FOXBORO, MA — Like quarterback Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady got a good taste this week of how hungry the fans of New England are to win after his sub-par performance against the Bills last Sunday.
The majority of the talk this week has been about how important Sunday’s game is for New England, and how poorly Brady has played the last three weeks, including the fact he’s thrown 0-touchdowns and 3-interceptions during that span. It also included many who feel it’s time for the Patriots to go back to their proven starter with basically their entire season on the line as they get set to face the Dolphins in a showdown for the AFC East on Saturday.
The argument has been that Bledsoe has been there before, and fans are concerned over Brady’s play as of late. To make matters worse he’s also getting ready to face a team that held him to a mere 86-yards-passing in their previous meeting earlier in the season, and a mere 149-net yards total offense for the game.
But it doesn’t really matter who’s at quarterback. Since 1993 New England is 7-11 overall, with Bledsoe 7-10 during that span and Brady 0-1 this year. The Patriots best season during that stretch came in 1997 when they beat the Dolphins three times that year, including a Wild-Card Playoff game.
Now they’ll face the Dolphins in a game that has their entire season riding on it. Should the Patriots lose they’ll most likely end up out of contention for the division, and also will need a few things to go their way if they hope to make the postseason. If they win they could find themselves clinching a playoff berth by the end of the weekend in the event that either the Jets, Baltimore, or Seattle lose on Sunday.
But regardless of how the other games go, for now Brady says he’s only concerned about Saturday’s showdown with the Dolphins, and he’ll worry about the rest after the team plays their final game against Carolina.
“We are worried about this week,” said Brady on Wednesday. “If we win this weekend then we have a bye week and who knows. Once that Carolina game ends, then we’ll probably start thinking about [the playoffs]. At this point, it is Miami.”
“This is what you play for. You play for games like this. You play to be in the playoff hunt. You don’t play professional football to go home at the end of December.”
Their season was originally slated to end this weekend, with their bye week scheduled for the final week of the season. However, following the events of the tragedy on September 11th, the league canceled the games that weekend and pushed them all back to the last week of the season. Now their game against Carolina will be played on January 6th, and if all goes well it won’t be their last game of the year.
But Brady will need to play better than he has recently if New England hopes to emerge with a victory. They have relied on their defense which has not allowed a touchdown in 11-quarters as of late, but if Brady isn’t able to keep the offense on the field long enough for them to get a break, they’re going to be in for a long game. New England was 4-11 (36%) on third down in their first meeting, and held the ball for only 23:39 compared to Miami who kept it for 36:21. They also allowed 209-total yards rushing, with runningback Llamar Smith rushing for 144-yards on 29-carries (5.0 avg).
Brady also fumbled twice in the first meeting, one of which turned into a touchdown for the Dolphins, and the second-year quarterback is going to need to avoid such mistakes this weekend. He’s aware of all the mistakes he made the last time, and knowing how big this game is for his team he plans on being much better prepared all around when he steps onto the field this weekend.
“There is no doubt this is as probably as big as we have played in,” said Brady. “Obviously the biggest game of the season for us, probably our greatest challenge.”
“They played us pretty tough last time and I think that we have really looked at that film and looked at ways that we can counter that attack. I think we are going to be as prepared and as focused as we have been all season.”
They’re going to need to be. The Dolphins are ranked second in the NFL defensively for passing yards allowed per game, and spent much of the last meeting harassing Brady on nearly every throw. They sacked him 4 times and held him to a mere 12-of-24 passing with a quarterback rating of 58.7, one of his worst performances of the season.
As for head coach Bill Belichick he certainly is aware of how poor his team played offensively the last time the two teams met, and he’s hoping for a much different result on Saturday. He didn’t come right out and blame Brady for the team’s struggles the last time out, saying that the whole unit needs to perform better.
“The passing game involves everybody,” said Belichick. “It’s not just the receivers. It’s everybody. It’s the pass protection, it’s the timing. It’s not only the receiver catching the ball, but a combination of receivers and the backs running the patterns and the quarterback making the right decisions and making good throws.”
“[It’s also the receivers] catching it and running after the catch, all those are elements of it and they’re all important. Any one of them can slow you down or shut you down. I think that transcends the whole unit – all 11 guys.”
Fans will be talking after Sunday’s game, and it will be up to the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady to decide what it is they’ll be talking about. Belichick has already decided he’ll put his faith in Brady to lead them the rest of the way and hopefully, for Brady’s sake, he comes up big against Miami.
He may not have history in his favor, but he’s going to need to play better this time around against the Dolphins.
Otherwise, he may begin hearing things from fans that aren’t in his favor.
Fans in New England don’t like losing, and even though Bledsoe has only had three losing seasons during his nine years in New England, fans haven’t enjoyed watching other teams in the postseason after having watched the Patriots play there in ’94, ’96, ’97, and ’98. They missed the postseason in ’99 after two Adam Vinatieri kicks helped keep them from a 10-6 finish (take a moment and thank Adam however, otherwise Pete Carroll may have stuck around), and then their 5-11 finish last year obviously kept them out of the playoffs. But at 9-5 they have a shot.
There’s no question that Brady has New England where they want to be. Now for his sake he’ll need to finish the job and get them there, and it all starts at 1:30 on Saturday.