Since caught cheating in 2007, the New England Patriots haven’t won another Super Bowl

With their defeat today in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, the New England Patriots have now gone nine consecutive seasons without winning the Super Bowl. For most other franchises, that wouldn’t be a big deal. But for the Patriots, who won three Super Bowls in the four years prior to that stretch, it’s become one big disappointment – particularly for a franchise which still has its all-time great quarterback Tom Brady and one of the most successful head coaches in NFL history, Bill Belichick. It’s worth pointing out that despite ultimately losing the Super Bowl, the Patriots did manage to go undefeated during the 2007 season and only lost on the most unlikely of last second helmet catches. But despite one more losing Super Bowl appearance last year, that fateful 2007 season is widely considered to have been the end of the line of the Patriots dynasty. It’s perhaps not coincidence, then, that New England began going downhill right around the time Belichick got caught cheating…

Belichick had been running the years-long scheme of secretly videotaping and studying his opponents’ pre-game activities. When caught, the penalties (a monetary fine and the loss of a single draft pick) were light enough that they can’t be considered a contributing factor in the decline of the Patriots dynasty. But what did change at that point was that they no longer had the strategic advantage of knowing whatever it was they were learning from those secret videotapes. Did the Patriots defense know which surprise plays the other team was going to run? They sure seemed to in their Super Bowl victory over the St. Louis Rams, which they acknowledged having pregame footage of. We’ll never know for sure just what the Patriots were gaining from their cheating. But the question must be asked: have the Patriots failed to continue their championship-winning ways because they no longer have the unfair advantage of knowing what the other team is going to do? And if so, did they only win those three Super Bowls in four years because they had that knowledge? There is one other oddball factor to consider…

The Patriots were famous for winning Super Bowls by a field goal, and they had all time great kicker Adam Vinatieri in that role. But he was allowed to leave as a free agent in 2006, and the Pats haven’t won a Super Bowl since. There hasn’t been a specific memorable situation since then where the Pats have lost out due to having an inferior kicker. But playoff seedings, even winning the division can come down to a single missed field goal during the middle of the season which no one paid great attention to at the time. Has the loss of Vinatieri been as much of a factor in the end of the Patriots dynasty as the loss of the secret videotapes? Today’s fifteen point playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens would suggest otherwise, as no kicker could have salvaged that uncompetitive defeat. And in fairness, if the Patriots had managed to pull off a Super Bowl victory last year instead of narrowly losing it, we wouldn’t be having any conversations about the end of their dynasty. But in a game where the difference between winning and losing can come down to the slimmest of factors, it’s worth asking just what caused the New England Patriots to go from being the team that usually won the Super Bowl to now having spent the past nine seasons being the team that can’t win a Super Bowl to save its life.

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