Until the emergence of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, the Patriots were known for three things:
1) Use a snowplow driven by a convicted felon to win a game; 2) Annihilation by the Bears in Super Bowl XX; and 3) losing Bill Parcells because he couldn’t shop for groceries.
For fans under 35, the era of laughter is limited to NFL movies, but students of history realize that no dynasty lasts forever, whether Ming, Holy Roman, or Belichickean.
So, welcome to the bad old days. The Barbarians have arrived at the gates of Gillette Stadium. It was always going to end this way.
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Sunday’s frustrating 21-17 loss to the Raiders dropped the Patriots to 1-5, just one game behind the Panthers for the worst record in football. It’s likely to get a lot worse before it gets better, as the Patriots face the potential end of the Belichick era, a roster without a single healthy player, and the realization that quarterback Mac Jones isn’t the answer, necessitating a reset at the most important position in the game.
That’s a recipe for a decade of darkness, just as the Dolphins have won but one playoff game since Dan Marino retired in 1999, or the Bills needed 25 years to replace Hall of Famer Jim Kelly with All-Pro Josh Allen. The exceptions are Joe Montana to Steve Young and Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers. Following Marino with Jay Felder, Gus Frerot, Cleo Lemon, Chad Henne, etc. – that’s the rule. So is Cam Newton and now Jones.
If the post-Brady years are a lesson in anything, it’s in the destructive power of institutional arrogance. Robert Kraft expects to win the playoffs because that’s all he’s known for 20 years, but he’s not willing to pay the price for it. Belichick was eager to prove he could handle a mediocre quarterback, showing who Brady’s years really were.
Everyone gets his reward
The Patriots were worshiping at the altar of their infallibility, which led Belichick to decide that hiring his running mates Matt Patricia and Joe Judge to coach the offense was a good idea. He allowed Kraft to delude himself into identifying Jones as a franchise cornerstone for the simple fact that he personally selected him, and when has his judgment ever been so wrong?
The NFL has evolved into a league around game-breaking receivers, dynamic quarterbacks, and creative offensive masterminds. The Patriots lack those three elements and believe they can continue to work alongside a physical defense and focus on special teams, because fads are for everyone. The Patriot Way doesn’t have to be in keeping with the timeless era.
However, it is not immune to the ravages of time either. Get ready to listen to Rod Rust (1-15 in 1990), Big Ken Sims (a bust at No. 1 overall in 1982) and Chuck Fairbanks (gave up on one of the best Patriots teams ever on the eve of the 1978 playoffs). They gathered to learn about fan-favorite Steve Grogan’s status in favor of Tony Eason, the disastrous sponsorship of Michael Jackson’s Victory Tour that nearly bankrupted the Sullivan family, and the proposed move to St. Louis under James’ indifferent ownership. Orthwein.
While we’re at it, let’s not forget Mark Henderson, the convicted work-release thief who drove a plow onto the field before the game-winning field goal against the Dolphins in 1982, as the Bears cruised to a 46-10 victory in the 1985 Super Bowl while making a celebrity From Perry’s Refrigerator, or Parcells and Kraft ended their partnership in a bitter divorce, paving the way for Belichick to reach out and pry an undrafted quarterback out of Michigan in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft.
We all know what happened next. Over the next two decades, the Patriots made history. Now they are history. That’s the way of the world, and in the end everyone gets it. We thought this would never end, but their rule was always temporary.
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