The Brady-Belichick era was at its peak when the Patriots found themselves in an instant classic with the Baltimore Ravens during the divisional round playoffs in the 2014 season.
Baltimore was proving a worthy adversary for the top-seeded Patriots, holding a 14-point lead not once but twice. Due to Brady's greatness, a seldom-used ineligible receiver trick, and a double-pass with receiver Julian Edelman connecting on a 51-yard touchdown to Danny Amendola, the Patriots rallied from two double-digit deficits.
As was tradition, the legendary quarterback threw a picture-perfect touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell for the game-winning score, which Brady says is one of his top-10 throws in his Hall of Fame career.
Although it was Brady's late-game heroics and Belichick's brilliant tactics that put the Patriots into a then-fourth consecutive AFC Championship Game, it was on the sideline during that memorable win where the first seeds were planted on Jerod Mayo's path to a career in coaching.
Mayo's season ended three months earlier when he suffered a significant knee injury in a win over the Bills. The Patriots linebacker only appeared in six games in his seventh season after being selected in the first round by New England in the 2008 NFL Draft. However, he was helping his teammates as another set of eyes for a star-studded defense.
During his rehab process, Mayo's relationship with then-coaching assistant Steve Belichick grew. Mayo would help Belichick with special projects by reviewing film as the duo scouted future opponents. On that electrifying Saturday night, Mayo, Microsoft Surface tablet in hand, showed his teammates how the Ravens were attacking the Patriots run defense.
"In 2014, when he got hurt, I remember being in the Baltimore game. He's just coming up to us non-stop with the Surface [tablet] showing us what's going on in the game, how Baltimore was kind of doing some things against us in the run game," franchise legend Devin McCourty told Patriots.com." That was the balance of keeping it light and keeping guys ready to go. But also the Xs and Os and the player type and understanding the game can get you from both sides. I think that fully embodies who Jerod is."
Nine years after New England's run to a fourth Super Bowl championship in 2014, Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft introduced Mayo as the franchise's 15th head coach. The heir to Bill Belichick, the greatest coach of all-time, earned the job as the youngest current head coach in the NFL (37) and without the organization interviewing a single other candidate — a succession plan from Belichick years in the making.
To those who know him best, it wasn't surprising that Mayo rose through the ranks in the Patriots organization to head coach.
"That man was born for this. He was born to be the New England Patriots head coach." - Former Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes
"He's always been a coach to me on the field. But now it's stamped, it's labeled, he's the coach now. He's not putting the pads on. He's really the coach, and now he's the head coach," former defensive standout Jamie Collins said.
"He's just somebody people gravitate towards," Dont'a Hightower explained. "He not only leads by example, he also has the vocal aspect of it, too. Mayo has a great message and does a great job of delivering that message."
"I'm not surprised one bit that we are sitting here talking about this. That man was born for this. He was born to be the New England Patriots head coach," former linebacker Brandon Spikes stated emphatically.
From the outside looking in, Mayo's rapid hiring might've seemed unorthodox. However, as described by his former teammates, some of whom played for him over the last five seasons as a linebackers coach, Mayo was always on the fast track to being the Patriots next head coach.