Patriots' Dynasty ending like they all do - without a dominating quarterback

Ron Borges

What does the Ming Dynasty have in common with Vince Lombardi’s Packers’ Dynasty? They both came to a crashing end.

Same was true of the Roman Empire and the Steelers’ Empire or the British Empire and the 49ers’ Empire. Eventually they all came tumbling down.

Whether the 20-year-old Patriots’ Dynasty is about to join the Ottoman Empire in the ash bin of history remains to be seen. But what happens Sunday in Buffalo will go a long way toward revealing whether there is a new page to be written in Patriots’ history or whether their dynasty is about to become history.

History, it’s fair to say, is not on the Patriots' side. The fall of the NFL’s great dynasties – the Browns, the Packers, the Steelers, the 49ers and the Cowboys -- all followed the same pattern. Each ended when its quarterback retired or aged into mediocrity.

Great as those dynasties were, when the quarterback left their best days were behind them. No system and no sideline wizard could save them because, as Chuck Fairbanks once said games are decided by “Jimmys and Joes, not Xs and Os.’’

The 49ers had a brief reprieve on history because they had Steve Young ready to take over for Joe Montana. But as great as Young was he won only one Super Bowl after Montana departed for Kansas City. After Young began to decline, the Niners went the way of the Romans, which is to say their empire collapsed.

If last weekend is an omen of things to come, the Patriots’ dynasty seems destined to be the next to fall because Cam Newton is no Tom Brady. That was never more obvious than last Sunday when Brady threw four touchdown passes and ran for a fifth score in a Tampa Bay rout of the Raiders while Newton threw three interceptions and got benched for a kid who threw a fourth in a 33-6 home loss to the 49ers.

No NFL dynasty has survived the loss of its quarterback. The Patriots look no different.

The day the Patriots first announced they signed Newton to replace the departing Brady on a one-year deal, Bill Belichick was hailed as a football and fiscal genius. Sycophants in New England praised him for waiting out the rest of the NFL and replacing the quarterback who had abandoned ship for the Bucs’ boat with a former league MVP. What they forgot to notice was this Newton was no longer that Newton.

Injuries and some porous offensive lines in Carolina had resulted in both shoulder and foot surgery for Newton. His arm has never looked right since. Worse, he’d lost nine of his last 12 starts. After this season’s shaky 2-3 opening as a starter it makes Newton the loser of 12 of his last 17 starts.

In the last two of those, Newton looked like a shot fighter. He could see the openings but he couldn’t pull the trigger. That's why in those losses to Denver and San Francisco by a combined score of 51-18, he threw five interceptions and zero touchdowns.

Things grew so dim last Sunday that after passing for only 98 yards and failing to get his team into the red zone by midway through the second half, Newton was benched in favor of young Jarrett Stidham. Stidham was no Steve Young and has given Belichick no reason to believe he might ever become Steve Young. What he might become is the kind of quarterback who makes coaches grow old before their time.

To his credit, Newton has not run from the reality of the slippage in his play. A day after being benched, he told a Boston radio station, " The first thing I said to myself coming home is, ‘If you keep playing games like that, bro, it’s going to be a permanent change.’ 

" I’m honest with myself so that leaves no type of miscommunication with others. And when the change happened, I’m stuck on the sideline listening to plays and saying to myself, ‘Like listen, is this really how you want to do things? Is this how you want things to be done?’ Until you make the step to get better as you have been harping on these last couple weeks, then that’s what it’s going to be.”

Truth be told if that’s what it is Sunday in Buffalo, the Patriots are finished. They already trail the Bills by 2 ½ games. If they lose again their record falls to 2-5 while the Bills would be atop the AFC East at 6-2 and holding a likely insurmountable 3-½ game lead over the team that won 17 of the last 19 AFC East titles and the past 11 in a row. 

All of them were won with Tom Brady at quarterback, of course...

While Brady continues to produce magic in Tampa, New England’s offense has ground to a halt. It presently ranks 24th in total offense and a far more alarming 29th in scoring. Newton has thrown only two touchdown passes this season with seven interceptions, but the more concerning fact is in a league now totally devoted to puffing up passing stats Newton has managed to throw for fewer than 200 yards in four of his five starts.

The one exception was a 397-yard passing day against Seattle. Only problem there was they lost that game, too.

Patriots’ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said this week the route back to Dynasty Way for Newton begins with a return to “fundamentals’’ and “doing things he’s comfortable with.’’ Over the past few weeks passing the football has not looked like one of those things he’s comfortable with and, truth be told, if a 10-year veteran’s issue is his “fundamentals’’ there’s a problem there that can’t be solved.

History tells us every NFL dynasty ends the same way. First the quarterback departs and then so does the winning. This was true for Otto Graham’s Browns in the 1950s and Troy Aikman’s Cowboys in the 1990s.

History tells us something else, too, that applies to the Patriots. It tells us the Wizard in the Hoodie on the sidelines, Bill Belichick, is nine games below .500 in his career with any starting quarterback other than Brady (54-63).

A loss Sunday afternoon in Buffalo won’t guarantee the collapse of the Patriots quite yet, but it would be a strong indication that history is about to written ... and that part of the story is never good for dynasties.

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