By Steve Silverman
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The New England Patriots' dynasty has started to crumble.
The three-headed partnership of Bob Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady may go on for one more year, but that's about all that is left for this team.
No dynasty goes on forever, and the reason this one will lose its grip is partially self-inflicted. It's also good news for the New York Jets, along with the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins.
There has been nothing but bluster coming from New England since Brady's suspension was announced.
"How dare they?"
"They're just jealous."
"The NFL is just a bunch of hypocrites."
A 2015 version of the Boston Tea Party appeared to be on its way, with Kraft leading the charge.
Except that it's not going to happen because Kraft decided to back down and accept the penalties that Commissioner Roger Goodell imposed on the team. A $1 million fine along with the loss of two draft picks -- including a 2016 first-rounder -- is a bitter pill for the team.
Kraft had blustered about demanding an apology when "Defelategate" first broke, but he has put away his indignation and decided to accept the penalty.
Kraft is a smart man who has shown in the past how reasonable he can be. The NFL was poised for a work stoppage in 2011 until he brokered the peace and the agreement between the league and its players association.
If you're wondering why Kraft backed down, you can look past his statement about doing what's good for the league. It is good for the NFL when one owner chooses to support a commissioner's ruling. However, Kraft has to understand that his team and its most important player were in the wrong.
"You know, what I've learned over the last two decades is that the heart and soul of the NFL is a partnership of the 32 teams," he said. "What's become clear over those two decades is that at no time should the agenda of one team outweigh the collective good of the full 32.
"Although I might disagree with what is decided, I do have respect for the commissioner and believe that he's doing what he perceives to be in the best interest of the full 32. In that spirit, I don't want to continue the rhetoric that's gone on for the last four months. I'm going to accept, reluctantly, what he has given to us and not continue this dialogue and rhetoric. We won't appeal."
The NFL meetings were held this week in California, and Kraft is a decent man whom many of the other owners respect and get along with. There are a number of owners who consider themselves friends with Kraft, and many more who can converse with him honestly.
So when the discussion of the deflated footballs came up and his quarterback's role in the incident came up, Kraft had to see the light.
He may have defended Brady in public – "Tommy has never lied to me in 16 years" – but there is no way to believe that the quarterback didn't have something to do with a decision to bend the rules.
More troubling is the role of his coach in the incident. Kraft knows better than anyone else that Belichick is the master of Foxboro, and that he knows everything that goes on in the Patriots' kingdom. He also knows that Belichick has a history of pushing the rules to the limit and sometimes going over the edge.
In previous generations, Deflategate, videotaping opponents' coaching signals and illicitly watching practices would all be looked at as gamesmanship. But that's no longer the case. These are all dirty tricks that have given the Patriots small edges that have helped them.
Would they have won four Super Bowls in the Kraft-Belichick-Brady era had the Patriots been whistle clean? The conclusion here is yes. Even if they hadn't won all four, they would have won three.
They are a fantastic team that deserves to be considered with the Packers of Vince Lombardi, the Steelers of Chuck Noll, the 49ers of Bill Walsh and the Cowboys of Jimmy Johnson (often excluded wrongfully from the NFL's greatest teams).
But they have used some Nixonian devices to maintain their edge. They may not have needed to cheat, but they have broken the rules nonetheless.
The decision by Kraft to back down shows that the Patriots' owner fully understands what has gone on behind closed doors. Kraft has done the right thing, even though his best player and his head coach have not.
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