Even if the Patriots lose on Sunday, their dynasty isn’t necessarily over

  • Patriots quarterback Tom Brady drops back to pass during his team’s 43-40 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 14 in Foxborough, Mass. AP file photos

  • Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches from the sideline during the second half of a regular-season game against the Chiefs on Oct. 14.

Monitor staff
Published: 1/18/2019 6:22:08 PM

The last time the Patriots went to Kansas City, they were handed a 41-14 beatdown by the Chiefs on Sept. 21, 2014, and their dynasty was declared dead. As New England readies for a return trip to Kansas City for Sunday’s AFC Championship game, there’s more talk about the Chiefs ending the Patriots’ NFL reign.

Don’t believe the talk. The dynasty didn’t end in 2014, and it’s not going to end on Sunday, no matter what happens in the game.

Since that 41-14 loss in Arrowhead Stadium in 2014, the Patriots have gone 70-18, qualified for four-straight AFC title games and won two Super Bowls. That’s not how a dynasty ends, that’s how it extends.

Even if the Chiefs win Sunday, and even if they do it in dominating fashion, that’s still not how the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick dynasty ends. Sure, the Patriots’ 11 regular-season wins this year was their lowest total since 2009, but the team has already accomplished enough to include 2018 in this Golden Era of New England Football. This season, the Pats have extended their NFL record for consecutive division titles to 10, their record of consecutive playoff byes to nine years and their record for consecutive conference championship game appearances to eight.

Again, just to clarify, extending something is the opposite of ending it.

All that being said, Sunday’s showdown with the Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, the likely MVP and the heir apparent to King Brady, could be a passing of the torch moment. But that will only be in hindsight.

If the Chiefs win Sunday, and then go on to win the Super Bowl, and then beat out the Patriots for the AFC crown next year, and then win another Super Bowl, and then dominate the AFC West for at least a decade, and go to a whole mess of AFC title games in a row, and win another Super Bowl ... then we can go ahead and look back at Sunday’s game as the moment the torch was passed and as some kind of ending point in New England’s historical timeline. But only then.

At the same time, just because the Patriots prolonged their dynasty this season doesn’t mean the Chiefs won’t end their season Sunday. Kansas City is a three-point favorite according to Las Vegas. Mahomes has evolutionary talent and has become the poster child for the offensive revolution that’s sweeping the NFL. Kansas City led the league in scoring this year with 35.3 points per game and has a pair of lethal pass catchers in Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. And Chiefs coach Andy Reid is one of the few people who could even be discussed as being Belichick’s coaching peer.

Kansas City is so good, and so good at home (9-1), that the Patriots could play well Sunday and still lose. The Chiefs are so good that even though they didn’t play well in New England back on Oct. 14, they still nearly won. Mahomes was not his usual accurate self in that game, throwing two interceptions and missing on some key red zone throws, but the Patriots still needed a last-gasp drive and buzzer-beating field goal from Stephen Gostkowski to pull out a 43-40 win. That three-point margin was the closest any team came to beating the Pats in New England this season.

The prolific Kansas City offense is tempered by a defense that has been abysmal at times this season. The Chiefs were one of the worst defensive groups when they came to New England in October, but they have improved since then. A big piece of that progress has been the return of linebacker/pass rusher extraordinaire Justin Houston, who missed the regular-season game against the Patriots. Houston and the rest of the KC pass rush tormented Andrew Luck last week, sacking the Indianapolis quarterback three times and hitting him six more times in the Chiefs’ 31-13 playoff win against the Colts.

The Patriots have also changed since that October win against Kansas City. The secondary, which will be put to the test by Mahomes & Co. on Sunday, has turned into one of the top pass-defending units in the league, led by All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Having defensive backs that can at least slow down the Chiefs’ passing attack has to be part of the formula for beating KC. The other part is having an offense to match the pile of points that even a slowed-down KC will inevitably score. The Patriots had that kind of offense in October and they definitely have it now considering Brady finally looked like his vintage self in last week’s playoff win against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Yes, Brady’s stats have been good this season, almost on par with what he did to win the MVP title last year. But if you watched the games, you saw a different Brady. You saw a quarterback who didn’t want to get hit, who was seeing pass-rushing ghosts, who seemed to have lost some arm strength, who missed open targets. You saw a guy who looked like a 41-year-old trying to do something that 41 year olds shouldn’t be doing – quarterback an NFL team.

That changed last week. Brady stood strong in the pocket and took hits, if necessary, to complete passes. He gunned the ball through the wind and hit receivers who were open. Brady completed 34 of 44 passes against the Chargers, his best completion percentage (77.27) of the season, for 343 yards, his second-highest passing yard total of the season.

That performance eased anxieties across New England. The demise of our football hero had been greatly exaggerated. The same goes for the alleged demise of our football dynasty.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341, tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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