ATLANTA – Sports dynasties are rarely about a single player or even two or three. You don’t achieve sustained excellence without much broader contributions from players, coaches, talent-evaluators and those who write the checks.
Say what you will about the New England Patriots only being as annoyingly dominant as they are because of a certain quarterback who wears No. 12. He was hardly the only – or even most of – the reason they won their sixth Super Bowl in the nine they’ve played since the 2001 season.
What happened Sunday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium had as much to do with the Patriots’ defense as it did with an offense that, thanks to Brady’s throwing and the catching of Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, came through when it mattered the most.
That’s where you start when coming to grips with the reality that the Patriots’ dynasty isn’t going to end in the foreseeable future.
A lot of us – yes, I’m raising my hand – got fooled into thinking that just because Tom Brady wasn’t up to his GOAT form for a significant portion of the regular season, the dynasty was coughing and wheezing and beginning to take its final breaths. Little about the offense looked right, with Brady straining to get velocity on his throws and Gronk running as if he had boards for legs. Annoyingly dominant had become imminently beatable.
Then, through the final game of the regular season and playoff wins against the supposed successors to the Patriots’ throne – the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs – Brady pretty much got over an aching knee, and all was right with the Patriots’ offense again.
However, that only was part of the story of this latest Super Bowl run and why there will likely be more.
The Pats also played some pretty good defense against a couple of great offenses on the way to facing yet another offensive powerhouse, the Los Angeles Rams, in Super Bowl LIII. And in their 13-3 victory Sunday night, they gave one of the more impressive defensive showings in Super Bowl history.
“That was incredible,” Brady said. “It’s a team game. We needed everyone out there. The defense played so well, and we finally helped them out by getting a touchdown there.”
The Patriots made the Rams’ whiz-kid coach/offensive genius, Sean McVay, and their whiz-kid quarterback, Jared Goff, simply look like kids who weren’t ready for the worldwide spotlight.
Bill Belichick, the Patriots’ 66-year-old master strategist whose defensive game plan allowed the New York Giants to smother Jim Kelly and the no-huddling Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV, coached circles around his 33-year-old counterpart. He had Goff baffled from the start with a variety of coverages and pressure packages.
“The defense was unreal, holding that offense to three points,” Edelman said. “It is pretty crazy. They should be the MVP – the whole (defense).”
With Wade Phillips’ Rams defense doing a similar number on Brady, the game would be decided by a few big plays and/or a couple of big mistakes.
The Patriots ended up benefiting from both, including Gronk’s decisive 29-yard catch to set up the game’s lone touchdown and Stephon Gilmore’s interception that set up the drive that would seal the outcome.
“We obviously could have played better offensively,” Brady said. “But the reality is (when) you get in these games, you just have to find a way to win, and we played well in the end and that’s what we needed.”
Your stomach might be turning at the thought, but it’s also a reality that there’s simply no reason to question the Patriots’ ability to keep functioning at a level that casts an enormous shadow over the rest of the NFL.
Brady is 41 and although his body is showing signs of wear, he has insisted he has no plans to retire. Given the Patriots’ ability to rely a bit less on his throwing arm, why should he?
Gronkowski could be ready to walk away soon, although Edelman is staying put, and the scheme of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels isn’t going anywhere, either. The defense is legit, and only figures to get stronger as Belichick does his typical reload.
For now, there’s no threat from the Bills or any of the other teams the Patriots face twice per year in the AFC East. Patrick Mahomes should make the Chiefs good for a long time, but their defense still needs plenty of work. The Chargers are still dangerous, but how much longer does Philip Rivers perform at a high level?
With the Pats, the guesswork vanished Sunday night.
“I’ll tell you this, it was the most satisfying year I’ve ever been a part of,” Gronkowski said. “How we came together, the obstacles we had to overcome, the grind from the beginning of training camp to now, it’s just surreal. We went through life this year.
“We figured it out, we found our identity. Keep grinding, that was our identity. Wear the other team out. We weren’t making big, flash plays all the time; once in awhile. But we stuck together, grinded, ran the ball, now we’re Super Bowl champions. We’re world champions.”
That’s another way of saying the Patriots are still great and, with or without Gronk, destined for more greatness.