What a decade this was in New England sports! As we move into the 2020s, join NESN.com in looking back at the decade that was with the best New England Patriots team of 2010-2019. (And check out the rest of our “Best of the Decade” content here.)
Exactly half of the Super Bowls played during this decade featured the Patriots, so there was no shortage of candidates for this honor. But our staff decided no team was more deserving — no season more memorable — than the 2016 squad that staged one of the greatest comebacks in sports history to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
This was a team that lost its star quarterback to a highly controversial four-game suspension, lost his backup to an injury halfway through that ban, got just half a season out of its All-Pro tight end — and still finished with a 14-2 record.
Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett navigated New England to three wins in four tries during Tom Brady’s Deflategate-induced exile, and the Patriots tore through the NFL upon Brady’s return. From Week 5 through the AFC Championship, they went 13-1, with all but two of those victories coming by double digits.
Brady led that charge. Fueled by his 18-month-long legal battle with the league, the then-39-year-old threw 28 touchdown passes with just two interceptions in 12 games and posted some of the best numbers of his storied career, completing 67.4 percent of his passes (second-best behind 2007) with an 8.2 yards-per-attempt average (third) and a 112.2 passer rating (second).
The 2016 Patriots also boasted a criminally underrated defense that allowed more than 25 points just twice in 19 games, one of the most productive running backs in franchise history in LeGarrette Blount (1,161 yards, 18 touchdowns) and a multi-faceted passing attack led by Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Martellus Bennett and James White. (Rob Gronkowski was unavailable to begin the season, then landed on injured reserve in early December after racking up 540 receiving yards in just eight games.)
White played the hero in the season’s iconic finale, catching a Super Bowl-record 14 passes for 110 yards and scoring three touchdowns as the Patriots erased a 28-3 Falcons lead to win 34-28 in overtime.
Add all of that up and you have a team that stands out, even in the illustrious history of the most accomplished franchise of the 21st century.