Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Decline of the New England Patriot Empire

Mike StangerCorrespondent INovember 13, 2011

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 31:  Tom Brady #12 of New England Patriots checks the clock with his coach Bill Belichick in the fourth quarter against the Minnesita Vikings at Gillette Stadium on October 31, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Eventually, all empires fall.  

The Roman Empire, fat and happy from years of dominance, scarcely put up a fight when the barbarians arrived at the gate. 

The British Empire found itself in retraction during the 20th century after stretching itself too thin in the 19th.

The Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders at one time had the skimpiest outfits in the league, which propelled them to international fame. The rest of the cheerleading squads raised the bar on risqué over the years, leaving the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders with arguably the most conservative outfits by the new standard.

And, now the New England Patriots are suffering the same fate as the others.  Years of dominance have led to an increase in arrogance, obstinance and a deviation from their successful formula.

Although this is tragic for Patriot fans, it was inevitable.  Eternal dominance is impossible to sustain, even more so in today's parity-obsessed NFL.

So, how did the Patriots' decline come to be?

Let's start with the face of the team, Tom Brady.  Brady is arguably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, quarterback to ever play the game.  His resume includes three Super Bowl victories and numerous passing records.  His place in Canton is reserved.

However, his priorities appear to have changed. Yes, he still plays at a high level, but something seems to be off.

During the years of Patriot dominance, Brady virtually lived at the team's practice facilities.  Now, he trains in California and spends time jet-setting around the world with his supermodel wife and child.

This is not a bad thing.  As we all grow older, we come to realize that there are more important things in life than subservience to our work.  I don't begrudge him one bit.  Yet, this new lifestyle lends itself to less hunger.

Does Brady still have the passion to win?  Certainly.  But does he still have the same singular purpose as he once did.  I'm not so sure.

Furthermore, Brady is getting ever closer to 35 years old, which I consider the point of no return for most quarterbacks.  Few quarterbacks have played at high level after that point, owing to declining physical skills or injury.

Bill Belichick, on the other hand, is dealing with a different set of issues.  Unlike quarterbacks, coaches don't face as much of an issue as players when it comes to Father Time.  Their downfall is arrogance and inflexibility. Moreover, the rest of the league eventually catches on.

Such is the case with Belichick.  In his dominating years as coach of the Patriots, he surrounded himself with capable assistants, such as Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, and a competent personnel man in Scott Pioli.  

He drafted well and ran a tight ship.  He created an atmosphere based on the Gestalt principle that the whole is great than the sum of its parts and it was branded as the "Patriot Way".

Now, Belichick wears all of the hats. Most of his recent string of draft picks wind up having the same value as Greek bonds.  And his "Patriot Way" has transmogrified into a desperate attempt to salvage his poor drafts by harboring the league ne'er-do-wells.

Yet, despite all of this, the team has still been winning over the last few years. But, decline in an empire doesn't usually happen overnight.  Little cracks start to surface before the whole thing eventually collapses. 

Evidence of the cracks in the Patriots' foundation can be found in the fact that the Pats have lost their last two playoff games at home, a phenomenon incomprehensibly not that long ago.  

Or, the fact that they lost a game to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that they've owned under Belichick and Brady.  And, the loss came after a bye week, which spelled a guaranteed win for the Pats in the past.

Once Brady is gone, Belichick, smartly, will probably leave.  And then the barbarians will be ready to pillage and the Patriot chapter in NFL history will close.

Take solace Patriots fans.  Your team had a great run and that is something many teams don't ever experience.  However, you must accept your fate because nobody can rule forever.  

Just ask the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders.