The Two Super Bowl Eras of the New England Patriots

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The Patriots have won five Super Bowl Championships, but as a lifelong fan of the team, it wasn’t always that way. I grew up watching them lose every Sunday. They would get blown out in Super Bowl 20 (January 1986), a good full plus year before I ever attended preschool. They had one win during the 1990 season, when I was just in elementary school. Most of the kids I went to school with proclaimed “The Patriots would NEVER win a Super Bowl.” I always disagreed. You’d be hard pressed to find any school kid or anyone in general in Massachusetts regularly wearing Patriots gear with the exception of late 1994, 1996 or 2001. They had starter jackets from every team in the country, but rarely would you see Patriots, Celtics, Bruins or Red Sox gear. I even recall some kids wearing Packers gear prior to Super Bowl 31.

In 1993, things began changing when the Patriots hired 2-Time Super Bowl winning Head Coach Bill Parcells and drafted Quarterback Drew Bledsoe. In 1994, Robert Kraft, a lifelong fan would purchase the team. The 1994 Patriots roster would give us the first glimpse of the future. They would begin the season 3-6, before going on an incredible 7-game winning streak to close out the regular season. The interest in the Patriots grew immensely throughout New England during this streak as Foxborough and Gillette Stadium have sold out every game they’ve hosted since. In the 1994 playoffs, the Patriots were ready to plow through the AFC right on to Super Bowl 29 against the San Francisco 49ers. Instead the Patriots season ended at the hands of Bill Belichick and the Cleveland Browns in the Wild Card Round.

PATRIOTS SUPER BOWL ERA NUMBER ONE – 1996 to 2008

The original Super Bowl era had a beginning, a middle and an end. A rise, a peak and a fall. The Patriots built on the 1994 season, adding on Bill Belichick as an assistant Head Coach for the 1996 season. The Patriots had assembled a central cast of Drew Bledsoe, Curtis Martin, Ben Coates, Terry Glenn, Troy Brown and Adam Vinatieri on offense. On defense, Willie McGinest, Ted Johnson, Tedy Bruschi, Lawyer Milloy, Otis Smith and Ty Law. A young and hungry team that would go on to battle the Green Bay Packers, from the more dominant conference known as the NFC. The Patriots took a 14-10 lead but eventually fell 35-21. Bill Parcells during a feud with Owner Robert Kraft left for the New York Jets and took Bill Belichick along with him. The next years would see several Patriots like Curtis Martin, Keith Byars, Otis Smith and Tom Tupa also join the Jets. The 1997-1999 Patriots struggled under Head Coach Pete Carroll and Drew Bledsoe never played as he had under Parcells.

In 2000, Bill Belichick rejected the Head Coach position for the Jets and arrived back in New England. They also drafted an unknown Quarterback named Tom Brady with pick 199 in the 6th Round. The 2001 Patriots began just as the 1994 Patriots had. Slow and uncertain, but this time Drew Bledsoe would go down with a vicious injury at the hands of Mo Lewis and the Jets. Tom Brady took over as the starting Quarterback. The 2001 Patriots may have had a young inexperienced Quarterback, but many of the once young Patriots from 1996 were now entering the prime of their careers. That included newly acquired former Jets players Bryan Cox, Anthony Pleasant and Roman Phifer. They added rookies Richard Seymour and Matt Light. The team rallied behind Tom Brady as proved he was the right guy for the team.

The entire postseason was made up of all-time classic games. The Snow Bowl against the Raiders in the Divisional Playoffs ended in a controversial ‘Tuck Rule’ call that led to Adam Vinatieri hitting two clutch field goals. Brady would go down with an ankle injury in the AFC Championship against the Steelers, sending Bledsoe back into action. Bledsoe would throw a touchdown to David Patten during the victory and the The Patriots were back on to the Super Bowl. The wait for the Super Bowl would be only one short week due to the events of 9/11, resulting in a cancelled week of NFL play. The media would ask Belichick if Brady or Bledsoe would start. The decision was made and Brady was announced as the starter.

In Super Bowl 36, the Patriots went to halftime up 14-3. They took the lead to 17-3 and for a moment were unofficially up 23-3 off a fumble recovery for a touchdown return by Tebucky Jones. However, the play was called off due to a holding penalty on Willie McGinest. The score became 17-10. McGinest performed like a vicious mad man for the remainder of the game sacking Rams Quarterback Kurt Warner. Warner still eventually tied the game at 17-All. Commentator John Madden advised the Patriots to play for overtime. Drew Bledsoe told Brady to go for it and so he did. The Patriots prevailed over the St. Louis Rams 20-17 off a clutch Brady drive and Vinatieri field goal to win the first Super Bowl in franchise history.

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The 2002 Patriots would fall short of the playoffs and ultimately disappoint with a 9-7 record. The 2003 Patriots would add Ted Washington, Roosevelt Colvin (who ultimately got hurt) and Tyrone Poole among other players. They drafted Asante Samuel, Eugene Wilson, Ty Warren & Dan Koppen in 2003 and had drafted Daniel Graham, Deion Branch and David Givens a year earlier in 2002. Rodney Harrison took Lawyer Milloy’s place, after the Patriots and Milloy were unable to renegotiate a contract. The 2003 Patriots would launch a 21-game winning streak that would not end until the following 2004 season. The team struggled early in the season, but caught fire after defeating the Colts in Indianapolis. They would defeat NFL Co-MVP Steve McNair and the Titans in a frigid game in the Divisional playoffs. In a snowy AFC Championship, they would defeat NFL Co-MVP Peyton Manning and the Colts once again. They would defeat the Carolina Panthers, a team very similar to the 2001 Patriots by a score of 32-29 in Super Bowl 38. It featured a 1st and 3rd quarter where neither team scored and a 2nd and 4th quarter where both teams scored constantly. The Super Bowl ended in the same exact fashion as Super Bowl 36. Ricky Proehl would again score the game tying touchdown for the opponent, followed by a clutch Brady drive and a Vinatieri field goal.

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The Patriots had now won two out of the three previous Super Bowl’s and would aim to become a dynasty and team of the decade during the 2004 season. They would trade for Corey Dillon, they would draft Vince Wilfork and acquire Keith Traylor to replace the departing Ted Washington. The 2004 NFL season was all about four NFL teams… the Patriots, the Colts, the Steelers and the Eagles. The Colts were the Patriots biggest rival and bound to win a Super Bowl. The Patriots would defeat the Colts in a dramatic home opener. The Steelers would become the most dominant team in the AFC throughout the regular season with a 15-1 record. Led by rookie Ben Roethlisberger, they would end the Patriots 21-game winning streak and end Ty Law’s season in Pittsburgh on Halloween. The Red Sox had just won the World Series for the first time in 86 years and the Boston sports fan focus had been primarily on them. The Steelers were now the number one team in the AFC and the Patriots were no longer the favorites. The Patriots went back on a winning streak, only to lose to a 2-11 Dolphins team in Miami on Monday Night Football, during the same week that they fired their coach.

The 14-2 Patriots entered the postseason as the 2nd seed and met the Colts in the Divisional round. They would win 20-3 in another snowy meeting. The Patriots returned to Pittsburgh to meet the Steelers. The Patriots proceeded to score 41 points in a 41-27 victory and return to the Super Bowl. The Patriots would meet the Eagles Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Terrell Owens who was playing through an injury in Super Bowl 39. The game was tied at 7 at the half. The Patriots made halftime adjustments and took a 24-14 lead off an early rather than late Vinatieri field goal. The Eagles closed the gap to make it a three point game off a touchdown. Rodney Harrison ended the game and sealed the Patriots dynasty by picking off McNabb in the final moments. The Patriots had now won three out of four Super Bowl’s. Charlie Weis, the offensive coordinator would leave for Notre Dame and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel would leave for the Cleveland Browns immediately following the Super Bowl 39 victory.

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The 2005 Patriots looked primed to three-peat as Super Bowl Champions. However, team leader Tedy Bruschi suffered a stroke ten days after Super Bowl 39. Pro Bowl Cornerback Ty Law was also released due to his large salary cap number. The Patriots would also have to face a gauntlet of difficult opponents throughout their first eight games. A schedule that included the Raiders with Randy Moss, the Panthers from the Super Bowl two years prior, the Steelers from the AFC Championship, Drew Brees and the Chargers, Michael Vick and the Falcons, the solid Broncos and the familiar Colts in week 9. The Patriots began the season 3-3 and Bruschi returned in week 8 to defeat the Bills and go 4-3. The Colts then destroyed the Patriots 40-21 in Gillette sending their record down to 4-4. The 10-6 Patriots would defeat the Jaguars in the Wild Card round but were knocked off by the Broncos 27-13 in Denver during the Divisional Playoffs.

While it looked like the Patriots would once again be Super Bowl Champions in the Brady-Belichick Era, the team was only further declining heading into 2006. Adam Vinatieri would not be franchise tagged and would join the Colts. Willie McGinest who was involved in a shoving match with Larry Izzo in Denver, was released and joined the Browns. Deion Branch had fulfilled his rookie contract, opted to hold out, refused the Patriots contract offer and was traded to the Seahawks. David Givens also signed a deal with the Titans. Four essential players from Super Bowl winning seasons were now gone. The Patriots replaced Vinatieri with rookie Stephen Gostkowksi and Willie McGinest with veteran Junior Seau. Troy Brown was getting older and the Patriots replaced Branch and Givens with mere decent receiver Reche Caldwell to solidify the worst Patriots receiving core of the Brady era. The 2006 team should’ve been a disaster as Tom Brady had no one to throw the ball to. Still the Patriots shocked the Chargers in San Diego during the Divisional Playoffs. In the AFC Championship, the Patriots came out dominating the Colts 21-3 in Indianapolis. The Patriots were one half away from going to Super Bowl 41. Peyton Manning and the Colts would launch an epic comeback for the ages, tying the game at 21 and would go on to win 38-34.

The Patriots needed to turn it around in 2007. Corey Dillon would retire following 2006 and Lawrence Maroney was now the primary running back. They franchise tagged Asante Samuel after his amazing 2006 season. They traded for receiver Randy Moss and signed receivers Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker. They also acquired linebacker Adalius Thomas. The season opener concluded with a dominating victory over the Jets but would bring about the Spygate controversy. A saga that would play on throughout the season. The Patriots would go 16-0 during the regular season in a comeback over the Giants in the Meadowlands. The 2007 Patriots would break a majority of the NFL record book. The Miami Dolphins went 17-0 in 1972 and the Patriots ran it up to 18-0 to break their record. Now all the Patriots had to do was win Super Bowl 42 over the Giants in a rematch of week 17.

Tom Brady would be seen in a walking boot in NYC after the AFC Championship, where he sustained an injury. Brady was more arrogant than his usual humble self during Super Bowl week. Brady would mock Plaxico Burgess’s Super Bowl score prediction laughing and saying, “We’re only going to score seventeen points? (laughs) Okay!”. The Giants defense would perform in stellar fashion against MVP Tom Brady. Despite the Giants defensive efforts and a 10-7 lead, Tom Brady would finally pick them apart with one of the best drives of his Super Bowl career. A clutch drive that would an end with an epic Brady to Moss touchdown pass. Patriots 14, Giants 10. 2 minutes and 42 seconds remained until the Perfect 19-0 season. Eli Manning would escape the pocket and connect with David Tyree and then throw the game winner to Plaxico Burgess in the end zone. The Patriots lost the Super Bowl and would end up 18-1. It would be the first Super Bowl loss of the Brady-Belichick Era. In 2008, Brady would go down with an injury for the season in week 1 against the Chiefs. The Patriots would go 11-5 with Matt Cassel, which include a 47-7 victory over the eventual NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals. 11-5 would not be enough to make the playoffs and the first era of Super Bowl appearances was effectively over.

PATRIOTS SUPER BOWL ERA TWO – 2009 to PRESENT

Tom Brady would return in 2009 in a dramatic come from behind victory over the Bills on Monday Night Football. The 2009 Patriots would lose to the Ravens in the Divisional Playoffs… at home in New England. The 2010 Patriots hoped to turn things around adding rookies Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. During the season, they would shockingly release Randy Moss. The Patriots still went 14-2 and were the number 1 seed in the AFC. The Patriots were bound for a meeting with the Packers in Super Bowl 45. The Patriots would instead lose to Rex Ryan, Darrelle Revis and the Jets in the Divisional Playoffs… at home in New England.

The second era of Brady-Belichick was off to a dismal start, with promising seasons ending in upset during home playoff games. The Patriots drafted Shane Vereen, Nate Solder, Stevan Ridley and Marcus Cannon in 2011. They made two questionable acquisitions in Albert Haynesworth who they later released and Chad Ochocinco who would ride the bench. The offense featured Welker, Gronkowski, Hernandez, Danny Woodhead and Julian Edelman. Deion Branch had also returned. The defense however was young, weak and ranked as one of the worst in the NFL. Still Brady would carry the Patriots to a 13-3 record. The Patriots defeated the Ravens in the AFC Championship after the Ravens kicker missed the game tying field goal. The Patriots would return to the Super Bowl and again face the New York Giants who had also undergone roster changes. They had a different core of receivers with Cruz and Nicks and a slightly different defense. It was far unlike the 2007 Patriots as heavy favorites and the 2007 Giants as heavy underdogs. The Patriots were still considered the favorites despite this being a very even match-up. The Giants would go on to win 21-17 despite the Patriots going on a 17-0 run during the core of the game. Brady would bomb the ball into the end zone in the final seconds but Gronkowski and Welker were a few steps too far back.

The 2012 Patriots would get blown out by the Ravens 28-13 in New England in the AFC Championship. The Patriots would lose Aaron Hernandez during the 2013 off-season as he became a murder suspect and was jailed. The 2013 Patriots would lose in Denver to Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship.

The 2014 Patriots off-season would be a notable one, acquiring Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. The 2014 Patriots and Brady himself were declared dead by the media, following a blowout loss to the Chiefs in Kansas City on Monday Night Football. The Patriots still pushed forward finishing with a 12-4 record. They would face the Ravens once again in New England in the Divisional Playoffs, and trail by 14 points twice. They would come back on both occasions and win the game. In the AFC Championship, the Patriots defeated Andrew Luck and the Colts by a blowout. The Patriots we’re moving on to face face Seattle in Arizona, against the defending Super Bowl 48 Champion Seahawks. The primary story would be the deflategate saga, which would begin a multi-year controversy. It would lead to increased scrutiny leading into the Super Bowl. Robert Kraft confronted the scandal head on by addressing the media when the team arrived in Arizona. It was the most talked about matter in the world.

Super Bowl 49 kicked off with footballs heavily monitored by the NFL. The Patriots went up 7-0 and 14-7 before the Seahawks forced a tie going into halftime. The Seahawks ran up a 24-14 lead in the 3rd Quarter and the Patriots were suddenly bound for a third straight Super Bowl loss. The 4th Quarter would be one for all-time as Brady conducted two clutch drives ending with a touchdown to Amendola and a second to Edelman. The Seahawks drove the ball down the field off a miraculous catch by Jermaine Kearse. Belichick had to face the same decision he had in Super Bowl 46 against the Giants. Should he allow the Seahawks to score? Belichick decided to play a game of chicken and not call timeout. He let the Seahawks run the clock down on themselves. The Seahawks had no choice but to throw into the end zone, so they could maximize opportunities at the goal-line. Russell Wilson would in turn be picked off by unknown rookie Malcolm Butler. Just as the 2001 Patriots grew in the years following the 1996 Patriots, so had the 2014 Patriots in the years following the 2011 Patriots.

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The deflategate saga continued into the 2015 season with Brady delaying his four-game suspension. The Patriots would lose Revis and Browner in the off-season. The Patriots would still begin the season 10-0 including a victory over the Giants, but would finish 12-4 in second place in the AFC. They would fall to the Broncos and Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship in Denver. Peyton would go on to win Super Bowl 50 and retire, thus concluding the incredible Brady-Manning rivalry.

The deflategate saga would finally conclude with Brady carrying out his four-game suspension. The 2016 Patriots would go 3-1 without him. The Patriots would fall to the Seahawks in New England and lose Gronkowski for the season. They would not lose another game, defeating the defensive powered Texans and the talented Steelers to return to the Super Bowl. The Patriots walked into Super Bowl 51 the favorites over Matt Ryan and the high-powered Falcons offense. The Patriots would go down 21-0, 21-3 and later 28-3 in the 3rd quarter. They may have comeback two years previously against the Seahawks, but this game was over and the Falcons were leaving Super Bowl Champions. The Patriots would launch the most spectacular comeback in sports history as the lead gradually lowered to 28-9 and 28-12. The clock was ticking and the Patriots not only needed two touchdowns but two two-point conversions. They got it, all of it and forced overtime thanks to pivotal and key defensive plays from Hightower and Flowers. It would be an incredible catch by Julian Edelman that would be the most noted play of the Super Bowl. The Patriots won the toss in overtime and elected to receive. Brady led the drive down the field with James White diving into the end zone for the victory. Brady and Belichick would win their 5th Super Bowl together.

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