Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Brady didn't begin his career as an offensive juggernaut.
In 2001, the year he won his first Super Bowl, he totaled only 2,843 yards and 18 touchdowns. In 2003, the year of his second Super Bowl victory, he totaled 3,620 yards and 23 touchdowns. In 2004, the year of his third ring, he notched 3,692 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Now, look what he did during the second half of his career.
In 2007, he accumulated 4,806 yards and an astounding 50 touchdowns. In 2011, he totaled 5,235 yards and 39 touchdowns. In 2012, he notched 4,827 yards and 34 touchdowns (while also throwing a score to Wes Welker in Week 17 for his 48th straight regular-season game with a touchdown pass).
The second half of Brady's career has been a storybook ascension. He's continually rewritten the scope of his own greatness.
So, why hasn't he won a ring since 2004?
The answers vary from person to person. Some would cite a few fortunate Super Bowl catches for the New York Giants. Others would cite some unlucky drops and bounces for the Patriots. Others would cite the flimsy nature of New England's defense over the years, which has continually taken beatings and given up big plays.
For me, it's about swagger.
Teams like the Ravens and Giants view the Patriots as "the team of yesterday." For that reason, they haven't been intimidated to play the Patriots in the playoffs. The Ravens and Giants both approached the past few pivotal postseason games from a "this is our time" mentality. It gave them a nastier swagger with more venomous immediacy.
The Patriots need to steal that swagger back by making it "their time" right now.
To do that, they need new leaders to define this new era of Patriots football. Tom Brady is the top leader, of course, but we need to remember that he's a symbol of the old dynasty, which drives other teams nuts and makes them go berserk on the Patriots in the playoffs. We need other heroes, in addition to Brady, to define this era.
For me, the "new leadership" really comes down to nine candidates. The first five are the most obvious: Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower, Adrian Wilson, Danny Amendola and Aqib Talib. The next four are the dark-horse candidates: Kenbrell Thompkins, Mark Harrison, Zach Sudfeld and Aaron Dobson.
Perhaps someone might throw Shane Vereen in there. Or Julian Edelman. In the long run, it doesn't matter who it is, just as long as some of these guys rise up. This team needs fresh leadership. It needs it now.
The burning question is: Will this new leadership actually emerge?