One year and one more Super Bowl win later all is right in Fort Foxborough. At this time last year, the Patriots were reeling from a frustrating Super Bowl loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, highlighted by the mysterious benching of Malcolm Butler and the fallout from simmering friction between the two cornerstones of the team’s run of success, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.
They were confronting franchise mortality and an offseason Cold War between Brady and Belichick. What a difference a year makes.
Now, that’s all ancient history, a blip on the Super Bowl bling radar. It’s the dramatic prologue to a season that ended with a sixth Super Bowl title in 18 seasons. Instead of a power struggle, Brady and Belichick had a championship parade. The best hope for the rest of the NFL was that the Patriots would come apart from the inside — pride, ego, and discord undoing a dynasty. We should know by now that one thing the Patriots don’t do is beat themselves.
The Patriots didn’t splinter apart. Their principals pulled together and pulled off another banner season. They’re still here. They’re still winning. They’re still defying predictions of their demise. They don’t have to worry about “Tom vs Time” or Tom vs. Bill. The Patriots appear unbreakable.
They survived the turbulence and organizational tension of last offseason and came out the other side with a championship. What was supposed to kill them only made them stronger. Sorry, America.
Winning is the ultimate deodorant. It masks any whiff of dissension or resentment. Ultimately, winning was more important to Brady and Belichick than any of the issues at the center of the “tension” that Patriots owner Robert Kraft openly spoke of in an interview with Andrea Kremer that aired in the lead-up to last year’s Super Bowl. That’s why they reached detente before the 2018 season commenced. Order and their place atop the NFL’s hierarchy were restored.
In the afterglow of another championship, as the organization stares at its flattering reflection in the Lombardi Trophy, it’s easy to forget just how unusual and unsettling last offseason was. Revisionist history writes off the friction and disconnect as a media fabrication. That’s not accurate, and it’s a disservice to owner Robert Kraft and team president Jonathan Kraft, who deserve credit for repairing the fissures and keeping the brand intact. The control issues and internal strife that ESPN’s Seth Wickersham detailed were real.
Here’s a little refresher on last offseason in case you forgot: In the post-Super Bowl loss episode of his Facebook docuseries, Brady openly questioned what he was playing for and his conviction to keep playing. His supermodel spouse, Gisele Bundchen, was quoted saying that Brady just wanted “to go to work and feel appreciated and have fun.”
Last April, Brady pleaded the fifth during an appearance at the Milken Institute Global Conference when asked if the team had the proper gratitude for what he had achieved.
Brady proceeded to abstain from participation in all but the mandatory portion of the Patriots’ offseason program, taking tight end and TB12 method acolyte Rob Gronkowski with him. The two trained with Brady’s business partner/guru/body coach Alex Guerrero, whose loss of privileges was part of the war of wills between the quarterback and the coach. Who can forget the “Tom vs Time” tableau of Brady getting his pregame rubdown from Guerrero in his suite at Gillette Stadium next to Sterno cans and chafing dishes?
It’s a huge story for any NFL team when its two most prominent players skip OTA practices. Those same two players were there when the Patriots needed them most, connecting on the biggest offensive play of last Sunday’s Super Bowl, a 29-yard Gronk reception that set up the game’s only touchdown. Go figure.
Until mandatory minicamp last June, Brady had thrown more passes to model Bella Hadid in Monaco than to Cordarrelle Patterson. It was all so strange. The guy who used to take up residence at Gillette Stadium and stake claim to one of the coveted offseason award winner preferred parking spots was avoiding the place like it was Chernobyl.
In the end, none of it mattered. There were Brady, Belichick, and Julian Edelman in a joyous embrace on the turf of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium last Sunday, awash in confetti and affection. The only tension was the result of the game being tied, 3-3, in the fourth quarter before Brady led the Patriots to the end zone, going 4 for 4 for 67 yards.
Belichick owed Brady a Super Bowl after Touchdown Tom threw for a Super Bowl-record 505 yards last year and became the first quarterback to lose a game in which he threw for 500 yards or more and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
The 13-3 Super Bowl victory over the Los Angeles Rams was a team win, not a Tom win. Nobody Believed in Us New England won without its living legend quarterback even throwing a touchdown pass and with him recording his lowest passer rating in his nine Super Bowl appearances (71.4).
Remarkably, despite the dissonance of last offseason, the Patriots became the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to win the Super Bowl the season after losing in the game. They also became the only team in the salary-cap era to advance to three straight Super Bowls.
To deny the division of last offseason is to deny the Patriots their proper credit for those achievements.
This offseason we won’t have to keep track of perceived slights and OTA absences or parse words from Oprah interviews. We won’t have to interpret Brady’s every action or interview. His social media defiance is aimed at Father Time, not his coach. He already has declared that there is zero chance he retires; he’s coming back for the 2019 season.
This offseason won’t be without its challenges. It’s the NFL. But the Patriots aren’t facing any existential threats this offseason.
Winning heals all wounds.