After a decade has finished in which the New England Patriots franchise won three Super Bowl titles and flirted with perfection, the second decade of the new millennium has marked the end of an era.
On Sunday, the Patriots looked nothing like those three Super Bowl teams. Tom Brady, coming off his injury from last season, played nothing like the Tom Brady that won three Super Bowls. Bill Belichick is well-respected and widely considered the best coach in the game, but his coaching looked anything but the best all season long.
The Baltimore Ravens strolled into New England and took control in the first 15 seconds. An 83-yard run by running back Ray Rice opened the flood gates on the first play from scrimmage. Baltimore ended the first quarter with a 24-0 lead over the Patriots.
The Ravens entered the game only a four-point underdog to the Patriots because of their ability to play defense and run the ball effectively. Still, New England had not lost a home playoff game since 1978. They had not lost a home game at Gillette Stadium all season. Over the past nine seasons with Brady starting as the Patriots quarterback, he has not looked as disinterested in football as he did on Sunday, and it doesn't appear that the Patriots have the talent on the field to continue this decade of dominance in the NFL.
Every playoff game that the Patriots have taken the field against an opponent at home, it was usually them jumping on top early. Instead, the Ravens and their ability to force turnovers was the primary reason that the margin grew so large, so quickly.
Tom Brady had always shown the ability to bounce back from a mistake and turn his next possession into points. On Sunday, it was mistake after mistake that led to the end of the season for New England.
It seems like every decade has that one team. The Patriots were definitely that team that everyone feared from their Super Bowl win in January 2002 until now. In the 1990's it was the Cowboy's for the first half of the decade and the John Elway-led Broncos took over the last two years.
In the 1980's it had to be the San Francisco 49ers, who were led by Joe Montana and won four Super Bowls.
In the 1970's the face of the NFL was the Pittsburgh Steelers led by their defense, 'The Steel Curtain'.
Throughout time it has been amazing how teams have been unable to continue that excellence beyond one decade. Currently the NFL is really a league of mediocrity the way it is set up.
With the salary-cap designed the way it is and with the rules of free-agency, it is amazing how New England has kept things together as long as they have. Some franchises have not figured out how to work the system to their advantage. The Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, and Cleveland Browns are just four of the teams that have struggled mightily to master the system.
When all 32 teams have people in charge in the front office with the ability to operate and manipulate the system the NFL has in place, than every year we will see six teams battling for the Wild Card on the final weekend of football. We will likely see dominant teams for maybe two to three years instead of the run the Patriots, Cowboys, 49ers, and Steelers went on in their respective decades.
Football is always changing. There is talk of taking helmets out of the game. There is talk of adding two games into the regular season. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has made it pretty clear that he is going to put his own imprints on his era of leading the 32 franchises. It seems pretty clear that the NFL will not be expanding anytime soon. Los Angeles could be granted a franchise, but that would be most likely if a team relocated.
The issues in the locker room this past season in New England was something never seen during the Patriots run of this decade. Bill Belichick never had to send players home during a snowstorm for being late. It appears that a lot more went into the dismissals than just the reason of them all being late.
It never appeared that the cohesiveness between Brady and Moss was there this season. The running game has always been suspect. Lawrence Maroney has been in Bill Belichick's dog house throughout his short career. The ego-maniac that Belichick is has never let Maroney be the sole back in his offense.
Belichick's manner in which he treats the media is sad and has now become just annoying. His offspring of coaches have shown the same arrogance that Belichick has through his stint in New England. It's obvious that success breeds big heads and that entire organization is going to be something to watch over the next couple years during their difficult times.
Josh McDaniels has been a sad mirror-image of Belichick in Denver, and his ego cost the Broncos a shot at the playoffs on multiple occasions. Eric Mangini, Charlie Weis, and Romeo Crennel have proved that the Bill Belichick tree of coaches may just be average at best.
Was it a decade of lucky coaching and great quarterbacking by Brady? Was it a decade of mediocre football by the rest of the NFL? We will never know the exact answer, but that lucky call by the referees against the Oakland Raiders in the snowstorm that started this mayhem could be the sole reason behind all of their big egos.
The infamous tuck rule was established by the lucky Patriots. The undefeated, arrogant, dominant 18-0 Patriots lost in the Super Bowl. Their other Super Bowl victories came against Terrell Owens-less Eagles team and they needed an MVP performance by Tom Brady.
Is it possible that Bill Belichick is not that good of a coach? Is it possible Tom Brady is the only reason they have three Super Bowls? We'll find out in the next couple years how good of a coach 'Capt. Hoody' really is.