Fresh off a Super Bowl loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the New England Patriots enter the 2018 offseason in unfamiliar territory. Long a model of consistency, the Patriots have some major questions to answer with defensive coordinator Matt Patricia leaving to take the reins in Detroit, and key players like Rob Gronkowski contemplating retirement. After the longest sustained run of success in NFL history, the Patriots dynasty is finally showing signs of crumbling.
We started to see signs of this demise during this season, despite the fact the team still made it to the championship game. The defense, which has always followed the model of “bend but don’t break”, broke when it mattered the most. Although the unit improved as the season progressed, we saw early on that there were fatal flaws, particularly in run defense where the team gave up 4.7 yards per carry putting them at 31st among the 32 teams.
More troublesome still is the team’s inexplicable shunning of their best corner in Malcolm Butler. Butler, who understandably was upset after not playing any defensive snaps in the Super Bowl, is all but guaranteed to leave the team this offseason in free agency, further weakening the subpar defense.
Butler’s benching also offered some insight into perhaps the most telling sign that the Patriots dynasty is coming to a close and that is the power struggle happening within the organization. ESPN reported earlier in the season that there was some tension among Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and owner Robert Kraft over the team’s power dynamic, and after benching the of Butler in a clear move to reassert dominance, it’s fair to wonder how much longer the current dynamic can hold.
Make no mistake, the Patriots are still a good team and in all likelihood will be back in contention next season, but it’s beginning to look like the end of a dynasty in New England. With Brady aging, a reported power struggle threatening the team chemistry and a defense that is both in need of a major talent upgrade and just lost their respected coordinator, it’s obvious that Super Bowl LII was not a fluke. This is the beginning of the end of an all-time great run of success.