By MARK KNUDSON
Special To woodypaige.com
Mere moments after the New England Patriots had completed a remarkable and historic comeback to defeat the Atlanta Falcons and win Super Bowl LI, the sharps in Las Vegas made them the odds-on favorites to win Super Bowl LII.
Don’t bet on it. The end of the New England Patriots Dynasty is at hand. This is not to diminish what is unquestionably the single greatest dynasty in professional sports in the 21st century. Nothing else comes close. What makes the Pats amazing run since 2001 truly remarkable is that it comes in the era of the salary cap – something other football dynasties like the 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers, 80’s San Francisco 49ers and ‘90’s Dallas Cowboys never had to deal with. Salary caps are set up to prevent dynasties (and enrich owners.)
So the Patriots and their fans have bragging rights like no one else.
And while history will forever be on their side, those bragging rights are about to be deflated. Change is in the air. That’s because the Pats are now facing their toughest adversary yet: Father Time…and he’s still unbeaten.
Watch the Super Bowl again. These Patriots aren’t getting better, they’re just getting older.
Lost in the hoopla of the Pats huge comeback was the fact that for the first 2/3 of Super Bowl LI, Tom Brady – the G.OA.T of professional quarterbacks – looked…just plain bad. He tossed up a batch of hurried and off target throws, looking much more like 2015 Peyton Manning than the 2016 MVP runner up. Before next season kicks off, Tom Terrific will be a 40-year-old quarterback with a lot of miles on his tires. Regardless of how well he takes care of himself – from his extraordinary nutritional habits all the way down to his pajamas – he cannot turn back the clock.
For the majority of the Super Bowl, Brady finally looked the part of an aging QB. Yes, he stepped up like champions do and played like an MVP in the fourth quarter. He erased an ugly pick-six pass and his many other bad moments in doing so. And even though he and many others believe that New England’s do-everything running back James White deserved to be named the game’s MVP, the fact remains that without Brady’s late game ascension, Atlanta wins.
It will be one of the defining moments of his Hall of Fame career…but it will very likely be his final truly great moment (as a player) as well.
Make no mistake, when next September rolls around, Brady will be under center for the defending champs. But Pats fans and NFL watchers need only to think back to Manning’s last season to see that if Brady begins to falter for longer stretches of time – which given his age plus wear and tear is more likely than not – coaches like Bill Belichick will hesitate for just so long before replacing him. Belichick’s history suggests that his loyalty lingers for less time than most. He’s let go of key players before – earlier than later in most cases. He’s not above showing Brady the door, gracefully of course. Anything less would be uncivilized.
Also, before you head for Vegas, keep in mind that during this amazing run of five Super Bowl titles in the past 15 seasons, the Pats have repeated as champions only once, and that was more than a decade ago. While they remain the standard bearer and the “the old guard” in the AFC, the contenders for their throne are plentiful and gaining strength. Teams with a young and talented nucleus like Oakland, Houston, and even Denver (assuming they can find an above average quarterback) are in the mix, as are consistent contenders like Pittsburgh (now that they appear to have solved their defensive issues), Kansas City and Indianapolis (now that they appear to have solved their front office issues.)
The Pats have also benefited during their run from playing the generally bad-to-mediocre AFC East. Aside from a brief period of contention from the Rex Ryan-led New York Jets a few seasons back, the Pats have had a free ride (14 titles in 16 seasons) within their division. Those days could be ending, too, with the marked improvement of both Miami and Buffalo.
All these factors point to the inevitable decline of the NFL’s best franchise. It has to happen at some point. Mother Nature, Father Time…and Roger Goodell all demand it.
Mark Knudson joined WoodyPaige.com in October. He’s a former standout pitcher at Colorado State and veteran of 12 years in professional baseball. Mark earned a Journalism degree from CSU while becoming a 3rd round draft pick of the Houston Astros and spending all or parts of eight seasons in Major League Baseball. During his career he was a member of the 1986 NL West champions before being traded to Milwaukee,where he tied for the team lead in starts and innings pitched in 1990 – including a pair of shutouts – and earned the Opening Day nod in 1991. He recorded wins over Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens, three of the four members of the “4,000 strikeout club.” In 1993 he became the first Colorado native to play for the Colorado Rockies.After retiring, Mark returned to sports writing and broadcasting, working in radio and TV where he was selected by Boulder Daily Camera as “Best Sports Talk Show Host in Denver.” He was a feature writer and contributing editor for Mile High Sports Magazine, and currently contributes twice weekly columns for the Ft. Collins Coloradoan. This year marks Mark’s 19th as a Heisman Trophy voter.