Camelot doesn’t last forever, just ask Patriots and Colts

The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts achieved football nirvana with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Now, years removed, they’re just like any other team.

For a decade, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning defined the NFL.

As a byproduct, the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts were the frontmen for the most-consumed sport in America, consistently having their fortunes play out before a captivated nation.

But now, without Brady and Manning, two once-great franchises have now become afterthoughts, desperately flailing for relevancy by trying to find what is already gone.

On Monday Night Football, Manning watched from his BarcaLounger as the Patriots benched their 2021 first-round quarterback in Mac Jones for Bailey Zappe, an unheralded rookie from Western Kentucky. It was a panic move from perhaps the greatest coach to ever live, with Bill Belichick trying to inject life into a stagnant attack.

It worked beautifully for two drives. Then it stopped working.

Belichick is now stuck with two quarterbacks he doesn’t believe in, because how could he? This is a man who had 19 years of brilliance with Brady under center. Jones and Zappe are mere mortals compared to the Kirk Cousins’ of the world. Compared to Brady? They’re water boys.

Of course, New England isn’t the only franchise in quarterback hell.

On Monday afternoon, the Colts announced their plans to bench veteran Matt Ryan, giving way to Sam Ehlinger. Ehlinger, a sixth-round pick from Texas in 2021, has never started an NFL game. Yet suddenly he’s head coach Frank Reich’s best chance to stabilize a team perennially long on expectations and short on delivery.

The Colts have had many more moons to replace Manning and the Patriots have with Brady, but they’ve found little success and some bad luck. Literally.

Indianapolis thought its savior arrived while Manning was still with the organization, selecting Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in 2012. And for seven years, Luck was fantastic, earning four Pro Bowls and even reaching the 2014 AFC title game, only to lose against Brady and the Pats.

Then, weeks before the 2019 season, Luck abruptly retired. Since then, no starting quarterback has lasted more than one year for Reich and the Colts. It’s been chaotic and unproductive, with dollars and draft picks annually set ablaze.

But this doesn’t make the Colts an outlier, it makes them one of many NFL teams constantly looking in the darkness for a light they never seem to locate.

Consider the history of both New England and Indianapolis before Brady and Manning arrived.

The Patriots were a robust 280-315-9 in 41 years before Brady became the starter in Week 3 of the 2001 season. Prior to Brady’s arrival, the Patriots made 10 playoff appearances.

With Brady, the Patriots went 219-64, played in nine Super Bowls and reached 13 AFC Championship Games.

Meanwhile, the Colts moved to Indianapolis for the 1984 season. From then until Manning’s arrival in 1998, Indy went 88-135, winning two playoff games and a single division title.

With Manning as the starter, the Colts’ record was 141-67 while winning eight divisional crowns, reaching the playoffs 11 times, and making two Super Bowl appearances with one title.

Flash to the present, and both franchises look like they did before Brady and Manning arrived. Neither has an answer at quarterback and if they’re on primetime, it’s more mundane than must-see.

For years, NBC and ESPN cameras would give aerial shots of Gillette Stadium and Lucas Oil Field shimmering in the night, with a visitor likely to be vanquished over the upcoming three hours. Those days are long gone, with only banners left behind to tell the story of what once was.

A decade is a long time to harness greatness. The Colts and Patriots had it simultaneously, embodied by two men who encompass what football in the 21st century is.

Today, Indianapolis and New England are aimless in their quest for another charge at the summit, looking for heroes long gone by.

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