The Patriots are the dynasty that won’t die.
That seemingly invites, rather than stops, premature proclamations of the downfall of the House of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. But it’s worth remembering as they return to an Arrowhead Stadium field that was anointed their burial ground the last time they were there (September 2014), set to play in Sunday’s AFC Championship game. The loudest outdoor stadium on record created the loudest cries of the Patriots’ demise, following the Monday Night Massacre at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Almost five years later, the Patriots are back there for the first time since 2014, still kicking, still winning, and still the standard, one win from a ninth Super Bowl appearance since 2001.
There would be something apropos about a Patriots team that has looked more vulnerable than most winning in the place and against the team that made them look their most vulnerable during their 18-year reign. It would be peak Patriots. It would serve as a poetic reminder that football mortality doesn’t apply to Brady and Belichick, and that doubting them remains dangerous business.
Simply reaching this point years later is a testament to the Patriots’ insane staying power in a league fighting against it with every fiber of its business model.
With the benefit of hindsight and two more Lombardi Trophies, including one delivered that same season via Malcolm Butler, it’s easy to forget just how bad that 41-14 nationally televised shellacking was. It was the nadir of New England’s remarkable run of success. After the game, Patriots safety Devin McCourty called it “the most embarrassing game I’ve ever been a part of.”
It was the second-largest loss of the Belichick era, trailing only the 31-0 season-opening loss to the Buffalo Bills in 2003, known as the Lawyer Milloy Game for the safety who was cut by Belichick five days before the opener for refusing to take a pay cut, then vengefully signed with the Bills. That loss was different, though, as it came at a juncture when the Patriots were still viewed as a potential one-hit wonder, not industry icons.
That autumn evening in KC, the Patriots fell behind, 27-0. The score was 41-7 after Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah returned a Brady interception 39 yards for a touchdown with 10:34 left. That was the last pass Brady (14 of 23 for 159 yards with one touchdown, two interceptions, and two fumbles) threw. He was removed for Jimmy Garoppolo, who tossed a TD to Rob Gronkowski.
“That was a pretty crappy loss that night,” said Brady, when reminded about a return to Arrowhead following Sunday’s playoff win over the Los Angeles Chargers. “But we’ve had some other ones.”
Not like this, Tom.
While Chiefs fans set a Guinness World Record for the loudest crowd at an outdoor stadium, reaching 142.2 decibels that evening, it paled in comparison to the hue and cry over the Patriots’ apparent demise.
The fallout from the loss, which dropped New England to 2-2, was immediate and pervasive. Foreshadowing the eventual Brady-Jimmy G fork in the Foxborough road, Belichick was asked in his postgame press conference if he was going to evaluate the quarterback position following the loss. Pure heresy, but, given the way the game ended, not totally unreasonable.
These were the heady days of Jordan Devey, the former tuba player who let defenders march right past him. The trade of left guard Logan Mankins left the Patriots with porous offensive line combinations that had a 37-year-old Brady running for his life like Tony Eason. That night in Kansas City, the Patriots made the desperation decision to start rookie Cameron Fleming at right guard.
Through that point in the 2014 season, it looked more likely that Brady would spontaneously combust from frustration than it did that he would be upright to win Super Bowl MVP honors. In four games, Brady had completed 59.1 percent of his passes and had more fumbles (five) than touchdown passes (four).
The grave-dancing and hysteria found its way back to Foxborough. The press conferences of Belichick and Brady resembled Senate subcommittee hearings with pointed questions, trenchant interjections, and a demand for answers. Brady was asked directly if he was past his prime. Belichick was berated about whether he had provided Brady with enough weapons, a question we’re still asking, albeit less forcefully.
It was this interaction that spawned Belichick’s famous tunnel-vision, repetitive-retort-turned-rallying-cry: “We’re on to Cincinnati.”
The rest is history. The Patriots were on to a 43-17 victory over Cincinnati on “Sunday Night Football” and eventually the fourth of their five Super Bowl titles.
Now, four AFC title game appearances and three Super Bowls later, the Patriots are back at the scene of the Kansas City crime, reveling in being dismissed once more.
The sun eventually sets on all dynasties, sports or otherwise, but it feels like the Patriots dynasty is the equivalent of the midnight sun in Alaska. There is no sunset on the horizon, simply a remarkable phenomenon that you have to see to believe.
Cue the Elton John: The Patriots are still standing, and still standing in the way of any team that wants to win the AFC.
Last Sunday, the Patriots knocked out the most talented team in the field and the best contemporary quarterback never to win a championship, Philip Rivers.
This Sunday, they can dash the dreams of the best active coach without a Lombardi to his name. Reid holds the NFL coaching version of the “best golfer to never win a major” mantle.
A certified F.O.B. (Friend of Belichick), Reid trails only Belichick among active coaches in regular-season wins with a 195-124-1 record. Reid is also second among active coaches in postseason wins, although he’s only 12-13 all-time. His combined 207 wins rank seventh all-time.
Belichick is 6-2 against Reid, including a victory over Reid’s Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. But dating back to the Patriots’ humiliating defeat in 2014, Reid’s Chiefs are 2-2 against the Patriots with just one game on KC’s turf.
While the score in 2014 was a fluke, Reid has proven his ability to make the Patriots look mortal is not.
The Patriots have surrendered an average of 451 yards of offense and 35.8 points per game to the Reid-led Chiefs. In the 42-27 loss the Patriots suffered in the 2017 season opener, Reid’s offense rang up the most points ever scored again a Belichick-coached Patriots team. New England has allowed 40 or more points in three of the four matchups, including fending off the Chiefs to win, 43-40, in the regular-season meeting on Oct. 14.
Reid’s quarterbacks, Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes, have completed 68 percent of their passes and thrown for 1,183 yards and 12 touchdowns with just two interceptions against New England for a combined passer rating of 114.7. Kansas City has also averaged 5.45 yards per rush.
Those are all reasons to doubt whether the Patriots can pull off a victory at an arctic Arrowhead Sunday.
But people were pronouncing it the end of an era the last time the Patriots ventured to Arrowhead Stadium, too. It was far from it.