Dynasty Over? Think Again.
Brady will have the Patriots back in contention in 2011.
By: Mitch Light | 1/18/11, 11:00 AM EST
By Ralph Vacchiano
When the house fell on the Wicked Witch of the East early in The Wizard of Oz, everybody knew what that meant. She was dead and there was lots of singing and dancing (at least until her evil sister showed up).
There were similar feelings on Sunday, when the trash-talking Jets took out years of frustration and hostility on the NFL’s Evil Empire. Suddenly, everyone pointed out that Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the mighty New England Patriots haven’t won a playoff game since Jan. 20, 2008. Finally, the revelers said, after 10 long years their dynasty was dead.
But is it really?
Even though their ring fingers are collecting a little bit of dust, it’s not as if the Patriots have suddenly become the Jets — not these Jets, of course, but the “same-old Jets” who have gone 41 years without even appearing in the Super Bowl. Sure, the Jets beat them 28-21 in the AFC Divisional playoffs on Sunday, marking the second straight year the Pats were bounced from the playoffs without a win.
But a dynasty over? They were 14-2 this year. They still have the NFL’s best quarterback, and he’s still only 33. They still have the highest-scoring offense in the NFL. They still have Belichick’s brain, too.
Yes, a dynasty is all about championships, not near-misses, and it’s now been six long years since the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXIX. But with all that on their resume, plus a few likely additions in free agency and the draft, isn’t it all-but certain the Patriots will be among the favorites to win the championship next year?
Of course they will be, because they always are. Just look at what they’ve done in the five years since they won their last Super Bowl:
• In 2005 they went 10-6 and won the AFC East for the fourth straight year. They won a playoff game, too, before getting knocked off in Denver in the second round.
• In 2006 they went 12-4 and won the AFC East for the fifth straight year and advanced all the way to the AFC Championship Game. In fact, they had a 21-3 lead in that game in Indianapolis and led by three with 3:49 remaining. It took a last-minute drive by Peyton Manning and a very late interception by Brady to knock the Pats off, 38-31.
• In 2007, all they did was become the first NFL team to ever go 16-0 in the regular season, and they did it with an offense that scored more points than any team in NFL history. Then they even took a 14-10 lead in Super Bowl XLII with 2:39 remaining before losing to the Giants on arguably the most dramatic, incredible, Super Bowl-winning drive of all time. And don’t forget, the Giants needed the all-time greatest Super Bowl play — Eli Manning’s daring escape from a sure sack, followed by David Tyree’s one-handed helmet catch — to do it.
• In 2008, after losing Brady to a torn ACL and MCL in the season opener, they missed the playoffs. But not by much. Behind backup Matt Cassel, who wasn’t even a starter in college, they went 11-5, making them just the second 11-5 team to miss the NFL playoffs. Ever.
• In 2009 they went 10-6 and won the AFC East for the seventh time in the last eight years. But they lost in the first-round of the playoffs to the Baltimore Ravens
• In 2010 they snuck up on everyone by going 14-2, winning the AFC East for the eighth time in the last nine years by three full games over a Jets team that got most of the national publicity. Then they lost to the Jets in one of the greatest games that franchise has ever played.
That’s not just a pretty good run of success. That’s a run that maybe only the Pittsburgh Steelers — with two Super Bowl title and four trips to the playoffs — have equaled in that same span. They may not have a championship to show for their efforts, but in almost every week of all of those years, they were the team to beat.
Maybe they do have some flaws that the Jets exposed, but what team doesn’t? And the hallmark of the Belichick era in New England has been the Patriots’ ability to constantly reinvent themselves. The only constants, really, throughout the era have been Belichick and Brady. Players, coaches, coordinators, and even the general managers have changed.
The results, though, really haven’t.
So maybe one day we’ll all look back on the Patriot dynasty and realize that it did only last from 2001 to 2004. Maybe it ended at the end of the 2007 season, when Eli Manning hit Plaxico Burress in the corner of the end zone in Glendale, Ariz., with just 35 seconds left in Super Bowl XLII.
Or maybe the Patriots, Belichick and Brady have another championship or two left in them. Since no one — or at least no one with any football sense — expects them to experience the rapid decline that most dynasties do, you have to count New England among the 2011 contenders. Certainly no one can rule them out of Super Bowl XLVI.
In other words, that “Ding Dong” you hear may not be the sound of people dancing around the Patriots’ body. It might turn out to be the sound of the Patriots standing at the door to another championship instead.
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