The sky seemed to understand the sentiment hanging over Sunday’s matchup between the Patriots and New York Jets at Gillette Stadium.
It was the last game in a difficult season for both teams. But more importantly, it was also the last time Bill Belichick would stand on the sideline as head coach for New England. Fittingly, the gray, snowy clouds served as the perfect backdrop for a team and coach whose futures are both, for the first time in decades, unclear.
After 24 seasons with the team, Belichick, who has led New England to a record six Lombardi Trophies and has been in Foxborough since 2000, will now leave New England after a gut punch of a season in which the team placed last in the AFC East for the first time since Belichick’s inaugural campaign.
“Robert [Kraft] and I, after a series of discussions, have mutually agreed to part ways,” Belichick said at a press conference Thursday. “For me, this is a day of gratitude and celebration.”
Kraft compared a successful coach-owner relationship to a good marriage, saying it requires a lot of hard work. He stressed that the split was amicable and something both sides agreed was needed at this time, but that it was also a very emotional day for him and Patriots fans.
“Coach Belichick will forever be celebrated as a legendary sports icon here in New England, and I believe go in as a Pro Football Hall of Famer on the first ballot," Kraft said. "Why? Because he is the greatest coach of all time. Which makes this decision to part ways so hard."
During his time in New England, the partnership between Belichick and Tom Brady created one of the greatest dynasties football has ever seen. He even managed to weather controversies like Spygate.
His 333 current wins, including playoff victories, trail only Don Shula in the NFL’s all-time coaching wins column.
But after Sunday’s 17-3 loss to the Jets, he is also tied at the top of the record books’ all-time losses list with 178 career defeats, including those in the postseason.
If a football life is like the cycle of seasons, then Belichick has had a longer summer than almost anyone. But winter comes for everyone, eventually. And when it hits, it’s cold.
While Belichick was the main focus of Sunday’s festivities, he wasn’t the only longtime Patriot who was bidding farewell to New England. Special teamer and captain Matthew Slater, who teammates honored with special pre-game hoodies, is expected to retire after 10 Pro Bowl selections and three Super Bowl rings. He had nothing but praise for Belichick and his competitive drive when speaking after Sunday’s game.
“If you had sat in these team meetings this week, you would have thought we were getting ready to go play in the AFC championship game. That’s how he’s coaching the team. He didn’t turn it down. He didn’t shut it down,” Slater said.
"When you’re winning and you’re doing well and you’re going to Super Bowls, everybody’s having a good time. ... But when you’re in moments like this, you find out who people are. And I certainly found out a lot about Bill Belichick this year," Slater continued.
Former Patriot Julian Edelman also praised Belichick after the game in a post on X, formerly Twitter, saying it was a "hell of a run."
While the parting of Belichick and New England is a major shift for the club and the NFL as a whole, Belichick seemed genuinely grateful to almost anyone involved with his tenure as a Patriot during his statement.
“There’s so many fond memories and thoughts that I think about the Patriots,” he said. “And I’ll always be a Patriot. I look forward to coming back here, but at this time we’re gonna move on and I look forward, I'm excited for the future, but always be very appreciative of the opportunity here, the support here and what, Robert, what you’ve done for me.”
In the aftermath of one of the club's worst seasons under their stewardship, the Kraft family will now have the unenviable task of finding someone to shovel this organization out and sow new seeds. Kraft said they'll be looking for someone who can help the team get back to the playoffs and win.
"Believe me, after my family, this is really one of the two most important assets in my life. And I am very upset when we don't win games. And it carries the whole week," Kraft said. "So, I promise you, I'll be focused to do the best I can do to make sure we're putting ourselves in the best long-term position to win for many years."
Only this time, it will be without the man whose hoodie and steely demeanor have become synonymous with winning in New England.