Pats Are Lucky to Have Solid Back-up For A Change

Ian Logue
October 24, 2001 at 10:48 pm ET

It’s apparently not possible for everyone to just be happy that they have a back-up quarterback who can go in and keep a team winning when their starting quarterback goes down with an injury. There will always be those who want more. Losing isn’t fun and when it’s happened for a while sometimes it’s easy to become frustrated and point the finger at the quarterback, who is generally aware that such a situation is inevitable and comes with the territory.

Whether or not it’s correct is another story.

For anyone who watched former Buffalo Bills back-up Frank Reich come in and win that playoff game against the Houston Oilers by leading his team back from nearly 30-points down, if anyone thought he should replace a proven quarterback like Jim Kelly as the teams’ starter, they like many other fans that day probably got caught up in the moment. It’s understandable after watching a historic feat like that one.

Remember a guy named Scott Mitchell? He came in when some quarterback named Dan Marino went down with an achilles injury and played extremely well. Many considered him to be a possible franchise quarterback and so did Barry Sanders’ Detroit Lions. Away he went after the Lions threw plenty of money his way, and needless to say he didn’t work out too well.

There are many other names that we can continue down the line in citing other examples of how back-up quarterbacks have come in and won football games and begun “quarterback controversy” discussion, and when they finally got their chance at careers on their own with other football teams, or even the team they were with things didn’t work out.

Except for in Buffalo, where that foolish situation worked out just the way it should have. Pulling Doug Flutie in favor of the extremely fragile and gutless Rob Johnson was something that to this day no one should ever say was a good move. Everything happens for a reason, and don’t think for a second that there were no strange forces that helped orchestrate that “Music City Miracle”. Someone somewhere made that happen to let the Bills know they had no business making that ridiculous decision.

Why?

Because Flutie was a proven winner. He didn’t just do it that season, he had done it throughout his career. Granted the majority of that career was spent in the Canadian league, but he won several championships during his tenure there and it couldn’t have been a fluke that he came through in so many different situations. Experience and poise was the reason why that decision was poor, and no other reason. Shame on Wade Phillips for thinking otherwise.

New England Patriots’ starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe remains sidelined while recovering from internal bleeding that resulted after a hit he sustained in week 2 from Jets linebacker Mo Lewis, and since then he’s lost 15 pounds and many believe he won’t return this season. Back-up Tom Brady has stepped in and turned a 0-2 start into a 3-3 record after going 3-1 as the new starter for the Patriots. Fans are understandably thrilled with what their young back-up has accomplished, but some are taking things a bit too far and many are raising the issue of a possible quarterback controversy with their team. For now there isn’t one, and there won’t even be a legitimate reason to believe otherwise until Bledsoe is healthy enough to play again.

Head coach Bill Belichick has already said he will always play the guys who give him the best chance to win. For now that choice is easy because Bledsoe is no where near ready to return and his coach is fully aware of that fact. The concern that was seen on his face following the end of the Jets game, as well as his awareness of the severity of the injury that was revealed in the days to come proved that he had no desire to see any more harm come to his quarterback.

In the meantime he’s been able to watch Brady show great poise and good play which is what any coach wishes to see from his back-up. No one carries a back-up with the thought that he’ll lose any games when he’s put into game situations. The only real surprise is that he’s played as well as he has.

There are reasons why this is happening, and these are the real reasons why the team has begun playing so well.

It’s very simple, Brady is a mature young player who is also intelligent and has the physical skills to execute on the football field. He also has an offensive line who after two games began playing better as a unit together in both pass blocking and opening holes for the running game. They’ve also had the luxury of a runningback who also became more familiar with when the holes would be there and simply appears to be more comfortable in his new surroundings. There has also been the emergence of a receiver in David Patten who saw limited opportunities while the team experimented with receivers Torrance Small and Bert Emanual. We won’t count the return of Terry Glenn, other than the fact it helped open up opportunities in the San Diego game for Patten to get his hands on the ball and for the coaching staff to possibly notice how they should figure out a way get him more involved in the game plan.

These players were available in the game and two-thirds we saw Bledsoe early in the season, but with all these new players that were placed in the offense including for the most part an entirely different cast from last season, it took a couple games for things to get settled. It was obvious that the emergence of a running game for the Patriots helped open up the huge passing performance by Brady that we saw two weeks ago against San Diego, and the quarterback protection has steadily improved during that time as well. Now the Patriots appear to have a running game for the first time since ’98 when Robert Edwards last rushed for over a thousand yards, and that helps New England finally have the balance that they’ve lacked since then.

Brady gives them something that they haven’t had since Bledsoe arrived and that is a back up quarterback who has proved he can come in and win football games in his absence, not that it had been much of an issue because of his toughness over the years. There should be less of a Brady vs. Bledsoe mentality among fans and more of an appreciation of the fact that they have two quarterbacks who can win, because very few teams have that luxury and it’s doubtful it will last very long here either.

The team has already made the long-term commitment to Bledsoe after he signed a contract that has him with the team for at least another three seasons due to salary cap repercussions that will prevent them from doing anything with him in terms of cutting or trading him. Their only option would be to leave him unprotected for the Houston Texans’ expansion draft during the offseason, but there’s little to no chance they would take him off the books for the Patriots. The only other possible solution would be to entertain any trade offers for Brady, and if they received an offer that had any legitimate value they would probably be forced to pull the trigger.

Fans will argue that there are many things that Brady does better than Bledsoe. Some of that may or may not be true, but if you were able to pick up the phone and call any GM for any of the 30 teams and ask them ‘forgetting about the money, who they would rather have on their team?’ It’s probably pretty likely they would take Bledsoe. This isn’t anything against Brady of course, but it’s simply that Bledsoe has already shown that he is a proven player in this league. Brady is showing right now that he could also inevitably be a solid quarterback, but is still obviously learning and he himself has said he has a long way to go.

For those who are now reading this and are infuriated, another simple fact remains. Pretend for a moment that Brady was equal to Bledsoe in terms of ability, arm strength, experience, etc. If all things were close to equal, as a personnel guy you have to stick with the player who can both help you win and makes the most sense financially. For now that commitment is to Bledsoe who will ultimately be the quarterback here in the future. If a trade comes around for Brady which is what many believe could realistically happen, fortunately the team has a good young nucleus around Bledsoe to allow them to continue improving. They are also beginning to work their way out from under all the bad drafts from years ago that left them with no young talented offensive line prospects to rebuild around. This unit is beginning to run and pass block extremely well and that’s something that has been a big boost to the offense after being the focus of the team’s struggles in recent years.

For now fans should continue enjoying what Brady brings to the table and the fact that New England has a legitimate back up quarterback who can perform when called upon. They should enjoy watching Bryan Cox who has brought fire and desire back to a Patriots defense that has shown little of either over the last couple of seasons, and they should enjoy the renewed optimism.

There have been a lot of changes for the better thus far through the first six games of the 2001 campaign, and fortunately for New England it has brought them success. Belichick showed the rest of the league in week 3 how to shut quarterback Peyton Manning’s offense down, and all of a sudden the AFC East division doesn’t look so tough. There appears to be a lot of parity with only the Patriots as any of the teams that look to be on the rise.

In the meantime let’s sit back and watch Brady continue his great play, and let’s just be thankful that New England finally has a back up that can win football games. It’s a luxury that certainly won’t last forever.



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