Is This the End of the Patriots Dynasty?

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Brett Abrams, Staff Writer

Since the late ’90s, the New England Patriots have been one of the most dynamic and talked-about teams of the National Football League (NFL). Led by star quarterback Drew Bledsoe, the Patriots made the playoffs four consecutive years — from 1994 to 1998 –– even making a Super Bowl appearance in 1996. The Patriots seemed to be one of the best teams in the league, showing no signs of slowing down.

Then, in the first month of the 2001 season, Bledsoe got hit by a linebacker, shearing a blood vessel in his chest, an injury that ended his career.

Enter Tom Brady.

Today, there isn’t one debate regarding the greatest football players of all time that doesn’t mention the name Tom Brady. Prior to his entrance into the league, Brady received little attention from NFL scouts. Brady was a sixth-round pick in the 2000 NFL draft after playing college football at the University of Michigan. The switch from Bledsoe to Brady caused most fans, analysts and even coaches to speculate that the Patriots were right back where they started before Bledsoe arrived.

They couldn’t have been more wrong.

The 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft went on to become one of the greatest quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen, winning six Super Bowls in his tenure with the Patriots. Brady and the Patriots have achieved what was attempted with Bledsoe: they formed a dynasty in the NFL. They have made the playoffs every year since 2003 and Brady has been the starting quarterback year in, year out. At the age of 42, Brady this season became the oldest starting quarterback to appear in a playoff game.

Brady can’t take all the credit for the success of the Patriots. The team’s stern head coach, Bill Belichick, has been in charge since Brady entered the league in 2000 and has even acted as the General Manager of the organization. The Brady-Belichick duo will go down in football history as one of the greatest pairings of all time.

The unfathomable reign of the Patriot’s dynasty has brought joy to the organization’s fans across the country. Some people claim there are a majority of fans who support them purely based on the team’s success and the satisfaction that comes with it. According to Pali senior and Patriots fan Connor Scott, “It’s very fun honestly, even with people accusing me of being a bandwagoner. At least my team was winning, and I could be happy about that.”

Although the elite gameplay of Brady and intelligence of Belichick has persisted for years, it seems as though the dominant Patriots dynasty is finally coming to a close.

In 2019, the Patriots lost four regular-season games, three to other division leaders in their conference, and one to one of the worst teams in the NFL. The Patriots couldn’t seem to win any major games that would secure them a bye week in the playoffs. As the season came to a close in late December, the Patriots clinched the third-seed spot in the American Football Conference (AFC) playoff bracket and were set to face the sixth-seeded Tennessee Titans in the Wildcard round.

For the first time since 2009, the Patriots shockingly lost in the Wildcard round; every other year, they played a divisional-round game. This loss added to the discussion of one of the most-debated questions in the NFL: Is the Patriots dynasty over?

The Patriots have endured many obstacles, including multiple scandals questioning the ethics of the organization and the loss of key coordinators and coaching assistants. But until now, nothing could slow them down. Perhaps Brady’s age has finally started to catch up with him.

Last season was one of the best for the Patriots defensively. They had the top-ranked defense in the league, offset by an offense that ranked seventh in the league, the team’s lowest ranking since 2008, when an injury sidelined Brady for all but one game.

Along with Brady’s decline, core members of the Patriots coaching staff are moving on. The Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has gained enough prestige in his 16 years with the team to be considered a viable candidate to become head coach of another team. In 2018, McDaniels agreed to become the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, only to back out of this deal to remain with the Patriots. The next time an offer arises, it’s unknown if he’ll stay in New England. Along with speculation of McDaniels’ departure, special teams coordinator and wide receiver coach Joe Jude left the Patriots after agreeing to become head coach of the New York Giants.

The Patriots roster is due to undergo major changes in the 2020 off-season as well. Brady is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career and whether or not the Patriots are going to resign him is in question. The team’s best wide receiver, Julian Edelman, will be 34 by the time the new season kicks off in September. New England also has a plethora of talented defensive players who are eligible to become free agents come March.

Ex-Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski retired after the team’s 2019 Super Bowl victory. Gronkowski was quintessential to the team’s success; Brady could throw to the 6-foot 6-inch target anywhere on the field. The absence of the star tight end is one of the reasons Brady underperformed in the 2019-20 season. Despite the Patriot’s recent struggles, it doesn’t seem like the future Hall of Fame tight end will be returning anytime soon.

Although all the signs point to the end of the dynasty, nobody can know for sure if the celebrated franchise is past its glory days until the Patriots start to consistently underperform as a team. People claimed that the Patriots’ success was over after they lost to the Ravens in the 2010 AFC Wildcard game, but they came back two years later to beat the Ravens in the 2012 AFC Conference Championship –– earning themselves a Super Bowl appearance that year. People claimed that Brady wouldn’t return to dominate the league after his ACL injury in 2008, but he returned in 2009 to lead the team to the playoffs. People claimed that the team was doomed after trailing the Falcons by 25 points in the second half of Super Bowl LI, but New England rallied to win, 34-28, in overtime.

The uncertainty of Brady’s future is one of the most significant factors in the dynasty debate. Not only has he been the lone player remaining from the 2000 team, but he also has been the most important one for the past 20 years. “I don’t know what the future looks like and I’m not going to predict it,” Brady said in the post-game press conference after the team’s recent Wildcard loss. Although there have been many predictions, nobody within the Patriots organization has given any definitive details about the future of the decorated quarterback.

Former Pali student Lucas Trepanier, a Boston native, has been an avid Patriots fan since birth. After living in Los Angeles for a few years, Trepanier moved back to the East Coast, maintaining his Patriots fandom despite living in multiple cities. Even with signs of the Patriots dynasty coming to a close, Trepanier thinks the team is not done yet, claiming, “They always do best when they are doubted.”

Patriots fans across the country, like Trepanier, hope the team continues its dominance in the league. Superfans will continue to support the organization despite any tough losses and poor seasons they have. Should this truly be the fall of the Patriots dynasty, know that the years of greatness weren’t for nothing. To sum up simply the feeling of being a Patriots fan for the past two decades, Trepanier said, “It’s been so hype.”