Patriots can still make a run at another Super Bowl next season

Tom Brady (left) and Joe Montana chatted prior to the Super Bowl; they were on hand as part of the NFL’s 100th anniversary festivities. –maddie meyer/Getty

A few beliefs and observations left over like scattered red-and-gold confetti from Super Bowl LIV:

■  Twenty-four-year-old Patrick Mahomes has a chance — a chance — to be the second-greatest quarterback ever. Right now he’s Brett Favre with personal discipline. And Favre didn’t win his lone Super Bowl until he was 27.

■  Jimmy Garoppolo remains an enigma at 28 years old, in what should be his prime. We still have no idea how good he is as a quarterback, but he was not good in the fourth quarter, and it’s clear the Chiefs had little fear of him.

■  49ers tight end George Kittle (four catches, 36 yards, one game-shifting penalty), is junior-varsity Gronk at best. In last year’s Super Bowl, Gronk had 6 catches for 87 yards, including the game’s biggest play, while his body was betraying him. He showed up.

Advertisement

■  Fox made an idiotic decision showing Tyreek Hill with his children during the postgame celebration. That guy doesn’t deserve a redemptive story line.

■  Jason Momoa taking his muscles off was the best commercial, though I’d question its effectiveness considering I can’t recall what it was for. Tom Brady using a cryptic photo to pitch for Hulu was the best troll job.

■  And most relevantly to our dear corner of the map, the Patriots should keep the band together as much as possible and make one more run at a Super Bowl. Of this I am convinced more than I was when the season met its abrupt end Jan. 4 with a 20-13 loss to the Titans in the wild-card round.

Yes, this ended up being the coronation for Mahomes and the Chiefs, with their totally in-character, rapid-fire stretch of three touchdowns in a span of 4 minutes 57 seconds in the fourth quarter turning a 20-10 deficit into a 31-20 victory. That was exactly how you’d expect this potent Chiefs team to win. It was fitting, and somewhat reminiscent of the Patriots’ comeback against a ferocious Seahawks defense in Super Bowl XLIX.

If they can keep Mahomes from being folded, spindled, and mutilated over the next couple of seasons, this may not be the last Lombardi Trophy they collect. Perhaps a few years from now we’ll look at last year’s AFC Championship game — a 37-31 overtime victory for the Patriots at Arrowhead Stadium — as the last hard lesson the Chiefs had to learn to become champions themselves.

Advertisement

But it was not difficult to watch this game and envision the Patriots — with a few roster tweaks, some player development, and the return of Mr. Hulu Pitchman — genuinely competing with both of these teams. I like Garoppolo. I wish there had been a way for him to remain on the Patriots roster. (He was a casualty of Deflategate in a way. Had Brady not been suspended, the league would never have discovered how promising he was.)

But it’s also pretty obvious that had Brady been the Niners quarterback this year, they would have gone just as far as they did with Garoppolo. And perhaps, had Brady rather than Garoppolo taken over down 4 points with less than three minutes remaining and history within the grasp, the outcome might have been different.

I know, the Chiefs beat the Patriots this season, but it was a competitive game. The Chiefs went on one of their Showtime scoring runs in the second quarter, dropping 17 points in a row on the Patriots. But the Patriots pulled within 23-17 early in the fourth quarter. No one scored after that. But they can play with them.

We have no idea, of course, whether Brady will be back in New England. The whirlwind of rumors — the Raiders will make a run for him, the Patriots will offer him $30 million, and on and on — doesn’t provide answers as much as it makes you wonder about the agenda of the sources on these reports. Brady said in his ad that he’s going nowhere, but even that isn’t clear. Does he mean he’s not leaving the Patriots, or merely not retiring? The person whose opinion probably matters most on this is Bill Belichick, and he’s not spilling any beans.

Advertisement

But I hope he’s back, for one more crack at a seventh Lombardi. The road is difficult; the Ravens and perhaps the Titans will be right there with the Chiefs as AFC forces to be reckoned with. But the Patriots, who did win 12 games, feature a good-to-great defense, and still have the best coach there has ever been, can be in that mix next year.

Sure, it will require some savvy roster-building. It will require Brady coming back, a draft that yields help right away, some steady additions in free agency, and improvement from young players already on the roster. We’ve seen Deebo Samuel and A.J. Brown, and you’re officially on notice, N’Keal Harry. Next year must be a breakthrough season.

But it’s not time to give up on them yet. While the Patriots were not far from mind this weekend (how great was that NFL 100 photo of Brady, Randy Moss, Gronk, Belichick, and an amusingly underdressed Adam Vinatieri?), it remained a bummer to watch the festivities in Miami play on without them.

I don’t think I’ve taken the nine Super Bowl appearances for granted — I’ve been conscious not to, actually; I missed those game-day jitters and the buzz around the local team being in it even more than I expected to.

I want the Patriots to remain in the mix for Super Bowls, even if they’re no longer a favorite, for as long as possible. That doesn’t happen if Jarrett Stidham or someone like Marcus Mariota is the quarterback in 2020.

Bring back Brady. He says he’s going nowhere. If he stays here, the Patriots might just go far one more time again.