Like it or not, the New England Patriots are the model of consistency in the National Football League. The Patriots just clinched their eighth consecutive AFC East Title, while their last losing season came in 2000. And in the process it’s the way that the Pats have gone about winning. New England just isn’t getting winning seasons as only once over this stretch have they won less than 10 games, while they’ve won at least 12 games in a campaign on 11 occasions. The Patriots have also won four Super Bowl Titles over this stretch, and to top it all off, each of the last five NFL seasons have seen them at least reach the AFC Championship Game. That trend is continuing this year as through 15 games, New England’s 13-2 mark has them with the best record in the AFC as they are once again on the verge of securing home-field advantage. And to give you an idea of how important that this is, eight of the last nine teams that represented the AFC in the Super Bowl at least had a first-round bye entering the postseason.
But if there are any questions as to why the Patriots have been so successful, it begins at three of the most important positions within a football organization which are team owner, head coach, and quarterback.
Since 1994, Robert Kraft has owned the Patriots, and the three head coaches that he has employed have each led his team to the postseason at least twice. But when Kraft fired Pete Carroll as the Patriots head coach following the 1999 National Football League season which paved the way for Bill Belichick to resign as the head coach of the New York Jets after just one day in order to join Kraft in New England, the rest is football history.
Since 2000, Belichick has served as the Patriots head coach and de facto general manager. And whereas Belichick’s wheeling and dealing has rubbed some people the wrong way over the years, the man knows how to build a winner.
Like the Spurs in the NBA who are working on their 20th consecutive winning season, the Patriots continue to succeed as they are the chameleons on the National Football League. When Belichick took over the Patriots, this was a team that was known for its defensive brand of football with stars such as outside linebacker Willie McGinest, middle linebacker Tedy Bruschi, and strong safety Lawyer Milloy. But by the mid-2000’s the focus of the Patriots was shifting to quarterback Tom Brady and the team’s offense which included New England scoring 589 points in 2007 which was an NFL single-season record. The Patriots would do it primarily with the deep pass to wide receiver Randy Moss, but the evolution would continue as by 2010, New England focused more on offensive sets that comprised of two tight end sets, along with smaller wide receivers.
And this philosophy on offense which has seen Brady get the ball out quicker while taking less hits has made their offense the envy of the rest of the National Football League.
Defensively the Patriots still have many interchangeable parts as since the end of last season, Belichick has traded two starting linebackers in Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins due to financial issues, but this team has not skipped a beat.
Belichick always preaches to his players to “do your job” as he never puts his team in a place where they cannot be successful. This philosophy was on center stage when the Patriots began this season without the services of Brady who was suspended by the National Football League for the first four games of the season as the result his role in the use of under-inflated football during the 2014 AFC Championship Game. Without Brady, the Patriots went 3-1 while they got two victories with backup quarterback Jimmy Garropolo, and another with rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett under center. Upon returning to the Patriots, Brady has been motivated to clear his name and in 10 games he is completing 66.7% of his passes while throwing 25 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions.
Brady has done this in spite of the fact that he has not had the services of tight end Rob Gronkowski for the majority of the year as the result of a litany of injuries. But Belichick’s next man up philosophy is why the Pats keep on chugging along.
There are going to be some detractors out there who will want to call the Patriots cheaters as the result of “Spygate” and “Deflategate” which were a pair of incidents that were blown completely out of proportion by the mainstream media. In 2007 when the Patriots were caught recording the Jets signals, they only went on to win their next 17 games before falling to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. And after the 2014 AFC Championship Game where Brady’s character was questioned, he only went out and defeated the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl two weeks later who possessed the best secondary in football.
But because of these two incidents, the Patriots organization won’t get the respect that they fully deserve outside of the New England area in spite of the fact that they do. Brady is once again playing like an MVP while even without Grownkowski, the Patriots have plenty of offensive firepower which includes tight end Martellus Bennett, running backs Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount, along with wide receivers Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan.
What Belichick and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels have done is to sample what was so successful in the National Football League for the likes of the San Diego Chargers of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the Washington Redskins of the early 1980’s, and the St. Louis Rams in 1999. Those teams made offensive football the equivalent of fast break basketball as they put fast athletes at the skill positions on offense which put a ton of stress on a defense. Don Coryell who was the head coach of the Chargers at the time was the godfather of this, while prior to becoming the head coach of the Redskins, Joe Gibbs worked under him in San Diego, as did Dick Vermeil who led the Rams in 1999; albeit Vermeil served under Coryell at San Diego State University.
But offensively the Patriots ask you to pick your poison as Edelman is arguably the most dangerous slot receiver in the National Football League, while Bennett who is not the physical specimen that Gronkowski is can still command respect by keeping safeties as well as linebackers honest in the passing game. Blount is a physical runner; especially in short yardage situations and Lewis is a devastating receiving option out of the back field which can break the backs of opposing defenses.
The Patriots continue to employ a bend but don’t break attitude on defense as they are tenth in the National Football League in yards allowed per game (336), but first in fewest points allowed (16.6). Belichick has entrusted his defense to his defensive coordinator Matt Patricia who has a flexible unit that confuses opposing offenses as players such as defensive end Rob Ninkovich will line up in multiple spots in the front seven of the defense in order to throw the opposing offenses off.
I compare the Patriots to the Spurs simply because each organization has been the most consistent in their respective league over the last two decades. A big reason for that is how both the Spurs and Patriots now how to adapt. The Spurs just bid farewell to a superstar power forward in Tim Duncan who throughout his 19-year NBA career never put himself ahead of the greater good of the team and that philosophy is still on display in San Antonio. The same can be said with the Pats in regards to Brady as he falls in line with everything that Belichick wants done. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t have a problem in shipping a player out of town who doesn’t fit his mold, and the same can be said for Belichick as it is their way or the highway. Both of these organizations are selfless as you don’t hear about wide receivers on the Patriots complaining about not receiving the football, and you don’t hear players on the Spurs being frustrated about not getting touches on offense as it is all about the team to the fullest.
As the Patriots are wrapping up the regular season, they are hitting their stride. And as all of the playoff contenders in the AFC know that they will have to get on a plane and head to Foxboro next month, they’ll once again have a tiger by the tail. The Patriots are itching to get to Houston, Texas for Super Bowl 51 as they want to join the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, and San Francisco 49ers as the only organizations in the National Football League to win at least five Super Bowl Championships. And for Brady and Belichick, they are seeking to become the first quarterback/head combo in the Super Bowl era to win five championships.
Winning never goes out of style, and for the Patriots, success is contagious.