The dynasty was doomed — for like the 10th time — as recently as seven weeks ago.
New England had just lost consecutive games to fall to 9-5. At that point, it appeared the Patriots would be required to play on wild-card weekend, a foreboding task that finally would crush the kingdom.
Instead, Super Bowl LIII most valuable player Julian Edelman and six-time NFL champion Tom Brady spent Monday taking toothy selfies at Disney World, only the second goofiest characters in Orlando, Fla.
“It doesn’t ever get old,” center David Andrews said Sunday night after New England’s 13-3 victory over the Rams. “It’s the most amazing feeling in the world. It’s the most gratitude feeling in the world to be a part of this team.”
It doesn’t get old for the Patriots. To the rest of the football world, however, New England’s success feels ancient, far more dated than the 18 years since Bill Belichick secured the first of his six titles as the team’s coach.
The Patriots have outlived multiple expiration dates, their dynasty supposedly dying for at least a decade.
For this latest run, they rallied around “We’re still here,” a slogan that suggested somebody expected them to be gone by now.
“We don’t do it to say, ‘I told you so,’ ” special-teams player Matthew Slater said. “We do it for one another.”
So, can the Patriots do it again next season? Waging against them would seem to be as risky an investment as the $3.8 million Bettor X reportedly had riding on the Rams on Sunday.
Yes, New England has the same type of roster-reshaping personnel decisions every team faces. And the Patriots just lost their defensive signal caller, Brian Flores, who became Miami’s coach.
But Belichick and Brady aren’t going anywhere, the NFL’s oldest rock-star coach and quarterback saying in recent weeks they plan on staying around longer than their opponents care to ponder.
Hey, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are touring in 2019 too, and playing a bunch of NFL venues even, including Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
“It’s my job to try to keep it together,” team owner Robert Kraft told the NFL Network. “You know, they’re both independent people. But, I will say this, I think they both love what they do. And they’re in control of their lives, so they don’t have to do anything. And, to be honest, I only want it if it’s something they want.”
The case easily could be made that Belichick is the greatest NFL coach. It’s an indisputable fact that he hasn’t been selected coach of the year since 2010, which is stunning.
He’s 66 and just became the oldest coach to win a Super Bowl, doing so with a team that had only two players selected to the Pro Bowl, one fewer than the New York Giants.
Each of the Patriots’ five losses in 2018 came against a team that did not reach the playoffs. They lost consecutive games twice and, for a week in late September, had a losing record.
The night before Super Bowl LIII, the “Miami Miracle” — a 69-yard, game-deciding fire drill that featured one forward pass and two backward ones — was deemed the league’s play of the year. New England was on the wrong end of the miracle.
A year ago at this time, Belichick was not answering questions about the decision to not play Malcolm Butler. On Monday, he was at the annual Super Bowl-winner news conference sharing jokes about plumbers.
“Coach makes it a … it’s a challenging football environment,” Brady said Sunday. “The pressure’s always on and, for moments like this, you have to rise to the occasion.”
Brady already was the oldest quarterback to win an NFL playoff game before he became the oldest to win a Super Bowl.
He and the Patriots began this run in 2001, when the Rams were still in St. Louis and TB12 was not a logo.
Brady had rough moments in the AFC title game and Super Bowl LIII, missing receivers badly at times and appearing more immobile than ever. His first pass Sunday was intercepted.
But, in both games, he threw ridiculously precise passes late to secure victory when defeat could have been a reasonable outcome.
“I’m tired of talking about Brady,” linebacker Dont’a Hightower joked after the Super Bowl. “I won one today. We all got one. …This is a team thing, so it feels good to win.”
The biggest piece of offseason uncertainty for the Patriots is tight end Rob Gronkowski, who could retire.
Left tackle Trent Brown, defensive lineman Trey Flowers, receivers Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson, and defensive back Jason McCourty are free agents.
So are kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Ryan Allen, who have been key components of the Patriots’ successful special-teams play, which has been a constant during the their march to six Super Bowls.
“We have been in these situations so many times before in big games and we don’t really blink,” Hogan said. “We practice these situations. We run these situations. We know how to execute in these situations.”
Whatever roster shakeout comes over the next few months, the Patriots won’t be timid. Belichick, quite famously, sent away Drew Bledsoe, Richard Seymour and Randy Moss, among many others.
He nearly traded Gronkowski before the 2018 draft but decided against it. On Sunday, the veteran tight end had the key fourth-quarter catch that set up the game’s only touchdown.
That’s the way fate just seems to work out for the Patriots, who, rather machine-like, have built a dynasty in a league that instituted a salary cap to discourage such things from happening.
“I remember when I first came to this team in April, there was a whole media spectacle that it wouldn’t be any fun here,” McCourty said. “It’s my third organization and my 10th season. I haven’t had more fun than this season.”
The fun continued Sunday. And, now, 2019 awaits.