As the Patriots prepare for their ninth Super Bowl appearance since 2001, this year’s team is set to etch it’s place in history. As eight Patriot teams before them have had the same opportunity to do so since 2001, there are also teams that never made it this far.
Since 2001, there have been nine Patriot teams that did not reach the Super Bowl, but not all was gloomy. There were four teams to reach the AFC Championship Game, an MVP season from Tom Brady, and the second best start to a season in franchise history.
All in all, these teams combined for an overall record of 102-42 (.708), which means an average of 11.33 wins per season. This is still off the pace of the overall record of Patriot teams to reach the Super Bowl since 2001 (118-26), but still an honorable distance behind.
As we look back on the lesser Patriot teams of the past, relish in the fact that there are seasons in here considered a failure in New England, but would be considered a success in places like Buffalo, Dallas, and Cleveland.
9. 2002 New England Patriots
Record: 9-7 (8th seed); missed playoffs
Pro Bowlers: Larry Izzo, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Richard Seymour, Adam Vinatieri, Damien Woody
All-Pros: Adam Vinatieri
Offense: 10th in points (23.8 per game), 21st in yards (12th passing/28th rushing)
Defense: 17th in points (21.6 per game), 23rd in yards (11th passing/31st rushing)
I don’t really remember anything about this team, but at 9-7, still to this day, this is the worst record for a team in which Tom Brady started the majority of the season. It is also the only time since Brady has been the starter where he did not reach the playoffs (excluding 2008).
New England had reached the Super Bowl the year prior, and started 3-0 in 2002, but the team went on to suffer a four-game losing streak, which is the worst losing streak of Tom Brady’s career. They also lost four games by more than 13 points, which is the worst mark of the Brady/Belichick era.
On the bright side, Brady had the most touchdown passes in the NFL (28), which either shows he was more than a game-manager, or that QB play REALLY used to suck back then.
Nevertheless, a 9-win team being your WORST season in an 18-year interval is something to marvel at, and the fact that since this time, each Patriot team has proceeded to win at least 10 games, is another amazing accomplishment.
8. 2009 New England Patriots
Record: 10-6 (3rd seed); lost in AFC Wild Card Round to the Baltimore Ravens
Pro Bowlers: Tom Brady, Logan Mankins, Brandon Meriweather, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork
All-Pros: Logan Mankins (2nd team), Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork (2nd team)
Offense: 6th in points (26.7 per game), 3rd in yards (3rd passing/12th rushing)
Defense: 5th in points (17.8 per game), 11th in yards (12th passing/13th rushing)
I’ll give them credit for making the playoffs, but we all know this team is the most embarrassing of the Brady/Belichick era. Tom Brady was coming off of a horrific knee injury the year prior, meaning he had to prove he was still the same player he was before.
The first game of the season, the Patriots were trailing at home to the Buffalo Bills by double-digits with 5 minutes in the 4th quarter. Tom Brady had never lost to the Bills at home prior to his injury, and the fact they had only scored 13 points was making a lot of people believe he wasn’t the same. However, a late TD, and a fumble on the ensuing kickoff gave the Patriots the ball at the Bills 31-yard line with 1:56. Brady was still Brady, got New England another score, and the Pats won 25-24.
However, this team lost games it never would in years’ past, getting blown out 38-23 by the Saints, and losing to rookie QB Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets after only scoring 9 points. They also lost to the Denver Broncos, who were coached by former Patriots OC Josh McDaniels. A loss in the season finale to the Houston Texans really summarized how uncharacteristic this team was, but they would still get to host a playoff game the following week…
And it was all for nothing. In the Wild Card round, the Patriots suffered their most embarrassing defeat in the Brady/Belichick era, as the Baltimore Ravens came into Gillette and won 33-14. It was the first time the Patriots had ever lost a home playoff game with Brady and Belichick, and it was the biggest loss at home in over four years.
Lots of changes followed this season, as the second leg of the Patriots dynasty would be born through the ruins of this team.
7. 2005 New England Patriots
Record: 10-6 (4th seed); lost in AFC Divisional Round to the Denver Broncos
Pro Bowlers: Tom Brady, Richard Seymour
All-Pros: Tom Brady, Richard Seymour (2nd team)
Offense: 10th in points (23.7 per game), 7th in yards (2nd passing/24th rushing)
Defense: 17th in points (21.1 per game), 26th in yards (31st passing/8th rushing)
Coming off of their third Super Bowl win in four seasons, and back-to-back championships, maybe the Patriots were under the impression they would just keep winning forever. Nevertheless, this team came into 2005 without a lot of familiar faces, as many had left for greener pastures. Coordinators Charlie Weiss (OC) and Romeo Crennel (DC) had left for head coaching jobs at Notre Dame and Cleveland respectively, while Ty Law, Joe Andruzzi, Ted Johnson, Roman Phifer, Adrian Klemm and David Patten were no longer on the team. Tedy Bruschi suffered a stroke early in the offseason, and was initially going to sit out the 2005 season (he was eventually ruled healthy to return, and debuted Week 8 against the Bills).
This team suffered huge losses to the San Diego Chargers and Indianapolis Colts, the worst home losses of the Brady/Belichick era, and were 6-5 following a Week 12 loss at Kansas City. However, they were able to rebound and go on a four-game winning streak, and entered Week 17 with a 10-5 record. At that point, New England had already won the division, and knew the top two seeds in the conference were already set. Knowing a loss would guarantee a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Patriots (allegedly) lost to the Miami Dolphins on purpose, guaranteeing a game versus the Jags.
New England beat Jacksonville 28-3 in the Wild Card round, which was the team’s 10th straight playoff win (most all-time), bringing Brady’s career playoff record to 10-0. However, the following week, the Patriots lost by a LOT on the road to the Denver Broncos, which marked the first time Brady had ever lost a playoff game in his career.
Call it the price of winning three championships in four seasons, but lots of changes to the coaching staff, and less depth on defense left this team a bit thinner than in years past, but they would rebound in 2006.
6. 2013 New England Patriots
Record: 12-4 (2nd seed); lost AFC Championship Game to the Denver Broncos
Pro Bowlers: Tom Brady, Stephen Gostkowaki, Logan Mankins, Matthew Slater
All-Pros: Logan Mankins, Devin McCourty, Aqib Talib
Offense: 3rd in points (27.8 per game), 7th in yards (10th passing/9th rushing)
Defense: 10th in points (21.1 per game), 26th in yards (18th passing/30th rushing)
I was conflicted between this team and the 2005 Patriots, but I’ll give the 2013 team the benefit of the doubt because they were still able to earn a two seed and advance to the AFC Championship Game.
This team lost a lot of pieces that were vital to the offense in previous years, including Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker, and Aaron Hernandez. The first two left in free agency, but as we know, Hernandez was accused of murder, and after being arrested in June, he was released by the team. In addition to Brandon Lloyd’s release, this left the Patriots very thin, even with the signing of Danny Amendola.
However, Julian Edelman proved to be a secret weapon, as he filled the void created by Welker’s departure admirably, catching 105 passes for 1056 yards and 6 TD. Star TE Rob Gronkowski did not play his first game of the season until Week 7 due to a forearm infection, but it would only take 7 games until he tore his ACL and MCL, which ended his season. With Aaron Dobsen, Kembrell Thompkins, and Josh Boyce not up to the task, the Patriots did not have enough to work with all year.
It also looked like Tom Brady took the first step back of his career, only throwing 25 touchdowns, his lowest output since 2006. The defense was getting better with young players such as Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins (who had a great game in the divisional round) and Dont’a Hightower, but other than Aqib Talib, the secondary was rather weak.
New England finished 12-4, good for second best in the conference, and were able to beat an 11-5 Colts team in the divisional round with ease, but they were simply outmatched by the 13-3 Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game, losing 26-16 as Peyton Manning advanced to his third Super Bowl, and his first as a Denver Bronco.
5. 2008 New England Patriots
Record: 11-5 (7th seed); missed playoffs
Pro Bowlers: Stephen Gostkowski, Wes Welker
All-Pros: Sephen Gostkowski, Wes Welker (2nd team)
Offense: 8th in points (25.6 per game), 5th in yards (12th passing/6th rushing)
Defense: 8th in points (19.3 per game), 10th in yards (11th passing/15th rushing)
2008 will go down as the strangest year for Patriots fans during this dynasty. In Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs Tom Brady suffered a devastating knee injury, and did not play for the rest of the season. The majority of the players on the team had just gone 16-0 and lost in the Super Bowl the year prior, only for 2008, they would be without their star QB.
In stepped Matt Cassel, a backup QB with the Pats since 2005. Cassel only had attempted 39 passes in his three years with the team prior to filling in (most of them in a Week 17 game against the Miami Dolphins in 2005), and to make things worse, he only attempted 33 passes during his years at USC, as he was a backup to Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart during his four seasons as a Trojan.
He did all he could, finding his groove late in the season as he led the Patriots to four straight wins to end the year, but it was not enough. Even as New England finished with an 11-5 record, this would mark the first time since 2002 that the Patriots missed the playoffs.
4. 2010 New England Patriots
Record: 14-2 (1st seed); lost in AFC Divisional Round to the New York Jets
Pro Bowlers: Tom Brady, Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, Brandon Meriweather, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork
All-Pros: Tom Brady, Logan Mankins, Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty (2nd team), Sebastian Vollmer (2nd team), Vince Wilfork (2nd team)
Offense: 1st in points (32.4 per game), 8th in yards (11th passing/9th rushing)
Defense: 8th in points (19.6 per game), 25th in yards (30th passing/11th rushing)
I think this team deserves to be in the middle portion of this list. They were a one seed, and Tom Brady won his second MVP, but an early playoff exit at home would mark the only time in Brady’s career that he lost a divisional round game at Gillette.
Now two years removed from his knee injury, Tom Brady had games under his belt, and was back and ready to go. He responded by having one of the most efficient seasons for a QB in NFL history, throwing 36 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He threw his last interception of the regular season in a Week 5 game versus Baltimore, throwing 26 touchdowns the rest of the season. Following a Week 9 loss to the Cleveland Browns, moving the team to 6-2, Brady had one of the best stretches of his entire career. The final 8 games of 2010 (where New England went 8-0), Brady had a completion percentage of 68.4, while throwing 22 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Most remarkably, he had a passer rating over 100 in each game, with an average passer rating of 127.99.
New England traded star WR Randy Moss following a game against Miami, which left Brady with Wes Welker, who was coming off a torn ACL and MCL suffered in Week 17 of the previous season, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (rookie tight ends), second-year WR Brandon Tate, and second-year running back Danny Woodhead. New England acquired Patriot legend Deion Branch in a trade, giving Brady some familiarity in the receiving corps. Nevertheless, Brady still had an MVP season, which makes the accomplishment that much greater.
However, this team cannot go any higher on this list due to the fact they lost to the Jets in the divisional round. Although there defense was not a strong as in years past (see: yards allowed rankings), New England had already beat the Jets at home less than two months before, and had showed no signs of slowing down. There are reports Tom Brady played the season with a stress fracture in his foot, but it had not stopped him from winning the MVP. Simply put, they underestimated the Jets, and suffered a horrific loss, their third straight in the postseason.
3. 2012 New England Patriots
Record: 12-4 (2nd seed); lost AFC Championship Game to the Baltimore Ravens
Pro Bowlers: Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Logan Mankins, Jerod Mayo, Matthew Slater, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork
Offense: 1st in points (34.8 per game), 1st in yards (4th passing/7th rushing)
Defense: 9th in points (20.7 per game), 25th in yards (29th passing/9th rushing)
Not a lot of people probably give any credit to this Patriots team due to how badly they lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game (trust me, I was there, it was awful), but they were sneaky good.
Scoring 557 points (34.8 per game) throughout the year, the 2012 Patriots are currently fifth all-time in terms of points scored by a team in one season (as of 2018). Tom Brady had another year with Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez, and the signing of Brandon Lloyd gave Tom Brady a deep threat he had not had since Randy Moss (although he wasn’t that good). Danny Woodhead was back for another season as well, and overall, Brady had as many weapons as ever.
This team did start 1-2, and were 3-3 after losing by a point in Seattle, but finished the year 12-4, with their only loss the rest of the way coming against the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers. The Patriots four losses were by a TOTAL of 11 points, and they were tied or had a lead in the 4th quarter in three of these games.
Coming off of a Super Bowl appearance the year prior, this team faced the Ravens in the AFC Championship for a second straight time, and after stealing the game the year before, New England was destroyed, losing 28-13 to the eventual Super Bowl Champs. If the game were closer, maybe this team moves up a spot, but losing at home to what should’ve been an inferior opponent, a team you were facing for the second time in the season, is something a better team would not have done.
2. 2015 New England Patriots
Record: 12-4 (2nd seed); lost AFC Championship Game to the Denver Broncos
Pro Bowlers: Tom Brady, Malcolm Butler, Jamie Collins, Stephen Gostkowski, Rob Gronkowski, Chandler Jones, Matthew Slater
All-Pros: Stephen Gostkowski, Rob Gronkowski, Jamie Collins
Offense: 3rd in points (29.1 per game), 6th in yards (5th passing/30th rushing)
Defense: 10th in points (19.7 per game), 9th in yards (17th passing/9th rushing)
The 2015 Patriots are a team that might end up being forgotten due to the fact they’re the one Pats team that has not made the Super Bowl since 2014, but I think they’re one of the biggest what-if’s during this dynasty.
I consider this the original revenge tour (or maybe the prelude), as this was the first season following the Deflategate saga that took place due to the 2014 AFC Championship Game. Tom Brady was suspended by the NFL for four games in May (the team suffered major penalties as well), and even a week before the game, it looked like the Patriots would be without the reigning Super Bowl MVP for the beginning of the season. However, a U.S. District judge overturned Brady’s suspension, allowing him to play the 2015 season. Although the NFL could have fought to suspend him later in the year (as was the case with Ezekiel Elliot in 2017), they chose not to.
Brady started off the season on FIRE, and the Patriots were 10-0 before losing at Denver in overtime in Week 12. Although they finished the season 12-4, the numbers Brady was putting up early in the year rival his MVP seasons in 2007 and 2010. The first 7 games of the season, the Patriots averaged 35.57 PPG, while Tom Brady was 199/289 (68.86%) with 2410 passing yards (344.29/g), 20 TD and 1 INT (118.66 passer rating). However, in Week 9, RB Dion Lewis, who had become a key piece to the offense, suffered a season-ending injury (another torn ACL, noticing how many of these teams had players suffering/recovering from knee injuries). In Week 10, Julian Edelman suffered an injury that would sideline him the rest of the regular season. These injuries, as well as an awful offensive line, caught up with New England, as they went 2-4 to end 2015.
They were still able to get the second seed in the AFC, and Julian Edelman was back for their first playoff game at home against the Chiefs. The Patriots won that game 27-20, and although the score looked close, it was the best Brady and the offense had looked since the early part of the season. With a game in Denver against Peyton Manning (who was not the Manning of old) and the Denver Broncos, it looked like the Patriots just might be able to get back to the Super Bowl.
However, New England lost a close game that came down to the final seconds, as Tom Brady and the Patriots offense could not do anything all day against the Broncos historic defense. New England’s defense kept them in the game, holding the Broncos to 20 points, but it would not be enough, as the Patriots lost by 2 to the eventual Super Bowl Champions.
If Edelman and Lewis were healthy the whole season, I truly believe this team could have won a Super Bowl, and been one of the best offenses of all-time, but unfortunately, we will never know. Thankfully, the Pats won it all a year later.
1. 2006 New England Patriots
Record: 12-4 (4th seed); lost AFC Championship Game to the Indianapolis Colts
Pro Bowlers: Matt Light, Richard Seymour
All-Pros: Richard Seymour (2nd team)
Offense: 7th in points (24.1 per game), 11th in yards (12th passing/12th rushing)
Defense: 2nd in points (14.8 per game), 6th in yards (12th passing/5th rushing)
This was a tough choice, as I could have just as easily put the 2015 Patriots here, but the 2006 Patriots won two playoff games, including one on the road, and without a crazy Peyton Manning-led comeback at the RCA Dome, they could have been in the Super Bowl. This team reminds me of this year’s Patriots team due to the lack of talent compared to past seasons, and how they stepped up and overachieved in situations people doubted them.
Similar to 2005, this team lost a fair share of coaches and players that were vital to it’s previous success. Eric Mangini, who had been named the defensive coordinator after Romeo Crennel left to become the head coach of the Browns, accepted the head coaching position of the New York Jets. The team lost arguably even more important players than 2005, as Dion Branch (traded), Adam Vinatieri (FA), David Givens (FA) and Willie McGinest (FA) were no longer with the team, as well as Christian Fauria, Matt Chattham, and Tryone Poole.
This left Tom Brady with arguably the worst offense of his entire career, as no receiver eclipsed 800 receiving yards the entire season. The Patriots still had Cory Dillon, as well as rookie RB Laurence Maroney, and with the likes of Reche Caldwell, Ben Watson, Troy Brown, Jabar Gaffney, Kevin Faulk, Doug Gabriel, Daniel Graham, and Chad Jackson, they were able to go 12-4. However, the AFC was very top-heavy in 2006, and this was only good enough to obtain the 4th seed in the conference (doing so for the second straight year).
The Patriots were able to handle Eric Mangini and the New York Jets at home during the Wild Card round, but things would not be as easy at San Diego the following week. The Patriots faced the 14-2 Chargers, the best team in the NFL during the regular season, and it looked like they had Brady’s number. A late INT looked as if it would end the game, as the Patriots were trailing 21-13. However, Troy Brown saved the day and stripped the ball from Chargers DB Marlon McCree, giving the Pats a second chance. Two late scores, and a missed FG by Nate Kaeding (which would have tied the game) at the end of regulation, allowed the Patriots to advance to the AFC Championship Game for the fourth time in six seasons.
In a classic game game against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, the Patriots stormed to an early 21-3 lead, and went into halftime leading 21-6. However, similar to the 2018 AFC Championship Game, all hell broke loose, and the Patriots would not be able to hold back Manning and the Colts. Indy was able to tie the game at 21 with two touchdowns in the third quarter, but the Patriots regained the lead on a touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney. It was back and forth from there, as Indy tied the game two more times before the Patriots took a 34-31 lead with less than four minutes to go. However, that was just enough time for Peyton Manning and the Colts to drive down the field and score a touchdown, taking a 38-34 lead (their first of the game) with a minute to go. Brady and the Patriots were able to move the ball to their own 45, but with 24 seconds left, Tom threw an interception, which ended the game, and led to Peyton Manning reaching the Super Bowl for the first time in his career, where he finally got an elusive Super Bowl championship.
The cards were stacked against this team from the start, but they were still able to have a fighter’s chance of reaching the Super Bowl. However, this loss fueled an offseason in which New England gave Brady all the weapons he would need, and they would go on to have the greatest regular season in NFL history.
Follow Nick on Twitter (@Nick_Collins14)