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How the Patriots built their NFL dynasty on sweet, sweet revenge

The Patriots dish out revenge all the time. Rarely take it, though.

Welcome to Revenge Week at SB Nation NFL, where we are celebrating the dish that’s best served cold. You can keep up with all our latest revenge content here.

Bill Belichick was a head coach the Browns didn’t want. Tom Brady was a quarterback prospect every team passed on at the NFL Draft multiple times.

As far as mistakes go, these were the football equivalent of leaving a gate unlocked in Constantinople during the 15th century.

These lapses allowed the Patriots to build an empire off a pairing made possible by other teams’ waste. Since uniting in 2000, Brady and Belichick have combined for 16 AFC East championships, nine AFC titles, and six Super Bowl wins. If the best revenge is living well, the duo are dueling Counts of Monte Cristo.

Though they’re the headliners on New England’s success tour, they’re far from the only players the Patriots have transformed redemption projects to NFL champions. The franchise’s never-ending string of division titles has been predicated on turning late-round draft picks and unwanted players into vital cogs that keep Belichick’s incredible machine in motion. Reporting on every one would give us enough data to fill an encyclopedia.

So, let’s just focus on the greatest examples of the Patriots using revenge as motivation, starting at the top.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick

No need to dive too deep into this one. Belichick is 6-2 against the team that fired him in 1996 (one win over the Browns for every NFL title he’d win with the Pats). Brady only has a career losing record against two teams in the regular season: the Panthers and Seahawks, each of whom he’s defeated in the Super Bowl. Together, they have 237 total wins as a tandem and only 70 losses.

Furthermore, after turning down the Jets’ head coaching overtures (twice!) Belichick is 29-11 against the team that so badly wanted him to be their head coach. And one of those rare losses happened to be in the game that introduced Brady to the world.

Randy Moss

Written off to the point of being traded for a Day 3 draft pick, Moss’ revenge wasn’t on a single team, but the whole damned league. Moss’ first season freed from the Raiders’ carnival of sadness (his quarterbacks were Kerry Collins, Marques Tuiasosopo, Aaron Brooks, and Andrew Walter) saw him return to All-Pro status and set an NFL record for most receiving touchdowns in a single season with 23.

Moss was the biggest weapon for what was the most prolific offense in league history at the time. He had nine 100+ yard receiving games, including four to start the season. The Patriots went undefeated in their first 18 games with Moss in the lineup. That streak included 13 games won by double digits.

Mike Vrabel

Vrabel never started a game in four seasons with the Steelers, making him an inexpensive free agent addition to the Patriots’ linebacking corps in 2001. Over the next four years he’d win three Super Bowls and record a dozen tackles and a forced fumble while beating his former team in the AFC Championship Game — in Pittsburgh! — twice.

He also applied this revenge knowledge to his coaching career. Vrabel’s first game against Belichick as an NFL head coach was a 34-10 rout for his Tennessee Titans.

Chris Hogan

Hogan bounced around from practice squad to practice squad early in his NFL career before finally latching on with the Bills in 2012. He’d spend four years in Buffalo, making six starts and catching Belichick’s eye along the way by torching his Pats for a then career-high 95 yards in Foxborough. He offered Hogan a modest three-year, $12 million deal the following spring — a deal the Bills could have matched in order to retain their budding restricted free agent.

They didn’t, and that season Hogan would lead the league in yards per catch (17.9) while developing into Brady’s top deep threat. His revenge was best meted out in his first game against his former team with Brady at the helm — four catches on four targets for 91 yards and a touchdown in a 41-25 win in Buffalo. A few months later, he’d be a Super Bowl champion.

New England’s long list of undrafted free agents and seventh-round picks

Belichick’s best draft pick was a sixth-rounder, but he’s added a deluge of starters, Pro Bowlers, and Super Bowl heroes in the final rounds of the NFL Draft and beyond. The players who’ve risen from ignored prospect to Patriot look something like this:

  • WR David Givens
  • QB Matt Cassel
  • OL Stephen Neal
  • WR Julian Edelman
  • CB Malcolm Butler
  • C David Andrews

Without Butler’s last-second interception, the Patriots almost certainly lose Super Bowl 49. Without Edelman catching everything that whizzes through his field of vision, New England’s odds of winning Super Bowls 51 and 53 drastically go down.

And Andrews was part of the unit who kept a 41-year-old Brady upright throughout the 2018 postseason who emerged as the team’s MVP at its most recent NFL championship parade:

These essential contributions all came from a picked-through pile of bargain-bin rookies. Neal wasn’t even a college football player! They aren’t the only ones, either.

Belichick’s also been keen to capitalize on other teams’ undrafted free agents too — landing not only Hogan, but also postseason stars like Adam Vinatieri, Wes Welker, LeGarrette Blount, Joe Andruzzi, and Danny Woodhead as well.

But the Pats aren’t only great because they exact revenge. They’re great because they often keep other teams from getting theirs.

The team’s run roughshod over the AFC East for the past 16 seasons but have failed to win the division crown just once — and that came in a season when Brady missed all but two quarters of football (they still won 11 games). The only East team to have beaten a Belichick-led New England in the postseason is the Jets. They’ve got a 2-14 record against the Patriots in the eight seasons since.

Even while New England and Indianapolis comprised the league’s fiercest rivalry through the 2000s and into the 2010s, Brady ended their season four times and the Colts only beat their former division foe in the postseason once. No team in the league wants to beat the Patriots more than the Steelers, but when it comes to turning hate into wins, Pittsburgh is 0-3 against Brady in the playoffs. The only AFC teams without a losing postseason record against 2000s New England are the Broncos and Ravens — each of whom have also been stepping stones to the Super Bowl for Belichick.

The Patriots are good at so many things, but somewhere near the top, nestled between keeping Brady young and scouring every inch of the rulebook for an advantage, is the club’s mastery of revenge. New England turns its slights into motivations and turns other teams’ unwanted pieces into major players on a regular basis.

Even the most innocuous or accurate comments can become bulletin board material. Belichick and Brady don’t want you to believe in them; they want to make you believe. Ideally by razing your village and salting the earth behind it.

The Patriots have built a dynasty on a foundation of that revenge. So far, that’s led to six Super Bowl rings — and counting.