It is now beyond any dispute - the Patriots are a genuine football dynasty. Just don't ask any New England coaches or players to acknowledge it.
In the past week the question has been asked and re-asked about whether winning three Super Bowls within four years would elevate the Patriots to dynasty status. And all week the Patriots have offered little more than a collective shrug - even after downing the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21 Sunday night.
"I think that dynasty tag is for somebody else to say, not for us to say," says Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.
Head coach Bill Belichick offered a similar response shortly after the game: "I'll leave the comparisons and historical perspectives to everybody else."
In winning the Super Bowl in 2002, 2004, and now in 2005, New England joins the ranks of the NFL's most dominant teams. The only other team to win three Super Bowls within a four-year period was the Dallas Cowboys between 1993 and 1996. Other great NFL dynasties include the Pittsburgh Steelers, with four championships from 1975 to 1980, and the San Francisco 49ers, with five Super Bowl victories between 1982 and 1995.
Sunday night's NFL championship extended the Patriots' undefeated playoff record under coach Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady to 9-0. That accomplishment ties a record set by another legendary team - the Green Bay Packers.
It is not hard to understand why New England coaches and players are reluctant to draw comparisons. Generally, the Patriots prefer to let their play on the field do all the talking.
"You can say whatever you want before the game starts, but if you go out there and make all those crazy comments and you lose that game, that is the first thing that is going to come back and bite you," says tackle Matt Light. "So why put yourself in that position?"
Some suggest that the passage of time will reveal the Patriots' proper place in history.
"When you talk about dynasties, you are talking about people 10, 20, 30 years ago," says Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. "Maybe 10 years from now they will be talking about this team the same way we talk about teams from the past."
Not surprisingly, those on the Eagles side also prefer to avoid the D-word. "I'm not saying dynasty," immediately replied Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson to the ubiquitous question of the week. "They are the world champs, I know that."
Beyond all the talk of dynasty, perhaps the Patriots' most significant accomplishment in recent years is that coach Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft appear to have established a blueprint for football success in an era of player free agency and team salary caps. The essence of their system: teamwork.
Under this system, when the Patriots take the field they are engaged in an endeavor larger than any one player. Every player is essential to the team - and the ultimate goal is not self-glorification or personal enrichment, but rather victory as a team. To some it seems a quaint concept that runs counter to many of the precepts of the "me generation." But apparently it wins football games.
Belichick's strong belief in this approach was evident at the conclusion of his last press conference before the Super Bowl. A reporter pointed to the silver football trophy named for coaching legend Vince Lombardi and asked Belichick whether he saw a time in the future when his name might be on such a trophy.
"No. No!" Belichick answered. He seemed offended by the question. "That trophy represents the team. I mean that word collectively, T-E-A-M. [The team] that is able to play the best season for the year ... is engraved."
The Patriots' next season isn't without potential problems. Belichick must find replacements for offensive coordinator Weis, who is set to become head football coach at Notre Dame, and for defensive coordinator Crennel, who announced Sunday night that he has accepted a job as head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
But the Patriots' success affords the organization a significant advantage in continuing to strive to assemble the best possible team of players within salary-cap constraints. That is, high-salary veterans looking for a shot at a Super Bowl ring may consider taking a pay cut for the opportunity to play on a winning team.
Brady, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, could almost name his price as a free agent when his contract with the Patriots expires. But he's hinted that he would prefer to stay in New England, even if it means making less money than he could command elsewhere.
Running back Corey Dillon is an example of a player who had labored for years with a losing club, but who agreed to play for the Patriots for less money. In 2004, he set a single-season rushing record for the Patriots with 1,635 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. On Sunday, Dillon rushed for 75 yards and scored a touchdown.
"This is what I came here for. I knew we would win a lot of football games," he says. "It has been a long, long time since I felt like this. I have been in a lot of championship games from Pop Warner to junior college to high school, and never won the big one."
When a reporter reminded him that critics on his former team labeled him a malcontent, Dillon replied: "They can call me whatever they want. Right now I am a Super Bowl champion."