Updated at: 12/15/2012 10:36 PM
By BARRY WILNER
That list of NFL champions can’t be right.
No way the New England Patriots have gone seven seasons without winning a Super Bowl.
Well, it’s accurate. And stunning, too.
The Patriots Way works, thanks to the consistency provided by owner Bob Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and, of course, brilliant quarterback Tom Brady. The B,B&B method has kept the Patriots at or near the top of the NFL for a dozen seasons, including this one.
If they manhandle the impressive 49ers on Sunday the way they tossed aside the Texans last Monday night, nobody can doubt their role as championship favorite.
Yet their last Super Bowl win came in February 2005. True, the Patriots won the AFC crown twice since, including that perfect 2007 season the Giants turned sour with their upset in the big game.
The main reason New England keeps contending is its stability at the three critical spots of owner, coach and quarterback.
Especially the QB, who never takes the easy road.
"I hope I can keep making improvements. I don’t think I’m perfect out there," Brady says. "I think I’m still trying to work on my mechanics and technique and read the right coverages and use my time to prepare each week effectively and be a great leader for this team."
Leadership shows up in many ways with the Patriots.
Kraft, a power broker in the NFL and a confidant of Commissioner Roger Goodell and other owners, doesn’t interfere with football operations. That has damaged the image of the franchise in spots _ Spygate, most notably _ but is also the right way to run a team. Let the football people handle their area of expertise while providing monetary support and a steady hand.
Belichick, for all his scowling, clipped answers to questions and seeming disdain for anyone outside his inner circle, is considered the best coach of his generation. His ability to mold all kinds of players to fit his proven system has been the backbone of New England’s success.
A feel for talent, whether it was bringing in Wes Welker or Randy Moss, or drafting Vince Wilfork and Rob Gronkowski, has established Belichick’s credentials even further.
But Belichick was a flop as a head coach in Cleveland, and Kraft was the guy who bought a foundering franchise and kept it in New England, not a championship owner.
Then they discovered and developed Brady, who could be headed to his third league MVP award and his sixth Super Bowl appearance.
The early Patriots titles were built as much on defense as anything, and offensive game plans often were conservative. Then Brady became, well, a Hall-of-Fame caliber passer and leader.
He remains the focal point even as something of an elder statesman in the sport. Most Sundays, or Mondays or Thursdays, he’s the best player on the field in football’s most important position.
Yet Brady doesn’t get big-headed about his achievements, and his teammates tend to follow suit. If they don’t (read Moss), they wind up elsewhere.
Brady doesn’t look at his Super Bowl rings and get lazy. He doesn’t cut back on his preparation, and he doesn’t put up with any slack from the people who can help him get more rings.
"Those are things I certainly don’t take for granted," he says. "It’s a responsibility I really take and understand, and I expect to the best every time I’m out here for this team. I’ve been around for longer than anyone else on this team. I’ve been around some great teams and I can see the attitude of great teams. I can see the work ethic of great teams and that’s what I try to encourage.
"That’s part of my role as a leader, as a captain, as a veteran, as a quarterback. I try to show up every day and encourage the younger players who haven’t been a part of those (teams), so hopefully we don’t have to go through growing pains. (They) can listen and say, `Wow, Tom, you are right. You’re not just screaming at me for (no) reason.’ `’
The blemishes on his resume stem from the two Super Bowl losses to the Giants, games in which he often seemed uncomfortable or pressing. They probably should be bigger blemishes on Belichick’s resume because of how he and his staff were outcoached by Tom Coughlin and his assistants.
But these Patriots seem eminently capable of reversing those results should they get to New Orleans in February. Their running game hasn’t been this good in years. The defense, minus any stars other than nose tackle Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo, has steadily improved this season. Special teams are solid.
And if they sneak off with home-field advantage in the playoffs _ they are one game behind Houston in the AFC, tied with Denver, and have beaten both _ it will be difficult to rate anyone ahead of the Patriots.
Brady doesn’t deal with such potential scenarios.
"That’s a hypothetical," he says of any questions seeking his prognostications. "We don’t answer hypotheticals at the Patriots. Belichick would stand up here and say, `You moron. Why would you answer a hypothetical question like that?’ `’
As in the last decade-plus, the Patriots will answer any questions on the field.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)