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Super Bowl 2012: Best Days of Patriots Dynasty Firmly in the Past

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterFebruary 6, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05:  Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots walks offsides the field after losing to the New York Giants 21-17 during Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Four years ago, the New England Patriots were on the verge of becoming perhaps the greatest dynasty team in the history of the NFL.

They fell short, losing to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Instead of four Super Bowl victories in seven seasons, they had to settle for three victories and one loss in seven seasons.

With the Patriots once again losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl on Sunday, it's now three wins and two losses in 11 seasons. A resume that was once legendary has become a mixed bag.

When you look at the last 11 seasons from a big-picture perspective, it's like you're looking at two different eras.

Tom Brady holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy as he stands on the podium after The New England Patriots defeated The Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX at Alltel Staduim in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The first era—the one that existed between 2001 and 2004—contained one of the greatest teams the league has ever seen. From top to bottom, the Patriots were stacked, and they could do little wrong from week to week. Tom Brady was still young at the time, and he was practically a lock to become the greatest quarterback in the history of the league by the time he was ready to hang 'em up.

He was on a ridiculous pace.

The second era started in 2005 and is ongoing. The Patriots have been consistently great throughout it, winning at least 10 games every season, but they just haven't been the best. There were a couple seasons in which they most certainly could have been the best, but they fell short.

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In situations like these, we look around for somebody to pin it on. In football, it's typically the quarterback who gets the bad rap.

But you can't blame Brady for what has gone on in the last seven seasons. On the contrary, he's been the best quarterback in the NFL in this time, and he's been head and shoulders better than the quarterback he was from 2001-2004.

You can't blame Bill Belichick either. You can whine and complain about the Spygate thing if you want, but Belichick has always been a great coach. He still is, and he will continue to be a great coach as long as he chooses to stick around.

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 14:  (L-R)  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots talks with head coach Bill Belichick on the sideline against the Denver Broncos during their AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 14, 2012 in Foxboro, Massac
Elsa/Getty Images

There is no set formula for winning Super Bowls, but having a great quarterback and a great head coach is a start. If you're set with greatness in those two areas, you merely need to be solid everywhere else.

And that's the thing with these Patriots. As great as Brady and Belichick are, the rest of the team leaves a lot to be desired. Sure, you have great individual players here and there (i.e. Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker), but there are a few too many weaknesses spread out across the roster.

That's a problem that didn't really afflict the Patriots teams of 2001-2004. The Patriots weren't great because they had stars. They were great because they had balance. Every man did his job, and even Brady, for all the attention he got in those days, wasn't the superstar that he is today.

The question concerning the Patriots now is not where they went wrong, but rather what they can do to recapture the greatness of yesteryear. How can they take this great team they have and make it even better?

Since a complete overhaul is not in the cards, the only solution for the Patriots is to patch up the weak spots as best they can. 

The trouble with this, of course, is that this is what the Patriots have been doing for several seasons now. The team's overall quality peaked in 2007, but the Patriots have slowly and steadily gotten a little bit worse ever since that team was beaten by the Giants.

It hasn't helped that so many of the veterans that stabilized the 2001-2004 squads are gone now.

The team's efforts to patch its holes have been successful, but only to an extent. The Pats have been good enough to dominate in the regular season, but asking these Patriots teams to win it all is apparently asking too much.

I want to say that Sunday's Super Bowl loss is the beginning of the end for the Patriots dynasty, but I honestly don't know if that's the case. As long as Brady and Belichick are around, there's no reason the Patriots won't be able to compete.

But having the two of them around is a double-edged sword. The Pats will be able to compete, but they'll also be forced to proceed with the hole-patching process the franchise has fallen into. 

This will keep them afloat, but things will fall apart soon enough. This is a lesson the Indianapolis Colts were kind enough to teach us in 2011.

The Patriots have no choice but to believe that this dynasty isn't quite finished yet. They have to believe that there's still greatness to be achieved.

In truth, though, the Patriots' greatest days have come and gone. 

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