The similarities between the 2001 and 2021 New England Patriots are uncanny.
Obviously, the comparisons begin at the quarterback position. The '01 Pats had an inexperienced Tom Brady taking over for injured veteran Drew Bledsoe, and this season New England is counting on rookie QB Mac Jones. Not only has Jones' rookie campaign been a success, his playing style has been eerily similar to Brady's first season as the starter.
Then there's the defense. As great as Brady was taking over for Bledsoe, the Patriots' defense is what propelled them to a Super Bowl title. The 2021 team is no different as New England is 9-4 largely due to its consistency on that side of the ball.
There are more interesting similarities where that came from. Former linebacker Ted Johnson, who played on the '01 Patriots, joined Phil Perry on a new episode of the Next Pats Podcast to discuss how this year's team reminds him of that championship squad.
Perry asked Johnson whether the players brought in via free agency in '01 made him believe the team was rebuilt and ready to compete, similarly to this year's high-spending offseason.
"To some degree, but I'll say this: It wasn't like those guys came in and all of a sudden they were the core group," Johnson said. "We had so many great players on that team already, but we needed an injection of new players and guys that wanted to win. Not only did they get paid, but they hadn't won. We had some competitive, highly-talented, core group of guys that we embraced. ... I think that's what you have. You don't have a lot of fat and happy guys on this team and on that '01 team you had hungry guys who just wanted to be led and wanted good, quality coaching.
"We all got along from Day 1, and I see that similarity here. These rookies are gelling well with these veterans they brought in. They all want to win and they all are competitive guys, and so that's very much the core kind of similarity between those two teams."
Johnson also revealed when the 2001 Patriots realized it had a chance to win it all, and when he believes this year's team bought in.
"I will point to two different games in that '01 season that I think were pivotal games. One was around Week 7 or Week 8 we played the Atlanta Falcons," Johnson said. "I think we found our identity on defense. A lot of people overlooked that Atlanta game. We played in Atlanta and we blitzed the hell out of them. ... We became a very aggressive defense after that and we really found out groove after that Atlanta game.
"If you looked later in the year, a home game against the St. Louis Rams. We lost that game but it was the quintessential moral victory where we lost by a touchdown but we felt like we went toe-to-toe with the greatest show on turf and that gave us a ton of confidence and coincidentally, we didn't lose a game the rest of the year. If you look at this Dallas game this year, the Patriots losing to Dallas at home in overtime, what happened since then? They haven't lost a game since."
Also discussed in this episode: Is this year’s group more balanced than the 2001 team? And the guys compare Tom Brady and Mac Jones in their first year as starters and debate which one they’d rather have.