill Belichick perhaps the best in the business shone through.

His ability to deal with adverse situations and galvanize his team lessened the aftershocks of the Hernandez mess.

It’s just one of the many reasons why he should win the NFL Coach of the Year Award for 2013.

As we’ve seen, and continue to be reminded, no team handles distractions better than the Patriots.

During Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns, amid a season already rocked by season-ending injuries to so many front-line players, Belichick had one more thrown onto the fire.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski, the team’s ultimate game-changer, was lost after suffering a season-ending knee injury.

The Patriots watched Gronkowski get carted off the field, then staged a stirring comeback. They didn’t fold up the tent trailing by 12 points with two minutes to play.That’s largely because their coach didn’t flinch. While some might criticize the team’s lack of readiness in the past three games (the Pats fell behind by large margins in all three), what does it also say if the team refuses to quit week after week? Especially a team that would have every reason to throw in the towel, given all the players lost to injury.It’s a credit to the players’ mental toughness and resolve, but it also goes back to living by the coach’s mantra, playing until the final whistle and not wanting to upset the guy in the hoodie.

“He never flinches,’’ veteran defensive end Andre Carter said of Belichick. “He’s cool, calm and collected. It’s bend but don’t break, but I don’t even think he bends. He just embraces (the adversity). He’s just so good at making decisions and making adjustments. I’ve learned so much being in this organization and just being around him.’’

Belichick has been running the show in Foxborough for 14 years, and no one seems to have tuned him out. His bark still has plenty of bite.

And his ability to make adjustments will be tested in a major way for the rest of the season without his difference-making tight end.

The Patriots are 10-3, and while Tom Brady makes it all work on the field as the master magician, overcoming any and all obstacles (and deficits), Belichick remains the ringleader and orchestrator.

Beyond the Hernandez saga, the Pats have endured the early-season absence of Gronk, as well as season-ending injuries to Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Tommy Kelly and Sebastian Vollmer. And don’t forget the fallout from not re-signing Wes Welker.

Through it all, the coaching staff and players have held firm and kept their focus. When it comes to Belichick, all that matters is winning the next game.

“He has this calm. It’s a calm. He doesn’t hear too much outside talk,’’ Mayo said. ‘’If stuff happens such as injuries, he doesn’t panic. He makes sure everyone’s on the same page. He sets a lot of short-term goals. We don’t talk about the long term. We talk about the here and now. I think that’s been good for the team.’’

While some of his decisions during games can be called into question, there aren’t many coaches who would have had the nerve to take the wind instead of the ball after winning the overtime coin toss against the Broncos and Peyton Manning on the field with a chance to win the game.

That’s another reason why Belichick’s special. He doesn’t worry about what the critics are going to say. Right or wrong, he does what he thinks is best.

If that means plugging in street free agents to replace Pro Bowlers, which has been his solution on the defensive line, so be it.Belichick has won Coach of the Year on three occasions (2003, 2007, 2010). The Pats went to the Super Bowl in two of those seasons, but they might not have even been his best coaching jobs. There have been quite a few others, from the first year the Pats won the Super Bowl (2001) to 2008, when the Pats were 11-5 without Brady. And now there’s 2013, with a long list of problems to overcome. This year, for all he’s navigated, he deserves Coach of the Year. It’s among his best efforts, if not the best.Former Patriots fullback and current NFL analyst Heath Evans believes Belichick might be hurt in the race because half the credit for the Pats’ success goes to Brady. Ultimately, you still can’t overlook the accomplishment.

“If they manage to win two of the last three, sitting at 12-4, he might walk away with (the award) because they’ve overcome so much,’’ Evans said. “Just go back to the injuries. These are players that can’t, as in capital can’t, be replaced.

“These are talents that the Patriots have one of a kind. Hernandez is a once-in-a-generation talent. There is no other Aaron Hernandez across the league. The players he’s lost and has managed to move around, they’re All-Pro-caliber players. It’s nuts. It’s absolutely nuts what he’s done.’’


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