FRANCHISE CRAFTS LEGACY
Like New England, the Patriots are rich in history, albeit recently in the NFL, and it’s still being made
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady has been trying to keep a level head the last two weeks as he prepares for his 15th career playoff run, beginning Saturday night against the Texans at Gillette Stadium.
“It’s a football game — it’s the same thing that we’ve been doing,” Brady said. “It’s just, there’s more at stake.”
In the micro sense, Saturday’s divisional-round game has more at stake than the Patriots’ 16 previous games this season: It’s win or go home.
“You’ve got to earn the right to come back to work,” safety Devin McCourty said. “That means putting in everything you have this week, then getting out there on game day and finding a way to win, and then resetting and trying to do it all over again the following week if you’re fortunate enough to be there. I think the team understands that.”
But in the macro sense, the stakes of this postseason couldn’t possibly be bigger for the Patriots and their iconic figures: Brady, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft.
The big picture
The Patriots’ 16-year run of dominance has placed the organization in some heady company in the annals of NFL history. Another Super Bowl run can define legacies and rewrite record books as the Patriots chase the mythical title of greatest franchise in league history. Let’s take a look at what’s at stake this postseason:
Joe Montana has been the NFL’s postseason king for going on four decades. And few people worshipped Montana more than Brady, a Northern California kid of the 1980s.
Brady has the chance to surpass his hero in several postseason accomplishments and pretty much end any discussion about who is the G.O.A.T.
The big one, of course, is Super Bowl titles. Brady, 39, has four, tied with Montana and Terry Bradshaw for the most by a quarterback.
Another championship would be Brady’s fifth, and would vault him past those legends and tie him with defensive end Charles Haley for most Super Bowl victories by any player.
Should Brady win Super Bowl MVP, it would be his fourth such award and break a tie with Montana for most in NFL history.
And Brady will set a record if the Patriots reach the Super Bowl. It would be his seventh appearance, breaking a tie with former defensive lineman Mike Lodish, who played in four Super Bowls with Buffalo and two with Denver.
Brady, of course, said he’s not thinking about the stakes.
“Those are very nice things to have, to win a certain award,” he said. “But I think for me, the most important thing has always been what our team can achieve, and our goals are still ahead of us. That’s where my attention has been focused.”
Mount Rushmore of coaches
The Patriots coach and football czar holds the NFL record for postseason wins (23) and is in the short conversation for the greatest coach of all time, lumped in with legends such as Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, Tom Landry, and Don Shula.
But another Super Bowl run could cement Belichick’s status as the headliner on the NFL’s coaching Mount Rushmore.
Belichick, 64, surpassed Landry and Shula with his 14th division title this year, setting an NFL record.
If he wins another Super Bowl, he’ll have the most rings of any head coach in history. It would be Belichick’s fifth, breaking a tie with the Steelers’ Chuck Noll.
If the Patriots beat the Texans and reach the AFC championship game, it would be Belichick’s 11th appearance in that game as a head coach, breaking a tie with Landry. Another trip to the Super Bowl would be Belichick’s seventh as a head coach, breaking a tie with Shula.
A victory over the Texans would give Belichick at least one playoff win in six straight years, which would break a tie for the NFL record he shares with John Harbaugh, Mike Holmgren, John Madden and Andy Reid.
Once the laughingstock of the NFL for three-plus decades, the Patriots have ascended to the top or near the top of several postseason record lists.
If the Patriots make it to NRG Stadium on Feb. 5, it would mark the ninth Super Bowl appearance in their history, setting an NFL record. The Patriots are tied with the Cowboys, Broncos and Steelers with eight Super Bowls, though Dallas also could reach nine this postseason, likewise the Steelers.
Bragging rights for Kraft
With a win over the Texans, the Patriots can pass the Oakland Raiders (1973-77) as the only team to reach six straight conference championship games. The Patriots also would tie the 1991-96 Cowboys as the only teams to win a playoff game in six straight seasons. And a win over the Texans would give the Patriots 30 all-time postseason victories, joining Pittsburgh (34), Dallas (34), Green Bay (32), and San Francisco (30) as the only teams to accomplish the feat.
Kraft’s Hall of Fame credentials and legacy as an owner will certainly be enhanced with another deep playoff run, as well.
A trip to the Super Bowl would be Kraft’s eighth, breaking a tie with the Broncos’ Pat Bowlen for most by an owner. And a Super Bowl title would be Kraft’s fifth as owner, tying him with Eddie DeBartolo for second-most in NFL history, behind the Rooney family’s six with the Steelers.
Tom Brady’s hero as a kid was Joe Montana, but the Patriots QB is giving his idol a run for his money as a quarterback legend.