Mazz: Brady and Belichick's Super Bowl paths have only gotten harder with time

Jan 20, 2019; Kansas City, MO: New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady celebrate the win over the Kansas City Chiefs during overtime in the AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
Jan 20, 2019; Kansas City, MO: New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady celebrate the win over the Kansas City Chiefs during overtime in the AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub

Let’s start with the obvious truth that, in the big picture, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady long ago exceeded expectations.

By late Sunday night, in the 17 years that Brady has been a starter, the Patriots will have played in nine Super Bowls. They will have won a minimum of five, as many as six. And this ridiculous run has reached the point where we regard championship games as gravy.

So enjoy this.

But the truth is that journey is getting harder.

If you want to take that as some sort of indictment or criticism, fine. Be that way. But let’s take an honest, good look at what has happened to the Patriots in recent seasons, culminating in this one, one of the more improbable runs of the Brady-Belichick Era. (And some of us think the names belong in that order.) Brady might have mocked the team’s doubters after the lopsided win over the Los Angeles Chargers in the divisional round, but even he admitted after the AFC Championship that he had his doubts during the 2018 regular season.

“The odds were stacked against us,” Brady said. “It hasn’t been that way for us in a while, and it certainly was this year. We started off so slow.”

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 20: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots hands the Lamar Hunt Trophy to Tom Brady after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 20: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots hands the Lamar Hunt Trophy to Tom Brady after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Translation: Honestly, I had my doubts, too. The whole year was a grind. Losing the Super Bowl last year took a lot out of us. We lost a lot of key guys. And it just didn’t look like it was coming together.

But then it did.

So here’s the question: will there be more of these? Maybe. Obviously, nobody knows. But overall, Brady, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski all got a little worse this year – until recently. Maybe they were conserving energy. Maybe they’re getting old. Maybe it’s all of the above.

Here’s the point: two years ago, against the Atlanta Falcons, the Patriots fell behind in the Super Bowl, 28-3, before a historic, spine-tingling comeback. (Despite the win, it wasn’t exactly a great blueprint.) Last year, they lost. This year, merely getting back to the Super Bowl was an interminable grind.

Next year? Your guess is as good as mine. Nobody is forecasting the end of this extraordinary run, though it must be coming soon. The point is to enjoy this one because it might very well be the last, no matter how little New Englanders want to hear it.

At this stage, after all, the Patriots are far closer to being the old Patriots than the Patriots of old.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.