With the New England Patriots 35-31 victory over the Baltimore Ravens Saturday night, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick moved one step closer to another Super Bowl berth in Phoenix, Arizona. This AFC Championship appearance will mark the ninth time the duo has reached this plateau since Brady nabbed the starting role in 2001. Needless to say, unless you had been a Bostonian living under a rock for the past 14 years, being a fan of the New England Patriots has been way too easy.
Since the Brady/Belichick combo was formed in 2001 (14 seasons), Patriots fans have witnessed five Super Bowl games (three of which were wins), nine Conference Championship games, 12 consecutive 10-plus win seasons (13 of 14 total), 12 division banners raised and 12 years of playoff football. In one of their only two times failing to reach the playoffs since ’01, the Pats still went a respectable 11-5 (2008). Oh, and Tom Brady was injured for that entire season after just 11 pass attempts in the team’s first game, so fans have an excuse. With these ridiculously successful numbers in mind, there actually was one season since 2001 that Patriots fans truly suffered through: the 2002 season.
After earning their first Super Bowl ring in franchise history, Tom and the boys missed the playoffs entirely and posted a 9-7 record. Although, in honor of the true fans of teams like the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars, perhaps “suffered” should be redefined. After all, having a nine-win season is still finishing the year with a winning record.
Since the year 2000, the Bills, Browns, Lions and Jags have only reached the nine-win mark a combined total of nine times. While Brady and Belichick reached the postseason 12 times (totaling 19 wins), fans of these four franchises witnessed just five combined playoff appearances (one win). While Patriots fans have virtually seen just one quarterback in Tom Brady lead their team over the past 14 seasons, the Bills, Browns, Lions and Jags have seen a combined total of 53 different QB’s try to right their ships. As the Pats were winning their 12 division titles (since 2001), those four teams were finishing in the cellar of their respective divisions a combined 28 times. And finally, a year after the Patriots had posted an undefeated 16-0 regular season record, the Detroit Lions posted a despicable 0-16 regular season record.
That being said, after winning a Super Bowl in 2001, failing to reach the playoffs the following year truly was a letdown considering how high expectations had become. That feeling of being let down, however, did not last too long. Brady and Belichick made it up to fans of the red, white and blue rather quickly by winning the following two Super Bowls.
What Brady, Belichick and the New England Patriots have accomplished since 2001 is truly remarkable and will surely go down as one of- if not the- best dynasties sustained in NFL history. Rooting for a team with this kind of success is sure to be a source of pride. And why shouldn’t it be? Granted, with expectations being so high in New England, and it being nearly 10 years since their last Super Bowl win, there have been some not-so-perfect endings. However, seriously try to realize how easy it must be to be a fan of the Pats in comparison to the kind of gall- or sadomasochistic nature- it must take in a fan to support the Bills, Browns, Lions or Jags week-in and week-out.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer