As the ball was sailing towards the uprights while time expired in Super Bowl XXXVI, Adam Vinatieri did not know he was about to literally kick-start a dynasty. Yet, with the New England Patriots' 20-17 victory over the heavily favored St. Louis Rams, that was exactly what he did.
13 years have passed since that game. 13 years in which the Patriots won two more Super Bowl titles, while coming painfully close twice. Now, they are back at the top of the football world after beating the Seattle Seahawks 28-24.
The parallels between the teams that laid the foundation for the first – and thus far only dynasty of the new millennium – and the one that beat the Seahawks on Sunday are as subtle as they are the reason why the media-coined "window" of the Patriots is as open as ever.
It all starts at the core. The early dynasty teams' defenses, for example, were built around a core of savvy veterans; blue collar players like Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Willie McGinest and Rodney Harrison. They are gone and, frankly, impossible to replace. However, New England has created a new and different core. Dont'a Hightower, Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins and Devin McCourty live closer to it than most other players on the defensive side of the ball.
After the Patriots lost their old core they needed an infusion of youth. It started with drafting Vince Wilfork in 2004 and Jerod Mayo in 2008. Along the way, the team added and subtracted pieces until they created a new nucleus formed of players like Hightower working alongside players like Wilfork. They are the new savvy veterans, even though all of the players named above played the Super Bowl on their rookie contracts. They are the building blocks and the Patriots are smart enough to recognize them as such.
Make no mistake, Devin McCourty – who is about to enter free agency – will be a Patriot next year and beyond. The team will do everything in its power to bring him back. The same will happen to Hightower, Collins and Jones. If the Patriots believe they have found their guys, they will try to keep them by any means necessary.
We have seen this before with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. While the front office could not have foreseen Hernandez not working out, Gronkowski just played an integral role in the Patriots securing their fourth Lombardi Trophy. He is another part of the young group of building block players, as he gave quarterback Tom Brady – who shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon and won his third Super Bowl MVP – a weapon unlike any other he has ever had.
He did have a weapon similar to another core-player, though: Julian Edelman, who stepped in to replace Wes Welker, after the latter left New England to join the Denver Broncos. Welker's recent success however is nowhere near the one Edelman enjoyed the last two seasons. Edelman, just like Gronkowski and first-year Patriot Brandon LaFell, is signed long-term. The same can be said about Danny Amendola, who, while often looking like an afterthought in the regular season, stepped up his game in the playoffs (catching 11 passes and 3 touchdowns). The Patriots may opt to restructure Amendola, but it looks as if the team likes what he brings to the table.
Just like Jerod Mayo and Darrelle Revis.
Their situations are different as Mayo comes off his second consecutive trip to injured reserve, while Revis comes off one of the best seasons a Patriots cornerback has ever had. Both players are on the level of core-players, even if they are a tad older than for instance McCourty or Jones. Still, New England knows what the two veterans can offer a defense and will most likely love to keep them in Foxborough. This love is apparently also felt by Revis, who said that he would "love to return" after the first Super Bowl title of his career.
He – as well as Mayo and Amendola – would expand the core, to potentially make a team, which is the youngest to ever win a Super Bowl (average age of 25.2), even stronger.
Over the years, many have tried to publicly declare the Patriots' window is closing. Trent Dilfer tried. Tom Jackson tried. Kirk Minihane tried. Yet, they all failed – and the window is as open as it has ever been.