You win in the NFL with players – and the players are now fleeing the winningest team in NFL history.
Start with Tom Brady, a member of the NFL’s 100th anniversary team. He left the New England Patriots this offseason to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency. He’s one of six Patriots departing Foxborough who started New England’s final game of the 2019 season, a playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Add linebacker Jamie Collins and safety Duron Harmon to those six starters and that’s a chunk of 90 starts that will be missing from Bill Belichick’s lineup in 2020. Also departing this offseason were placekicker Stephen Gostkowski, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, special-teams ace Nate Ebner and fullback James Develin.
Now subtract six other starters from the lineup that won New England’s last Super Bowl 18 games ago. The headliner there was tight end Rob Gronkowski, who joined Brady on the NFL’s 100th anniversary team. He sat out the 2019 season in retirement but unretired this offseason to join Brady in Tampa.
But let’s now reflect on what those players have left behind – the greatest decade ever by any NFL franchise. The Patriots won at least 11 games every season and an NFL-record 124 games in the decade. That’s nine more victories than the franchise with the next winningest decade, the 2000 Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots won 77.5 percent of their games in the decade, topping the previous mark of 73.3 percent by the 1950s Cleveland Browns.
The Patriots became the first franchise in NFL history to win a division title every season of a decade and also became the first to qualify for the playoffs every season in a given decade. The 1970s Cowboys made a runnerup nine playoff appearances and the 1970s Vikings won a runnerup eight division titles.
New England has now won 11 consecutive AFC East titles and also reached the playoffs 11 consecutive seasons. Those also are NFL records. The Cowboys (1975-83) and 2000s Colts (2000-08) strung together consecutive playoff streaks of nine seasons. The last season the Patriots didn’t make the playoffs in 2008 they still won 11 games that year.
The Patriots went to five Super Bowls and lost in the AFC title game in three other seasons. Only the 1950s Browns (seven) and 1960s Green Bay Packers (six) reached more championship games in a single decade than the Patriots. The only other franchise to reach five Super Bowls in one decade was the 1970s Cowboys but Dallas only won two of them. The Patriots won three.
Now piggyback New England’s 2010 decade with the 2000 decade. Those 2000 Patriots won games at a 70.0 percent clip, amassing 112 victories. In addition to the 2010 Patriots and 2000 Colts (115), only the 1990s San Francisco 49ers (113) won more games in a single decade. So only four franchises have won more than 105 games in a single decade in NFL history – and the Patriots have now done it twice.
Since 2000, the Patriots have qualified for the playoffs 17 times, all as AFC East champions, reached 13 AFC title games and nine Super Bowls, winning six Lombardi Trophies. Along the way, New England became the first two-time “team of the decade,” joining the Browns of the 1950s, Packers of the 1960s, Steelers of the 1970s, 49ers of the 1980s and Cowboys of the 1990s.
That’s unprecedented success. So take a second to appreciate what we’ve all been watching up in New England these last two decades. We may never see it again.