The Patriots aren’t dead yet. But they’re damn close.
The most dominant franchise in the history of the NFL still has a pulse, but it’s faint and fading.
The Patriots — who’ve won the AFC East title the past 11 years and in 17 of the past 19, winning six Super Bowls along the way — enter Sunday’s game against the Cardinals (6-4) struggling with a 4-6 record and with their playoff chances in serious jeopardy.
Last Sunday’s loss to the Texans left the Patriots with a sixth loss for the first time in a season since 2009. The last time they failed to make the playoffs was 2008, when quarterback Tom Brady was lost for the season with a knee injury in the opener. Even that year, they finished 11-5 and missed out on the postseason on tiebreakers.
With the Bills (7-3) leading the AFC East and the Dolphins (6-4) next, the Patriots’ chances of winning the division are almost nonexistent. As far as earning one of the three wild-card spots, the Patriots are trailing four teams — the Browns, Titans (7-3), Raiders (6-4) and Dolphins.
So it’s likely they cannot lose another game in their final six to have a chance to sneak in as a wild card. Of the Patriots’ final six opponents, four — the Cardinals (6-4), Rams (7-3), Dolphins and Bills — have winning records. The other two opponents are the Chargers (3-7) and, in the season finale, the Jets (0-10).
While Brady, who signed with the Buccaneers in the offseason, is still trying to find his way with his new team, it‘s becoming quite clear the Patriots’ two-decade run of excellence has come to a close — at least for the moment. Surely, there are many who are rejoicing in this, and understandably so.
But respect for their dominance is in order as well. An eye-opening indication of just how incredible the Patriots’ run has been is illustrated in this statistic: Since 2001, the Patriots have won 63.6 percent of games (63-36) against playoff teams. The second-best team in that span, the Steelers, are 48-58-1 (45.3 percent).
This season, though, the Patriots are hanging on for dear life. It’s a strange look, one befitting of the bizarre times we’ve lived in during 2020.
“I think we have a good football team here,’’ New England captain Matthew Slater told reporters earlier in the week. “Unfortunately for us, we haven’t been able to make those handful of plays that we need to make to get over the hump and win games. That’s how thin the margin is in the National Football League.”
The Patriots, of course, have always been on the plus side of that thin margin.
“We have to continue to have a standard. It was set before I got here,” Patriots veteran safety Devin McCourty said earlier this season. “We have to continue to demand that from each other, even though the games aren’t going how we want. We can’t let the culture change.”
Time, which seemingly has always been on their side, is running out on the Patriots.