When New England Patriots fans look back at the 2010 season, will they remember it as a very good year, a year in which the Pats had the best record in the National Football League?
Or will 2010 be looked upon as a lost year of opportunity?
The Patriots had the best quarterback in the game in Tom Brady, who had a unanimous MVP season and a record breaking year.
Brady set a record for most consecutive passes without an interception (335) and threw for 36 touchdowns with only four interceptions, setting a new touchdown-to-interception ratio mark. His passer rating of 111.0 for the season was also the fifth best all-time.
In addition, New England had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The team that beat them in the playoffs, the New York Jets, were defeated handily by the Pats during the regular season. The Patriots also beat the two teams that played in the Super Bowl during the regular season, the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Lombardi trophy was just waiting for the Patriots.
Patriots fans still think about the 2007 AFC Championship Game in Indianapolis that slipped away, after they led 21-3 late in the first half and 21-6 at halftime. It looked like the Patriots would be playing for their fourth Lombardi trophy in six years, matching the Pittsburgh Steelers’ dynasty of the ‘70s in that regard.
Then the Colts scored 32 points in the second half to come back and win 38-34. They went on to beat an offensively challenged Chicago Bears team in Super Bowl XLI. That was definitely a Lombardi trophy and Super Bowl ring that got away from the Patriots.
Don’t even begin to mention the 2007 season to a Patriots fan, going 18-0 just to lose in Super Bowl XLII to the two-touchdown underdog New York Giants.
To a sports fan in the New England area it's the football equivalent of the baseball rolling through Bill Buckner’s legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Or like Bucky “Bleepin” Dent hitting the home run to beat the Red Sox in the 1978 Eastern Division tie-breaker game with the Yankees.
Add in this year’s playoff loss to the Jets, and in each case, the common denominator is New York beats Boston.
Despite the disappointments, it’s been a great run for the Patriots in the Belichick-Brady era.
Since 2001, New England has a regular season record of 121-39 for a winning percentage of .756 and have made the playoffs in eight of the past 10 seasons. Their postseason record during that time is 14-5 and the Patriots have won 10 or more games in each of the last eight years.
In comparing the Patriots' current 10-year run with the San Francisco 49ers 10-year run from 1981-1990, the Niners went 112-39 for a winning percentage of .742, winning four Super Bowls and made the playoffs nine times in those 10 seasons. Their postseason record during that period matches the Patriots at 14-5.
The greatest run of outstanding consecutive regular seasons belongs to the 49ers. From 1983 to 1998, San Francisco had 16 straight seasons with 10 or more victories and a record of 191-63 for a winning percentage of .752—and four Super Bowls. In those 16 seasons, the 49ers made the playoffs 15 times and had a postseason record of 17-11.
The 49ers followed up a 13-3 regular season in 1981 with a Super Bowl victory, and then a bad year in 1982 with a 3-6 record. If you include those two seasons in the 49ers run, San Francisco from 1981-1998 made the playoffs in 16 of those 18 seasons, winning five Super Bowls. They also had a regular season record of 207-72 for a winning percentage of .742, and a postseason record of 20-11 over that time.
A run of consistent success over that many years will be hard reproduce.
In the last 10 years, the Patriots have appeared in four Super Bowls winning three of them, but it could have been six Super Bowl trophies in owner Robert Kraft’s display case.
After the Patriots had won Super Bowl XXXIX—their third Super Bowl in four years—it appeared that the Patriots were poised to become the NFL’s all-time dynasty. Brady was not yet 30 and the future looked bright. Brady will turn 34 in August, and the Lombardi trophy count for the Patriots hasn't changed.
Did the focus of the task at hand wane against Indianapolis in 2008 and the Jets last season?
Was it the quest to set offensive records in the relentless and exhausting pursuit of 19-0 that did the Patriots in at Super Bowl XLII?
Whatever the reasons for those unexpected disappointments the Patriots have given us a team and a decade to remember, but something tells me the final chapter to their storied legacy has yet to be written.