You haven’t truly arrived as a member of the Boston sports media until you’ve picked up your pen or microphone and declared the Patriots' dynasty dead.
Lots of people you know and love have done this, but I believe I hold the record. And it can’t be broken: In January 2000, before Bill Belichick was even hired, I said there would be no dynasty if Belichick got the job.
So there. See if you can top that.
Over the last 20 years, there have been numerous warnings, in the media and beyond, of big trouble on the Patriots’ horizon. Trades, defections, defeats, retirements, scandals, new and talented challengers. One of those things had to provide the last and final word for this historic run.
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We already know what didn’t do it: The Drew Bledsoe trade; the Lawyer Milloy release; Adam Vinatieri signing with the Colts; Spygate and the almost-perfect season; Tom Brady, age 31, tearing his ACL and MCL; the 2009 exodus (Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Josh McDaniels, Scott Pioli); the two seasons of New York Jets contention (feel free to place laughing emojis and memes here); Deflategate; the drafting, anointing, and eventual trade of Jimmy Garoppolo; the Super Bowl disappearance of Malcolm Butler; and Brady, age 41, pleading the Fifth when asked if Belichick and Robert Kraft appreciate him enough.
And so here we are, at yet another tension point on this two-decades-long ride. Brady, who will be 43 next month, is gone. Cam Newton, a dozen years younger, is here.
You tell me: Is the dynasty finally over now?
Teams aren’t supposed to be able to survive this. Brady, the best quarterback to ever play, took a lot of championship hard drive with him to Florida. The Brady-to-Newton transfer seems like the work of a rookie scriptwriter: The quarterback who has passed for more touchdowns than anyone (regular season and playoffs) is replaced by the quarterback who has rushed for more touchdowns than anyone at the position… and he’s on New England’s books for fewer dollars than Brian Hoyer.
I don’t know if Newton will be able to overcome his shoulder and foot injuries. But what should be obvious to anyone watching is that Belichick doesn’t have any “bridge year” in him. We’ll all have to keep waiting for his dynasty concession speech. It’s never going to happen.
Really, we all should have seen this one coming. Player restoration is something Belichick is always trying to do. Especially at bargain prices. He’s done it at almost every position except for quarterback, and that’s because this was his first opportunity to do it there in 20 years.
If you use Belichick’s history as a guide, you should also be expecting something else when the preseason begins. Change. Newton is not going to be asked to run the same offense as Brady. In fact, I won’t be surprised if the Patriots’ attack looks, at times, like the Patriots of the late 1970s. That is, a team whose identity is tied to a fierce running game, including the quarterback.
This is where the combination of Belichick’s experience and willingness to adapt makes his year-to-year team vision so interesting and impossible to duplicate.
I’m not just talking about schemes, but players, too. For those who wonder if he and Newton can coexist, just consider the two best players he’s coached, Lawrence Taylor and Brady. Now think about all the different personalities, styles, and societal changes he’s seen between 1981 — when LT was a rookie — and now.
Show me a great coach and I’ll show you a great teacher. Show me a great teacher and I’ll show you someone who knows how to reach the so-called unreachable.
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Frankly, I think Belichick loves what’s happened this spring. The Bills have been installed as division favorites, and Patriots departures — Brady and several others — have forced Belichick and his staff to reimagine what they’re doing. Keep in mind, that’s like asking Bruno Mars to perform. You know, that’s just what he does.
What’s so odd about this situation is that no part of it is supposed to be positive. How is it possible for Brady to leave and yet people still hesitate when you ask, “Is the dynasty over?” Then again, it shouldn’t be possible to win 78 percent of your games (162-46) during the same period in which the NFL has docked two first-round picks and a fourth. Another third-rounder will vanish in 2021.
It’s totally fair to suggest that none of the annual success can continue without Brady. He’s much older than Newton, yes, but has proven to be more durable in his 40s than Newton in his late 20s/early 30s. He’s won 10 times as many playoff games. You can’t just go from Brady to Newton and expect everything to be fine, can you?
You’re not being unreasonable if you say that Brady-for-Newton is the exchange that will finally bring the whole empire down. Or maybe it’s simply time for the league to belong to Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson now. At some point, the long run of double-digit wins has to end. The last time the Patriots didn’t do that in a season, Newton was 13 years old.
Go ahead and answer. Is it over now? Don’t worry about being wrong. You’ll never break my record.