I tend to bristle at this time of year when people discuss the New England Patriots' dynasty like some old god finally pulled down off his throne; as though Bill Belichick could breathe some supernatural life into his players that allowed them to make the big play at the big moment; that Foxboro, MA was home to some sort of magic that could transform the most pedestrian of journeymen into champions.
I don't bristle because I'm a New England Patriots fan. I grew up as one, but my journalism professors did their work well and I learned a while back that the game is so much bigger than one team.
I bristle at this because I'm a fan of football, and because Bill Belichick is a great football coach and Tom Brady is a great football player in a league that is packed with talent. Dynasties are measured in years, decades, and centuries. But they're measured as such because they have a beginning and ultimately, an end.
But football is not an arena for teams carrying the weight of history around. By 2006 most of the team that had won the Super Bowl following the 2001 season were gone. By 2009, all but two—Kevin Faulk and Tom Brady—had said their goodbyes.
As it happens on every team, in every city, in every single year, the New England Patriots made changes.
Bill Belichick's ability to coach football hasn't changed, though. In truth—and I think it's a more noble truth than all the other bologna that dynasties entail—the teams that the New England Patriots fielded for the last ten seasons were simply very good football teams that won a lot of big games.
You can call that a dynasty, but I simply call it being a great coach and a good football team, year after year.
Sure, that's not going to sell books or gather radio listeners like railing on about dynasties, but the simple fact is that the New England Patriots played football very well when it mattered, until this year when they did not.
That is what history should record about these New England Patriots football teams, if history deigns to do such a thing.
Because to me, it's the very thing that made those Patriots teams worth following and worth admiring—and the fruit of that admiration was born out completely by the incredible respect shown by the Ravens to the Patriots on Sunday—was that they simply kept reloading, one week at a time, and made adjustments based on who they were playing.
It wasn't about building a dynasty, or even winning a championship. It was about winning this weekend, and then next weekend, and then the next.
I hear a lot of talk about the Patriots' dynasty being "over" because they lost more games this year than in year's past, because they made mistakes that are considered uncharacteristic for them, or because the quaint little Foxboro stadium with its metal bleachers and unsold seats has become Patriot Place with luxury boxes and seventeen hundred restaurants.
In truth, they won a division that they probably shouldn't have won. They don't do any one thing as well week to week, as the New York Jets do running the ball and playing defense. They can throw the ball with the best of them, but their weaknesses undermined that strength.
They got by because they had the first truly solid draft class in a couple seasons—given the glut of talented rookies, I wonder who didn't this year—got production out of unexpected areas, didn't suffer any real key season-ending injuries until the end, and got enough out of their veteran and core young players to win some close games.
They have a young defense, a middling rushing attack, and an offensive line that will, in all likelihood, be blown up this offseason. Like every other team in the league, they'll make adjustments and move on.
I don't buy that the Patriots dynasty is over because I don't believe in the existence of dynasties to begin with.
What is a dynasty worth? When Ray Rice was barrelling through the heart of the Patriot defensive line for his 83-yard touchdown run, was he considering the broader stroke of history? That he was inflicting some mortal wound into a great and tired animal that hadn't yet taken such a shot on its home field?
Somehow, I doubt it. He probably wasn't thinking at all. He was just doing what he has spent his life doing.
Good football teams are filled with good players, players who have spent their lives preparing and getting better at this game. When they aren't playing it, they train for it, lift weights to get stronger for it, dream about it.
I watch the NFL because it's a joy to watch the best in the world—in some cases perhaps the best of all time—face off against one another.
To call a team a dynasty or to ascribe some pre-determined metaphysical advantage because other guys who once wore the same uniform played well enough to win diamond rings is an insult to the players who wear it now.
They've earned their time, their place on the team, and the chance to make their own history, win or lose.
But when you only stop to consider what a team has done over the course of several years, you cheapen all the little moments that made those years possible.
Football isn't drawn out like other sports. You get one game to prove you're the better team, not seven. Often, you only get one drive or one play. That's it.
That's what football is about, and that's why this is a game worth watching every week.
So keep your dynasties. I'll keep the NFL, where history lives only to be rewritten each Sunday.
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