Each decade of the post-Super Bowl NFL has had one team claim the title Team of the Decade. The Green Bay Packers cleaned up the 1960’s, the 1970’s saw the Pittsburgh Steelers win 4 Super Bowls in 6 years, the 1980’s San Francisco 49ers went 4-0 in title games, and the Dallas Cowboys took the 1990’s with their 3 Lombardi Trophies. From 2001 to the present, the New England Patriots have been the current benchmark for NFL success. What makes the Patriots success more impressive than the other teams’ is that New England has had to deal with free agency and salary caps, two ideas that came about in the mid-1990’s. Since 2001, when Tom Brady took over as quarterback, the Patriots list of achievements is staggering for one franchise:
- 6 Super Bowl appearances
- 4 Super Bowl Wins
- 9 Conference title game appearances
- Only team to complete a 16 game undefeated regular season
- 22 playoff wins
- 13/15 AFC East Division titles
While obviously there are more than 5 people associated with the dominance of the last 15 years, these are the individuals most responsible:
1. Robert Kraft
When Kraft bought the Patriots in 1994, the team was not doing well, having had the first overall pick just one year before, taking Drew Bledsoe. Even with minor talent, the team made their second ever Super Bowl appearance in 1996, although it would end in a loss to the Packers. The past 15 years, however, Kraft has overseen the greatest franchise in sports. While he is very hands-on and wants to know what is happening, he lets the coaches and players do their jobs without interference. The players all respect him and he seems to really connect with people committed to bringing Lombardi trophies to One Patriot Place.
2. Bill Belichick
Thank God Kraft didn’t fire Belichick after his first season, a 5-11 debacle in 2000. Every season since then has produced a winning season, along with the 4 Super Bowl titles and 9 conference championship game appearances. Belichick has established himself as the greatest coach of all time in the past 15 seasons, showing an ability to adapt and change schemes, all while continuing to win the AFC East and be a constant threat to win the Super Bowl.
3. Tom Brady
In my opinion, the greatest quarterback in NFL history. He will finish his career with the most wins all-time, and already owns or shares every playoff and Super Bowl career record.
4. Ernie Adams
The Football Research Director for the Patriots, Adams could be considered the man behind the curtain. He is the voice in Belichick’s headset every Sunday, and has stayed in the shadows his entire career, always going where Belichick coaches. When the Patriots used trick plays and formations against the Ravens, that was Ernie Adams. In the Super Bowl, Adams was the one who knew Malcolm Butler should prepare for a pick, which the team practiced for all week.
5. Adam Vinatieri
The dynasty never starts without Vinatieri. Not many kickers could have made the field goal in the snow against Oakland in 2001, or followed it up by winning a Super Bowl. Vinatieri was hugely responsible for bringing the first three Lombardi trophies to Foxborough, with the three games all decided by a field goal. Luckily, the Patriots were able to overcome Vinatieri joining the Colts by drafting All-Pro Stephen Gostowski, who has now taken over as the best kicker in the league.
Honorable Mention: Mo Lewis
A player not many fans will remember, Mo Lewis can be thanked for one specific play on September 23rd, 2001: a bone-crushing hit on then quarterback Drew Bledsoe. This hit would take Bledsoe out of the starting lineup, bringing in Tom Brady and starting perhaps the greatest 15 year run by a team ever.