By Rich Levine
On Sunday afternoon, during the third quarter of the Pats games, I flicked over to the Red Zone channel knowing that there was a good chance I wouldnt be back for a while.
At this point the outcome of the game was no longer in question, and really, hadnt been since the first quarter. The Pats were beating up on a team that just had no business sharing the field with them. They were methodically confusing the Bills offense and bulldozing their defense; they were making solid, unexciting work of an inferior opponent. What else were they supposed to do, right? It was Week 16 and they still needed a win to secure home-field advantage. It wasn't time to mess around. So slowly but surely, they strangled the life out of the Bills.
In past years, we'd be forced sit through this kind of merciless beatdown and when I say that, I'm not suggesting that watching the Pats win isn't a ton of fun. It's just that by the second half in Buffalo, it wasn't about the Pats winning; they had already won. They were literally just bleeding the clock.
Meanwhile, a few hundred channels down the digital dial, the rest of the NFL playoff picture was unfolding in real time. I couldn't resist. There was too much great football going on. So, a possession after Rob Gronkowski's touchdown made the score 34-3, I said goodbye to the boring Bills, and hello to Red Zone mayhem.
Ah, there you are Scott Hanson! Been a week already? So, what do you have for us today?
Rams vs. 49ers:
Of all the dynasties throughout NFL history, the 1980s 49ers are the group who I've always considered to be most similar to the Patriots.
Not identical, of course. But if you had to make the comparison, the Niners probably deserve the nod. Part of that might be due to the lack of other options. After all, the Patriots weren't nearly as mean as those Steelers of the '70s. They didnt have the drama of the '90s Cowboys. And they had a much stronger identity than Joe Gibbs' Redskins. But regardless of that, theres still an undeniable connection with San Francisco.
For one, the BelichickWalsh comparison is interesting. Even though they worked on opposite sides of the ball, they were both evolutionary thinkers, who ultimately changed the way the game was played. They're not your stereotypical, loud, enigmatic coaches. They wereare, for the most part, silent and cerebral. Both built their teams for the long-term success, and never jeopardized the big picture for temporary satisfaction.
Other than the coaches, the BradyMontana comparison is irresistible. Brady is Montana. He grew up watching Joe win Super Bowls. He's carried so much of Montana with him, and its still evident in his game.
Those two pairs, BelichickBrady and WalshMontana, make it work.
The more detailed you get, there are obviously further differences between the two franchises at their peaks. Among them, there's that the Niners won four titles in their decade, while the Pats only won three. The Niners were also a somewhat smoother team; an offensive juggernaut playing up in Northern California, while the Pats were a grittier crew that liked to beat people up in the snow. Most importantly, there's that San Francisco eventually extended its dynasty well into the next decade.
When it was all said and done, starting with their first title in 1981, the 49ers won five Super Bowls in 13 years with two different head coaches and two starting quarterbacks. And even without the Super Bowls, they still competed every year. After that first title, San Francisco made the playoffs in 17 of the next 21 seasons. At one point, they had 16 straight seasons of 10 or more wins. It ended in 1999, when Steve Young suffered his career-ending concussion, but the Niners were back in 2001 and 2002. They were contending again and you wondered if this run would ever end.
Which brings us back to the Red Zone my distraction from a boring Pats game where the Rams are hosting the San Francisco 49ers.
And this isn't just any 49ers team. This is a 5-9 (now 5-10) team that has become the joke of the most laughable division in the NFL. A team that's eight years removed from its last winning season, and hasn't been to the playoffs since that 2002 campaign. A team which, over that time, has gone a combined 45-82, started 10 different quarterbacks and is now on the prowl for its fifth different head coach. It's a team in disarray.
They were the best. They were the Pats. How far away do those five Super Bowls feel now? And how about those 18 playoffs appearances in 22 years? Is this even the same franchise? With the same, history, hardware and legions of devoted fans and little kids like Tom Brady who grow up dreaming of putting on the uniform?
It is, it just doesnt feel even close. Everythings changed.
Sooner or later, it always does.
I actually ended up going back and forth between the Red Zone and the Pats game for most of the third quarter, and a little bit of the fourth as well. But down the stretch I got caught up in the Jets, and Jaguars and, yes, even the 49ersRams game, and completely turned my back on Buffalo.
"Pshh, all theyre doing is clinching the AFC East for eighth time in 10 seasons, not to mention home-field advantage throughout the playoffs . . . I need to see which awful team wins the NFC West!"
So I sat, and I watched, and I'm not going to lie: It was a pretty entertaining 30 minutes of football. I didn't feel guilty at all.
But still, when the early games ended I clicked back for the Pats press conferences. I didn't want to miss any of Belichicks fancy zingers.
Anyway, during Tom Bradys presser, someone asked him about all the division titles; what it meant to do it for the eighth time in 10 years:
"It never gets old," he said. "I'll tell you that. We never get tired of winning. Thats what we have been preparing for all offseason and training camp."
He wasnt just saying this, either. This wasn't a tray of crap he was serving up for the microphones. This was genuine emotion. I mean, you'd think that after seven division titles, the eighth wouldnt have much of an effect.
"Oh nice, another division title! Hey, will you do me a favor and just throw it over there with the other ones?"
But that wasnt Tom Brady. Obviously, he knew that the Pats still had an unbelievable amount of work to do, but for him, winning the AFC East meant as much as it did in 2001. To Brady, nothing about that Bills game was uneventful or monotonous. It was all about taking care of business, enjoying every moment of success, taking pride in every worthy accomplishment, but never being satisfied.
It was around this time that I realized my missteps from earlier in the day; when I realized something that Tom Brady clearly already had:
That we better enjoy and appreciate every second of this now, because at some point whether it's 5, 10 or 22 years from now it will come to an end.
Brady should know, too. Just look at his Niners.