It's been almost a week since Super Bowl XLVI and the wounds are still raw, an entire region has replayed and reviewed the events of the loss to the New York Giants over and over like a doleful Adele song. But it's time to put the DVR remote down and move on because there is no time to sob over lost Super Bowls.
The draft is still a couple of months away, but the Patriots are very much on the clock. Tick, tick, tick goes the career of Tom Brady. The incredulous kid quarterback who hoisted his first Lombardi Trophy 10 years ago is going to turn 35 in August. Plus, there has been speculation about coach Bill Belichick hanging up his hoodie.
It was notable that after last Sunday's letdown at Lucas Oil Stadium, Brady mentioned four times in his post-game press conference variations of "Hopefully, we'll get back to another Super Bowl."
There should be a sense of urgency about making sure Brady gets another shot. Like any successful organization, the Patriots have taken the long-term view and remained consistent to their values. But it's time to go all in, borrowing a phrase from the Giants. We've reached the point where maximizing Brady's remaining prime years trumps any business model, value system or organizational ethos.
That means no more hand-me-down secondaries, no more ignoring the need for a premiere pass rusher that other teams have to game-plan for, no more pretending that the deep threat is a luxury, no more rolling over first-round picks like they're certificates of deposit.
The Patriots don't have to spend like profligate shop-a-holics, but they do have to extend themselves. If that means retaining Wes Welker and overpaying for Brandon Lloyd, or making Detroit defensive end Cliff Avril a monster offer, or, gulp, moving up in the draft by packaging the 27th and 31st picks so be it.
This is a golden era of football in Foxborough, but Brady isn't an alchemist. He needs more help.
Perhaps, Brian Hoyer is the next Steve Young or Aaron Rodgers, but if he's not, then not taking full advantage of Brady's window will prove more costly than any bad contract or failed draft pick.
All the Patriots have to do is look in their own division to see what life can be like after the departure of a Hall of Fame QB. Dan Marino last played in 1999, and the mantle of Miami Dolphins franchise quarterback has remained in abeyance ever since. Jim Kelly retired following the 1996 season, and the Bills have made the playoffs twice since then, not at all this century.
Even teams that find worthy successors don't always experience the same success. Three-time Super Bowl winner Troy Aikman retired after the 2000 season. In 2006, Tony Romo, now a three-time Pro Bowler, established himself as Aikman's air (and heir) apparent. Yet, the Cowboys have won a grand total of one playoff game in the post-Aikman era.
Despite winning 13 and 14 games, respectively, the last two seasons, history says staying the course is not going to result in a trip to Super Bowl XLVII for the Patriots.
No Super Bowl loser has made it back since the 1992 Buffalo Bills, who returned the next season for a fourth consecutive Super Bowl defeat. After the Patriots lost Super Bowl XLII to the Giants, it took Brady four years to get back. If that happens again, he'll be 38. His current contract, which has three more seasons on it, only takes him to age 37.
Among Hall of Fame quarterbacks, only John Elway (back-to-back titles at ages 37 and 38), Johnny Unitas (37) and Roger Staubach (35) have won Super Bowl titles past the age of 34.
Elway won when he wasn't the Broncos best player. That honor belonged to running back Terrell Davis, who turned the stretch play into football's version of a perfectly executed pick and roll. Davis rushed for 1,750 yards in 1997 and led the league in rushing touchdowns. The next year he rushed for more than 2,000 yards and scored a league-high 23 touchdowns, earning MVP honors.
Staubach won his second Super Bowl during the 1977 season. But Staubach didn't begin his NFL career until age 27. Four years on active duty in the Navy delayed his debut with the Dallas Cowboys. Unitas won in 1970, but Baltimore didn't ride the gilded arm of Johnny U, who threw 14 touchdowns and 18 interceptions that season. The Colts were a balanced team with a strong defense.
The L word has become a dirty word in these parts in the aftermath of the Patriots' defeat in Super Bowl XLVI. Legacy. No one wants to discuss it or talk about it in regards to Brady or Belichick.
If last Sunday was the Super Bowl hurrah for the Belichick-Brady Patriots it's been a remarkable ride that has them shoulder to shoulder with the greatest coach-quarterback combinations in the game's history -- Otto Graham and Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr, Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Bill Walsh.
Not winning another Super Bowl in no way diminishes the incredible accomplishments of the coach and the quarterback, but it would feel like a certain seven-pound, piece of sterling silver RSVPed, then never showed up.
The Patriots would be the Larry Bird-era Celtics, a great team with an iconic player that has an indelible place in local sports lore, but feels like it exited one championship short.
It is possible to both appreciate on-going greatness while acknowledging its looming expiration date.
The problem with simply blissfully enjoying the ride is that you're more likely to be left with regrets when it stops because you never looked up to see how much track was left.
Brady and the Patriots still have track. They have to go full speed ahead.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.