Here’s who thinks the Patriots dynasty is in decline

"The rest of football is smelling blood."

Bill Belichick
Bill Belichick walks off the field following his team's 17-10 loss to the Steelers. –Jim Davis/The Boston Globe

The Patriots’ 18 consecutive winning seasons are the second longest streak in NFL history, trailing only Tom Landry’s Cowboys (1965-1985).

New England’s run of success includes five Super Bowls and 12 AFC Championship games, including the last seven in a row. The remarkable partnership of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady has been the constant, keep the team perpetually among the league’s elite.

Speculation about the dynasty’s end has hovered at a distance for years, though Brady’s continued brilliance keeps pushing back the expiration date. More than five years after experts began suggesting Brady was no longer the quarterback he’d once been, the 41-year-old has been to three of the last four Super Bowls.

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The loss to the Steelers on Sunday began the prognostications of the dynasty’s fall anew, as back-to-back December losses is not a thing that happens often here. (Not since 2002, though New England did lose its final two games in 2015.)

Here’s a look at some of the bevy of takes predicting either a decline in or the imminent doom of the Patriots’ dynasty:

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The Pittsburgh radio show, hosted by Colin Dunlap and Chris Mack, initially focused on Brady’s red zone interception by Joe Haden.

“If people start talking about the New England dynasty falling a little bit, if people want to talk about it crumbling, [it’s] because it’s a play so atypical for them,” said Dunlap. Later in the segment, he posited that the Patriots are showing signs of decay.

“Did you watch that game and think, ‘You know, I never thought I’d see the day?’ But Gronk’s getting older, Brady’s making bad decisions, they hit one big play and then the cavalry didn’t come. The snowball didn’t keep rolling down the hill. Maybe, just maybe, the New England Patriots, we’re starting to see the death-march a little bit.”

Will Leitch, New York Magazine

Pondering life after Brady-Belichick is tough for even for Patriots haters, because as Leitch pointed out in his Wednesday column, the only thing worse than having New England as the de-facto villain is not having them in the role.

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He sees the Patriots receding back to being an average NFL team.

“A team that has made three of the last four Super Bowls (winning two of them) and that has essentially dominated the NFL landscape for nearly two decades now (reaching eight Super Bowls and winning five), has fallen behind the pack,” wrote Leitch. “This is as bad as the Patriots have looked in December in years. The rest of football is smelling blood.”

The result could soon be a sad end to a fun tradition for non-Patriots fans.

“The hatred of Brady and Belichick has been pure, and blinding, and, frankly, wonderful,” Leitch noted. “But you can only hate something in sports if it is powerful: You cannot hate something that you pity. It is a lot more fun to jeer Tom Brady losing in the Super Bowl that it is to jeer him losing in the wild-card game.”

Mike Maske, The Washington Post

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As Maske points out, the latest threat to the Patriots’ dynasty isn’t some dramatic scandal as in years past, it’s merely the passage of time. In previous seasons, threats to New England were methodically broken down.

“This time, it’s different,” Maske wrote. “The cracks in the dynasty again are evident. It is clear, once more, that the end is near, although just how near remains up for debate. But as this season draws to a close, there is nothing controversial or even all that engrossing about what is now jeopardizing the Patriots’ remarkable run of success. They are, perhaps, finally succumbing to the passage of time and the cyclical nature of the NFL.”

Still, Maske isn’t ruling the Patriots out, at least for this season.

“So, yes, the vulnerabilities of the Patriots are on full display right now. But they’re conceding nothing at this point. And they shouldn’t.”

Rex Ryan, ESPN

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Former Bills and Jets coach Rex Ryan wasted no time when asked if he thinks the Patriots are “in trouble” as the regular season enters its final two weeks.

“I’ve been saying it for weeks now,” said Ryan. “This is not the same Patriots team. And the reason why is simple: They’re older, they’re slower, and eventually Father Time catches up to you.”

Dan Shaughnessy, The Boston Globe

The Globe columnist was one of the first after Sunday’s loss to ask the burning question: Is this the end for the Patriots’ dynasty?

“We’ve wondered this before,” wrote Shaughnessy. “And each time the Patriots have answered with another surge to a Super Bowl.”

Shaughnessy isn’t so sure this time around.

“But it doesn’t feel like another Patriots playoff surge is coming, does it?” Shaughnessy explained. “There comes a time when mystique and aura are nothing more than smoke and mirrors. There comes a time when being smarter is not enough, when waiting for the other guy to step on his own appendage will not guarantee victory. There comes a time when your own ability and execution are more important than all the good things that have happened before. There comes a time when you will not get the benefit of some strange rule that will be changed during the offseason. There come a time when assuming the other guy will lose his mind and hand you the game is more hope than reality.”