If you're Tom Brady, Sunday's loss in the AFC Championship Game comes with sobering bits of reality.
At 35, Brady has more years behind him than he has ahead. Each season without a Super Bowl title -- and we're at eight straight and counting -- takes the quarterback one year closer to the end of his legendary career.
But that's on an individual level. Any talk about the Patriots' dynasty potentially taking a hit after a 28-13 setback against the Baltimore Ravens is silly if you ask defensive end Rob Ninkovich. To Ninkovich, the Patriots dynasty is already history.
"That whole era is over with. It's gone," said Ninkovich of the New England teams that won Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII and XXXIX, via WEEI.com. "So this is a whole new team. It's a different bunch of guys. We all have to experience it and learn for ourselves what it's like. Getting in the Super Bowl last year and losing left a bad taste in my mouth.
"I would have liked to get back this year, but that wasn't the way it happened. You take all the lessons in life and learn from them, and put your best foot forward the next year."
Ninkovich is half right. Brady is the only player remaining from the Patriots' first Super Bowl win in 2002. In that sense, that era is over. But the Patriots will continue to be a Super Bowl contender as long as Brady is playing at a high level. Every year the Patriots come up short during this time doubles as a painful missed opportunity.
Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.