We all — well, most of us — agree with you: The Patriots are an insufferable football machine that must be stopped. But here’s the thing: Can anyone stop them? Five weeks before the season kicks off, New England is favored to win every game it plays in 2017. Sixteen years since their first Super Bowl win and 10 since their 16–0 regular season, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still the class of the NFL. So, welcome to — ugh, yes — Patriots Week! Ahead of what could be the most dominant New England season yet, read along as we take a look at the good, the bad, and the Jets-y of modern football’s defining dynasty.
We’re celebrating the New England Patriots, but they don’t deserve it.
Bill Belichick is a Marie Kondo book written by the devil. Tom Brady was a potentially charismatic and mold-breaking star whose career of joyless automation has instead become an argument for subjugating individual creativity and finding an obsession that allows you to never grapple with the realities of the outside world. Rob Gronkowski is a reminder that if you’re white and you catch enough touchdown passes you’ll never be considered “a distraction.” And Julian Edelman is proof positive of the power of magical thinking: Yes, Gerry from Weymouth, you, too, would be a Pro Bowl wide receiver if Brady were throwing you the ball.
Like so much entrenched power in America, the Patriots dynasty has been built on the back of rule-breaking and the inherited wealth of its quarterback. They’ve spied on opponents, they’ve done something with those footballs, and to believe that there’s never been any cheating between those respectively grandiose and minuscule extremes of line-crossing, you’d have to get all of your football news from Nantucket magazine. Meanwhile, for all the talk you’ve heard and will hear this week of New England’s steadfast devotion to unconventional wisdom, the Patriots have consolidated their position of power in the most conventional ways imaginable: underpaying employees and marrying into money. It’s a lot easier to be a genius team-builder when you can pay the best quarterback in the league the same amount as Mike Glennon because his wife has a net worth approaching $360 million.
I’d say that the Patriots are a pox on America if they weren’t so representative of what this country is. I despise them—and I want my favorite team to be them.
We should’ve known back in 2000 that Belichick had this all figured out. After the resignation of Jets head coach Bill Parcells, Belichick, then a Jets assistant, was chosen as the team’s next head coach. But in his introductory press conference, Belichick read “I resign as HC of the NYJ” off of a napkin and proceeded to tell reporters that he wouldn’t be taking the job. After the death of previous owner Leon Hess, Belichick was reportedly concerned with the future of the franchise’s stewardship. Soon after resigning, he signed on as head coach of the Patriots, who eventually sent New York a first-round pick as compensation.
Since the Jets were eventually sold to Woody Johnson, one of the heirs to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, Belichick’s suspicions proved correct. Under Johnson, chaos has been the franchise’s only rudder; his obsession with American toilet paper and his misunderstanding of tampering rules both stand above any praiseworthy achievements.
If you believe in the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, then there is another universe in which Belichick never asked for his freedom, the Jets have employed and still employ an all-time-great quarterback, and the franchise has won 201 regular-season games and five Super Bowls since the turn of the decade. Meanwhile, the Patriots have never been able to settle on a head coach, various mediocre quarterbacks have been lauded as franchise saviors by the fan base, and despite the occasional playoff run and some momentary flirtations with competence, New England has lost more games than it’s won.
If those 19 letters never make it onto the napkin, then we likely never have the Patriots dynasty, we probably never have Patriots Week, and maybe—just maybe—Jets fandom never becomes the autumnal ritual of flagellation that many New Yorkers of a certain birthplace and familial allegiance have come to accept.
Since Belichick deferred the opportunity, the following men have worn the head coach’s headset for Gang Green:
• Al Groh: Went 9-7; beat Belichick twice by a combined score of 54-36; and he resigned at the end of the season
• Herman Edwards: Never won more than 10 games in a season; famously yelled about the most obvious core principle of competition; and was eventually traded to the Chiefs
• Eric Mangini: Marked the beginning of the team’s ill-fated “let’s just be the Patriots” phase; spent much of his tenure trying to convince the media that he was friends with Belichick; and was fired after Brett Favre’s 39-year-old arm died in Week 11
• Rex Ryan: Built one of the best defenses in recent NFL history; squandered it all by, among other things, getting a tattoo of his wife in a Mark Sanchez jersey on his upper-right arm; and was fired after losing 38 games in his final four seasons
• Todd Bowles: Hired to instill a sense of discipline that the front office felt was missing from the Ryan era; has since overseen a locker room that’s been characterized by star players skipping out on their own birthday parties, openly expressing disdain for the sport on Snapchat, and admitting they’d like to die on a football field; and will likely be fired this winter as he coaches a team that will feature either Josh McCown or Christian Hackenberg as its starting quarterback
In the NFL there are so many moving pieces, both on a given play and within the institutional hierarchy of a team, that it’s often impossible to accurately parcel out credit for a team’s success. Is Brady an all-timer without Belichick? Is Belichick a revolutionary mastermind without a superstar behind center? But with the Jets, it’s the other way around: When all of the garbage is rotting, how are you supposed to figure out where the stink began?
That list of coaches looks like a pathetic quintet of sad taskmasters and over-giddy hypemen, but think about the quarterbacks the Jets have had during Brady’s career: Chad Pennington threw 20 touchdowns in a season just once, and he was severely hampered by a lack of arm strength … yet he’s unquestionably the greatest Jets quarterback I’ve ever seen. Beyond him, the sheer incompetence at the position has distorted reality so much that all of the following things are true: For a handful of snaps, Quincy Carter looked like a franchise savior because he could throw the ball more than 30 yards without it fluttering toward the ground like a wounded pigeon; Brooks Bollinger was given nine starts and not immediately dismissed as an imaginary person; the concept of “Kellen Clemens, starting NFL quarterback” was seriously considered by people outside the Clemens family; trading up 12 picks to draft Sanchez seemed like an unimpeachably good idea; neither Geno Smith, who lost his job because a teammate punched him in the face and shattered his jaw, nor Tim Tebow, who is a below-average minor league baseball player, were the worst quarterbacks to wear white and green this century.
Since 2000, the two franchises have played each other 36 times, and the Jets have won 11 of those games. Most famously, they beat New England 28-21 in the divisional round of the 2011 AFC playoffs. Even then, nothing about it felt real: Ryan prematurely ran onto the field to celebrate after Shonn Greene scored the game-clinching touchdown with less than two minutes to play—and I don’t think it was due to overexcitement; it was because deep down, Ryan knew the Jets would never get back there again. After the game, The New York Times ran an article with the headline “Last Word Goes to Jets,” which didn’t taunt the football gods so much as it seemed to confirm they were in on the obvious, cosmic joke.
Two years later, the Buttfumble happened on national TV on Thanksgiving night. The metaphor is still too on the nose: Whenever the Jets gather any momentum, they run into their own ass. In February 2015, the greatest Jet of his generation, Darrelle Revis, won a Super Bowl … with the Patriots. In Week 16 of 2015, Belichick essentially gifted the Jets an all-important victory by deferring after winning a coin toss before overtime—only for New York to miss out on a playoff spot after a loss to who else but Ryan’s Buffalo Bills. And then this past offseason, just in case the narrative loop hadn’t already been tied together tightly enough, David Harris, the team captain who intercepted Brady in that 2011 playoff win, signed with New England after being tossed aside amid New York’s latest attempt at a rebuild.
Even though there’s a Wikipedia page for it, the Patriots and the Jets don’t have a rivalry. No, one franchise just serves as the crumpled-up foil for the other: Every season is a 16-week reminder that the Jets are not the Patriots. This year, it’s especially clear. New England is favored to win every game it plays in, while the Jets would be better off if they reached the end of December without a single victory. The biggest reason for optimism in New York right now is Johnson being exported to the United Kingdom.
Seventeen years after it happened, this much is true: By making sure he’d never coach a game for Gang Green, Belichick confirmed that he would be the greatest Jets head coach of my lifetime. His one day in charge was better than anything we’ve seen since.