Frame it and put it up on the mantel. The Decade of the Patriots is over. What a decade! And what a gift to the pigskin public, here in Boston and around the nation.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, perhaps no team in history produced a stretch quite like it, or sparked the same depths of local love and national animosity that the Patriots did in the 20-aughts.
New England was a spunky little upstart in 2001, a third-rate franchise that suddenly captured the heart of the nation with an improbable rise to the Super Bowl behind an unknown, aw-shucks All-American-type quarterback in the wake of 9/11. The Patriots seemed to symbolize everything that was good and just about apple pie, America and our national sport at a time when the country needed to feel good about itself.
But by 2007, as America was torn by political discontent, the seemingly indestructible Patriots were torn by scandal and had become the Evil Empire. Powerless to stop the juggernaut on the field, fans around the country turned against the Patriots and turned against the leader with limited communication skills who they perceived as an evil dictator.
The people around the country that cheered the team’s dramatic victory in Super Bowl XXXVI cheered the club’s dramatic collapse in Super Bowl XLII.
The plot had come full circle in the heart of the decade.
New England may go on to continued success in the 2010s, much like the dynastic 49ers did first in the 1980s and again in the 1990s.
But it’s hard to envision a scenario in which the team reproduces the stunning string of colossal victories, big moments, all-time records and memorable games for the ages like the Patriots did over the past nine years.
We would sum it all up in prose. But this being the Cold, Hard Football Facts, we’ll break down the unbelievable, improbably, amazing, stupendous, death-defying Decade of the Patriots the best we know how … by the numbers.
Here are 81 Cold, Hard Football Facts that define the Decade of the Patriots.
Temperature (with wind chill) during New England’s 17-14 victory over the Titans in the 2003 playoffs. It remains the coldest game in franchise history. It was so cold that beers literally turned to icy mush in the stands. It was so cold that Bill Belichick considered hiring the evening as his director of player personnel.
Number of times the average NFL fan had heard of the “tuck rule” before New England’s 16-13 win over the Raiders in the 2001 playoffs. The “tuck rule” is now firmly entrenched in the nation’s nefarious sporting lexicon, much like “white Bronco” or “BCS.”
The spirit of .776
Tom Brady’s winning percentage as a starting quarterback (111-32) entering the final week of the 2009 season. In the history of the NFL, only Cleveland quarterback Otto Graham, the offensive whiz who led pro football’s greatest dynasty, won at a better clip: 60-16-1 (.786) from 1950-55.
Brady’s record as a starter (45-9) in games played in December, January and February.
Times Philly quarterback Donovan McNabb vomited on the field during Super Bowl XXXIX. The Patriots beat the Eagles, 24-21.
Nipples exposed by Janet Jackson during her “wardrobe malfunction” at halftime of Super Bowl XXXVIII. The Patriots beat the Panthers, 32-29.
Number of 1,000-yard receivers New England fielded in its Super Bowl-winning seasons of 2001, 2003 and 2004 (Troy Brown, 1,119 yards in 2001). The Patriots went a combined 39-9 in those three seasons, plus 9-0 in the playoffs.
Number of 1,000-yard receivers the Patriots have fielded so far here in 2009 (Wes Welker, 1,336 yards; Randy Moss, 1,189 yards). The Patriots are 10-5 this year.
Last-second Super Bowl-winning field goals booted by future Hall of Fame kicker Adam Vinatieri (SB XXXVI and SB XXXVIII).
Number of kicking specialists in the Hall of Fame after Vinatieri is inducted (Jan Stenerud is the only kicker currently in Canton).
Players in Patriots history with more than 10 TD receptions in a single season: Stanley Morgan in 1979 (12) and Randy Moss in 2007 (23), 2008 (11) and 2009 (13).
Number of stadiums the Patriots have called home this decade.
2.3 to 1
Brady’s TD to INT ratio (225 to 98), the best mark in NFL history.
Consecutive receptions hauled in by long-forgotten Patriots running back J.R. Redmond on the first three plays of the final, game-winning drive of Super Bowl XXXVI. The Patriots won, 20-17.
Margin of victory in all four of New England’s Super Bowl appearances in the 2000s. Only two other Super Bowls were decided by three points or less.
The record number of national networks that broadcast the Patriots-Giants game at the end of the 2007 regular season. The undefeated Patriots were attempting to become the first 16-0 team in NFL history and, in a sports-broadcasting first, the game was shown around the country on the NFL Network, CBS and NBC, as well as local stations in the New England and New York markets.
Average per rush attempt of the 2003 Patriots, the worst mark by any Super Bowl champion since the 1970 Colts.
Average per rush attempt of the 2009 Patriots.
Single-game postseason sack record set by Willie McGinest in a 28-3 win over Jacksonville in the 2005 playoffs.
The average number of yards opponents gained per pass attempt against the 2003 Patriots, making that team the best pass defense of the entire decade. New England’s opponents that year dropped back to pass 659 times. They suffered 41 sacks, attempted 618 passes and netted just 3,232 yards.
Touchdowns Tom Brady threw in the second quarter of New England’s 59-0 win over Tennessee this year, an NFL record for one quarter.
Interceptions thrown by Pittsburgh’s quarterbacks in home losses to the Patriots in the 2001 and 2004 AFC championship games. Kordell Stewart and Ben Roethlisberger each were picked off three times.
The percentage of divorces in southern New England attributed to an ill-advised $1,800 evening at the Foxy Lady in the wake of a big Patriots victory.
The record number of seasons in which the Patriots have finished with the best record in their division (2001-09). The Patriots lost out on the division title in a three-way tiebreaker with the Jets and Dolphins in 2002 (all were 9-7) and they lost out on a tiebreaker to the Dolphins in 2008 (both were 11-5).
Touchdowns scored by former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel in 10 career receptions with the team, including two in Super Bowls.
Consecutive playoff games the Patriots won from 2001 to 2005, an NFL record.
The number of games the Patriots won against teams with winning records in both 2003 and again in 2004. Only one other team in NFL history beat 10 teams with winning records in the same season: the Super Bowl champion 1979 Steelers. The Steelers went 10-3 against teams with winning records that year. The Patriots went a combined 20-1 against teams with winning records in 2003-04, making those New England clubs the best big-game teams in pro football history.
Record for Super Bowl receptions shared by Cincinnati’s Dan Ross (SB XVI), San Francisco’s Jerry Rice (SB XXIII), New England’s Deion Branch (SB XXXIX) and New England’s Wes Welker (SB XLII).
Number of playoff games the dynastic Pittsburgh Steelers won in the 1970s.
Number of playoff games the Patriots won from 2001 to 2009, tied for the single-decade record with the 1970s Cowboys. The Patriots won just seven playoff games from 1960 to 2000.
Points surrendered (per game) by the 2003 Patriots, the best mark in franchise history.
Number of playoff games the storied Chicago Bears, one of the original NFL franchises, have won in their entire history (1920-2009).
Regular-season games won by the 2007 Patriots, an NFL record.
Career postseason sacks by Willie McGinest, an NFL record.
Consecutive home games won by the Patriots with Tom Brady at the helm (2006-present). Only Brett Favre (25 from 1995-98) and John Elway (22 from 1996-98) have won more. Those quarterbacks would go on to win three consecutive Super Bowls in those same seasons: Favre in 1996, Elway in 1997 and 1998.
Record number of consecutive games the Patriots won from 2003 to 2004, including their victory over the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII. The streak was immortalized with its own exhibit in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Official NFL records count only regular-season games, and the Patriots held that record, winning 21 straight from 2007 to 2008, before the Colts broke that mark with 23 straight regular-season wins from 2008 to 2009. But both those teams lost postseason games during their regular-season streaks.
Touchdown receptions by Randy Moss in 2007, an NFL record.
The number of tasty and nutritious Buffalo wings I consumed during halftime of Super Bowl XXXVIII, a personal record for intermission gluttony.
The beating the Patriots suffered at the hands of the Bills in Week 1 of the 2003 season. The Patriots beat the Bills by the same exact score in the final week of the 2003 season.
Completions by Brady against the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII, a Super Bowl record.
Points the Patriots surrendered during their second-half collapse against the Colts in the 2006 AFC title game, on the losing end of the greatest comeback in conference title game history.
The number of games the Patriots won in 2003 and 2004, a record for victories in consecutive seasons.
The shockingly low number of touchdowns scored by fan-favorite Troy Brown in his 15-year career with the Patriots (31 receptions, three punt returns). Brown scored 26 of those touchdowns this decade.
Peyton Manning’s passer rating in Indy’s 24-14 loss to the Patriots in the 2003 AFC title game. The 2003 MVP completed just 23-of-47 passes that day and threw four INTs, three grabbed by Ty Law.
Average points scored by the 2007 Patriots. In the history of the NFL, only the 1950 Rams scored more (38.8 PPG).
Points the Patriots and Panthers combined to score in the wild fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Days after New England’s loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII that local Internet commentator Fitzy cried in mourning.
The length, in yards, of Adam Vinatieri’s last-second, game-winning field goal against the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Vinatieri’s postseason field goals, an NFL record.
The length, in yards, of Vinatieri’s dramatic, game-tying field goal in a blizzard against the Raiders in the 2001 playoffs, with 27 seconds to play.
Number of Patriots who chose to buck football tradition and step out on to the field in front of the nation “as a team” before Super Bowl XXXVI.
The length, in yards, of Vinatieri’s fourth-quarter, game-winning field goal against the Titans in the 2003 playoffs.
The number worn by Brian Kinchen, the retired long snapper snapped out of oblivion by the Patriots at the end of the 2003 season. Kinchen, who was teaching at a school in Baton Rouge, La., in December 2003, was the snapper on Vinatieri’s game-winning kicks against the Titans in the playoffs and the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Touchdowns scored by Randy Moss in his three seasons with the Patriots.
Length, in yards, of Ty Law’s interception return for a touchdown, perhaps the biggest play in New England’s 20-17 win over the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Length, in yards, of Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. It remains the only walk-off, game-winning score in Super Bowl history.
Length, in yards, of Antwan Harris’s game-winning touchdown in New England’s 24-17 victory over the Steelers in the 2001 AFC title game. After Brandon Mitchell blocked a Pittsburgh field goal attempt, Troy Brown recovered it and gave to Harris, who raced in for the score. It was the only touchdown in the special-teamer’s six-year NFL career.
Brady’s touchdown passes in 2007, an NFL record.
Inches of Pete Sheppard’s waist.
The number of passes Brady attempted against the Raiders in the 2001 divisional playoffs, his first postseason game.
Points surrendered by the Patriots in the fourth quarters of Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVII, XXXIX and XLII. The Patriots surrendered just 32 points in Quarters 1 through 3 of those same four games.
The number worn by the most important defensive player of the 21st century: Jets linebacker Mo Lewis.
Score by which the Patriots beat the Titans in 2009. It was the largest margin of victory in an NFL game in 33 years.
Hours of pregame coverage the NFL Network devoted to the Patriots-Giants game at the end of the 2007 season.
Percentage of female Patriots fans who, in a fit of ecstatic joy, flashed themselves on Bourbon Street in New Orleans after the Patriots beat the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Television share in the Boston media market garnered by the Patriots-Giants finale of the 2007 season, the greatest share of any regular-season game in any sport in New England history. In other words, three of every four TVs in the local media market that were on were tuned to that game on Dec. 29, 2007. The Patriots won, 38-35, to become the first 16-0 team in NFL history.
Seconds left in the Patriots-Giants Super Bowl rematch four weeks later when Eli Manning connected with David Tyree in one of the signature plays in NFL history.
Joe Montana’s career passer rating, the seventh-best mark in NFL history (he retired No. 1 all time).
Record for completion percentage in an NFL game (Brady: 26-of-28 vs. Jacksonville in 2007 divisional playoffs).
Brady’s career passer rating, the sixth-best mark in NFL history and the highest rating by any cold-weather quarterback.
Percentage of Americans who screamed “Holy crap!” when Eli Manning magically escaped the entire New England defensive line collapsing around him and then heaved up a prayer to unknown receiver David Tyree, who then squeezed the oblong spheroid against his helmet for a 32-yard reception, defying Rodney Harrison, the laws of physics and the understood truths of the cosmos in the process.
Brady’s Super Bowl pass completions, an NFL record.
Number of times this season that I’ve savored the delectable, juicy nectar of the extra-spicy wings at Wendell’s, the aptly named King of Wings, in Norton, Mass.
The length, in yards, of the touchdown scored by kick returner Ellis Hobbs against the Jets in September 2007. It’s the longest scoring play in NFL history.
Receptions by Wes Welker this season, a franchise record and tied for the third most in NFL history behind Herman Moore (123 in 1995) and Marvin Harrison (143 in 2002). Welker caught just 96 passes in his three seasons with the Dolphins.
Victories by Bill Belichick (regular season and postseason) from 2000 to 2009, the most by any coach in a decade in NFL history.
Brady’s Super Bowl pass attempts, an NFL record.
NFL record for postseason points (Vinatieri).
Brady’s selection in the 2000 draft. The NFL Network recently declared him the greatest value pick in league history.
Receiving yards by Randy Moss in 2007, a franchise record.
Rushing yards by Corey Dillion in 2004, a franchise record.
Other than that, not much happened.