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The most meaningful case of the Patriots' stretching the rules was the eligible receiver trick they ran out as part of their playoff comeback victory over the Baltimore Ravens, but that wasn't actually illegal.
(It was unfair to the Ravens, but that was the officiating crew's fault for not giving them appropriate time to substitute.)If you talk to NFL executives operating outside of New England, though, there's certainly a perception that the Patriots and Belichick aren't always operating on the level, even if they aren't specifically concerned about the Spygate or Deflategate scandals.
While any team that prevails as two-touchdown underdogs is likely to engender a ton of fan support, the Patriots went a step beyond in terms of broad national appeal.
They famously were introduced to the crowd before the Super Bowl as a team, in lieu of individual introductions, a move that seems downright corny today but spoke to the relative lack of stars on their roster at the time.
After struggling to a frustrating 9-7 mark in 2002, Belichick's team established itself as a dynasty with consecutive 14-win seasons and Super Bowl victories in 20.
Outside of the Patriots' being perceived as an overly physical team for manhandling Indianapolis' receivers during the 2003 AFC Championship Game, they weren't a team with a particularly strong personality.
They fundamentally ripped apart old touchstones about how to win games and raised questions about whether they did so with acceptable behavior.
Perhaps most importantly, the events of that 2007 season immediately and irreparably changed the way we view the Pats and the key personnel involved with that team in ways that still resonate and recur a decade later.
The NFL and Fox changed the theme of the Super Bowl that year from a Mardi Gras motif to "Hope, Heroes and Homeland." Patriots owner Robert Kraft jumped on board, saying before the Super Bowl, "I'd like to think it's part of God's handiwork we're in the Super Bowl and we have the name Patriots." After the game, Kraft let everyone in.
After looking back on Tuesday at the on-field success of the 2007 Patriots, on Wednesday I'm evaluating the ways that team influenced how we think about Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots franchise as a whole a decade later.
It seems impossible to imagine for a team that has been favored to win 85 of its most recent 100 games, but the Patriots were lovable underdogs once upon a time.
The Pats were built upon depth and a middle class of talent, with just two of their players -- Brady and Ty Law -- making more than million during the 2004 season.
They were portrayed as the contrast to the me-first attitude of players such as Terrell Owens and Freddy Mitchell in advance of that Super Bowl. 24, 2005, was in awe of Brady's living large despite his "third-string personality."Even as the Patriots fell short of the Super Bowl in 20, they didn't appear to have a reputation as much more than a very good football team.
After 20 consecutive Patriots victories, the New York Giants narrowly topped Bill Belichick's team to win one of the most dramatic Super Bowls in league history. They were, however, the most fascinating and compelling football team of the 21st century.