They are two of the most successful coaches in the NFL, survivors in a young man’s game who continue to do some of their best work as they approach the age of 70.
When Pete Carroll, 69, and Bill Belichick, 68, face off Sunday night as the Seahawks host the Patriots in Seattle, it will set an NFL record few might have ever imagined, given their previous head-coaching struggles decades ago. According to the NFL, their combined age of 137 years and 162 days will be the oldest combined age of two opposing head coaches in league history.
The staying power for Belichick and Carroll is astonishing, especially when you consider that neither man was projected to last this long or perform this well when they had problems as head coaches in the 1990s.
Belichick was a gifted assistant under Bill Parcells during the Giants’ Super Bowl runs in 1986 and 1990, but he was a highly unpopular coach in Cleveland, where he released iconic quarterback Bernie Kosar and was the target of fierce criticism from fans who never truly warmed to him.
Belichick was fired by Art Modell after the 1995 season, when the team moved to Baltimore He rejoined Parcells, first with the Patriots in 1996 and then with the Jets from 1997-99. Parcells’ plan was to elevate Belichick to the head-coaching position in 2000, but Belichick famously left the team by scribbling on a napkin the words "I resign as HC of the NYJ." He announced his resignation at the most stunning news conference imaginable and joined the Patriots for what would turn into a Hall of Fame run that continues today.
Carroll had a solid run as the Jets’ defensive coordinator under Bruce Coslet, but his head-coaching career got off to a disastrous start. He was fired after just one season with the Jets in 1994 and lasted just three seasons with the Patriots after replacing Parcells. But he found his footing again during a terrific run at USC from 2001-09 and developed into a Super Bowl-winning coach with the Seahawks, whom he has coached since 2010.
Carroll led the Seahawks to the first championship in franchise history in Super Bowl XLVIII and was seconds away from winning back-to-back titles before his disastrous decision to have Russell Wilson throw a pass near the goal line instead of giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX. Wilson’s pass was intercepted on the goal line by Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler and New England ran out the clock for a 28-24 win.
Sunday night’s game is just the second meeting between the two coaches since that fateful game; the Seahawks beat New England, 31-24, at Gillette Stadium in 2016.
But with neither coach showing any inclination to retire, there might be more matchups down the road.
Which coach will outlast the other?
"I don’t know. Ask [Belichick]," Carroll said this week.
"I’m feeling great," he added. "I’m kind of on a five-year plan. Five years from now, I’ll figure it out and reassess. I actually owe that to [author] David Brooks. Something he wrote, ‘Why are you looking year-to-year? Why don’t you just plan it out over a five-year period?’ So each year is five more years. So it was five years last [year] and it’s five years this year and we’ll figure it out when the time comes."
Belichick never offers a glimpse into his future, although he simply hasn’t slowed despite being in his 46th consecutive season as an NFL assistant or head coach.
This season clearly presents his biggest challenge since Tom Brady became the Patriots' starting quarterback in 2001. Belichick is looking to start over with Cam Newton and a rebuilt defense that lost nearly half its starters, who opted out of the season because of the coronavirus.
Sunday night will provide a terrific test of just where the Patriots are, because Seattle looks very much like a potential Super Bowl team. Wilson is at the top of his game, coming off a four-touchdown performance last week against Atlanta. And with Jamal Adams joining an already good defense, the Seahawks will give Newton all he can handle in this hugely important early-season matchup.
Belichick-Carroll again. Can’t get enough of this.
And who knows? Maybe they’ll keep coaching long enough for Carroll to get a shot at atoning for that fateful decision near the goal line six years ago.
No excuses, no explanations for Gase
Former Jets coach Herman Edwards often used an expression he learned early in his coaching career to serve as a guiding principle.
"No excuses, no explanations," he’d tell his players and coaches.
Excellent words to live by.
Adam Gase ought to heed them.
The current Jets coach faces several challenges, including injuries that have left him without running back Le’Veon Bell, wide receiver Jamison Crowder and a handful of other players who figured to be key contributors this season. But if Gase is truly the brilliant offensive mind that team owner Christopher Johnson thinks he is, the second-year coach will have to figure out how to make things work with what he’s got.
The Jets will play the favored 49ers on Sunday in their regular-season opener at MetLife Stadium, and while the 49ers come in as the defending NFC champions, they aren’t without their own issues. Their best cornerback, Richard Sherman, is out. So is their best tight end, George Kittle.
The 49ers are the better team even without Sherman and Kittle, but Gase must find a way forward to lift his team. He seemed all too eager to use the fact that the Bills had a terrific defense as a major reason for his team’s offensive malaise in last week’s 27-17 loss in Buffalo. And he made note of the 49ers’ defense also being an upper-echelon unit.
But that’s who’s on the schedule, and that’s whom you deal with in a given week. You don’t look ahead to lesser opponents thinking that’s where you’ll find some wins. You match wits against the coach and the team in front of you, and you get the most out of your team.
If you’re overmatched, so be it. But if you bring out the best in your team — even if you lose — you’ll be rewarded down the line.
No excuses, no explanations.
There’s hope in Cincinnati . . . finally
The Bengals’ 0-2 record doesn’t reflect it yet, but there finally is some hope in Cincinnati.
No. 1 overall draft pick Joe Burrow already is showing the kind of grit, determination and skill that the Bengals have needed.
The former LSU quarterback put his team in position to send the regular-season opener against the Chargers into overtime, but Randy Bulluck missed a 31-yard field-goal attempt.
Cincinnati lost to the Browns, 35-30, on Thursday night, but Burrow again showed why he finally might be the Bengals’ salvation.
He threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns, making an otherwise dreary matchup against the Browns into a must-watch game.
For now, Burrow isn’t enjoying the moment, even if Bengals fans believe they have a franchise quarterback at last.
"Losing isn’t very fun," Burrow said afterward. "This might be the only time in my sporting career that I have lost two games in a row. It doesn’t feel very good."
There certainly will be more losses in the weeks ahead, but if last year’s Heisman Trophy winner and national championship quarterback keeps playing like this, he may give the Bengals what they haven’t had in years: hope.
DeAndre the difference-maker
Former Patriots and Chargers safety Rodney Harrison, now an NFL commentator for NBC, suggested a few days ago that the Texans’ trade of All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins might make Houston’s offense better. The thinking is that quarterback Deshaun Watson will have a more balanced attack because he wouldn’t rely solely on Hopkins in pressure situations.
But it may take some time for that vision to materialize, because Hopkins’ absence in Houston and his presence in Arizona already made a huge difference — for the Texans and the Cardinals. Houston lost to the Chiefs, 34-20, in Week 1; the Cardinals shocked the defending NFC champion 49ers, 24-20, at Levi’s Stadium. Hopkins had a monster day against the 49ers with 14 catches for 151 yards, and Kyler Murray threw for one touchdown and ran for another.
Slayton catching on
One of the biggest shortcomings on the Giants’ 2020 roster is the absence of a true No. 1 receiver, something that became an issue with last year’s trade of Odell Beckham Jr.
Or has the answer been hiding in plain sight?
Darius Slayton certainly wasn’t counted on to fill that role when the Giants made him a fifth-round pick out of Auburn in 2019. In fact, Slayton had about as inauspicious a debut as you can imagine, as the 6-1, 194-pound receiver dropped several passes in his first rookie minicamp. It only reinforced the questions about him coming into the draft, as some scouts felt ball security and inadequate route-running ability caused his stock to drop.
But Slayton has quietly developed into Daniel Jones’ most trusted — and prolific — receiver in their short time together. Since Week 5 of the 2019 season, Slayton has 10 touchdown catches — the most in the NFL in that span. He’s ahead of tight ends Jared Cook of the Saints and Mark Andrews of the Ravens, both of whom have nine scoring receptions.
Slayton had six catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns in the Giants’ season-opening 26-16 loss to the Steelers. The first was a beautifully run 41-yard score on a deep post, as Jones hit Slayton in stride for the first-half touchdown. It was Slayton’s fourth two-touchdown game since Week 5 last year, also the most in the NFL.
Jones-to-Slayton is something the receiver believes will be a regular occurrence — now and into the future.
"I definitely think the fact that we literally came here together from Day 1, whether it was rookie minicamp or what have you, we’ve literally been catching and throwing since Day 1," Slayton said. "I think that familiarity is definitely there. I think it’s something that we’ll continue to build on."
Coach Joe Judge has been highly impressed with Slayton.
"There’s a difference between being a fast guy and playing fast, and he plays fast," Judge said of Slayton, who ran a 4.39 in the 40 at the 2019 Scouting Combine. "He comes off the ball fast, he makes decisions fast, he cuts fast, he plays aggressive in traffic to make the catches. That to me is something you can’t replicate. There’s a lot of people out there that can run a 40 at a good time. Then there are people that play fast as well. … We’re going to need that going forward from him."
The trust is there with Jones.
"I think [Slayton] is someone who you can really trust and rely on to be in the right spot and finds a way to get open a lot," Jones said. "He’s a really good football player, someone you can count on. I’ve enjoyed working with him, I’ve enjoyed playing with him so far. He’s certainly a big-time playmaker for us."
And the more Slayton catches passes, the more Jones will look for him. As he did against the Steelers.
"Definitely being open helps the quarterback be more inclined to throw the ball to you, of course," Slayton said. "But every play, you have options within plays for him to throw the ball to different guys. Fortunately, he just chose to come my way nine times."
But there was one thing missing after those scores Monday night.
"It was pretty quiet," Slayton said, referring to the fact no fans were at the game because of the coronavirus. "It was a little weird scoring a touchdown and it was like crickets."
When the crowds do return, Slayton will hear the noise again, regardless of whether he is considered a legitimate No. 1 receiver.
"If I go out there and make plays every week, week-in and week-out, and I propel my team to wins," he said, "the rest will take care of itself."