Columnists, Sports

First and Goal: The Patriots Dynasty (2001–2020)

Let’s all take a moment of silence for the greatest run in the history of sports.

The New England Patriots dynasty, at long last, is dead.

It survived nearly 20 years, winning six Super Bowls in nine tries, but finally, the NFL’s nightmare is over.

Tom Brady leaving New England was truly the death knell. Most were content to call an end to the dynasty last season when Brady’s final pass of the season was taken back for a pick six.

But as the league has learned over the years, you can never count out Touchdown Tom. He always seemed to find a way to work with no offensive help around him, and it has never been more clear than this season. But with his departure for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Patriots seemed to be much less of a threat.

It had looked like the reports of the dynasty’s death were greatly exaggerated after Week 1 and Week 2 of the season when former league MVP and new Patriots quarterback Cam Newton looked like he regained his mojo. But after a bout with the coronavirus, Newton and the entire team look like a shell of their former selves.

The team remains largely the same from last year and yet the results couldn’t be more different. At this point last season the Patriots were 8–0 and cruising for yet another division title. The 2020 Patriots are 2–5, and their season is all but over after a crushing loss to Buffalo last week.

What changed?

It’s become evident this season that it truly was Brady magic that kept the Patriots at the top of the league in years when the roster around him was awful. No other player in the NFL can elevate players to a higher level than Brady. 

New England’s wide receivers are just not good, but they were able to skate by last year because of Brady’s ability. Now, with a different quarterback at the helm, their flaws are exposed.

Newton and his fellow quarterbacks, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer, simply do not have the talent to carry a roster as terrible as this. New England’s three quarterbacks this season have combined for a league-worst three touchdown passes. The rushing attack has been good, but lacking the ability to pass the ball is not going to win games in a passing-oriented sport.

The defense hasn’t looked great either. Two pivotal players, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung, both opted out of the season because of COVID-19 concerns. 

Hightower has always been a pillar in the New England defense and his absence has been felt this year. 

The Patriots defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed, let alone the run game. New England gives up 140.4 yards per game on the ground, and it’s clear that Hightower’s leadership and ability to stuff the run is sorely missed.

The pass defense hasn’t been terrible this season for New England, but missing a veteran presence in the backfield is a huge factor. 

2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore has also been off his game. Last season, Gilmore had 20 pass defenses, yet he only has two this time around. At this point in the season, his allowed yards per game, missed tackle percentage and touchdowns allowed are all higher than they were for last season. Regression was expected, but not at this rate.

The lack of a team firesale before Tuesday’s trade deadline was shocking, but I’m not going to be the person to question Bill Belichick. I just figured that, with a very slim chance of making the playoffs, Belichick would ship some players out to accumulate a bunch of draft picks so the Patriots can be competitive again next year.

Good things don’t last forever, no matter how hard we wish for it. New England’s 20-year dominance over the NFL will never again be repeated, so let’s all just step back and appreciate what we had.

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