Move over, Chuck Noll’s Steelers. Step aside, Vince Lombardi’s Packers. Tom Landry’s Cowboys and Bill Walsh’s 49ers? Sorry, folks. There’s a new team that has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s the greatest dynasty in NFL history.
Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots have achieved consistent greatness at a time when staying on top is harder than ever before, and as a result they deserve recognition for the best run this sport has ever seen.
With their fourth Super Bowl win on Sunday, Belichick and Tom Brady have put together a run that surpasses even what Terry Bradshaw did with Noll, what Bart Starr did with Lombardi, what Roger Staubach did with Landry and what Joe Montana did with Walsh. It’s not just that Belichick has won more postseason games than any other coach. It’s not just that Brady won his third Super Bowl MVP in his record sixth Super Bowl as a starting quarterback. It’s that the Patriots are doing it during the era of unrestricted free agency and the salary cap, when the NFL is making it all but impossible for the team on top to stay on top.
Think about everything the Patriots have done since Brady became their starting quarterback in 2001: In addition to appearing in six Super Bowls and winning four, they’ve had a winning record for 14 consecutive seasons. They’ve had the only 16-0 regular season in NFL history. They’ve made it to the conference championship round of the playoffs nine times — nine times. They’ve made it to the playoffs 11 of the last 12 years, missing only in the year when Brady was lost for the season with a Week One knee injury — and even that year they went 11-5. They’ve consistently been the best franchise in football.
It’s so hard to keep winning in today’s NFL. The salary cap and free agency mean you simply can’t keep all of your best players together for years at a time, the way those great Steelers and Packers and Cowboys and 49ers teams used to do. Even a great franchise like the Seahawks, who have been to three Super Bowls and made the playoffs nine times during this Patriots reign, also went through a rough patch in which they had four consecutive losing seasons. That’s just the way it works in the NFL. You can’t stay on top for a decade or more.
At least, you can’t unless you’re the New England Patriots. They’ve found a way to do it. They’re consistent winners like no other team in the history of the league.
Here are my other thoughts from Super Bowl Sunday:
Remember “On to Cincinnati”? It’s amazing to think that it was only four months ago that the Patriots lost 41-14 to the Chiefs, and Bill Belichick was peppered with questions about whether the Patriots dynasty had come to an end. Belichick simply repeated, “We’re on to Cincinnati” every time he was asked about the loss at Kansas City, and sure enough the Patriots responded by blowing out the Bengals that Sunday. Belichick is a master at getting his players to tune everything else out and simply focus on the task at hand, and after winning the Super Bowl on Sunday night, Belichick pointed to the aftermath of that loss to the Chiefs as the turning point in the season.
Russell Wilson had a slow start, and a disastrous finish. Wilson has a reputation for playing well in big games, but that reputation has to take a hit after this Super Bowl. He didn’t complete a single pass in the first quarter for the second consecutive game and struggled for much of the first half. And although Wilson settled down and looked like he was on the verge of a game-winning comeback, his last pass was a terrible interception that never should have been thrown. Wilson is a good young quarterback, but he had a rough game.
Chris Matthews stepped it up in the playoffs. Matthews, a backup receiver for the Seahawks, had never caught a pass in his NFL career until Sunday, when his 44-yard catch in the second quarter gave the Seahawks their biggest play of the game to that point and set up Seattle’s first touchdown. Matthews’s second NFL catch was for a touchdown just before halftime. On the day, Matthews had four catches for 109 yards. Matthews also recovered the Seahawks’ onside kick in the NFC Championship Game, setting up their dramatic comeback. Maybe Matthews is a young player who has a great career ahead of him or maybe he’ll always be a little-used backup, but whatever else he does, he’s already made a major impact on two huge games.
What if Marshawn had been MVP? If the Seahawks had done the smart thing at the end of the game and handed off to Marshawn Lynch, there’s a good chance he would have scored the game-winning touchdown. Lynch, who finished with 102 yards and a touchdown, might have been the Most Valuable Player if he had added a game-winning score to his impressive game. If that had happened, it would have been fascinating to see what Lynch had done: The NFL relies on the MVP to go through a series of media appearances on the day after the Super Bowl, but Lynch likely would have either skipped those appearances or used them to call attention to his distaste for the way the NFL does business. It would have been incredibly awkward for the NFL if Lynch had won the award. Roger Goodell would never admit to rooting against any individual player, but you can bet he was rooting against Lynch winning Super Bowl MVP.
Edelman was excellent. Patriots receiver Julian Edelman had an outstanding game, catching nine passes for 109 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Edelman is just the kind of player Belichick excels at identifying and developing: Edelman was a college quarterback at Kent State who was mostly overlooked by the NFL because he was nowhere near a good enough passer to run an NFL offense. But Belichick saw some potential in Edelman and used a seventh-round draft pick on him in 2009, and all Edelman has done is become a good receiver and punt returner who is one of the most important players on this Patriots team. If you’re going to stay on top in the NFL for years, you can’t do it by building up a stockpile of All-Pro players. The salary cap just won’t allow for that. What you have to do is find good, solid role players who fill the needs your team has. In New England, Julian Edelman is that kind of player. Players like him allow the Patriots to stay on top.