By Jason Keidel-
(CBS) We’ve long debated whether dynasties are good for sports. And in the nouveaux, whirlwind climate of free agency, our definition of a dynasty has mutated over the last decade.
But by any reasonable metric, the New England Patriots are the patriarchs of the NFL, a 12-win monolith ever since Mo Lewis lit-up Drew Bledsoe and accidentally ushered in the Tom Brady epoch.
And now the masses and pundits are lunging over each other to put the postmortems on the Brady/Belichick dynasty, with the death blow delivered by the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday night.
It seems a slow September is the glowing epitaph we needed. Brady looked lost. Gronk looked slow. And Bill Belichick, defensive savant, was schooled by Andy Reid on national television.
Someone will have to explain to me why or how an average record at the quarter-pole represents the decay of modern civilization. By definition, any team that gets whipped in a stand-alone game looks old and slow and stupid. Throw in the deafening decibels of Arrowhead, a rabid Chiefs pass rush, and a disjointed offensive line that just traded its best player, and you had a scalding cauldron that pummeled the Pats.
But doesn’t this feel a tad premature and immature? Tom Brady has earned a full season before we eulogize perhaps the preeminent NFL quarterback of the last 15 years – a coin flip between Brady and Manning, of course, depending on your allegiance.
If anything, this season has been more a referendum on the HC than the QB. Belichick seems to be a bit haughty, relying on the old, static verities that got him here – trade players before you pay players, vacuum draft picks, and leave your skill positions to fate. When they do actually spend more than five bucks and five minutes of film study on wideouts, they bomb. Since 2003, the Patriots have drafted 11 wide receivers, and only one plays for them today – that would be the former quarterback, Julian Edelman.
Brady has taken less money to pay his brethren more money, and the team has not surrounded him with the phalanx of wideouts and tailbacks you see in, say, Denver, where Peyton Manning has a pyrotechnic team at his disposal.
Case in point is Wes Welker, of course, who was Brady’s butler, buffer, and savior depending on the down and distance. New England stapled its wallet closed rather than pay Welker a few extra quid, forcing him to migrate west. There’s absolutely no reason – other than arrogance – for Welker not to be Brady’s safety valve today.
No one could have foreseen the Aaron Hernandez travesty. You don’t expect your Pro Bowl tight end to sign an extension then go Al Capone on New England. But there has to be a happy medium between Randy Moss and Aaron Dobson.
When anyone is as successful as Belichick has been, there’s the chance that hubris can plague his coaching ethos way more than cap space and draft picks. He may just think he can trot out onto the field in his hobo chic wardrobe, trot out Tom Terrific, and let him wave his immortal wand for yet another autumnal romp through the enervated AFC East, perhaps the worst division in football.
And that’s their failsafe, fallback position, The Jets, Bills, and Dolphins are a hot mess. Buffalo just benched their quarterback, the Jets should, and Miami was publicly pondering a change at QB until they drubbed the hapless Raiders in London. But Miami won’t make much noise beyond their seven or eight perfunctory wins.
New England, like all prosperous teams, has had a bedrock bond at the most sacred duet in the sport. When your coach and QB are skilled and simpatico you can go a long way just on the fumes of that marriage.
But Belichick has to get Brady some help if he wants more than ten wins and another forlorn winter, oxygen masks clamped to their faces, and a gasping loss in the mile-high, Rocky Mountain altitude, at the hands of Manning.
But even if they make no moves this season, it’s just childish to shovel the dirt on a dynasty that even made the playoffs with Matt Cassel, and was a freak-show, a David Tyree catch and Wes Welker drop from five Super Bowl victories.
When the Pats were shut out in the first half of Monday night’s game, we were told that the last time they were blanked was in 2006, by the legendary, Nick Saban Dolphins, 21-0. Those Patriots finished the season 12-4, and were up by three touchdowns in the AFC title game before faltering to the Colts, 38-34. And few folks doubt that they would have defeated the Bears had they survived the final, furious charge by Peyton Manning.
And this is coming from a New Yorker, who doesn’t consider Boston part of our beloved union, and would root for Castro’s Cuba over the Red Sox. But you can have limitless rancor for the team and respect the ethic.
Perhaps the most annoying part is the rush to bury Brady. We hear he’s stiff, immobile, and angry – which has only been his physical and metaphysical refrain for 15 years. The difference is he’s far closer to 40 than 30 and we love to set abstract finish lines.
The defining difference, this time, is his head coach hasn’t built the expected and essential wall around Brady. Not even an immortal can win alone.
No one should know that better than another immortal. So perhaps the sublime symbioses that has defined that loving feeling in Foxborough isn’t as smooth as it used to be, which makes both immortals look very mortal right now. But we can’t leave them for dead before the leaves turn red.
Jason Keidel writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports.