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Patriots Perspective: Rarified Air


It's sometimes still difficult to believe that the New England Patriots are one of the NFL's great dynasties. Their run of sustained success combined with postseason accomplishments rivals any so-called dynastic stretch in modern times.

There are Vince Lombardi's Packers, Tom Landry's Cowboys, Chuck Noll's Steelers, Bill Walsh's 49ers and Bill Belichick's Patriots. That is the top tier.

Don Shula spent 26 years in Miami and won 12 division titles but after winning Super Bowls in 1971 and 1972, he never won it again. Comparatively, Belichick has won 13 division titles in just the last 15 years while winning four Super Bowls. 

Joe Gibbs' Redskins and Bill Parcells' Giants combined to win five Super Bowls between 1982 and 1990, but they were not quite consistent enough over a long period to reach the next tier. Tony Dungy's Colts don't qualify because their postseason success seldom matched their regular season prowess. Bill Cowher's Steelers were consistently in the mix but also fall short of that top echelon. It should be noted, however, that Dungy and Cowher both guided their teams to one Super Bowl win. Jimmy Johnson won two Super Bowls in Dallas but his tenure was simply too short.

The Patriots, under Robert Kraft's ownership and Belichick's coaching, have managed to sustain success in a much different financial climate than the others – one in which managing the salary cap with discipline is critical to team building. Also, while free agency might allow teams to pluck proven talent from their opponents, it also means that a team's roster and chemistry can change so much from year to year, which also makes consistent success more challenging today than in the pre-1993 era.

So let's look at the Patriots recent success from a historical perspective.

Super Bowl XXXVI

From 1960-2002, the New England Patriots never won more than 11 games, but reached the 11-win total six times – all six coming after the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 and all ending in playoff berths. During that same span, the Patriots made the playoffs 11 times – 1963, 1976, 1978, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2001 – which of course means they missed the playoffs 31 times during that stretch.

If the Patriots are able to win this week when they host the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, Dec. 20 at Gillette Stadium, they will exceed the 11-win mark for the 10th time since 2003 and for the sixth consecutive season. Only Indianapolis, from 2003-2009, has won 12 or more games in more consecutive seasons (7 from 2003-2009). With a playoff berth clinched for 2015, the Patriots have now qualified for postseason play for the 12th time in 13 seasons.

Let that sink in. Let's revisit this fact for emphasis. Between 1960 and 2002, the team made 11 playoff appearances in 42 years. Since then, it has made 12 playoff appearances in 13 years.

With Miami's Dec. 14 Monday Night Football loss, the Patriots also clinched their seventh consecutive division title, which ties them with the 1973-1979 Rams for most consecutive division championships. It also is the most consecutive division championships by both a head coach and a starting quarterback.

Let's take a look back at the Patriots season capsules since 2003.


Record: 14-2
AFC East Champions
AFC Champions
Super Bowl XXXVIII Champions

The Patriots lost the season opener, 31-0, in Buffalo and then lost at Washington three weeks later to fall to 2-2 while injuries were mounting. In Week 5, they rallied past a tough Titans team, 38-30, to start a 15-game winning streak to end the season. New England's defense went four home games without allowing a touchdown during the season. The Pats entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed thanks to a thrilling 38-34 win in Indianapolis on Nov. 30 and then won rematches with both the Titans and Colts before slipping past Carolina, 32-29 in the Super Bowl.


Record: 14-2
AFC East Champions
AFC Champions
Super Bowl XXXIX Champions

New England won its first six games to establish an NFL record for consecutive wins (including the postseason) with 21 before losing, 34-20, at Pittsburgh. Led by Corey Dillon and its most dominating rushing attack since John Hannah retired in 1985, New England rolled through opponents before a 29-28 slip-up against a struggling Miami Dolphins team on Dec. 20. The Patriots once again shut down Peyton Manning and the Colts in the playoffs and then went back to Pittsburgh to avenge their earlier loss against the 15-1 Steelers, which they did by a 41-27 count to win their second AFC title at Heinz Field in four seasons. They held on to beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 24-21, to win the Super Bowl.


Record: 10-6
AFC East Champions
Lost in Divisional Playoff at Denver

The Patriots lost some of the dominance from the previous two seasons while limping to a 3-3 start with wins over Oakland, Pittsburgh and Atlanta, but losses to Carolina, San Diego and Denver before their bye. But four straight December wins rendered a Week 17 game vs. Miami meaningless. The Patriots crushed Jacksonville in the Wildcard round before losing a rematch in Denver.


Record: 12-4
AFC East Champions
Lost AFC Championship Game in Indianapolis

The Patriots defense guided the club in 2006, allowing just 237 points during the season. New England won six of its first seven before rare back-to-back home losses against the Colts and Jets. It then won six of its last seven before crushing the jets in a Wild Card game and stealing a Divisional Playoff win in San Diego after Troy Brown turned an interception into a fumble, which the Pats recovered on the way to a comeback win. New England led the AFC Championship Game in Indy until the final minute when Peyton Manning led a game-winning drive for a 38-34 Colts win. Indy went on to beat Chicago in the Super Bowl.


Record: 16-0
AFC East Champions
AFC Champions
Lost Super Bowl XLII to the Giants

With new wide receivers Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Jabar Gaffney and Dante Stallworth added to the mix, the Patriots offense was nearly unstoppable. The Patriots outscored opponents 589-274, Tom Brady threw a then-record 50 touchdown passes to win the league's unanimous MVP, and the team became the first in history to complete a 16-0 regular season after a nail-biting 38-35 Week 17 win over the Giants. The Patriots advanced to Super Bowl XLII after playoff wins over the Jaguars and Chargers but were upset by a hungry Giants team, 17-14, in the Super Bowl to finish an amazing season on a disappointing note.


Record: 11-5
Second in AFC East
Missed Playoffs

Starting quarterback Tom Brady was injured 15 plays into the 2008 season and was lost for the year. Matt Cassel took over the offensive reigns and guided the team to an 11-5 record including four straight wins to end the season. But the Patriots lost the division on a tie-breaker and became the second team ever to miss the playoffs after winning 11 games.


Record: 10-6
AFC East Champions
Lost in Wildcard round vs. Baltimore

With Brady back under center, the Patriots failed to return to dominant form. They were fortunate to win their season opener at home vs. Buffalo and then lost at the Jets. They reach their bye week at 5-2 but lost three of five returning from the bye. Three critical December wins were enough to capture the division, but the Ravens ran them out of Gillette Stadium, 33-14, in an opening round playoff game that started with a tone-setting 83-yard Ray Rice touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage.


Record: 14-2
AFC East Champions
Lost Divisional Playoff vs. the Jets

This was the year the Patriots dynasty may have prematurely been declared over with a passing of the divisional torch to the Jets? Well, the Patriots did win their final eight games to finish 14-2 and did win the division again, but just six weeks after blowing out the Jets, 45-3, in Foxborough, the Jets returned to Gillette for the playoffs and handed the Patriots a 28-21 loss. With New York headed to the AFC Championship Game, some wondered if 2010 might be the end of the Patriots run. Hint … it wasn't.


Record: 13-3
AFC East Champions
AFC Champions
Lost Super Bowl XLVI to the Giants

In a season dedicated to Patriots matriarch Myra Kraft, the Patriots opened the season 5-1, but came out of their bye week and lost consecutive games at Pittsburgh and home vs. The Jets. Those losses seemed to serve as a wake-up call as New England rattled off eight straight regular season wins to finish the season. It then crushed Tom Tebow's Broncos in the Divisional Playoffs and held on to beat Baltimore in the AFC Championship game when Billy Cundiff's game-tying 32-yard field goal missed badly to the left. The Patriots led Super Bowl XLVI, 17-9, midway through the third quarter, but the Giants rallied from behind to win, 21-17.


Record: 12-4
AFC East Champions
Lost AFC Championship Game vs. Baltimore

After a blowout win in Tennessee to open the season, New England lost at home to Arizona and on the road at Baltimore. It sandwiched a loss in Seattle between four wins to enter the bye at a mediocre 5-3. It took control of the division race with five straight wins, including three division wins, before losing at home to San Francisco in a game the Patriots trailed 31-3 and rallied to tie at 31 before falling 41-34. The second-seeded Patriots knocked off Houston in the Divisional Playoffs and then lost the AFC Championship Game to the Ravens at home.


Record: 12-4
AFC East Champions
Lost in AFC Championship Game at Denver

The Patriots started 4-0 before a tough 13-6 loss in the rain at Cincinnati. They were 8-3 following a controversial Week 12 loss at Carolina when they mounted the largest comeback win in team history the following week. Trailing Peyton Manning and the Broncos, 24-0, at halftime, New England scored 31 unanswered points to take the lead. Manning guided a game-tying touchdown drive to send it to overtime where former Patriot Wes Welker misplayed a punt that resulted in a turnover and a Stephen Gostkowski game-winning field goal. The Patriots rolled into the postseason as the No. 2 seed and sent Indy packing in the Divisional round before losing the AFC Championship Game, 26-16, at Denver.


Record: 12-4
AFC East Champions
AFC Champions
Super Bowl XLIX Champions

The Patriots opened the season with a sluggish 33-20 loss at Miami before two uninspiring wins and an awful 41-14 Monday Night Football loss at Kansas City after which ESPN's Trent Dilfer said, "Let's face it. They're not good anymore." The Patriots were 2-2 with the undefeated Bengals coming to town, which led to Belichick famously declaring, "We're on to Cincinnati." Onward and upward they were. New England crushed the Bengals, 43-17, to start a seven-game winning streak that propelled it to the top seed in the AFC playoffs. Once there, New England rallied from two 14-point deficits to get past the pesky Ravens, 35-31, in the Divisional round and then blew out the Colts, 45-7, in the AFC Championship Game. New England trailed Super Bowl XLIX by 10 in the fourth quarter before a pair of touchdown drives staked it to a 28-24 lead that was only secured by Malcom Butler's miraculous goal-line interception with 20 seconds left.


Record: 11-2 (with three games to go)
AFC East Champions

The Patriots won their record seventh straight division title after starting the season 10-0. It lost consecutive games at Denver and home vs. Philly before rebounding with a win at Houston to get to a division-clinching 11-2. The injury bug has bitten the Patriots hard in 2015 with offensive starters Dion Lewis and Nate Solder out for the season along with wideout Aaron Dobson. Julien Edelman and Rob Gronkowski have both missed time as well on the offensive side while Dont'a Hightower, Dominique Easley and possibly Devin McCourty (ankle injury suffered in Houston) have missed some time on the defensive side.


Record: 161-44 (with 3 games left in 2015)
12 AFC East Championships*
5 AFC Championships (in 8 appearances)*
3 Super Bowl Championships*
* Patriots also won AFC East, AFC and Super Bowl Championships in 2001

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