Many people point to the New England Patriots as a model franchise. They always have a team filled with players who care about the team and not themselves.
They take pay cuts, they restructure their contracts, and they help rookies adapt. But how come they have not won a Super Bowl in a long time?
To understand this, we have to go back to when they won all those Super Bowls. We must analyze what made them unique.
Sure, the team-first mentality was there then, too, but that is not unique and thus not important.
For instance, if you studied why Canadians won so many gold medals in the Winter Olympics, you might say because they all had coaches, but so did everyone else!
The unique thing may be their mindset that the gold medal is the only medal that matters.
So what made them unique?
First, let us look at the offense. The first year Tom Brady was not the Tom Brady we know today. He did not set the league on fire by setting records and terrorizing defenses.
The only similarity was that he just won football games. The key was that he would throw lots of screen passes and run the ball. That was the offensive style, and though it may not seem sexy, they won...a lot.
The second thing is their defense. They created a defense where everyone gave it their all. It was a solid defense that helped win games.
Even though they gave up a lot of yards, they allowed very few points (top five in the league). In other words, their defense was one of the best.
To recap, they had an offense that was built on the running game and screen passes, and a defense that would not allow many points.
Realize that for a defense to allow so few points they needed a running game, because a powerful aerial attack forces the defense back onto the field soon thus resulting in more points.
It is the difference between the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers defense and the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
So what happened to change it all? It all began in the 2006 AFC Championship game. The Colts trailed the Patriots 21-6 at halftime. Then in the second half, the Colts' aerial attack went to work. They eventually beat the Patriots 38-34.
Bill Belichick took one lesson from this game. The old ways would no longer work. Bill Belichick learned from Bill Parcells that offence is what made fans come to the game, but defense wins championships.
Belichick, however, believed they could not continue running the ball and playing a pound it out offense to complement exceptional defense.
They needed to match the aerial attack of the Colts. So he went out and got Donte Stallworth, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker.
This began one of the greatest Super Bowl runs in NFL history. They did not just beat their opponents, they laid waste to them.
All of that meant nothing because in the Super Bowl he met another disciple of Parcells, Tom Coughlin. The Giants had built one of the greatest defenses in the NFL to complement a pound it out offense.
And that day, the world watched in awe as the undefeated New England Patriots lost to the New York Giants.
The lesson to learn here is never to question Parcells. Whether in the new NFL or the old NFL, his methods would work.
Bill Belichick is no fool. He saw that their offense can lay waste to anybody but it meant nothing if he could not build an outstanding defense.
This led him to start slowly rebuilding the defense. First, he allowed Asante Samuel to walk as he needed the cap space. He then drafted heavily on defense, including seventh overall pick Jerod Mayo.
In other words, within one year of losing his way, Bill Belichick went back to what won it all for him.
Unfortunately, his starting quarterback, Tom Brady went down with an injury in the opening game, so it forced Matt Cassel into the limelight. The problem was the defense may have been fixed, but the running game was very weak.
With Matt Cassel at quarterback, the Patriots had to run the ball more. They did a great job, but one wonders if they would have done the same if Tom Brady was still under centre. So the Patriots ended up going back to the power running game.
The main problem in the last several years has been that the defensive unit has lost so many veterans that the defense is made up of lots of young players. As a result, the defense does not hold up that great (especially in the playoffs).
However, with these players slowly growing into their roles, it seems that Belichick has built another dynasty. They have returned to the power running game and solid defense, but now their aerial attack leaves nothing to be desired.
The team is greatly different from their Super Bowl-winning years, and yet the same.