What the New England Patriots have done with head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady since the two teamed up in 2001 is, quite honestly, astounding. We love to toss the word “dynasty” around in sports, and for good reason: Few other words capture the nature of prolonged greatness quite like it.
I can quickly rattle off a couple of dynasties that left a lasting impression – the Yankees and Cowboys in the 1990s, the Kobe/Shaq Lakers, the Islanders of the early 80s and of course, UConn women’s basketball.
The Patriots with Belichick and Brady are on another level. With a 36-17 romp over Pittsburgh in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, New England punched their seventh Super Bowl ticket in 16 seasons under that pair of legends. We’ll find out the result of that trip in two weeks but they have already compiled a 4-2 record in six appearances in the big game and those losses could have both easily swung the other way.
In these 16 seasons, the Patriots have won the AFC East title 14 times, including 13 of the last 14 years. They have advanced to the conference championship stage 11 times, including the last six seasons. They have not failed to reach the 10-win mark since 2002.
I could pile stats atop each other all day, but that would be boring for you and me. If you’re reading a New England newspaper, you probably know precisely just how good the Patriots have been.
I find it beyond belief that the first time Brady and Belichick won a Super Bowl together people were buying original iPods instead of VR goggles. “Star Wars” fans were gearing up for “Attack of the Clones,” not “The Last Jedi.” George W. Bush was a year into his first presidential term, and well, you know where that’s at now.
Now in 2017, the two are back yet again and, unsurprisingly, they are the favorite.
American professional sports teams are not supposed to be this good for this long. Our salary cap and draft systems have been implemented to keep leagues moving in a cyclical nature, in which the better teams eventually fade out and the worse teams can add new talent in an attempt to improve. Obviously these leagues would like their premier franchises to also serve as their better teams for marketing purposes, and that is often the case, but everyone is intended to rise and fall eventually.
With Belichick’s impossibly steady hand as both general manager and head coach and Brady’s unwavering brilliance at the sport’s most undeniably crucial position, the Patriots flat-out defy these norms.
Year after year, you know exactly what to expect from the Patriots: They will be in the hunt. They do not have disappointing seasons. The one time Brady got hurt, tearing his ACL in week one in 2008, Belichick still guided back-up Matt Cassel to 11 wins and narrowly missed a playoff berth.
If you want to come out of the AFC and reach the Super Bowl you’ll probably have to beat them, which means dealing with an offense that’s a strong bet to score 30 points on any given night. You’ll also have to fend off a disciplined defense with a couple of playmakers and hope that their kicker misses for once.
By consistently re-stocking the cabinet with shrewd draft pick swaps and free agent finds, Belichick always gives himself the tools to contend and he can afford to spend resources away from the flashy offensive positions because of Brady’s assured dominance.
It is a truly deadly pairing for competing franchises to deal with. I can’t imagine being the Jets, Bills or Dolphins this millennium.
It may be as simple as this: Belichick and Brady are both the greatest performers ever at their respective roles of head coach/personnel manager and quarterback. I don’t like to hand those out so early, but it’s true. Pair up the two and you create an unstoppable force.
The Patriots have busted the system and, even though Brady turns 40 this August, would you even be surprised if this lasted a few more years? I wouldn’t be. I expect to see Gillette Stadium every time the NFL playoffs roll around in January and, until their architects are gone, I probably will. Now that’s a dynasty.