It all started with Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick's old boss and mentor.
Parcells taught Belichick that you can get more fans in the seats by playing a high-flying offense, but it is the defense that wins the championships. He taught him how to run a conservative offense, while playing outstanding defense. It got him three Super Bowl rings in four years!
Unlike what most people think the dynasty did not die last year when the Patriots lost to the Ravens. Nor did it end when the Patriots lost to the Colts in the AFC Championship game in 2007. It ended probably a few hours after that game.
Belichick reviewed the game and asked himself, "What is it that allowed the Colts to come back from a 21-3 deficit?"
Say what you will, that is ridiculous. Most people thought the game was over at halftime. So he went through the makeup of the Colts.
They had a decent defense, not an outstanding one. In fact, to this very day the Colts' defense is considered their biggest weakness. They had a decent pass rush and average corners, but the thing that made the Colts the Colts is their offense. Their offense was built to win. They had a pretty good running back, but the key to their offense was Peyton Manning. He had excellent receivers all up and down the depth chart. He had Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and Dallas Clark. Their offensive line, anchored by Jeff Saturday, was one of the most feared in the league.
So Belichick went through the process of asking himself, "What do the Colts have that we don't?"
He realized the Patriots defense is just as good as the Colts, maybe a tad better. The offensive line is solid and the quarterback is one of the best in the league in Tom Brady. The Patriots had already drafted a solid running back in Laurence Maroney. So what are they missing?
The only thing lacking for the Patriots it seemed was the wide receivers. They had everything else. So Belichick did what he had to do. He dealt a fourth-round pick for Randy Moss.
A lot of people liked Moss' talent, but thought he would never care enough to be an impact player again. Brady restructured his contract just so the deal could go through. Then Moss ripped up his contract and signed a one-year pact.
After that Belichick wanted another receiver. So he went to Miami and gave them a second- and seventh-round pick in exchange for Wes Welker. He explained that the Patriots had tried for years but simply could not cover him. So the Patriots had vastly upgraded their offense. But they were not done yet.
After all that Belichick went out and signed Kyle Brady, Kelley Washington and Donte Stallworth. The entire emphasis was on upgrading the offense. The logic was that the defense had enough stars on it, by upgrading the offense he was further bolstering the team's abilities.
That season the Patriots laid waste to 18 opponents. They destroyed the Bills twice. They destroyed the Dolphins. They won 18 games in a row. Then Belichick met a familiar foe in the Super Bowl. Another disciple of the legendary Bill Parcells.
His name is Tom Coughlin.
So what happened? Coughlin remembered Parcells' methods. The idea is to keep the game close until the end where you give your offense a chance to win the game. The Patriots it seemed had gotten very confident, and possibly overconfident because of their winning streak.
It is odd but at one point Michael Strahan was heard yelling to the defense the Patriots only have six plays. If we can stop those six plays they can do nothing.
Wait what?! Are you serious? Six plays? That's it? I for one hope Strahan was exaggerating. Anyways we all know what happened.
The Giants pulled off the upset, and the Patriots learned the hard way that going undefeated means nothing. The 2007 Patriots will always be remembered as the team that could not finish the job.
So that ended the dynasty. But it got worse. Then they just allowed Asante Samuel, their top cornerback leave via free agency. The defense deteriorated as eventually Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel and many more players were traded or retired. Belichick never bothered to fix the defense.
He was too focused on the offense. The offense is more exciting, but remember Parcells' saying? "Offense gets you fans, but defense wins championships."
So now Belichick has spent the last two drafts trying to rebuild the defense. The young cornerbacks they have are slowly developing into decent players. It could take a while but once the defense returns they can get back to their glory years.
As for the offense the acquisition of Deion Branch for a fourth-round pick seems to show he is returning to his roots. As for the trade of Randy Moss for a third-round pick, it shows they are trying to do a complete 180.
The Patriots are going back to what won them championships in the first place. They are going to use role receivers, some solid running backs. They are not going to become a clone of the Indianapolis Colts, who for all their talent has only won one championship in the last decade.
In fact the tight ends that they drafted are doing superbly. Which is great news because back in their glory years they had a tight end based offense. Now they seem to be going back to such an offense. Let's see if they do.
So Belichick learned the hard way that Parcells knew what he was talking about. He is now returning to the old methods. But will they work in the new environment. My guess is yes, just look at the Pittsburgh Steelers. The real question is how long until the defense is properly rebuilt and the offense returns to its glory years form? I would give it two years then watch the Patriots compete every year again. They may become a dynasty, or they may not as other teams like the Giants have caught on.