His successor for 2000 was Bill Belichick and his Patriots began the new millennium with a brand new look, which included new uniforms, plans for a new stadium, and most importantly a new boss.
Belichick spurned the Jets when he was supposed to take over for Parcells and it took some heated negotiations and legal action to get him to New England.
Belichick quickly got to work assembling his coaching staff and assessing his new club. One of his first moves was to release longtime Patriots tight end Ben Coates, whose play had deteriorated in recent years. Belichick brought a tougher, no-nonsense approach to practice sessions, but the club's mediocre play during the exhibition season made it difficult to assess how it would fare in the regular season.
The answer was delivered quickly, as it dropped its first four games for the first time in almost a decade. Despite the defense holding its first four opponents to a combined 72 points, the punchless New England offense could not register points and was a prime factor for the poor start.
Particularly galling was a loss to the rival Jets in the Meadowlands before a national television audience on "Monday Night Football" in Week Two. Despite outplaying the Jets for three quarters and building a 19-7 lead, the Pats ultimately fell 21-19.
Belichick finally registered his first win as head coach of the Patriots in Week Five in the most unlikely locale — Mile High Stadium in Denver, a place where the Patriots had not managed a win in 32 years. Bledsoe riddled the suspect Broncos secondary with four touchdown passes, and helped keep his club in possession of the ball with short flips to wide receivers Terry Glenn and Troy Brown.
In the absence of any semblance of a running attack, the Patriots turned to a short passing game in 2000, and Glenn and Brown both responded with brilliant seasons. The oft-injured Glenn remained healthy for an entire year for the first time, finishing with 79 receptions for 963 yards. In his first year as a starter Brown was arguably the club's most valuable player, leading the team with 83 catches and excelling as a punt returner (Brown averaged 12.9 yards a return to finish fifth in the AFC).
The Patriots carried their new found momentum into their game against the defending AFC East Division champion Indianapolis Colts, and ended up taking their second straight game, 24-16. New England managed to generate a pass rush for one of the few times all season and pressured Colts quarterback Peyton Manning into several mistakes.
While Bledsoe's reputation as a prolific passer was above reproach, his lack of mobility made him an easy target for enemy linemen in recent years thanks to a deteriorating offensive line. Now with Belichick trying to rebuild the line around second-year center Damien Woody, the Patriots veteran quarterback was still taking a beating.
Despite the two-game winning streak, whatever illusions the Patriots had for postseason play evaporated over the next four weeks, as New England dropped four games in succession to fall into the cellar of the AFC East Division with a dismal 2-8 record. Adding insult to injury was Bledsoe's loss to a thumb injury in Week Nine in a game the Patriots lost to the Buffalo Bills in overtime 16-13.
Bledsoe returned the following week but his injured thumb affected his passing noticeably. Facing a Cleveland club that was in only the second year of its existence and without its top two quarterbacks, the Patriots turned the ball over four times and dropped a 19-11 decision to the lowly Browns.
Although they split their remaining six games, their inadequacies were woefully exposed in the three defeats. Belichick came to the Patriots with a reputation as a defensive wizard but New England's play on defense was spotty at best. The lack of a consistent pass rush was a major weakness all season and was never more apparent than in a 24-17 loss to the Bears in Week 14. The Patriots nonexistent rush made journeyman Bears quarterback Shane Matthews look like an All-Pro. Matthews passed New England silly, riddling the Patriots secondary for 22 completions on 27 attempts (including 15 consecutive completions in the second half).
The Patriots were left searching for self-respect in Week 15 when they journeyed to a frigid Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo to renew their long-time rivalry with the Bills. Playing in a blizzard for most of the game, both defenses dominated the contest, but a clutch 63-yard drive capped by Kevin Faulk's 13-yard touchdown run tied the game, 10-10, with 4:45 remaining. In the overtime period Patriots nose tackle Chad Eaton rose to the occasion and blocked a potential game-winning field goal attempt. Adam Vinatieri made up for a crucial miss at the end of regulation with a 24-yard field goal with just 19 seconds remaining in the game to give New England a hard-fought 13-10 win over the Bills.
The Patriots finished the season with a wacky loss to Miami in Foxborough. The end of the game was delayed after an apparent Bledsoe fumble on the last play. The officials ruled the game was over and the two teams left the field, but 20 minutes later the officials called the two clubs back out on the field to run one final play. Michael Bishop threw a Hail Mary that fell well short of the end zone and the Patriots season came to a merciful end. For the first time in seven years no Patriots players were named to the Pro Bowl, a reflection of how far the team had deteriorated since its trip to Super Bowl XXXI five years earlier. With his grace period now behind him and construction on the Patriots new stadium rapidly progressing, Belichick was now faced with the arduous task of rebuilding.