By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There’s no way to properly contextualize what the New England Patriots have been doing for the better part of two decades. There just is no way.
That probably sounds like a broken record at this point, because we all tried to begin the wrapping up of the Patriots dynasty about four years ago, when it appeared as though Tom Brady was teeing off on the 17th hole of his career. Yet thanks to some magical Himalayan pink salt and an insane dedication to his craft, Brady has undergone a career renaissance. As a result, the Patriots remain the class of the NFL.
The Patriots set an NFL record on Sunday with their eighth consecutive season with at least 12 wins.
In the past 15 years, the Patriots have won a dozen or more games in a season 12 times. Nobody among their contemporaries has even come close in that same time period.
Indianapolis has won 12 or more games seven times in that span. Pittsburgh and Denver have each done it five times. Baltimore, Seattle and Green Bay have each done it three times. The New York Giants have done it once.
All of those franchises have had down years, too. The Patriots have not. In the years since 2003 in which they “failed” to win 12 games, the Patriots have twice won 10 games and once won 11 games.
It just speaks to the remarkable consistency of the Patriots during this time, and it speaks to the incredible run of success of the dynasty.
Yet … it would be wrong to identify the 2001-17 era as “the Patriots dynasty.” Really, of the team that won Super Bowl XXXIX against the Eagles, only Brady and Adam Vinatieri are still playing in the NFL. Everyone else on that championship roster is retired — and most have been for a very long time.
The one constant, from the three Super Bowls from 2001-04 and the two Super Bowls (and counting) in recent years has been the duo of Brady and Bill Belichick. For the coach and the quarterback to last through all those years, with all those players, is flat-out stupid. It should not happen. The sport is not designed for it to happen, and the league does its best to make sure that no one team can dominate for any length of time. That’s why you see so many of the NFL’s best teams suffer through some 7-9 and 8-8 seasons through the years.
Brady and Belichick, though, are impervious to the factors that serve as stumbling blocks for everybody else in the NFL. And they’re on their way to (most likely) their seventh 13-win season in 17 years together, and if all goes according to plan, they’ll be partaking in their 12th AFC Championship Game this coming January.
That’s not supposed to happen. And it does not happen — not for anybody except for Belichick and Brady.
If the Patriots wind up winning the Super Bowl this year, which is at least a 50-50 proposition when you look at the field, there will be discussions about the greatest dynasties of all time. There will be arguments made for the 49ers under Bill Walsh and George Seifert, or for the ’70s Steelers under Chuck Noll, or the ’60s Packers under Vince Lombardi. But there should already be no mistake about it: the duo of Brady and Belichick has been the best the NFL has ever seen.
Some day, when the Patriots are 5-6 entering the month of December several years down the line, the absurdity of this run will crystallize. For now, it’s just on to the next week.
Now, the Christmas holiday delayed things a bit, BUT, that doesn’t mean we can’t get to a few leftover thoughts (leftover leftover thoughts, perhaps?) from Sunday’s 37-16 win over the Buffalo Bills.
–Tom Brady threw an interception again on Sunday. It was his sixth in his past five games. That’s not great! But unlike the ugly one in Pittsburgh or the underthrow in Miami or his bad read against Miami at home, I think this one was more of an excellent read and play by safety Jordan Poyer.
Poyer just read Brady’s eyes the whole time, and newcomer Kenny Britt might not have settled into the exact area Brady would have liked, and the result was a pick-six. Such things tend to happen when a defense gets to face an offense twice in a month.
–The interception aside, Brady has been somewhat ordinary lately. He’s got an 81.5 passer rating in his last four weeks, with four touchdowns and five interceptions. Not great.
Statistically he was better on Sunday, but there were some questionable throws. This one to a wide open Rob Gronkowski over the middle, for example:
This one went down as a 17-yard touchdown pass, technically. But there are probably only about five people on the planet who could have caught it:
His other touchdown was a screen pass.
Brady was also bailed out by a (pretty lame) pass interference penalty after badly underthrowing Brandin Cooks on a deep ball. That came a couple of plays after overthrowing Cooks on a deep ball:
For a 21-for-28 day, it just wasn’t all excellent. Is it the weather? Is that weird finger thing that we’ve been noticing since Week 5 in Tampa? Is the offense just slightly bored? I’m not entirely sure. But, with the playoffs coming up, Brady just hasn’t been playing his best. A nice day against the Jets might be needed before the long layoff to make sure everything is functioning properly in the bionic arm of Mr. Brady.
–Maybe I’m missing something (I usually am) but did Belichick decline a penalty for too many men on Buffalo just so that Brady’s rushing stats would count? Brady rushed for four yards on a third-and-1. The penalty would have given them an extra yard. It’s meaningless in the long run, but I think that was to help boost the “Brady is like 98 percent effective on QB sneaks” stat. Right?
–The Buffalo Bills really needed a win to remain alive in the playoff hunt. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present to you … the striving-for-a-playoff-spot Buffalo Bills!!!!
–Dion Lewis owns the Bills. Rob Gronkowski gets all the hype for owning his hometown team, but man, Dion Lewis loves playing against the Buffalo Bills. He ran for a career-high 129 yards and a touchdown and also caught five passes for 24 yards and another touchdown on Sunday. That’s a nice addition to the resume, which includes the game where Rex Ryan pretended not to know his name. That was a mistake.
What I found most impressive by Lewis was his ball security in the fourth quarter, when Jordan Poyer basically delivered a haymaker to the football:
Lewis held on and fell forward for another few yards.
On the next play, Lewis somehow turned this situation into a six-yard gain:
Four plays later, on third-and-11, Lewis busted a 12-yard touchdown catch-and-run on a ball he caught at the 16-yard line:
The Bills hardly even laid a finger on him on the play. There was great blocking from Nate Solder, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney and David Andrews. But Lewis displayed plenty of magic as well.
–Do you know who showed up to hit on Sunday? Elandon Roberts showed up to hit on Sunday. Hachi machi.
Midway through the second quarter, Roberts popped all 240-plus pounds of Mike Tolbert. In the fourth, he delivered a huge hit on LeSean McCoy, launching the Bills’ best player on an unwanted tour of the Patriots sideline:
–At this point the overturned Kelvin Benjamin touchdown has been discussed ad nauseam around the NFL. But I’d just like to state, on the record: That was garbage. I just don’t know how you can tell me that Benjamin’s left foot was definitely not on the ground in this moment:
If anything, there’s compelling evidence that the foot is down.
–As a fun experiment, ask your friend or family member, while seated, to slightly hover his or her foot over the ground by about a centimeter or two. Try to determine if that person’s foot is on the ground or off the ground. Now imagine that person being a 6-foot-5 receiver getting harassed by a cornerback and running at full speed while catching a football, and realize what it is that you are trying to dissect on this play.
The athlete made an incredible athletic play. There simply was not any video that showed conclusively that the foot was in the air, and taking that touchdown away is just not at all what replay is for.
(Alberto Riveron’s “explanation video” was even worse. Glad to see he’s keeping alive the tradition of Dean Blandino just lying to your face and hoping you don’t notice.)
–One good thing that came of it was something I’ve been arguing to see for years: a split-screen of two different angles, timed up perfectly so you can see where something is when something else happened. CBS used it here:
However, I rewatched on slow motion and the two clips were not synced up perfectly, thus making the exercise more confusing than helpful to viewers. If the NFL can sort out that technology, calls like this will presumably) become easier to make.
–All that being said, the Bills complaining about it incessantly after was a terrifically Bills thing to do. If you didn’t know any better, you’d almost think that the overturn cost the Bills more than four points, and you’d almost forget that the Bills got outscored 24-3 in the second half. Almost. Not quite. But almost.
For a model to follow, maybe the Bills could just look at the Patriots. Remember in Denver in Week 10, when Rob Gronkowski caught a pass at his shoe tops deep over the middle, but it was ruled incomplete? No replay angles showed the ball hitting the ground, yet the incomplete call was confirmed via replay. The Patriots were mad! Steaming mad!
Alas, they kept playing. They settled for a field goal instead of likely scoring a touchdown. And from that point forward? They outscored Denver 21-10.
That’s what winning teams do when calls don’t go their way.
–Oh. Oh! And before I forget. Do you even remember the play that preceded the Benjamin play? Charles Clay caught a pass in the end zone, but as he fell to the ground he dropped it.
Fall to the ground:
Remind you of anything? Say, a national controversy over Jesse James dropping a football a week earlier?
That was almost a carbon copy.
It was an obvious rule when James dropped it. It was an obvious rule when Clay dropped it. No controversy necessary. (Nobody tell that to people in Pittsburgh.)
–We’re now going to talk about on-field officiating. And folks, let me tell you … it was bad. Real bad.
On the drive leading up to that Benjamin touchdown/non-touchdown, the Bills got away with some egregious holding and hands to the face penalties. Egregious.
How umpire Barry Anderson saw none of those penalties is unfathomable. If the NFL were transparent, it would explain how Anderson was graded for this game and punish him to a proper degree. But the NFL is the NFL, so no such thing will take place. He’ll be on referee Craig Wrolstad’s crew for Sunday’s Bears-Vikings game. Business as usual.
Line judge Julian Mapp also somehow wasn’t looking at the football on a fourth-and-1 run by Dion Lewis:
Missing the spot is one thing, but Mapp somehow deemed it proper to spot the ball almost two full yards short of where Lewis ran the football.
According to Mapp, Lewis lost a yard on a play where he actually gained yardage. How did Mapp see that? It did not happen. It drives me batty.
This wasn’t just some anti-Patriots conspiracy, though, of course. The bad calls went both ways. How about when Danny Amendola was clearly a yard shy of the sticks …
… but was nevertheless given a free first down. That was down judge Mark Hittner on the spot there.
The pass interference penalty on Micah Hyde was pretty lazy, too, as Cooks made zero effort to catch the ball and instead exchanged a bear hug with the cornerback on the underthrown deep ball.
Just really a poorly called game, all things considered. The Patriots had been playing with some pretty good officiating for a while. It was overdue to end.
–The play of the game was Gronkowski’s one-handed touchdown catch while spinning and getting three feet down in bounds. But the second-best was probably LeSean McCoy with a #FEROCIOUSJUKE on Elandon Roberts in the third quarter. It looked for a moment like Roberts had McCoy stapled to the sideline near midfield:
A few seconds later, McCoy was all the way down to the 10-yard line, somehow navigating through this sea of humans wearing blue jerseys:
That young man is good at the running and the jumping and the catching and whatnot.
–Tyrod Taylor followed up that play by completing a pass for an eight-yard loss. On third-and-goal from the 18, he ran for six yards. The Bills kicked a field goal. You know, the Bills will get killed for the Nathan Peterman start if they miss the playoffs, but if you watch Taylor enough … you can see why a coach would want to go in another direction at some point. On too many plays, it looks like throwing the football is the very last thing Taylor wants to do. That’s not exactly what you’re looking for out of a pass thrower.
–I respected the Bills’ efforts to cover Bob Gronkowski. Too often, teams fail to cover him, and it drives me bananas. If you’re not covering him, who are you covering?
The Bills did, however, lose track of another Patriots tight end for a 22-yard catch-and-run to start a touchdown drive that put the game out of reach:
It’s almost acceptable, really. If you’re going to lose track of any Patriots pass catcher, it might as well be Allen.
–Tom Brady has essentially sewn up the title of Greatest Season By 40-Year-Old Quarterback Of All Time. I’ve been tracking this throughout the season off and on, but I thought Brady’s mediocre stretch late in the year would have knocked him off track. Turns out, I was wrong.
Tom Brady, through 15 games, 2017
367-for-544 (67.5 percent)
30 TDs, 8 INTs
104.2 passer rating
Brett Favre, through 15 games, 2009
301-for-452 (66.6 percent)
26 TDs, 7 INTs
103.7 passer rating
It’s worth noting that Favre finished his season with a four-touchdown, zero-interception game in Week 17. So, Brady might have to throw at least a touchdown without a pick vs. the Jets next week to fully claim this title.
On the one hand, Brady only cares about winning, so you know that this wasn’t super important to him. At the same time … don’t you kind of think that it was?
If you’ll give me a brief moment here … Tom Brady’s rise to excellence has been well-documented. Doubted at Michigan, drafted 199th, backing up Bledsoe, quickly became a three-time Super Bowl champion, all of that. Had he retired in 2008 after suffering his season-ending injury, he’d be a lock for the Hall of Fame.
But he came back as good as ever, and when his career started to naturally turn toward the end in his late 30s, he decided he was going to play the role of the overlooked pudgy kid from Michigan once again. He was going to wholly dedicate his life to preserving his health and reinventing his game. He made himself capable of surviving in the NFL at 40 years old because he is probably among the most driven athletes to ever play sports.
Being an all-time great wasn’t good enough for Brady. He saw an opportunity to become the greatest of all time at his chosen craft, and he didn’t let it slip. He dedicated his entire life to that goal.
Anyway, as you were. Carry on.
–Tom Brady has now won 28 of his 31 games against the Bills. Rob Gronkowski, a Buffalo boy, has caught 66 passes for 1,027 yards and 12 touchdowns in 13 games against the Bills.
The Bills were very close to securing a postseason spot for the first time since Brady was 22 years old and Gronkowski was 10 years old.
Alas, the Bills had to face Brady and Gronkowski.
Tough break. There’s always next year.