It’s that time of year again where the Patriots head to the Super Bowl and everyone is already talking about whether they’ll disappear next year. Of course, there are reasons for the chatter; Tom Brady is 41, Rob Gronkowski is likely to retire, maybe Bill Belichick will retire, Julian Edelman is 32 and one season removed from a severe injury, they have no receivers, etc.
This all comes from multiple places – there are the people that want to see it end because they’re sick of the Patriots’ dominance of the AFC, or they believe the Patriots are cheaters, or they support an AFC East team. Then there are the people who don’t want to see it end, which consists of Patriots fans and people who are fascinated by their continued success. It also just helps to plug the gap between Super Bowl week and the Draft.
So, does it end?
No, it doesn’t, but it is due a change. Obviously, Brady is going nowhere, even if he wins a sixth Super Bowl ring, Brady has confirmed that he will be back next year, and so will Bill Belichick. As long as they’re there, and Robert Kraft is the owner, the dynasty continues, but there are other things that the Patriots need to address in order for it to continue.
The first is how they deal with the loss of Gronkowski. Gronkowski stated earlier this week that he wasn’t sure whether he’d be retiring in the offseason, but I consider it highly likely. Gronkowski has been a lynchpin of the Patriots’ offense since he was drafted with the 42nd overall pick in 2010, but this season has seen a drop in production, and when you watch him, he doesn’t look as comfortable as he used to. He turned up for some clutch catches in the AFC Championship game against the Chiefs, but so far this season his production is at 47 receptions for a little over 700 yards, and we are yet to see what he produces in the Super Bowl. Still, even if he doesn’t retire, I imagine this Sunday’s Super Bowl will be his last game as a New England Patriot. At 29 years of age he’s had several injuries, notably to his back, so I don’t see a way forward for him, especially considering a potential $12m hit against the cap. Money that could potentially be saved to bring in someone like Austin Seferian-Jenkins who is due to be released by the Jaguars.
The second part is Dante Scarnecchia, the New England Patriots’ offensive line coach. Belichick confirmed last night that Scarnecchia will be back for next year which is a massive boost for everyone to do with the Patriots, but it’ll definitely make Brady, the man that calls him the greatest offensive line coach in the NFL, happy.
Scarnecchia has absolutely transformed their play after taking over finishing-line-esque offensive line left behind by Dave DeGuglielmo, who was recently fired by the Colts despite drastically improving their line.
The key to this dynasty is, of course, giving Brady the best protection they can and letting him go to work. Scarnecchia has done that and more – he’s made an offensive line so good that neither the Chargers (19th in overall sacks) or the Chiefs (1st in overall sacks) managed to get a single sack against the Patriots. Sacks aren’t everything, and pressure is just as important, but Scarnecchia has consistently kept pressure off Brady, being in the top 10 in 11 of Scarnecchia’s seasons as offensive line coach. That’s pretty spectacular.
On top of that, Brady has been getting rid of the ball in 2.1 seconds through the playoffs, and Joey Bosa even has some good-natured on-field banter with Brady, asking him to stop throwing the ball away so fast, and continued on the sideline; “He hit me on the butt after the play — Brady. Like, “Stop throwing the ball so fast.” He said, ‘If you stop getting here so fast, I won’t have to throw it fast.’ He really is ridiculous. He really is ridiculous. Like, how quick he can get rid of the ball, what he sees! Impressive!”
Couple Brady’s speed getting rid of the ball with Scarnecchia’s expertise and guile as offensive line coach, add a sprinkle of the brilliance of Josh McDaniels’ offensive play calling, then add the cherry of having the greatest NFL coach in history in Bill Belichick, and you know full well that this dynasty isn’t anywhere near done yet.