Wow! That was pretty embarrassing!
The perennial powerhouse New England Patriots entered last night's game at 2-1, for the time being alone atop the AFC East once again, a familiar position for them over the course of the last decade plus or so, during the Belichick/Brady era. The Bills had also been 2-1 entering this weekend, but they lost, and dropped to 2-2. The Dolphins and Jets had both entered the weekend at 1-2. The Dolphins got a convincing victory, but that was against the weak Oakland Raiders, a team that is obviously in some disarray. As for the Jets, they lost, and look like they are on the brink of a lost season, at 1-3, and staring a difficult schedule for the next few weeks in the face.
So, most people could be excused for assuming that this was the point when the Pats would assume control of the division, like they usually did, en route to another 10+ win season, and another division title. Most likely, another playoff win at least, and a likely appearance in the AFC Championship Game, with at least a fair shot at going further.
Pretty standard stuff for the New England franchise, which has enjoyed wining seasons every year since the 2001 season, the year that they enjoyed their first championship run. They went 11-5 that season. Look at the final regular season records that they produced each season since:
9-7 in 2002 (did not qualify for playoffs)
14-2 in 2003 (Division champs, AFC Champs, Super Bowl champions)
14-2 in 2004 (Division champs, AFC Champs, Super Bowl champions)
10-6 in 2005 (1-1 in playoffs)
12-4 in 2006 (Division champs, 2-1 in playoffs, eliminated in AFC Championship Game)
16-0 in 2007 (Division champs, AFC Champs, lost in Super Bowl)
11-5 in 2008 (Brady injured through year, but they still managed an 11-5 record, and became only 2nd team in NFL history to reach such a strong record and fail to qualify for the playoffs)
10-6 in 2009 (Division champs, 0-1 in playoffs)
14-2 in 2010 (Division champs, 0-1 in playoffs)
13-3 in 2011 (Division champs, AFC Champs, lost in Super Bowl)
12-4 in 2012 (Division champs, 2-1 in playoffs, eliminated in AFC Championship Game)
12-4 in 2013 (Division champs, 2-1 in playoffs, eliminated in AFC Championship Game)
Okay, so they were not in the Super Bowl every single season since 2001, let alone the Super Bowl champs after each season. But the level of success that they enjoyed during this era is rare in sports, and ranks with some of the truly elite teams during a long duration in history. In the NFL, the only teams that likely could compare (possibly unfavorable) during such a long stretch would be the San Francisco 49ers of the eighties and nineties, and the Colts from the 2000's to possibly the present, if you exclude the team's disastrous 2-14 season in 2011.
Yes, that's how solid these New England Patriots have been as a franchise in the last thirteen seasons, specifically!
So, yes, you have to excuse people when they are shocked by the results of last night's game, when the Kansas City Chiefs absolutely humiliated the Patriots, and made Brady look bad. Brady sat down towards the end, after a pick six that made the score 41-7 in favor of the Chiefs. Brady had looked the absolute picture of misery last night, getting picked twice, roughed up several times, and looking much older and more limited than we're used to seeing him. His frustration was evident on the sidelines, as well, easily read on his face and his body language. His replacement, rookie Jimmy Garoppolo, managed to finally orchestrate an impressive drive, and suddenly, there were questions of a possible quarterback controversy in New England.
Bill Belichick laughed that off, as he should. After all, you don't bench your franchise quarterback of the last thirteen seasons because he had one particularly bad game, and his replacement, a rookie, had one impressive drive during garbage time in a blowout loss.
But one thing is for sure: these New England Patriots are not looking anywhere near as super as they have in recent years. This was a team that always found a way to win, and they always had Tom Brady as the face of their franchise. This season, however, they just are not looking the same.
All that is true. But the thing is this: the AFC East is still weak. It's hard to imagine any of those teams actually beating out the Patriots for the division title. Yes, the Dolphins beat them in week one. Let's see them do it in New England in December, when they meet again. For that matter, let's see them have a successful season enough to still be in the playoff picture in December, because they have not qualified since 2008. Then, you have the Buffalo Bills, who after a tremendous start, are looking shaky again with two consecutive losses. And the Jets are 1-3, and looking bad again, too.
Part of the formula for success that the Patriots had in the last thirteen seasons was the good fortune of being in a weak division, which is something that proved a strong advantage for the 49ers of the eighties and nineties for most seasons, and for the Colts in the 2000's to the present. You can load up on wins against weak opponents with some fair degree of consistency, and my suspicion is that New England still has a decent chance to do exactly that.
They might not be their usual selves. But until they are knocked out of the top spot in the AFC East for an entire season, and fail to qualify for the playoffs, these Patriots are still the team to beat in the AFC East.
As for the Kansas City Chiefs, they have now rebounded from a tough 0-2 start that had them looking poor, to draw their record to 2-2. They have manhandled two consecutive AFC East opponents, beating the Dolphins at Miami last weekend, and crushing New England at home this weekend. They are looking, once again, like a true contender in one of the NFL's best divisions, the AFC West, and have every reason to be optimistic now!
Here are the stories that helped me in writing this blog entry:
Was this the end for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots' dynasty? by Frank Schwab of Shutdown Corner, Yahoo Sports, September 29, 2014:
Are the Patriots still THE Patriots? by Matt Conner, September 23, 2014:
Bill Belichick Right To Laugh Off QB Controversy After Tom Brady’s Struggles by Doug Kyed on Tue, Sep 30, 2014: