FRAN­CHISE CRAFTS LEGACY

Like New Eng­land, the Pa­tri­ots are rich in his­tory, al­beit re­cently in the NFL, and it’s still be­ing made

Houston Chronicle - - PRO FOOTBALL - By Ben Volin BOS­TON GLOBE

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.

Mike Ehrmann / Getty Im­ages

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.

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