A year ago, Patriots Inc. seemed gassed. Tired, stale and exhausted …. the Pats last winter had all the energy of a “two-term administration” in its final days. So it was no surprise that they were outclassed at home last January and bounced from the playoffs by the Baltimore Ravens.
This scribe wrote at the time that the Ravens loss marked the end of Brady-Belichick II, a cycle that began after the 2004 Super Bowl, peaked with two minutes to play in Super Bowl 42, and was then crippled minutes into the 2008 season when Tom Brady’s knee went out. With Brady sidelined in 2008 and then rusty in 2009, B&B II limped to the finish line, weighed down in part by some estranged veterans and finished off by a fluky injury to Wes Welker.
So it was time to retool, I thought. There was still time to lay the foundation for a third B&B Republic, but some dead wood needed to be cleaned out. See ya Adalius. See ya Randy. And an infusion of youth and classy vets was needed. Hello Devin, Gronk and Alge. In light of these and other moves, I figured 2010 would be a back-end loaded rebuilding year where the playoffs were attainable but hardly certain. Throw in a “climb the mountain” season in 2011 and the Pats would be ready to challenge seriously in 2012. That was the plan, at least as far as I could see.
Given those expectations, I will be the first to admit that I didn’t see fourteen wins coming. In fact, I had the Pats losing their opener to Cincy by a touchdown and struggling to win more than ten games. That is how much confidence I had in this crew. Not quite a full-grown bear on the Pats, but hardly a bull as I had my worries. And I certainly didn’t see all this upside. So count me in the camp that is genuinely surprised the Patriots re-tooled on the fly and will be playing at home in two weeks.
That success came this season is a testament to the axiom that the NFL is all about coaching and quarterbacking. And when that coach is Bill Belichick and that QB is Tom Brady, nothing is out of reach. But more importantly, it confirms a piece of investment advice that I had forgotten … it’s awfully tough to make money shorting Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Sure, you may be able to occasionally short B&B and scalp a few shekels. But over the long haul, shorting these two is like shorting Steve Jobs. And that is why guys like ESPN’s Mike Greenburg and others who predicted breakeven and losing seasons’ are out of business today. (Greenburg was also long San Francisco in what has to be one of history’s worst pairs trade!)
So B&B III got off to a flying start. And certainly, the Pats are far ahead of where I expected as Brady is playing at his 52-month highs, the team has its best running game in six years, there are breakout kids littering the roster, the defense is finding its way and there have actually been sightings of a pass rush lately. Forget 2012. The future is now.
Moreover, B&B proved this year that they are above re-building. They may not win the Super Bowl this season. Or the Conference championship for that matter. But collectively, they are not nine-win guys and I should be ashamed that I even considered that a possibility. Instead, the key question now is whether they are four-win guys ….. as in four Super Bowl titles. If they manage to do that a month from now, the full fury of B&B III will have arrived two years ahead of schedule and a couple of hotly debated questions will become settled law. At least as far as this court is concerned.