By: Bob George/
February 18, 2008

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This begins our annual series on positional analysis for the 2007 New England Patriots. Today: quarterbacks.

This is not how Tom Brady's season was supposed to end:

First down: Long pass to Jabar Gaffney incomplete. Second down: Sacked for ten-yard loss. Third down: Long pass to Randy Moss incomplete. Fourth down: Long pass to Randy Moss incomplete. Other team wins Super Bowl.

No, this was how it was supposed to end:

7:54 left in Super Bowl. Patriots trailing, 10-7. Brady leads the Patriots on a 12-play, 80-yard drive which culminates in a 6-yard scoring pass to Moss to put the Patriots ahead, 14-10 with 2:42 left in the game. The drive culminates not only a perfect season for the Patriots, but it also culminates the greatest season a quarterback has ever had. Brady set an NFL record for touchdown passes in a season, he had a receiver who also set an NFL record for touchdown receptions, and he had an 18-0 record up to this point. This supposed game-winning drive was merely the latest miracle in the long and great career of Brady, and it would be his finest hour, saving a perfect 19-0 season for the Patriots.

But the Patriot defense would not allow this ending to happen. At the worst possible time, several old reliable Patriot defenders did not make the plays they usually make, and it was the Giants, not the Patriots, who scored last and won the Super Bowl. Brady did what he had to do, but in the end it won't go down as a game Brady was able to pull out when it was over.

2007 will still go down as a great season for Brady, one which will help cement his eventual ascension to Canton. Brady is still the best quarterback in the league, no matter what all the fans of anyone named Manning might tell you. Peyton may also have great numbers and both brothers now have rings, but there are scant few coaches and general managers out there who wouldn't want Brady to be the man they build the franchise around.

Brady set career records in most every category. He completed 398 passes for 4,806 yards and a 68.9 percentage. In addition to his 50 touchdown passes, he was only intercepted eight times, was sacked only 21 times and had a passer rating of 117.2. His 578 pass attempts was second only to his 2002 total of 601. Except for passes attempted and completed (Drew Brees did), Brady also led the league in all of these categories. For someone who had spent his entire career on winning games without the big numbers, once given all the offensive weapons to do it, Brady came through big time.

Of course, Brady would trade in all of this offensive glitter for just one more win. Super Bowl XLII will gnaw at everyone and everything Patriot for eternity, but it will probably gnaw at Brady the most. More than any of these impressive numbers can tell you, Brady is the unqualified leader of this offense, and it is his leadership skills which really puts him at the head of the quarterback class.

This would make one wonder what should have been going through Brady's head as the Super Bowl was unfolding. Brady is perhaps the toughest competitor on a team of tough competitors. No one hates to lose more than Brady.

That said, it would be fun to be a fly on the wall on the Patriot bench with Brady and any of his offensive linemen during the game. If the subject of the Giant pass rush came up, it would be interesting to listen to what Brady would be telling his protectors. It would be really interesting if Brady were caught prevailing upon them to, among other things, quit getting beat by Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. The last thing any quarterback would want to do is to throw his offensive line under the bus, but one could not blame Brady if he were a little hot under the collar.

It would be unfortunate if it were found that the Super Bowl was lost because Brady didn't fire up his teammates enough when they were getting beat up in a battle they should have been winning. This is a reach, and it tends to take away from the good work the Giant defense did. It is not Brady's job to prepare his offensive line, and his offensive line should not need to be fired up for the Super Bowl. This failure of the offensive line will go down as the prime reason the Giants were able to upset the Patriots, and it failed Brady at the worst possible time.

One question everyone ponders during the season is how the Patriots would respond if Brady ever went down with an injury which forced him to miss game action. Much was made about Brady and his ankle cast he wore after the AFC Championship game win over San Diego, but it could be said that Brady was not completely himself in the Super Bowl because of it. There seemed to be no scenario which would have had Brady missing the Super Bowl, and if so, how would backup quarterback Matt Cassel handle it?

Cassel has seen limited duty in his three Patriot seasons. He played in only three games in 2007, but something happened in the first of those three games which may have proved to unsettle Bill Belichick and the coaching staff.

In the first Miami game, the Patriots were leading 42-14 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Dolphins scored a touchdown to make it 42-21, then Cassel came in with the game seemingly in hand. Three plays later, Cassel tossed an interception to Jason Taylor, who returned it 36 yards for a touchdown. Belichick put Brady back in, and the coach took a lot of heat for running up the score. Brady led the Patriots on a quick scoring drive to make it 49-21, the Dolphins answered with another touchdown, then third string quarterback Matt Gutierrez came in the rest of the way. Belichick's quick re-insertion of Brady and subsequent usage of Gutierrez seemed to be very damning to Cassel and his long-term status as Brady's top backup.

Cassel would play in two more games, against Washington and Buffalo, and completed 4 of 5 passes for 38 yards. Gutierrez's only game action would be that Miami game. The latter remains an interesting yet unproven and untested prospect, but Cassel doesn't have much more experience himself. It would take an unspeakable catastrophe to get either man into the game at any time other than garbage time. It would not surprise anyone if some competition for backup quarterback were brought into camp in August. Cassel's interception against Miami likely won't escape Belichick's memory, and that one play could help spell the future for the former USC backup quarterback.

As for Brady, after coming so tantalizingly close to both a championship and a perfect season, one has to wonder what resolve he will have for 2008. Brady knows more than anyone how to win the season's last game. Maybe he can somehow improve on his 2007 season, if that's possible.

It is, of course. Getting back to winning Super Bowls is a great place to start.

Next installment: running backs.