The dynasty of the New England Patriots will come crumbling down at some point. Their domination of the NFL will end. Quarterback Tom Brady, Coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft will go their separate ways. It is far closer to the end of the Patriots’ run of nearly ceaseless success than to the beginning.
The end seemed extremely close, in fact, Sunday night. The Patriots lost at Detroit, 26-10. The master was bested by a pupil as Belichick lost to Matt Patricia, the former New England defensive coordinator who is the first-year head coach of the Lions. The Patriots’ defense was bad. Brady and the offense were even worse.
The Patriots lost their second straight game and their record dropped to 1-2. They are two games behind the Miami Dolphins, who are 3-0, in the AFC East and are headed to Gilette Stadium on Sunday. If they lose that game, the Patriots will face a three-game deficit before Oct. 1 in the division they have won nine straight times and in 14 of the last 15 seasons.
Brady is 41. Belichick is 66. If things come unraveled this season, it is easy to envision everyone heading out of Foxborough very soon afterward. Last one out the door, turn out the lights. The most complicated dynasty in sports history — with the nonstop winning and the all-time greatness of Brady and Belichick being balanced against the polarizing controversies of Spygate and Deflategate — could be in its final days.
Or maybe not.
Don’t forget that four years ago, the Patriots were 2-2 after an ugly 41-14 defeat at Kansas City on a Monday night. That game prompted speculation that Brady could be phased out and led to Belichick’s infamous “On to Cincinnati” non-responses. The Patriots won 10 of their next 11 games on their way to a 12-4 regular season, then went on to beat the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
Last season, the Patriots were 2-2. They won their next eight games en route to a 13-3 regular season, and reached another Super Bowl before falling to the Philadelphia Eagles.
It’s not just a recent phenomenon. In 2001, the Patriots started 1-3 and went on to win the Super Bowl. In 2003, they were 2-2 after four games and again won the Super Bowl.
That’s not to say that there are no issues now. The Patriots, after losing in Week 2 in Jacksonville, have suffered consecutive defeats for the first time since the 2015 season. They were thoroughly outplayed Sunday night by the Lions, who had been off to an 0-2 beginning under Patricia.
The New England defense couldn’t stop the run or the pass. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had a passer rating of 101.9. He threw an interception but had two touchdown passes in a 27-for-36, 262-yard night. Kerryon Johnson became the first Lions runner to have a 100-yard rushing game since Thanksgiving 2013.
“Way too easy to run the ball for the Lions,” former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi wrote on Twitter during the game. “Giving the Pats defense ‘eye candy’ (WR motion etc.) to occupy defenders while offensive line gets angles up front.”
While the Lions were churning out rushing yards during the game, analyst Cris Collinsworth said on the NBC broadcast: “These are some of the biggest holes I’ve seen in the National Football League.”
On offense, little to nothing worked for the Patriots. They didn’t get a first down until late in the first half. Brady struggled through a 14-for-26, 133-yard passing performance. He threw a touchdown pass but had an interception and was sacked twice. The Lions double-teamed tight and Rob Gronkowski regularly and the Patriots had no other pass-catching threats to make Detroit pay. Josh Gordon, the talented but troubled wide receiver just obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Browns, was inactive.
“To me, this is all about the Patriots,” Tony Dungy, who clashed with the Patriots in so many memorable games as the coach of the Indianapolis Colts, said at halftime on NBC. “Where are their playmakers?”
Brady said at his postgame news conference: “We just didn’t get the job done.”
So it’s on to Miami. If the Patriots win, they’ll be a game behind the Dolphins and it’s just another of their 2-2 starts. Pass rusher Trey Flowers and defensive backs Eric Rowe and Patrick Chung could return soon after missing the game in Detroit because of injuries. Gordon could be in the lineup for the Miami game. Wideout Julian Edelman must serve one more game of his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing substances.
But if the Patriots lose to the Dolphins, it could be a big deal. It could be the beginning of the very, very end.
There has been so much talk about a rift between Belichick and Brady, so much speculation about the end for them being at hand. At some point, it all will be right on target. The end will arrive, and it probably won’t be pretty. The ruthless competitiveness of Belichick and Brady is the trait that they share. And it probably won’t make for a graceful parting, whenever it comes.
Will it come now? Will it come this season? There’s no way of knowing for certain. But anyone who rules out the possibility of Brady and Belichick figuring things out (again) and finding a way for the Patriots to be in the Super Bowl-contending mix at season’s end (again) risks being very wrong (again). This quarterback, this coach and this team get the benefit of the doubt until it is demonstrated, once and for all, that they just can’t get things fixed.
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