ATLANTA — This city is home to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it the perfect place to combat the spread of Patriots Fatigue Syndrome across the nation. An outbreak of this affliction has been brought on by the canonized coupling of coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady reaching their ninth Super Bowl since the 2001 season.
The symptoms are irritability, irrational thoughts, and loss of vision.
The Patriots playing in their third consecutive Super Bowl — the first team in 25 years to do so — and fourth in five seasons has made Patriots Fatigue Syndrome (PFS) particularly acute in some cases.
One of the chief signs you’re suffering from PFS is when you make the sophistic argument that Brady and Belichick better serve and preserve their legacies by losing before the Super Bowl than by advancing to the Big Game and falling for a fourth time, dropping their record in the Roman Numeral Rumble to 5-4.
As the only quarterback and head coach in NFL history with five-ring résumés, Brady and Belichick can already rest their cases as the greatest of all time at their positions. But we live in a culture of opinion and recency bias, so the outcome of Super Bowl LIII on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams will be used for or against them, wielded as indisputable proof of their all-time eminence or presented as evidence to the contrary by those desperate to debunk their greatest of all time claims.
The argument is absurd, of course. When in life is going further in a competitive endeavor seen as a negative or a lesser accomplishment? How can winning more playoff games mean you’re less of an all-time great? But disorientation is part of PFS. Those with it are all too eager to penalize the Patriots’ primary principals for their unprecedented success if they don’t deliver Super Bowl title No. 6 on Sunday and leave Atlanta one game over .500 in their Super Bowl appearances instead of winners of two-thirds of them.
The Hot Take Industrial Complex will be ready to pounce, regurgitating that Joe Montana went 4-0 in Super Bowls without an interception. It will harp on the fact that Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll never lost a Super Bowl (4-0) and neither did 49ers genius Bill Walsh (3-0 as a coach).
“I hate that argument,” said CBS analyst and former NFL wide receiver Nate Burleson. “That is the stupidest argument of all time. So, you’re going to knock a guy for making it to the Big Game more often? That’s like people saying, ‘LeBron, you know how many times he has been to the Finals and he lost?’ Do you know how hard it is to get to the Finals?
“We don’t talk about the other years when Montana didn’t make the [Super Bowl] . . . yet we want to put some type of asterisk to the Patriots’ run to these Super Bowls because they don’t win. I would rather have a quarterback like Tom Brady, who basically when you average it out has been to the Super Bowl every other year, which is crazy. I think that’s the dumbest argument of all time.
“Detroit, we made it to the playoffs one year and celebrated like we made it to the Super Bowl. I think if you’re going to make an argument about the GOAT it should add to it the fact that they made it more times.”
The defense rests its case as nattily attired Nate spelled it out. Making it to the Super Bowl enhances Belichick’s and Brady’s legacies more than losing the game diminishes them. Duh. But that’s not going to stop those with Patriots Fatigue Syndrome from trying if they lose.
The Rob Parker-Max Kellerman Denial Doctrine states four Super Bowl losses would be a blight on Brady’s record. Somehow Montana’s four losses in the wild-card and divisional round are viewed more favorably historically than if Brady were to have four Super Bowl defeats on his legend ledger, even though No. 12 has reached more than twice as many Super Bowls as his boyhood idol.
While this line of reasoning is ridiculous and unreasonable, the mystique of Brady and Belichick would be dented a bit outside of New England if they lost back-to-back Super Bowls by PFS sufferers foaming at the mouth to lower the pedestals of Foxborough’s finest.
As Brady said Thursday, making it to the Super Bowl is considered a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Patriots have just been excellent and enduring enough that they’ve enjoyed it nine times. How can they be punished for that? They should be saluted for making it to the Super Bowl with such frequency in a league rigged for parity, especially this season.
Let’s be honest. Before they embraced the noise and a run-to-pass offense, this edition of the Patriots reaching Atlanta was far from a sure thing. Simply being here is a testament to the eminence of Belichick and Brady.
“Outside of the Super Bowl when they beat the Rams this might be the best job of getting to the Super Bowl by the Patriots of all their Super Bowls,” said CBS analyst and Super Bowl-winning quarterback Phil Simms. “I’m trying not to say the words this is the least-talented team, but it’s just such a smart, well-oiled team that I think it’s pretty incredible that they made it to the Super Bowl.
“During the year I had guys — I talk to this little circle of about five people who are really big-time football people — and they go, ‘If [Belichick] takes this team to the Super Bowl, by God, it will be his greatest achievement.’ . . . Many times this year I go, ‘I guess they’re not going to put it together.’ But they put it together at the right time.”
Burleson brought up a great point for those eager to see the Patriots lose Super Bowl LIII because they’re tired of Belichick and Brady making it to the NFL’s ultimate game. It’s easy to see the Patriots as a monolith because of their coach-to-quarterback domination, but the reality is that each Patriots Super Bowl team is like a snowflake falling with its own frozen filigree.
“No journey is the same. It’s not like they have every player healthy for every single season,” said Burleson. “Just think about this season, for example, for people that want to get fatigued, and say, ‘Oh, I’m tired of this story line.’ The story line is different. Their result might be the same.”
For the more febrile PFS sufferers, no amount of achievement or greatness will ever be enough for Brady and Belichick. Contempt for their success clouds these folks’ logic. They will always reference Spygate and Deflategate. Those will be the underlying reasons why they refuse treatment for Patriots Fatigue Syndrome. They don’t want to be cured.
The best that can be done is to quarantine them and quiet them.