Monday, January 11, 2010

Patriots' dynasty already over

As has been the case after every season-ending loss over the last five seasons, fans and writers are declaring an end to the Patriots' era of dominance. One reporter -- at least, his presence in the postgame press conference identified him as such -- asked Tom Brady immediately after the loss, "How proud are you that many people consider this team the team of the decade?"

The Patriots might still be the team of the decade -- though a Super Bowl title by the Colts would wrench that title away the same way the Yankees did from the Red Sox with their World Series title in October.

But the era of dominance -- the dynasty, if you will -- ended the moment John Lynch intercepted Tom Brady's deep, desperate heave in the direction of long-forgotten wide receiver Andre' Davis on a mid-January night in Denver in 2005.

The dynasty ended as soon as other teams started winning Super Bowls.

The high-flying Patriots of 2007 had little in common -- coach and quarterback aside -- with the Patriots that were winning Super Bowls earlier this decade. The Patriots that lost to Baltimore on Sunday -- again, coach and quarterback aside -- had almost nothing in common with the Patriots that were winning Super Bowls earlier this decade.

A look at the roster of the Patriots' roster from 2004 makes that obvious. Tully Banta-Cain was a second-year reserve. Jarvis Green was a part-time contributor on the defensive line. Dan Koppen was a second-year starter at center, and Matt Light was a fourth-year left tackle. Stephen Neal was on the roster but wasn't a starter yet. Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork both were emerging as stars but weren't necessarily there yet.

Kevin Faulk was -- well, Kevin Faulk was a multifaceted weapon out of the backfield who could be depended upon in any situation. Some things never change.

The Patriots have maintained their core better than any NFL team this decade -- and for good reason -- but the team that lost to Baltimore on Sunday no longer has much in common with the teams that were winning Super Bowls earlier this decade.

A year from now, the common threads will be even fewer.

"That's the nature of the business," Koppen said. "Things change from year to year -- coaches, players. The guys in this locker room understand that and know that. Bill and the guys upstairs, luckily, that's their job. They've got to decide what to do next year."

Said Adalius Thomas, whose only Super Bowl ring comes from his tenure with the Ravens, "Every year, the team changes. This year's team was different than last year, and next year's team is going to be different than this year. No team is ever going to stay the same."

Thomas likely will be gone next season. Neal hinted on Sunday about retirement. Laurence Maroney might be not be invited back. Wilfork and Logan Mankins are in for awkward contract negotiations that might extend deep into the summer.

Many will term the loss on Sunday as the end of an era. Should the Patriots fail to win the Super Bowl again next season, many again will term that loss as the end of an era.

The Patriots' Super Bowl era, though, ended a long time ago. The Patriots' Super Bowl era ended when they no longer were winning Super Bowls.

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