New England Patriots: How To Avoid Becoming Irrelevant...Again.

Dennis ParslowContributor IJanuary 23, 2011

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 16:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots looks on near the end of their 28 to 21 loss to the New York Jets in their 2011 AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 16, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

While the Patriots made the occasional run at the Super Bowl every 10 years or so, they had mostly been irrelevant until Bill Belichick and Tom Brady came along. 

There were great players and some great runs, but for the most part, they could never put it all together before 2001.  Belichick inherited some talent on defense and then went grocery shopping to fill in the missing pieces until he had a Top Five unit.  Then, Brady made clutch plays under pressure to win the big games, making them more than relevant. They were hated—the mark of a dynastic team. 

Bill Belichick whiffed in the draft for a few years but apparently regained some of his mojo the last couple of years, hitting on McCourty, Mayo, Vollmer, Gronkowski, Hernandez and possibly several others.   He may be building a Top Five defense again if several others; Chung, Brace, Tate, Cunningham and Spikes can reach their potential, and he can make good use of the bevy of picks he has acquired for the 2011 draft.

None of that will matter though, if he doesn’t have a quarterback that can win the big games.  All of Belichick’s success has come with one of the best quarterbacks we’ve ever seen running his team.   We have to wonder if Brady can win another though.   When the 2011 Super Bowl comes around, Tom Terrific will be 34.  In the past 30 years, only three quarterbacks have won a Super Bowl after their 34th birthday.  

John Elway hoisted the Lombardi at 37 and 38.  The 36-year-old Jim Plunkett outdueled the 34-year-old Joe Theisman.  Brad Johnson did it at 34, but he played the 37 year-old Rich Gannon, who was picked off every time he threw the ball in that game because his mentor was Brad Johnson’s coach.  The Tampa defense scored more touchdowns that Johnson did in that game.

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Will Tom Brady defy logic and history and be the fourth to do it?  It’s possible, but he has had major knee surgery, recent foot surgery and lost three playoff games in a row though.  New England may begin to think about life after Tom if they are to avoid falling into obscurity once again.  As painful as it was in Green Bay and San Francisco, those teams reloaded while the top guns were still firing and made the painful decision to go with the young and restless to stay at the top.  The 49ers hardly missed a beat with Steve Young at the helm, and Aaron Rodgers appears destined to get to and eventually win the big game to bring the Cheeseheads back to prominence.    

Is Brian Hoyer the future in Foxboro?  It’s hard to tell.  He’s looked confident and capable in his brief body of work, but the Patriots refuse to let him have any real playing time, even when they are stomping the life out of opponents. Against Miami in Week 17, they had the game and the conference in hand, pulled Tom, only to bring him back on the field so they could…well, I’m really not sure what the reason was actually. 

Are they going to keep Hoyer around for three more years until Tom’s contract expires?   Unlikely.  The better plan would be to draft the future in 2011 with one of those 117 picks Bill has compiled in case of a nuclear winter.  He does know you don’t win a Super Bowl because you have the most draft picks, right?

If New England is going to stay relevant for the next decade, one of those picks had better be on the next Tom Brady, or the Foxboro Faithful will be saying “remember back when we were good?” sooner than they think.

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