Once upon a time, the Patriots were the good guys. But the NFL’s longest-running dynasty has taken so many turns over the past two decades that the franchise has morphed from hero to heel to villain. How else would you describe the trio of team owner Robert Kraft, coavh Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady?
Championships. Scandals. Memorable moments on and off the field.
The story of the Patriots’ dynasty will take another turn on Sunday in Super Bowl 53 against the Rams. But yes, there was a time when this franchise was loved outside of New England.
Here is that timeline of events — including some you might have forgotten — that have led to this moment.
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Patriots, champions and heroes
— Feb. 3, 2002 (Super Bowl 36): New England makes its third Super Bowl appearance in franchise history after a playoff run led by Brady, then a second-year QB, who had replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe since the second game of the season. The Pats were 14-point underdogs against the Rams. Brady led a drive in the fourth quarter that set up Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning, 48-yard field goal for a 20-17 victory.
Quote: In the first Super Bowl since the 9/11 attacks, Kraft holds the Lombardi Trophy and addresses the crowd at the Superdome: “We are all Patriots, and tonight the Patriots are world champions!
Controversy: Of course, the Pats’ Super Bowl run was made possible by the “Tuck Rule” in the AFC divisional playoffs. Brady was strip-sacked by Oakland’s Charles Woodson, but the fumble was overturned by a little-known and seldom-used rule. New England won 16-13 in overtime.
— Sept. 2, 2003: The Patriots cut safety Lawyer Milloy for his refusal to take a pay cut, a practice that becomes common through the Belichick dynasty.
— Feb. 1, 2004 (Super Bowl 38): New England returns to the Super Bowl two years later, and Brady leads another last-minute scoring drive in the fourth quarter, this time capped with a 41-yard game-winner by Vinatieri. The Patriots win 32-29 in a thriller. Brady wins Super Bowl MVP honors for the second time.
Controversy: Everybody remembers the “wardrobe malfunction” with Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake during the halftime show. You can’t blame Belichick and Brady for that mishap.
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— April 20, 2004: The Patriots trade for Corey Dillon, a talented running back who wanted out of Cincinnati. Dillon rushes for 3,180 yards and 37 touchdowns in three seasons with the Pats.
— Feb. 6, 2005 (Super Bowl 39): The Patriots repeat as Super Bowl champions with a 24-21 victory over the Eagles. The Patriots took control with 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. Deion Branch is named Super Bowl MVP. It’s the last Super Bowl victory with Belichick and coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel.
— Rivalry: The early Patriots dynasty is linked with Peyton Manning and the Colts. New England beats Indianapolis in the 2003 and 2004 AFC playoffs, but the Colts finally break through with a 38-34 comeback win in the 2006 AFC championship game.
— Good guys: There is a growing sense of Patriots fatigue after the third Super Bowl championship, but they are still treated better than the Cowboys dynasty of the 1990s. That all changes at the start of the 2007 season.
Patriots take a heel turn
— April 29, 2007: The Patriots trade for Randy Moss, an All-Pro receiver known for his attitude issues as much as his talent. He gives Brady a downfield presence the QB has not had in New England.
— Sept. 9, 2007: NFL security catches the Patriots videotaping the Jets’ defensive signals in the Week 1 opener. New York is coached by former Patriots defensive coordinator Eric Mangini.
Controversy: Spygate begins. Belichick is fined $500,000. The Patriots’ success is called into question.
Heel turn: New England responds with the first 16-0 season in NFL history. The offense averages 36.8 points per game. Brady passes for 4,806 yards and 50 touchdowns. Moss finishes with 1,493 yards and 23 scores.
— Feb. 3, 2008 (Super Bowl 42): The Giants spoil the Patriots’ bid for a perfect season in a 17-14 upset. Brady throws a six-yard touchdown pass to Moss with 2:42 remaining, but Eli Manning’s desperation heave to David Tyree sets up the winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left.
— Sept. 7, 2008: Brady suffers a torn ACL in Week 1 against Kansas City, a game the Patriots win 17-10. The 11-5 Patriots fail to reach the playoffs without Brady in 2008.
— Feb. 26, 2009: Brady marries supermodel Gisele Bundchen, which increases the QB’s celebrity status. Everything — including Brady’s hairstyle — is now over-analyzed.
— Jan. 10, 2010: Baltimore beats New England 33-14 in the AFC wild-card game at Gillette Stadium.
— April 23-24, 2010: The Patriots select Rob Gronkowski with a second-round pick and Aaron Hernandez with a fourth-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. The two tights ends re-energize New England’s offense. (But their career paths will take very different turns.)
— Jan. 16, 2011: The Jets beat the Patriots 28-21 in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Quote: Jets linebacker Bart Scott calls the win against the Pats “poetic justice” and says the Patriots’ defense “can’t stop a nosebleed.” He ends the interview with the two-word catchphrase, “Can’t wait.”
— Rivalry: The Patriots-Jets rivalry flares up briefly when Rex Ryan is hired ad New York’s coach. Ryan famously says, “I never came here to kiss Belichick’s rings.”
— Dynasty over? Brady turns 34 after the loss to the Jets. The Patriots come off a 14-2 season but have not won a Super Bowl since 2004-05.
Headed for a fall?
— Jan. 14, 2012: QB Tim Tebow leads the Broncos into Foxborough, and Denver is routed 45-10. Brady throws a playoff-best six touchdown passes.
— Feb. 5, 2012 (Super Bowl 46): The Patriots face the Giants, who finished 9-7 in the regular season. Gronkowski is limited by an ankle injury, but a touchdown catch by Hernandez gives New England a 17-9 lead with 11:20 left in the third quarter. The Giants rally for a 20-17 win, and Belichick and Brady are denied a fourth Super Bowl victory.
Quote: After a video of Bundchen criticizing Patriots wide receivers surfaces, Giants running back Brandon Jacobs says, “She just needs to stay cute and shut up.”
— June 26, 2013: Hernandez is arrested and charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd. Hernandez is released by the Patriots.
— Dynasty over? The Patriots lose the AFC championship game in the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the first to the Ravens at Gillette Stadium and the second to the Peyton Manning-led Broncos. Josh McDaniels returns for a second stint as offensive coordinator, and Matt Patricia takes over the defense. New England enters the 2014 season nearly a decade removed from its last Super Bowl championship.
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Nope, the Patriots are back
— Sept. 29, 2014: Kansas City blasts New England 41-14 on “Monday Night Football,” which drops the Patriots to 2-2 and furthers the belief that the dynasty might be over.
Quote: Belichick’s news conference that week consists of one consistent answer: “We’re on to Cincinnati.” The Patriots go on to beat the Bengals 43-17 the next week as part of a seven-game win streak.
— Jan. 10, 2015: The Patriots beat the Ravens 35-31 in the AFC divisional round, but Ravens coach John Harbaugh questions a formation New England used in the game. Harbaugh says it was “clearly deception” on the Patriots’ part.
— Jan. 18, 2015: The Patriots beat the Colts 45-7 in the AFC championship game, but Brady is accused of deliberately deflating footballs below league standards before the game.
Controversy: Deflategate is born, and Brady is investigated into the 2015 season.
Quote: Brady holds a news conference on Jan. 22, 2015 and tells reporters, “I’m not a cheater.”
— Feb. 1, 2015 (Super Bowl 49): Brady is named Super Bowl MVP after leading the Patriots to a 28-24 victory over the Seahawks. Brady completes the game-winning drive with a touchdown pass to Julian Edelman, and Malcolm Butler comes up with an interception at the goal line in the final minute. Belichick joins Chuck Noll as the only coach to win four Super Bowls. Brady joins Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only four-time Super Bowl-winning QBs.
— April 15, 2015: Hernandez is found guilty of murder in the first degree.
MORE: Full timeline of events in Hernandez story
— May 11, 2015: Brady is suspended four games by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as a result of the league’s Deflategate investigation. Brady appeals, and a lengthy court battle hangs over the entire 2015 season.
— Sept. 1, 2015: Brady is criticized for having a “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker.
— Rivalry: The Broncos spoil New England’s run for another AFC championship with a 20-18 victory on Jan. 24, 2016. Manning leads the Broncos to a win in Super Bowl 50 before retiring. Brady finishes 11-6 head-to-head against Manning, but Manning finishes with a 3-2 advantage in their playoff meetings.
— Villains: The Patriots head into the 2016 offseason with Brady still facing a possible suspension — not to mention approaching 40 years old. Kraft and Goodell participate in a public feud, and the Patriots forfeit their first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Super villains emerge
(Brady serves his four-game suspension for Deflategate at the beginning of the 2016 season. Backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo wins the opener before suffering a shoulder injury, and Jacoby Brissett fills in. New England finishes 3-1 during the Brady suspension.)
— Feb. 5, 2017 (Super Bowl 51): The Patriots fall behind the Falcons 28-3 in the Super Bowl before Brady leads a comeback for the ages. That includes a game-tying drive at the end of regulation and a walk-off touchdown drive in overtime (reigniting controversy surrounding the NFL’s sudden-death OT rules). The 34-28 victory makes Belichick the first five-time Super Bowl winning coach and Brady the first QB to win five Super Bowls.
— April 19, 2017: On the same day the Patriots visit the White House and president Donald Trump, Hernandez is found dead at the age of 27 in his prison cell. New England’s visit becomes a political topic, especially when Brady and several teammates opt to skip the trip.
— Aug. 3, 2017: Brady turns 40.
— Nov. 1, 2017: The Patriots trade Garoppolo, who is considered the heir-apparent to Brady, to the 49ers for a second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. ESPN’s Seth Wickersham details the friction among Kraft, Brady and Belichick.
— Sept. 7, 2017: Kansas City blasts New England 42-27 in the Thursday night season-opener, and once again, the future of Brady is questioned.
— Jan. 1, 2018: Brady throws two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Danny Amendola to lead the Patriots to a 24-20 victory against the Jaguars in the AFC championship game. It clinches an eighth trip to the Super Bowl for Belichick and Brady.
— Feb. 4, 2018 (Super Bowl 52): The Eagles beat the Patriots 41-33 in a thriller. Brady sets a Super Bowl record with 505 passing yards while throwing for three touchdowns, but Nick Foles is the hero for Philadelphia in its first Super Bowl victory.
Controversy: Belichick is questioned for not playing Butler, the cornerback who had the key interception against the Seahawks in Super Bowl 49. Belichick calls it a “coach’s decision.” Butler signs with the Titans in the offseason.
Controversy: The Super Bowl becomes a political tool because of Trump’s support of the Patriots. Trump cancels the Eagles’ visit to the White House in June after several players decline the invitation.
— Feb. 7, 2018: After agreeing to terms to become the Colts’ new head coach, McDaniels decides not to accept the job, a controversial decision that is seen by some as payback for Indianapolis initiating Deflategate.
— Dynasty over? The Patriots lose defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to the Lions, and Brady turns 41 in the offseason.
Another Super Bowl run
— July 25, 2018: Edelman is suspended for the first four games of the 2018 season for violating the league’s PED policy.
— Sept. 18, 2018: The Patriots trade for Josh Gordon, a talented receiver who has been suspended multiple times. (They release him three months later.)
— Dec. 9, 2018: Miami beats New England 34-33 when Kenyan Drake takes a last-second lateral into the end zone for a touchdown. The Steelers beat the Patriots the following week.
— Dec. 30, 2018: New England finishes 11-5 and earns a first-round bye in the playoffs with a 38-3 win against the Jets in Week 17.
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— Jan. 20, 2019: New England beats top-seeded Kansas City, led by second-year sensation Patrick Mahomes, in a 37-31 overtime thriller. Brady leads the game-winning touchdown drive with three third-down conversions. The Chiefs, who lead the NFL in total yards and points in 2018, do not get the ball, sparking yet another conversation on overtime rules.
— Jan. 30, 2019: Jets safety Jamal Adams tackles Patriots mascot Pat Patriot during Pro Bowl practices, which sparks another social media controversy.
— Feb. 3, 2019 (Super Bowl 53). The Pats are back where all this started, facing the Rams again in a Super Bowl.
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