Pats continue to dominate league

The sun came up, the sky is blue, President Donald Trump tweeted and the New England Patriots are heading to Houston to play in Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5.

Between the yawns, we can’t help but marvel at the fact that the Patriots are so good, and have been for so long, that every regular season and playoff game leading up to the Super Bowl feels a little like pre-season football. Even Sunday’s conference championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers had all the drama of an August scrimmage. We know that’s not how it feels for players and coaches, but then again they don’t have the luxury of being spoiled week in and week out by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

At this point, Patriots fans know most of the numbers, but we can’t resist repeating some of them. Since Belichick took the reins as head coach in 2000, the Patriots have compiled a regular season record of 201-71 and a playoff record of 24-9 (compared to a 7-9 playoff record for the rest of the AFC East). During this 17-year stretch, the Pats have played in 11 conference championships, including a current streak of six in a row, and six Super Bowls. In two weeks they will play in number seven, a chance for Belichick and Brady to claim a fifth ring together.

Here’s what the Patriots did in the 17 seasons before Belichick arrived (1983-1999) under coaches Pete Carroll, Bill Parcells, Dick MacPherson, Rod Rust, Raymond Berry and Ron Meyer: a regular season record of 129-142 and a playoff record of 6-6, with two conference championships (1985 and 1996) followed by two embarrassing Super Bowl losses.

In fact, Belichick was the harbinger of good things to come for all four of the major Boston sports teams. Since 2000, the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics have combined for nine world championships. From 1983-1999, only the 1984 and 1986 Celtics raised the banner.

Belichick could write book after book about his hall-of-fame career, with titles like The Sixth Sense: How to Pick a Franchise Quarterback at the End of a Draft, Salary Cap Management for Idiots and We’re on to Cincinnati: The Art of the Non-Answer. But the most important volume would be the one co-authored by his quarterback, who happens to be the greatest ever to play the position.

The duo has been maddening for the NFL, a league built for parity. So maddening, in fact, that Commissioner Roger Goodell turned a silly case of deflated footballs into the professional sports equivalent of Watergate, suspending Brady for four games and hitting the Patriots with a $1 million fine and the loss of its first- and fourth-round picks in the 2016 draft. But just as that whole parity thing hasn’t worked out for the league, neither has the punishment.

At age 39, Brady is heading in to the Super Bowl sharper than ever – and four games fresher than he would have been. While Brady sat, Belichick showcased the skills of backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who should fetch a first-round pick if the Patriots decide to trade him. And that NFL-record $1 million team fine?

According to Forbes, the Patriots are the second most valuable team in the NFL at $3.4 billion, just behind the Dallas Cowboys. We’re pretty sure Bob Kraft isn’t sweating a million bucks as his team heads to another Super Bowl and another big boost in merchandise sales.

All of this is just to say that as long as Belichick and Brady are around, anything less than a Super Bowl victory is a lost season for the team and its fans. For those of us who remember the years of Rust, Berry and Meyer – and Tony Eason, Steve
Grogan and Hugh Millen – it’s all still a little hard to believe.

The Concord Monitor