In 2004, there was no doubt that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were on a fast track to becoming the greatest coach/QB tandem in the history of the league. Three rings had been won in four years, and both men were in the prime of their respective careers. Things were only looking up in New England.

Few would have predicted ten years later, the two would have added exactly zero rings to that once impressive collection of three. During this decade-long championship drought, trips to the AFC Championship game and nut-crushing Super Bowl losses to the Giants became something of routine. But with a David Tyree miracle catch and a Wes Welker red-zone drop, Lombardi trophies kept eluding the Patriots.

Greg Cooper/US Presswire

This drought is historic in many ways. Rich Hill of Pat’s Pulpit wrote this week detailing how there has never been a run so statistically successful; but yet did not produce any titles. The franchise has reeled off an unprecedented stretch of nine straight 10+ win seasons, only to come up empty handed in the end. The fact the team has been a contender year in and year out is certainly impressive, and a true testament to the genius of Bill Belichick and enduring talent of Tom Brady.

But can it really be deemed a successful stretch when a trophy has not been hoisted during it? I believe the answer is clearly no, and I think Bill and Tom would say the same.

The bad news for the Patriots is that we are entering the twilight phase of the Belichick/Brady era. There has been speculation that Bill will likely outlast Tom Brady in New England, and there have been somewhat compelling signs pointing to the fact that when his contract expires after the 2017 season, a then 40 year old Brady may not have a place in Foxborough anymore.

The big question will be when that time comes for Brady to end his career as a Patriot- will it be to seek his fourth ring in a different uniform like his contemporary Peyton Manning? Or will he ride off into the sunset with four (or more) titles as a Patriot, having fully cemented his legacy as the greatest QB of all time?

The answer to that is unknown, but what I can say with confidence is that this upcoming season will be the one that comes to define the Brady/Belichick era. In 2014, it is truly Super Bowl or bust.

The addition of Darrelle Revis, along with a (supposedly) healthy Rob Gronkowski make the team, in my eyes, the favorites to come out of the conference. As we saw last season, injuries can completely destroy any team’s hopes of winning it all, but right now, on paper- the Patriots are the best team in the AFC.

If Belichick cannot coach this team as is currently constructed to another title (again, barring injuries), then sadly I do not think it will happen again while Tom Brady is still around. Aside from Brady, Revis is the most important piece to this season, and if he were to return in 2015, he would be owed a massive salary, which the Patriots are notoriously known for NOT forking over. This, in addition to a number of other key players set to become free agents before 2015, means the chances of success after 2014 drop significantly. Not to mention the fact that Tommy is only getting older.

The Patriots need to win the Super Bowl this year if Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are going to go down as the undoubted best coach and quarterback in NFL history. Is Brady in decline? Sure. But is a declining Brady still better than nearly every other QB in the league? Definitely.

If these two cannot secure another ring before they call it quits, they will be dogged by their detractors forever. Belichick never won again after SpyGate, and Brady couldn’t deliver on the biggest stages in the later half of his career. As of right now, both of these statements are true.

It’s put up or shut up time for Tom and Bill. Mark my words: However the 2014/2015 season plays out… It will come to be the defining point in the Belichick/Brady era.


Unknown 7/24/2014 10:55:00 PM Edit

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