NFL FanHouse Roundtable: Is Patriots Dynasty Officially Over?

Brinson got the ball rolling Sunday night, but NFL FanHouse brainiacs put their humongous eggheads together to continue the discussion: is the Patriots dynasty in the books, or will everything be fine when Tom Brady returns?

Ryan Wilson: Watching the Chargers systematically dismantle the Patriots secondary sent a pretty clear message to the rest of the league: WHEN THROWING THE BALL, FIRST FIND DELTHA O'NEAL, AND THEN CHUCK IT. And while there's a good chance the Patriots would be undefeated (or, at worst, a one-loss team) with a healthy Tom Brady -- and arguably still considered the NFL's best club -- now they're barely ordinary.

Which I think just reinforces the point that great coaches need great players. Hardly original, I know, but a lot of people were interested to see what Bill Belichick would do to keep things going in New England. The answer, it seems, is "start going to church again."

I don't know if it was by design or it just how things unfolded via the draft and free agency, but the Patriots' defense is decrepit. Other than Jerrod Mayo, Brandon Merriweather, and Ellis Hobbs, it's an ancient bunch. That's hardly an issue when the offense is routinely putting up 30 points, but a much bigger problem when Matt Cassel averages 1.4 yards per completion.

New England's cupcake schedule certainly helps, but even if they make it to the postseason, they're most likely one and done. As for the future, well, I guess depends on how Brady looks after a year off to rehab his blowed-up knee. Even if he's back to Brady-rific form, everybody's a year older and there's not a lot of depth on the roster. I just don't see the Patriots ever regaining their 2001-2004 form. Not without Matt Estrella, anyway.

Will Brinson: Clearly, I agree, in the sense of nighty-night dynasty. Or else I wouldn't' have started pushing the ball down the hill. But the point about "coaches need great players" really can't be over emphasized enough -- people legitimately discussed for a few days following Brady's injury the possibility of Cassel stepping in and performing just as well.

Why? Because Brady did that for Drew Bledsoe. One problem: Brady was a helluva lot more awesome and good and perfect and stupendous and charming than the Statuesque One in New England, so it's a silly comparison.

We just always assumed this sixth rounder that couldn't take Brian Griese's job in college wouldn't be worthwhile and therefore were amazed at Belichick's ability to uncover him and then transform him into a golden child. But don't forget, the Pats passed on him five times too.

Tom Mantzouranis: Aging defense, hurt Brady, no ability to cheat -- it doesn't make a difference what the details are. What matters is that those tiny details are just part of the larger point -- EVERY empire must end. (See: United States, The).

It's just natural in the cyclical nature of life that the Pats were going to come to Earth eventually, and it was going to happen quicker than Brady's retirement. It's sort or irrelevant at this point how (especially since, really, it's not so much one thing but a multitude of things).

So is the Pats' dynasty dead? Probably. I venture to guess they'll open another championship window before Brady retires, and the Pats won't revert anytime soon to a bottom-dweller, but they're probably going to require a couple of years of mediocrity and wild card hopes before they get to that point. Most fans would love to have that chance every year, but for the Patriots not being a guaranteed powerhouse annually is slumming it.

Still, anyone eschewing myopia and displaying a sense of perspective could see that the fall was on its way. It's no coincidence that the Colts' "dynasty," which began at roughly the same time as the Pats', has hit a snag as well. You just only have so long before the fates balance themselves.

Adam Gretz: It seems that everyone is assuming Tom Terrific is going to just show up in 2009 and instantly start chucking 50 touchdown passes again. What if he comes back like Daunte Culpepper or Carson Palmer? Yeah. Exactly.

Mantzouranis: Well, while Brady probably isn't going to ever replicate his past awesomeness, I just think it's because he set the bar inexplicably high. So high that he can't reach it himself. I don't think this injury has anything to do with it.

Culpepper absolutely debacled his knee, which was crucial because he was a quarterback that required a strong base to launch bombs and power through tacklers in the open field. Palmer's troubles, I think, extend beyond his knee injury. Look, if guys like Willis McGahee, Edgerrin James, etc, can come back and use their knees well, Brady can as well. He requires a lot less of his legs than those guys.

Bruce Ciskie: Basically by force if for no other reason, we all respect the way Belichick and Pioli have built this franchise over the years.

But their methods have finally caught up with them. Tom Brady is an incredibly valuable player, but would even he be successful with this mush offensive line? Probably not as much as you would expect. Brady thrives on having time to throw and only having to sidestep one free man to make his read and his throw. The Giants showed what happens when he's faced with pressure from all over the front. I'm not sold that these opponents would be so incapable of pressuring Brady that he would have kept rolling like he was last year. New York exposed a hole on this offensive line, and the Patriots haven't filled that hole.

Now, I'm not totally convinced they're done for good, but they're done for this year. The moment Tom Brady's season ended, so did the Patriots'. Matt Cassel is nothing but a caretaker, and with the running game struggling to do anything consistently, he has really no shot. The defense looks old and beaten down.

But if my thoughts on Belichick and Pioli are correct, they can fix this. They need to keep building through the draft and eschew the strategery of signing older veterans for starting roles. And they need to stop the revolving door at cornerback.

Deltha O'Neal? Please.

This season is almost lost at this point. They're screwed. They're not as good as the Bills, I don't think. They already got worked by Miami, and I'm sure the Jets are thoroughly disgusted with themselves for letting that Week Two game slip away.

As much as I don't like Denver, they're in the race. The Chargers hold a head-to-head win, and the AFC South is likely to produce at least one wild-card team among Jacksonville and Indianapolis (or Tennessee if they start to slip a bit).

There isn't room for a horribly mediocre New England team that hasn't looked like itself at any point this season.

Josh Alper: First and foremost, the idea that Matt Cassel was going to replace Tom Brady as anything other than the starting quarterback was a ludicrous one. The funniest part of it was that some of the same people who make Sundays and Mondays miserable with their incessant pandering about Tommy's terrificness were the same ones with this misguided belief that whoever Belichick put under center would lead the Pats to the promised land. Can't have it both ways, fellas, and it's been proven that Brady was worthy of much of the praise sent in his direction.

As for the dynasty, I think it had already started drawing to a close when the Giants beat them in February. They provided a blueprint to beating them that, Brady or not, teams have been following this season. Some aren't good enough to execute it but when they run into good teams, there's no more aura of the unbeatable. The aging defense, the troubles against the pass rush, mediocre running backs...these were all things that a great passing game could obscure. They don't have one this season so the flaws aren't getting obscured.

If there's a good thing, it's that Brady's absence is pushing those flaws to the fore. It's hard to change what's working but when things stop working it gets a little easier to make the large-scale changes that the Pats need to make to remain a contender year in and year out. Will they be a dynasty? Probably not. But if they make the right moves I don't see why they wouldn't be able to contend for the rest of Brady's career.

Sportz Assassin: I think the Pats dynasty is over.

When I started to type this, I wasn't going to say that. I mean, this was a 16-0 team last year and a favorite to get back to the Super Bowl this year. I do think we wouldn't be saying this if Tom Brady were healthy. I do. That isn't to say they'd be as dominant as they were last year, but they'd still be in the AFC's elite.

However, Brady is done this year and I don't see him coming back at full health in 2009. It's rare to see QBs with major knee injuries just fall right back into their flow. That puts their dynasty on hiatus for at least another year.

Now, add in the fact that the Patriots defense is old, the offensive line has been exposed and ... yes ... the cheating has been exposed as well. As Tom said, the championship window may open again before Brady retires. However, the current dynasty appears over.

Stephanie Stradley: What? No mention of the Patriots not being able to videotape defensive signals any more?

/bomb thrower

Mantzouranis: Looks like Steph's bomb ended the conversation.

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