(Reuters) - The New England Patriots have found new ways to achieve the familiar and predictable result of reaching the Super Bowl as they burnish their claim as the most dominant NFL franchise of the modern era.
In their third consecutive Super Bowl, the Patriots have joined the Buffalo Bills (1990-93) and Miami Dolphins (1971-73) as the only teams to achieve such a run.
In terms of adaptability, though, the Patriots might well stand alone.
Since New England began its current dynasty by reaching the Super Bowl in the 2001 season, the team has navigated rule changes, style shifts and up-and-coming challengers while sustaining an unprecedented level of excellence.
The Bill Belichick and Tom Brady-led Patriots are competing in their ninth Super Bowl, the franchise has reached a record 11 total, and have come to represent the predictable villain that many NFL fans love to hate.
Belichick and Brady, according to many fans and pundits, have already laid claim to the ‘best of all-time’ title in their respective roles.
Today’s NFL has shed the physical punishment that marked New England’s first run of titles in favor of a wide open game that courts explosive offense.
Teams like the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs represent the future of the league with their young gunslinger quarterbacks and imaginative offenses.
The 41-year-old Brady showed signs of slowing during the regular season where he compiled his highest interception total (11) in five years.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski was no longer the dominant pass catcher of the past as years of playing his bruising style appeared to catch up with him.
New England took a chance on talented but troubled wide receiver Josh Gordon, trading for him in the hope that he could become the deep threat the team lacked.
Gordon played 11 games with varying success before leaving the team shortly before the NFL announced he would face yet another ban for violating the terms of the NFL’s drug policy.
The Patriots increasingly leaned on their diverse group of running backs for rushing as well as pass catching.
Rookie Sony Michel flashed dynamic ability in leading the group with 931 yards on the ground, while James White hauled in a team-best 87 catches.
New England’s defense was a slow burn that heated up at season’s end. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy and defensive end Trey Flowers help anchor a group that peaked at the right time.
New England’s defense will face a stern test against the Rams in the Super Bowl on Sunday, but no team has proven more capable of adjusting to the latest challenge in front of them than the Patriots.
Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Toby Davis