The Patriots have won in double figures for 12 consecutive years and qualified for the playoffs in 12 of Bill Belichick’s 15 years as coach.
PHOENIX — When asked this week about the Seahawks’ opportunity to cement a dynasty with a Super Bowl victory Sunday, Pete Carroll had a quick answer.
“A dynasty,’’ he said, “is what New England has done.”
The Patriots’ record of sustained success, in an era of salary caps, free agency and other NFL devices to mandate parity, is what the Seahawks — and every other team — aspire toward.
It’s not just the three Super Bowls the Patriots won in a four-year span from 2002 to 2005 (to go with two they lost in 2008 and 2012).
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It’s the fact they contend virtually every season. The Patriots have won in double figures for 12 consecutive years and qualified for the playoffs in 12 of Bill Belichick’s 15 years as coach.
That includes an inaugural 2000 season in which Belichick, following Carroll as New England’s coach, went 5-11. Coming off an uninspired five-year stint as the Cleveland Browns’ coach, it appeared Patriots owner Robert Kraft had chosen unwisely. Friends sent Kraft tapes of Belichick’s news conferences with the Browns and warned him that it would be a disastrous hire.
When the Patriots started 1-3 in 2001, it looked like they had a point. But that’s when Drew Bledsoe got hurt and Belichick turned to his backup quarterback, Tom Brady, who upon getting drafted in the sixth round in 2000 famously told Kraft, “I’m the best decision this organization has ever made.”
That may or may not be true. The acquisition of Brady (the Patriots actually debated going with Tim Rattay instead) might have to settle for a tie with the hiring of Belichick, called by Carroll “one of the great moves in the history of the NFL.”
Experts have long debated who is more responsible for the Patriots’ ongoing success, Belichick or Brady. That’s almost irrelevant. It’s an imponderable chicken-or-egg situation. All that really matters are the Super Bowl omelets the two have cooked up.
The Patriots’ blueprint is out there for the Seahawks to emulate. Former NFL coach Steve Mariucci sums it up in one word: “Continuity.”
More specifically, a three-pronged continuity: A committed but non-meddling owner (which the Seahawks have in Paul Allen). A dynamic, innovative coach (which the Seahawks have in Carroll). And a foundational, franchise quarterback (which the Seahawks have in Russell Wilson).
If that formula seems overly simplistic, just look at the pro franchise that most closely mirrors the Patriots. That would be the San Antonio Spurs (five titles since 1998, including one last season). The stability of their triumvirate of owner Peter Holt, coach Gregg Popovich and star Tim Duncan has led to the same annual contention.
What’s amazing — and what the Seahawks need to show over time they can emulate — is that for the Patriots and Spurs, personnel comes and goes, assistant coaches come and go, executives come and go. But the victories keep mounting as long as that core is in place.
Steve Young told The Boston Globe the Patriots have “clearly figured out how to deal with continuity in a discontinuity era.”
Carroll said that is his aspiration, too. He believes an essential element to success is for the coach to have final say on personnel decisions, as he and Belichick do. But Carroll also stresses the value of having an astute personnel man, such as John Schneider with the Seahawks. The Patriots, however, kept winning even after their personnel guru, Scott Pioli, left for an ill-fated stint as the Kansas City Chiefs’ general manager.
This isn’t like the old days, when a team such as Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers had 13 starters from their 1961 title squad — including nine Hall of Famers — still in the lineup when they won again in 1966. The Steelers of the 1970s also were able to keep their stable of nine Hall of Famers together through four Super Bowl runs.
Nowadays, that’s not so easy. The Patriots keep churning their roster and winning anyway. The Seahawks have done a masterful job of locking up their core players and will try to continue that this offseason in pursuing deals for Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner. That would leave them with a young nucleus that positions them as well as any team in recent memory to keep winning.
“John has spent a tremendous amount of effort in the long view, in looking down the road to see how we can continue to maintain the core of our club at a high level with the guys we’ve built it around,’’ Carroll said.
“We’re in the process of doing that. I think it should be pretty obvious that we reward our own guys. …There’s a fine balance in there, and we saw the (Baltimore) Ravens a couple years ago. They had to have a big change in their football team because of the financial aspect of that. We don’t anticipate that. We think we’re structured in a way that we can hold on.”
The Ravens, who didn’t make the playoffs the season after winning the Super Bowl two years ago, are just one of many teams that suffered a Super Bowl lapse. The genius of Belichick is that he has been able to avoid the lulls that strike other successful teams.
Part of it, of course, is having one of the all-time great quarterbacks in Brady. Part of it is the culture of winning that has been established (along with a culture of pushing rules to the limit with the spying incident in 2007 and the current deflated-footballs incident).
A big part of New England’s success is not only Belichick’s schemes, but his ability to adapt to the roster. He has won with great defenses, yet he got to his fourth Super Bowl with a defense rated 31st in the NFL.
“The game plans of the Patriots are constantly changing with the opponent,” ESPN analyst and former Patriots linebacker Tedi Bruschi said in a conference call. “And so the player that they look for is one that can be a chameleon.”
Belichick, with his hoodie and scowl, might not seem anything like the ebullient Carroll. Brady and Wilson aren’t cut from the same cloth, either, at least outwardly.
The Seahawks, however, hope they are kindred spirits when it comes to approaching the goal stated in the title of Carroll’s book: Win forever.
|The New England Patriots have won three of five Super Bowls under coach Bill Belichick|
|2002||New England 20, St. Louis 17|
|2004||New England 32, Carolina 29|
|2005||New England 24, Philadelphia 21|
|2008||N.Y. Giants 17, New England 14|
|2012||N.Y. Giants 21, New England 17|