The moment was bound to happen eventually. It couldn't have been after the 2005 divisional loss to the Broncos because they were too close to their last championship. It couldn't have been after their 2006 conference championship loss to the Colts because the game was too close and the Patriots were only one game away from the Super Bowl. It definitely wasn't after the 2007 Super Bowl loss to the Giants because heck, they went 18-0 to the Super Bowl. It couldn't have been the 2008 season because they didn't have Tom Brady.
But it may have finally happened. The New England Patriots, who since 2001 have been amidst the elite teams in the NFL every year, may have finally taken a step back to mediocrity. Yesterday's 33-14 home loss to the Baltimore Ravens was the Patriots 7th loss of the 2009 season, and the Patriots franchises completed the "season ending cycle" in doing so; In 2004 they won the Super Bowl, in 2005 they got eliminated in the divisional round, in 2006 they got eliminated in the conference championship, in 2007 they lost the Super Bowl, in 2008 they missed the playoffs, and in 2009 they made their playoff exit in the first round.
It's easy to forget now, but the 2009 Patriots entered the NFL season as the odds on favorites to win the Super Bowl, and after a 59-0 spanking of the Tennessee Titans, it was hard to argue against the Patriots going very, very deep in the 2009 playoffs. The franchise was 6-2 heading in to week 10, but looked like the most dangerous team in the league.
Then the franchise unraveled. First there was Bill Belichicks 4th and 2 call against Indianapolis that signified the Patriots were no longer the defensive minded team that won three Super Bowls. Belichick also conceded that the Patriots aura of invincibility was a thing of the past, and that Peyton Manning's arm was more dangerous than his team.
But the Patriots hung in there heading into the post-Thanksgiving edition of Monday Night Football against the Saints. That day the Patriots lost 38-17 and seemingly gave up midway through the fourth quarter. The next week the Patriots would lose in Miami to acquire their fifth loss of the season, meaning adding Tom Brady would equal no improvement in the teams overall record.
So where do the Patriots go from here? They need to get some offensive line improvement, they need to get a sure thing running back, and their defensive backs aren't what they once where; when the Patriots were winning Super Bowls they had secondaries that ranked amidst the greatest in league history. But as we know, the Patriots aren't afraid to make offseason moves, be it through trade or free agency.
Next there is the question of Tom Brady. It seems as though ever since the Manning vs Brady showdown where Brady lost, and the the Hall of Famers sided with Peyton, Brady hasn't been the same. Something like that could definitely damage an ego, especially someone like Brady who notoriously wears his ego on his sleeve. Adding to his frustration are the continuous nagging injuries. Towards the end of the season rumors began to circulate that the Patriots are seriously considering drafting their successor to Brady sometime in the next two NFL drafts, meaning that the Patriots and Brady both know that his playing days are coming to an end.
Is the Patriots dynasty dead? Yes. It's definitely not 2004 anymore. This team doesn't follow the same mentality the 2001-2004 Patriots had; if they did they wouldn't have traded Richard Seymour.
Can the Patriots be back in 2010? Absolutely. Bill Belichick was able to go 11-5 with Matt Cassell, a kid who hadn't started a football game since high school. Lord only knows what would have happened in the 2008 playoffs had the Patriots actually gotten in.
Can this team continue to rely on Brady the way the Colts rely on Manning, the Cardinals rely on Warner, and the Chargers rely on Rivers? Absolutely not. When he was a champion, Tom Brady was the best game manager in the league; he was a Phil Simms clone for the 21st century.
Brady is still a Super Bowl QB, the running game and defense are not championship caliber.