RICHMOND — The most-asked question to Jay Gruden, Robert Griffin III and the hosts leading up to and during their joint practices with the New England Patriots here this week has essentially been, “What do you guys hope to get out of this experience?”
The answers have ranged from Griffin saying he wanted to pick future Hall of Famer Tom Brady’s mind to DeAngelo Hall claiming after the team’s first joint session Monday the Patriots have been “chirping early on.”
But, really, shouldn’t there be two or three standard answers when anyone from an NFL team in Washington is asked what they hope to get out of spending time with one from New England?
“Selfies with Bill and Tom.”
“The Patriots’ blessing.”
Take a knee, children. Gather at the foot of the masters. This is what a perennially contending, multiple Super Bowl winner looks like. This is how to run an organization.
Yes, the Patriots put their pants on one leg at a time like everybody else. But their pants somehow find a way to win 10 to 12 games a year.
Belichick and Brady and the extras inserted around them have won 11 of the past 13 AFC East titles, been to eight conference championship games since 2001 (meaning they are one of the final four teams left each season more than 50 percent of the time), been to five Super Bowls and won three.
There should be no shame in learning by osmosis from the most-accomplished NFL team of this millennium. There should be no pride whatsoever in just giving over to the notion that some people in your profession know more than you, and the way to move toward that kind of success is to merely listen and learn.
“He’s fantastic, so fun to watch,” Gruden said of Brady after another incredibly accurate and effective day from the Pats’ quarterback. “Poetry in motion. Obviously a Hall of Famer and the best of all time. When you get a chance to watch him in a settling like this, it’s a great learning experience.”
There was this play Tuesday during an 11-on-11 scrimmage between the two teams that provided the starkest contrast between the standard-bearers for sustained NFL excellence and a host franchise in transition, trying to ensure that 3-13 in 2013 was more of an aberration than a division title in 2012.
Brady took a snap from the shotgun, got his feet set several times to throw as he looked off receivers, and then – after realizing his first two or three reads were blanketed – found Danny Amendola streaking down the left sideline. The ball fell so softly into Amendola’s arms, as if someone with a Madden controller had directed it there instead of the 37-year-old quarterback.
Griffin had his moments, but much of Gruden’s offensive mind-set seemed to be don’t rush the deep stuff if it’s not open. Washington settled for check-down throws and throws in the seam between the linebackers and defensive backs. Andre Roberts made an adjustment on one long ball and came underneath to beat coverage, but most of the pop-pop-pop precision for the past two days has been because of the Patriots – especially inside the 20-yard line in situational scrimmaging.
That’s not a knock. It’s a fact.
The model has been in place since 2000, when Belichick and Brady were rookies in their respective positions. New England annually sustains roster turnover and free agent defection because of one simple formula: The coach and the quarterback have remained in place.
Number of quarterbacks to start at least one game for the Patriots since 2000: Three (Brady, Drew Bledsoe and Matt Cassel).
Number of quarterbacks to start at least one game for Washington since 2000: 15.
The list reads like an undisputed champion’s knockout victims: Brad Johnson, Jeff George, Tony Banks, Patrick Ramsey, Danny Wuerffel, Shane Matthews, Tim Hasselbeck, Mark Brunell, Todd Collins, Jason Campbell, Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, John Beck, Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins.
Heck, Dan Snyder has hired as many coaches (eight) as Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been to conference championship games with Belichick.
Since Belichick took over, the Patriots have gone 163-61 in the regular season and 18-8 in the playoffs. They have had 13 straight seasons of plus-.500 football.
In the same time period, Washington has had three seasons of .500 or better, last won a playoff game in 2005 and . . . eh, who cares at this point? They’re all depressing numbers that bear out how unstable things have been in Ashburn, how an organization’s elusive search for leaders on and off the field at the two most important positions have manifested itself in so much misery.
Which is why it was so refreshing to hear Belichick say how much he planned to pick up from, yes, Gruden’s team this week.
“Our goal is to pick up something this week, because there are a lot of outstanding coaches there, whether it’s a coaching pointer or a drill or something they do,” he said.
“Jay is a real good football coach,” Belichick added before Tuesday’s practice, playing possum to perfection. “I don’t think he needs any help from me.”
Afterward, the Hoodie was asked to evaluate greatness over time, how in a musical-chair, itinerant profession like NFL coaching a man is able to be this good for this long.
“It’s really not a big priority of mine, it doesn’t really matter,” Belichick said. “We’ve had good years. Bad years. Right now, we’re in the 2014 season. That’s where we are.”
Give or take a hidden video camera or a lousy vetting process for a certain tight end jailed on homicide charges, it’s been a pretty amazing run that should not be discounted by anyone here in Richmond.
When the greatest coach and quarterback of their era deigned to ply their trade and impart their wisdom on you, if you’re Jay Gruden or Robert Griffin III or anyone in burgundy and gold, just take a knee and say thank you.