Ever since Bill Belichick took over the reigns for the New England Patriots in 2000, the organization has been one of the model franchises in professional sports. They are competitive each year, no matter who comes or goes. As a result of their consistency, the Patriots have strung together 12-straight winning seasons.
While just about every team wants to copy their blueprint for success, the San Francisco 49ers are beginning to resemble the Patriots of the early part of the 2000s. Looking at how the Patriots’ dynasty got started, and how the 49ers are beginning to re-establish their winning tradition, both organizations share similarities that are hard to ignore.
With the snap of a finger, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has turned the franchise into a winner seemingly overnight. Prior to his arrival, San Francisco lacked talent and went just 6-10 in the previous season. Aside from Patrick Willis, Frank Gore and Vernon Davis, the 49ers were deprived of true difference-makers.
But in just two years, Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke had a vision, quickly putting their stamp on the organization. They nailed the 2011 NFL Draft, appeared in two NFC Championship Games, and came so close to winning the Super Bowl. The 49ers have the structure in place to remain dominant for years to come.
After posting a 5-11 record in his first year as head coach of New England, Belichick and the Patriots captured the organization’s first Super Bowl victory the following season. Even though he deserves a lot of credit for leading his team throughout that historic season, it’s debatable if they would have even made it that far without the emergence of Tom Brady.
Week 2 of the 2001 season would forever change the fortunes of the Patriots franchise as then-starter Drew Bledsoe was concussed by New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis. Brady would take over, and the rest is history.
The situation that revolved around Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick this past season offers a close resemblance. Despite guiding the 49ers to a 6-2 record while posting a completion percentage of 70.2, Smith was in line at making another deep postseason run.
But little would anyone know that Week 10 would be Smith’s last start as the quarterback of the franchise that drafted him first overall as he too suffered a concussion, this one thanks to St. Louis Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar.
Harbaugh rolled the dice on sticking with Kaepernick for the rest of the year, and his gamble paid off. That decision not only brought immediate benefits, but his new quarterback could set them up to succeed for the next decade – much like how Belichick stuck by a young Brady.
The two head coaches were not afraid of public perception and they had a strong belief in their own decisions. They clearly saw immense upside in their respective signal-callers. Brady was 24 when he won his first Super Bowl, and Kaepernick was 25 in the past Super Bowl.
During New England’s Super Bowl run, the team had an elite quarterback, but their defense was a major factor in their success as well. From Richard Seymour, to Tedy Bruschi, down to Ty Law and Rodney Harrison, the Patriots were stout on all three levels. They were skilled in keeping points off the scoreboard and knew how to create turnovers.
Much like the Patriots, the 49ers rely on its defense to achieve success. Over the past two seasons, San Francisco has finished in the top five in yards and points allowed per game. Led by Willis, the unit has a mix of young talent and veterans to help carry the franchise for several more years.
Lastly, New England depended on draft selections to step in and play effectively. From 2000-04, they averaged almost nine picks per draft and came out with some quality players.
In the 2011 draft, San Francisco had 10 picks. Currently set for the 2013 draft, the team is stacked with 13 selections. Whether they use each pick has yet to be determined, but that luxury allows them to be flexible.
The 49ers have a ways to go before they can even compare themselves to the Patriots in terms of success. But, if the Red and Gold can maintain its winning ways, the NFL will have a new dynasty on its hands.