You might hate the New England Patriots.
You might think they’re cheaters.
You might think they got lucky in Sunday’s Super Bowl, or that the Atlanta Falcons flat-out choked.
No matter how you feel about the Pats, though, give the devils their due:
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are the greatest. Ever.
That is quantifiable now as the newly minted NFL champions are celebrated with a Tuesday parade after climbing Sunday from 21-0 and 28-3 holes to somehow beat the Falcons 34-28 in the first overtime game in Super Bowl history.
It still might be a debate whether Belichick is the greatest coach ever or whether Brady stands above all other quarterbacks in history — although the argument for both had been strong and just got stronger. But their fifth Super Bowl championship together ends all rational argument whether they are the greatest coach/ QB partnership ever. They are. Period.
(Quick aside. It’s doubtful Belichick will surpass Don Shula’s NFL-record 347 overall victories. He still is 86 wins from doing so, meaning he would have to win at this pace eight more seasons — presumably most of them without Brady — and coach until age 73. Even as history might judge Belichick as the “greatest” coach, “winningest” and perfection remain Shula’s indelible pillars).
Historic respect for the Patriots and Belichick might always be tempered by mentions of Spygate and Deflategate. The respect for what they have accomplished on the field is richly due, though. I know that acknowledgment might come begrudgingly from South Florida, if it comes at all. I get that. To fans of the Miami Dolphins (and Buffalo Bills, and New York Jets), the Patriots are what the bars of a cell are to an inmate.
They are what’s holding you back. Keeping you from what you want. They are the ever-present looming hurdle you just can’t seem to clear.
I wish I could foresee an imminent change in that. Instead, I see the Westgate SuperBook already has betting lines out for who will win next year’s Super Bowl and — you know it — the Patriots are favored to repeat at 5-1 odds. Only the Dallas Cowboys at 8-1 are anywhere close.
The Dolphins are mid-pack at 30-1. Those actually are reasonably short odds, reflecting a perception the Dolphins are young and on the rise — but also the reality that the NFL’s reigning modern dynasty happens to make its kingdom in Miami’s AFC East.
That must be a frustration but also some small consolation for Dolfans: That their team’s nemesis and roadblock isn’t just anybody, but one of the greatest teams and epochs in pro football history.
New England beat the Dolphins without Brady this past season and then easily beat Miami with him.
The truth is, a Dolfan’s best hope is not so much anything his own team can do as it is the yearly mantra, “Well, Brady can’t play forever.” Indeed, he will turn 40 next preseason, but, coming off another excellent year and a record fourth Super Bowl MVP trophy, Brady’s prime-caliber performance shows zero sign of abating.
Lady Gaga was terrific Sunday night. Brady was better. (Although the game MVP award also could have gone to Pats running back James White from Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, after his Super Bowl RB-record 14 catches for 110 yards, crucial two-point conversion and three touchdowns, including the game winner in OT).
Don’t get me wrong on the Dolphins. Fans should feel renewed hope. Miami is shrinking the gap separating it from its rival and nemesis. While the Patriots stay at excellent, the Dolphins at least have elevated from mediocre to good.
Adam Gase was a strong coaching hire reflected in a 10-win season and the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2008. The offense — led by running back Jay Ajayi and the receiving troika of Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and (if they re-sign him) Kenny Stills — has the elements to be dynamic.
Miami needs more team speed and an infusion of playmakers on defense, though. A pass-catching threat at tight end would help, too.
Mostly, the Dolphins need continued improvement by a healthy-again quarterback Ryan Tannehill — another step forward and up by him — and a couple of more impactful drafts to continue to narrow the gap.
The thing is, you have to wonder if any of it will ever be enough as long as the ubiquitous elite excellence of Mr. Brady remains at this level.
The Dolphins may have improved from a beat-up Toyota Corolla to a shiny new Mustang GT on the NFL racetrack, but the Patriots are still the revving Lamborghini you can never seem to catch.