The Eerie Similarities Between the 2021 and 2001 Patriots are Getting Impossible to Ignore

Boston Globe. Getty Images.
Mitchell Leff. Getty Images.

History has, if nothing else, a sense of irony. A detached genius for reminding us puny humans that it will repeat itself, regardless of how much we think we are controlling events. Everything we experience or will experience has happened before. As it is said in the Book of Ecclesiastes; “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” 

In the 1960s, Lincoln gets shot behind the ear in a theater, and the assassin hides in a book warehouse. In the 1960s, Kennedy gets shot behind the ear from a book warehouse, and the assassin hides in a theater. World War I gets a sequel in World War II. A seemingly invincible Napoleon gets defeated by the mistake of invading Russia, a seemingly invincible Hitler gets defeated by the mistake of invading Russia. In 1917 the Bolshevik revolution takes over the Kremlin, finds all sorts of treaties exposing international government corruption and gets them published in UK's The Guardian. A hundred years later, Wikileaks exposes all sorts of international government corruption and gets them published in UK's The Guardian. To put it more simply:

Giphy Images.

However, not all the repetitions of history involve assassinations, corruption or central Europeans with world class cases of Little Man Syndrome. Some of the events that repeat themselves can be quite good. Like the director's cut of "Rocky IV" or Taylor Swift re-releasing all her music so she gets to profit instead of whoever bought all the rights. And … well that's about it. 

Most repeats are terrible for most of us. But there are exceptions. And we are living through one at the moment that is very, very good for people with the same emotional attachment I enjoy. The way the 2021 Patriots are mirroring the 2001 Patriots that was once shaping up to be a cute similarity, is starting to go beyond mere coincidence and becoming yet another example history messing with our collective head. 

Consider this graphic from ESPN:

Look, I get it. Nobody wants to see a comparison between a 23-year-old quarterback with eight career wins and the 44-year-old who has so redefined winning that he is more games above .500 (189) than Drew Brees, the No. 4 QB in all time wins, has in his entire career (181). And who has more than twice as many postseason wins (34) than Joe Montana (16), who is still No. 2 all time. 

But you have to admit, the similarities between the two thus far are eerie. And if you drill down a little bit, become (to use the term Carl Jung created to describe separate events so inexplicably linked they cannot be ascribed as mere coincidence) a borderline Synchronicity. 

Consider the following:

Each was: 

  • The starting quarterback for a traditional college powerhouse who led his team to victory major bowl.
  • Considered a lesser prospect than other QBs in his class due to a supposed lack of athleticism.
  • The definition of a Dad Bod.
  • Selected later than the more naturally gifted QBs (Brady was the 6th taken, Jones was 5th.) 

As a first year starter, each: 

  • Took the QB1 job away from a former No. 1 pick who led the team that drafted him to a Super Bowl a few seasons earlier.
  • Was called "a system quarterback" with limited arm strength.
  • Quickly demonstrated poise, intelligence, situational awareness and command of the offense far beyond his experience.
  • Was Top 4 in the league in Completion % (Brady was 4th, Jones is 5th). 
  • Gained an instant reputation among his teammates for outworking everyone. (Brady won the coveted prime parking space for doing the most in the offseason program and Matthew Slater told Mike Reiss that Jones "spends more time in this building than a lot of guys I can ever remember here.")

But if the similarities were just limited to the quarterbacks, you could dismiss it as a team and a head coach simply having a "type" and finding two guys to play the same position with the traits they look for, 20 years apart. Not much different than the way they found Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014. 

Yet that is only the beginning. There are more dots to be connected between the 2001 champions and this one. By way of examples:

The head coach:

  • In 2001, Belichick was being called "duplicitous pond scum" by the Boston Herald.
  • In 2021, he was being called a terrible GM, and a surly, aloof, out-of-touch coach who had lost his locker room and owed all his success to the QB and tight end who left rather than put up with his bullshit another day, by practically everyone. (Note: Not me.)

The journeyman linebacker who had his best success under Belichick and came to play for him again, bringing massive amounts of energy, toughness and impact plays to the defense:

  • 2001:Bryan Cox
  • 2021: Kyle Van Noy

The edge defender from an AFC North rival who signed immediately as the free agency period opened and immediately started playing the best football of his career:

  • 2001: Mike Vrabel
  • 2021: Matthew Judon

The high draft pick who quickly established himself as a force on the defensive line:

  • 2001: Richard Seymour
  • 2021: Christian Barmore

The under-drafted slot guy who clicked with the young QB and led the team in every receiving category:

  • 2001: Troy Brown
  • 2021: Jakobi Meyers

The fifth-year wideout who was signed after just one season of 70+ targets and became the Pats' most reliable deep threat:

  • 2001: David Patten (14.7 YPR)
  • 2021: Kendrick Bourne (14.8 YPR)

Clutch kicker:

  • 2001: Adam Vinatieri
  • 2021: Nick Folk

Weirdly late bye week:

  • 2001: Week 16
  • 2021: Week 14

Bad start to the season:

  • 2001: 3-4
  • 2021: 2-4

Close loss to a recent Super Bowl champ that proved they could play with anyone:

  • 2001: Week 10 Sunday Night lose to the Rams, 24-17, that ended on an 8-minute drive by St. Louis
  • 2021: Week 4 Sunday Night loss to the Bucs, 19-17, that ended on a clanked 56-yard field goal try

Close loss to a quality opponent that ignited a 6-game winning streak:

  • 2001: That Rams game. They didn't lose the rest of the way.
  • 2021: The Week 6 overtime loss to Dallas. (Note: Six wins and counting.)

Final result: 

  • 2001: One of the most remarkable franchise turnarounds in the history of the NFL, an improbable playoff run, one of the all time great upsets of all time in the Super Bowl, and the birth of a Dynasty.
  • 2021: TBD

And I'll add one more:

Man in charge:

  • 2001: A young, brilliant, driven, ruthless, determined Bill Belichick who does things his own way, even if they go against the conventional wisdom everyone's telling him to follow and making the bold decisions that he had determined are in the best decisions of the team.
  • 2021: A slightly older but even more brilliant, driven, ruthless, determined Bill Belichick who does things his own way, even if they go against the conventional wisdom everyone's telling him to follow and making the bold decisions that he had determined are in the best decisions of the team. 

Like I said from the outset, history repeats itself. In fact, it never stops. It's just that in cases like this, it's no coincidence.