For a while now there has been this feeling, accepted with little question, that the Patriots would pick up where they left off in 2007 just as soon as Tom Brady came back from his knee injury.
That's not going to happen. Bill Belichick -- as evidenced by his hilariously rude inability to acknowledge rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez after the game -- will only get meaner. And barring cataclysmic injuries, his Patriots will get better. But they'll never be what they were. Maybe now you know why Belichick ran off the field with a second still on the clock against the Giants in Arizona. I'd say he already understood what's taken everybody else so long to comprehend, that the 2007 Patriots would go down as the best team never to win a Super Bowl.
I actually -- believe it or not -- think that the Patriots probably have one more run in them, but I think that run is either this year or never, for many of the same reasons Kriegel describes here: Belichick's team is aging, and I also reiterate my view that Tom Brady is closer to physical decline than most people want to believe. After this year, I think the most likely scenario facing the Patriots is a few years -- two or three -- of going 10-6 or 11-5, making a few playoff appearances, and most likely exiting by the second round. I think their future looks more like, say, the Buffalo Bills of the mid-1990s, when they were still good but clearly past the point of being the best team in the AFC. Right now the Patriot defense is pretty suspect, and their offensive line isn't playing nearly as well as it did in years past (and I always found their line overrated anyway).
I'm not willing to pronounce them dead, but I do think that the "Tom's back, so pencil in the Patriots for February!" talk is, shall we say, misplaced. Their window is closing more quickly than they think.
(Ditto the Colts, by the way.)