Flashback to February 6, 2005 when the New England Patriots had just won their second consecutive Super Bowl, their third in four years. Tom Brady was 27 and looked primed to become the most decorated quarterback in NFL history.
In that same year, after struggling to find the field behind Tyler Palko, Joe Flacco decided to transfer from the University of Pittsburgh and enroll at the University of Delaware to pursue a career as a quarterback in the NFL.
Fast-forward eight years to January 20, 2013, the date Tyler Palko’s backup beat the Golden Boy for a chance to win Super Bowl XLVII.
A lot has happened in those eight years. Tom Brady, for one, has won two MVPs, become the winningest quarterback in postseason history been to two more Super Bowls, choked in those two Super Bowls, has had one of his three Super Bowl victories questioned after his coach allegedly taped the opponent’s walk-through, torn his ACL and again failed to come through with everything on the line.
To say the least, the past eight years have been up and down for Brady and the Patriots. Yet despite their postseason struggles, the Patriots have reached the playoffs seven out of those eight years (winning the AFC East crown seven times), won at least 10 games in all eight seasons, and have been to four conference championship games in that time span.
While the majority of New England is still in mourning over the Patriots' most recent defeat, there is much to look forward to next season. I’d even venture to say the Patriots will win next year’s Super Bowl. Here’s why.
Despite his stone-faced personality and general coldness, the fact remains that Belichick is one of the best coaches in the NFL—perhaps the best.
Leading the Patriots to five Super Bowls since his tenure began in 2000, Belichick has collected three Coach of the Year Awards and gained the respect of everyone in the NFL over that span.
Belichick has been able to keep the Patriots at the top by deploying one the league’s most innovative offenses, even as his defenses have disappointed. Tom Brady helps a lot on offense, but when Brady went down in 2008 the Patriots still won 11 games…with Matt Cassel. I’m not saying Tom Brady isn’t a superstar but winning 11 games with Cassel shows just how good of a coach Belichick really is.
He has been the architect of this great run the Patriots have had in the past decade by mixing and matching players into various spots, tinkering until they find a position that fits them best.
His contract situation is up in the air, but Belichick was emphatic (if he has such an emotion) in announcing he will be back with the Patriots next season. As long as he is around the Patriots will be one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl every year.
By listing him ahead of Tom Brady you may get the impression I believe Rob Gronkowski is more important to the Patriots success than Tom Brady.
Look I’d take maybe only one or two quarterbacks before Brady, but without Gronkowski, or with a severely limited “there is no way he should have played in that game” Gronkowski, Brady has laid two of the biggest eggs in his postseason career (three if you count Superbowl XLII, when Gronkowski wasn’t on the roster).
Yes, they survived in the regular season without him, but look who they played: New York (Jets), Miami, Houston, San Francisco and Jacksonville. Houston was reeling when the Pats smacked them around, and San Francisco was up 31-3 before they went into a prevent defense that allowed Brady to lead an almost miraculous comeback.
This past Sunday the Patriots moved the ball pretty well actually, but they stalled in key spots. The Patriots failed on 3rd-and-2 from the Baltimore 12, 3rd-and-9 from the Baltimore 35, 3rd-and-2 from the Baltimore 45, 3rd-and-8 from the Baltimore 34 and lastly 3rd-and-4 from the Baltimore 19.
All those possessions resulted in three points. When you add in the two interceptions inside the Baltimore 25 and the clock mismanagement before halftime, the Patriots essentially came up empty (six points) on eight sustained possessions.
Having Gronkowski would have completely changed the game. Gronk is the ultimate red zone threat (38 TDs in 43 career games) and is the guy Brady looks to in key situations (aka third down).
He also doubles as the Patriots' deep threat. Brandon Lloyd proved this year he is the exact opposite of that, so half the field was taken away by having Gronkowski on the sidelines.
If, in the past two years, Gronkowski could have stayed healthy for the whole postseason, Brady has ring No. 4 with an opportunity this year for No. 5.
I know I’ve been hard on him so far, and quite honestly much of the criticism is well-deserved. Bill Barnwell looked at Brady’s postseason career in reverse and the results show how we look at Brady differently because of his early postseason success.
The fact remains, though, Brady is still a stud. Yes, he had lost a ton of his previously limited mobility, as seen here and here (go to 7:42 mark), but he still threw 34 touchdowns to only eight interceptions, on top of leading the Patriots to the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
He has struggled mightily in playoffs of late, but he hasn’t gotten much help either. The defenses he won Super Bowls with earlier in his career were much better than what he has been working with lately, and outside of this year his running game has been non-existent. Perhaps his struggles of late are a result of him trying to do too much rather than just enough.
At 35 years old, Brady’s best years are most likely behind him. No, he is not in his prime anymore, but he probably has two or three more years before he falls from elite quarterback status.
Brady will have the Patriots in contention next year, that is a guarantee. Whether he is able to get over the hump is another question.
To win the Super Bowl you must get in the playoffs. The easiest way to get in the playoffs is win your division. The Patriots will do that in the 2013-2014 season.
Let’s be honest: the AFC East stinks. The Jets are a mess, the Dolphins have a second-year quarterback and nobody but Terrell Suggs believes in Ryan Fitzpatrick.
That leaves the Patriots an easy road to another division title, playoff berth and first-round bye.
The Patriots went 6-0 in games against AFC East opponents last year, 16-3 in the past three years (including playoffs). That trend will not be changing anytime soon.
With some minor improvements, that could change in 2013. Aqib Talib was a huge pickup in 2012, and his early injury in the game against the Ravens was one of the main factors Anquan Boldin got open at will in the second half. He apparently enjoyed his time in New England, but it is another thing to commit to them long term. The Patriots will have some cap space and should make Talib a priority.
Two rookies should also continue to improve. Chandler Jones, New England’s best pass rusher who barely played in the Baltimore game with an ankle injury, will surely improve upon his six-sack rookie season. Fellow rookie Don’t’a Hightower was also impressive in his first year, collecting 60 tackles and four sacks.
Both will continue to grow next year, and if the Patriots are able to re-sign Talib, they will give Brady the necessary pieces he needs to win another Super Bowl.