What Now?

In what was supposed to be Tom Brady’s cementation of GOAT status, the Patriots’s dynasty is the shakiest it has ever been.

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This was supposed to be the easy one. After last year’s miraculous comeback against the Atlanta Falcons, the Patriots were supposed to come in, go to work, and come away with an easy victory. Without rising star Carson Wentz, the Eagles were riding the arm of backup quarterback Nick Foles against the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) Tom Brady and mastermind head coach Bill Belichick. Nothing could go wrong.

Until it did.

I wasn’t worried when Foles led the Eagles to a field score on the first drive of the game. I wasn’t worried when he piloted his team to a 22-12 halftime lead. This was Tom Brady after all; he’d find a way. And true to form, Brady pushed the ball down the field and connected with star tight end Rob Gronkowski less than three minutes into the second half. When he cut it to a three-point game to start the fourth quarter, I had complete confidence in him.

But Foles found a way. The backup, who was thrown into the heat of the playoffs after starting a grand total of two and a half regular season games, produced the biggest game of the year. He played out of his mind—I respect that. Brady did what he could and led the Patriots to a title, passing for a record-breaking 505 yards. Initially, I thought this loss could signify the end of the Patriots dynasty. However, with the confirmed returns of both offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Belichick, I’m confident this team will come back as strong as ever next season.

However, one major issue that requires extensive fixing is the defense. Matt Patricia, the defensive coordinator, oversaw one of the top red-zone defenses in the NFL, only allowing 3.94 points per drive, which is the second best in the league. He just became the head coach of the Detroit Lions. A new coordinator needs to be sought out. However, after heading the Pats for the last five seasons, the defensive players grew accustomed to Patricia’s style of coaching and a change will require adjustment.

Additionally, after Belichick’s controversial decision to bench top cornerback Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl, Butler will assuredly leave this offseason via free agency. If Butler were starting as usual, he could have completely changed the outcome of the game. His backup, Eric Rowe, was targeted early and often by Foles and was repeatedly beaten by Eagles wide receivers. Butler, the superior corner, could have limited Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor’s production throughout the night. Instead, he rode the game out on the bench and will seek out a change of scenery next season.

On the positive side, McDaniels, the offensive coordinator, has developed chemistry with Brady, leading to another MVP season despite a lack of top-tier talent at the skill positions. He will return and have a full season with top wide receiver Julian Edelman, who was injured early into this season. His return signifies stability on the offense, which can easily match, if not surpass, this year’s output with Edelman.

Belichick is also staying for at least another year, but it remains to be seen how he will work with owner Robert Kraft and Brady. A rift opened up this past season when Belichick wanted to keep young backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, seeing him as Tom Brady’s heir, but Brady told Kraft that he could play for another four or five years. Kraft went with his superstar, telling Belichick to trade away his prized asset. Belichick did just that, giving him up to San Francisco for a second-round pick. Garoppolo is currently 5-0 in his career for the 49ers.

Belichick thrives when in control and hates when management meddles in his affairs. Brady went behind his back to Kraft to get rid of his only competition, souring his relationship with his coach. Brady and Belichick are the greatest player and coach combination ever and Kraft oversees the organization, and the trio will need to remain united and on the same page for the Patriots to remain a top-tier team.

Besides the retention of the majority of the offense, another reason I can’t see the Patriots disappearing from the top-tier of the league is pedigree and pride. After Deflategate in 2015, when the NFL suspended Brady for four games and fined the Patriots $1 million, Belichick and the Patriots wanted revenge. They cruised to the Super Bowl and won it all. Now, the Patriots were just out-coached by a young, new head coach and outplayed by a backup quarterback. And Belichick, though rightly so, is taking heat for benching starting cornerback Malcolm Butler and using clock management badly. They will want another shot at a championship.

This dynasty is at a crossroad. From the devastating potential loss of Gronkowski, who is considering retirement, to the Brady/Belichick/Kraft drama, the Patriots have issues they need to sort out. Wide receiver Danny Amendola (8 catches, 152 yards in the Super Bowl) and running back Dion Lewis (team-leading 896 rushing yards) will both be free agents, and the defense needs work and a new coach.

However, I’m confident it will work out. The organization prides itself in being the class of the NFL and has been too good for too long to completely fall off the map, especially with so many key players coming back. As long as Brady, Belichick, and McDaniels remain on the same page, the offense will continue to be top-notch. Go celebrate, Eagles fans, you earned this one. We’ll be back next year.