Five years ago. The end of September, Week 4 of the NFL season, 2014. Has it really been five years? Time is so relative and memory so subjective, that in some ways it feels like yesterday and in others it feels like a lifetime ago. So much tumultuous history has been made in the half decade since the Patriots Dynasty was declared over after getting debacled in Kansas City on Monday Night Football that at lot of it is lost to history now. But this game stands out. It’s one of those moments where you remember where you were as the events unfolded. Like when the Challenger blew up (I was in a classroom), when the Twin Towers fell (at my job in Hingham, MA) or the first time you got to 3rd base (the back seat of my car, listening to Taylor Swift’s “Me”).
For this one, I was working for what was then Comcast Sports Net, now NBC Sports Boston. I was on the pre & postgame show as the “Web Zone” guy, where Mike Felger would talk to Troy Brown and Ty Law for a while, then kick it to me to read Tweets and throw out a few lines. Most of the time it was a great side job for someone willing to sit wired to a desk for two hours straight in a room by yourself waiting to talk into a stationary camera at a moment’s notice. On this particular night, it was a form of torture that should’ve been protested by Amnesty International. According to Twitter, the world was ending. The sun was black as sackcloth. The rivers were running backwards. The dead were rising from the grave.
Because I was involved in my own show, my focus was on the internet and Felger, who was manically joyful because the demise of the Dynasty he’d been predicting for years seemed finally to have arrived. So I missed what everyone else was talking about. The ESPN postgame in which Trent Dilfer threw dirt on the Patriots coffin with a quote that would live in infamy.
“You go into a bully’s house, you get the snot beat out of you. We saw a weak team, the New England Patriots. Let’s face it, they’re not good anymore!”
Dilfer’s postmortem postgame was premature. But there weren’t a lot of people saying he was wrong. The Patriots were 2-2. They looked only slightly worse in the Kansas City game than they had losing at Miami in Week 1. The game was a genocide of bad from the opening kickoff to the end:
* Down 7-0, Travis Kelce splits the defense for a catch & run from midfield down inside the 5.
* Down 17-0 at the half, the Pats had been shut out in the 1st half on the road for the first time since 2006. And given up 300 yards for the first time ever.
* Down 24-0, Brady threw an interception that went 12 yards beyond where Julian Edelman had broken off his route.
* Down 34-7, Brady threw a Pick-6.
* Down 41-7, he was replaced by rookie 2nd Rounder Jimmy Garoppolo.
During the broadcast Jon Gruden declared “This does NOT look like the New England Patriots.” And Mike Tirico revealed that in their meeting with Brady that week “Tom was tight.” The consensus was that he was upset at the team for drafting Jimmy G and worried about his job. Also that he was getting old and feeble and the “They haven’t won since Spygate” clock was now up to 10 years. The fact they’d won the most games in that span by far and been to two Super Bowls be damned.
I considered myself a bit of a lone voice in the media wilderness. Arguing that teams like Green Bay and Indianapolis were also 2-2. (Note: Those two teams made it to the league’s Final Four along with Seattle who would start 3-3) but that only New England was being declared legally dead. I was called a fanboy and told to get out of my denial, wake up and smell the stench of death.
More importantly, live on our airwaves, one of the great quotes of all time was born.
The media went bananas. This was Belichick at his dismissive, disrespectful worst. The public deserved answers. What was wrong with his team? What was wrong with his quarterback? Was his QB too old at 37 years old? (I’ll pause here for a minute and think about that one.) Had he given his QB enough talent to work with? Was he thinking about making the switch? And he dulled them to death with the same, repeated, monotone non-answer that instantly became a punchline. Then as the team beat Cincinnati and put together a streak of wins, became a rallying cry. And then a catchphrase. Now it’s everywhere in some form or another. Which is something we need to remind people of to this day when they get all indignant about his dodging a reporter’s question.
You know the rest of the history. They lost one more meaningful game all season, a one-score game at Green Bay. They went on to beat the defending champs in the Super Bowl. Which is for my money the best and most significant of all the six titles because it relaunched their own dynasty while killing the Seahawks’ dynasty as it was about to hatch and then burned its nest.
And we owe it all to this game, five years ago. The low point of this 20 year (and counting) run we’re on. Looking back, a night of total failure never felt so good.