After a bye weekend without any Patriots football, here are a few thoughts as we kick off the week.
1) Talk Of Potential Brady Trade Isn’t Shocking – Jay Glazer’s story about the 49ers inquiring about Tom Brady may sound a little strange, but it ties into the whispers we’ve heard about Brady’s camp being concerned that his future wasn’t necessarily secure, something that he’s mentioned on several occasions over the course of his career.
According to Glazer, prior to making the deal for Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers GM John Lynch boldly asked about Brady before eventually making the deal to bring New England’s back-up to the Bay Area in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2018 draft. While Brady obviously wasn’t going anywhere mid-season, there’s a possibility that this was simply a situation where Lynch must have known that it wasn’t necessarily an unreasonable question, primarily because the team had reached a point where they obviously had to make a decision on what to do with one of their quarterbacks after the season. Lynch clearly knew that having both players stay with the club beyond this season wasn’t a viable option, with the only question being what Belichick’s intentions were as it pertained to dealing with what was obviously a tough decision. Lynch may have simply asked him if Garoppolo was off limits, would Brady be on the table after the season? That may have also ignited a discussion between Belichick and Kraft, with the two agreeing to roll the dice with their 40 year-old quarterback and ultimately deal Garoppolo.
Speaking of which, that leads to the other topic of Kraft over-riding Belichick on the decision, which was the other thing discussed last week. It likely didn’t go down that way, as the two probably simply sat down and had the difficult discussion of how they wanted to handle this, since it clearly affects the long-term well-being of the franchise. As we know, the two have a terrific relationship and while Kraft is usually hands-off when it comes to personnel decisions, this situation is certainly unique and probably required the two being on the same page since not moving Garoppolo could have potentially lead to them at least exploring an alternate course with Brady at the end of the season if they really wanted to hand the reins to Garoppolo to keep from losing him.
Anyone who has followed this team over the last 17-years knows that they’ve drafted a significant number of quarterbacks during that span and aside from Matt Cassel, who fizzled out as an NFL starter after they traded him to Kansas City, they really haven’t had anyone develop as well as Garoppolo. More importantly, none have ever earned the type of praise from Belichick where the coach truly felt they had a player who could execute the offense as well as Brady. So with a decision needing to be made on Garoppolo’s future, it makes sense that the two likely sat down and talked about whether or not they would ever consider dealing Brady. After all, it’s obvious that something had to give, since keeping the two together for much longer just couldn’t work from a financial standpoint.
In the end, Belichick seemingly picked Brady over Garoppolo after last week’s trade.
While some are upset that Garoppolo was dealt, it ultimately came down to a situation of bad timing given that Brady continues to defy the odds and play at a high level. Franchising and trading Garoppolo is obviously another avenue some believed the team should have taken, but it would have been a risky move since it might have slowed the process down and delayed the team being able to be active in free agency, as well as forced a plethora of moves in order to free up salary cap room to keep him on the roster until he could be moved.
With the team now holding San Francisco’s second-round pick they acquired in this transaction, one would believe it will be the one they’ll use to make another selection as they try and find Brady’s next successor. The only question is whether or not they’ll be able to land a player who will instill the same level of confidence from Belichick as Garoppolo had. Finding that player on their first attempt seems unlikely given their history, but that’s obviously what they’re going to be forced to deal with moving forward.
These situations are never easy and like any other player transaction, it’s one that years from now could be second-guessed if Garoppolo goes on to be a franchise quarterback. But for now, the Patriots will remain Brady’s team which, should the team experience success in January and February, it might help fans feel a little better about the decision.
2) After a tough start, the Patriots suddenly find themselves in the drivers seat in the AFC – This fact is pretty remarkable given that three weeks ago, the overall picture looked quite different. Following their opening night loss to Kansas City, along with a frustrating Week 4 loss to Carolina, New England was seemingly facing an uphill battle in terms of their road toward contending for the number one seed in the conference.
However, all of a sudden, things have changed. With their loss to Dallas on Sunday, Kansas City now sits at 6-3 on the season, leaving the Patriots suddenly in control of their future heading into the second half of the season. Their other road block, the 6-2 Pittsburgh Steelers, are a team that the Patriots will have an opportunity to overtake in a head-to-head battle when they meet on December 17th.
One thing worth noting is that the Patriots have a much tougher road than Pittsburgh, with New England having to play five of their next six games on the road against arguably a more difficult group of opponents compared to the Steelers. Like New England, Pittsburgh was on a bye this week and they’ll resume their season Sunday in Indianapolis before spending the next four weeks playing night games against the Titans, the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers, the woeful Bengals and the beat-up Ravens before New England finally comes into town.
That game is going to be critical for the Patriots, as the Steelers close out their season against the Texans and Browns, where the Patriots face the daunting task of facing both the Jets and Bills to close out the season. New England does have the luxury of both of those games being at Gillette Stadium, but the odds of one of those teams pulling off an upset certainly seem greater than Pittsburgh losing to either one of their opponents. As a result, that game suddenly appears a little more important given what will likely be at stake by the time we reach that point.
Brock Osweiler beat the Patriots in their previous meeting in Denver.
3) Despite their record, Broncos Still a Difficult Foe – Heading into this week’s game against Denver, it’s hard not to be a little skeptical of how this one will play out, especially since trips to the Mile High city are never easy and strange things tend to happen. Factor in that the Patriots will likely be without another offensive weapon this week if Chris Hogan is unable to play, and there is a real reason to be concerned as Brady gets set to face a defense that has made him miserable in past meetings.
However, the biggest thing that stands out is the fact the Patriots may be affected by one of the topics that has been in the forefront quite a bit in past weeks. Without Julian Edelman, Brady has spent more time holding onto the football this season waiting for plays to develop down the field and he’s endured more punishment as a result. It’s been a problem since he’s been without the quick outlet passes being there for him the way they’ve been with his favorite receiver on the field. That could possibly be an issue this week against Denver’s relentless pass rush, as Brady likely won’t have the same amount of time he’s had in New England’s other games this season.
This week also begins a two-game stretch on the road against two AFC West opponents, with the following week coming against the suddenly resurgent Raiders, which certainly won’t be easy. Factor in that Denver has lost four straight and it sets up a dangerous situation given that this becomes a must-win game for the Broncos, who at 3-5 really need this game. As a result, despite their record, it’s going to be interesting to see what kind of game plan Josh McDaniels puts together in order to make sure Brady and company are able to put up points and put the pressure on Denver’s offense to keep up. The Broncos are currently ranked 21st in total yards and 22nd in points-per-game, but 5th in time of possession. That could be something to watch if the Patriots, who down another offensive weapon in Hogan, continue having a hard time scoring in the red zone.
Things have changed quite a bit since the Patriots and Saints met in week two.
4) Saints Have Turned Things Around Since Loss to New England – It’s amazing to see what’s going on in New Orleans, with the Saints having run off six straight wins since the Patriots went in there and dropped them to 0-2 with a 36-20 loss back in Week Two. At 6-2 New Orleans is back in control of the NFC South, with just the Carolina Panthers keeping pace at 6-3.
From there, the Falcons find themselves at 4-4, while the Buccaneers, who have dropped five in a row, are last in their division at 2-6. Some might remember that there was a lot of talk about New Orleans’ defense and how bad they were playing, but since their loss to the Patriots, they’ve gone on to allow under 20 points per game in five of their six victories.
As a result, all of a sudden New Orleans has become a team to watch in the NFC now that they’ve turned things around and are playing well after beating the Buccaneers 30-10 on Sunday. It just goes to show you that, like the Patriots, who a team is to begin a season doesn’t necessarily define who they might be by this point in the year. But obviously, the bigger question will now become whether or not they can continue that level of play over the final two months.
Patriots fans should hope they can at least play well for one more week because the Saints are now headed to Buffalo this Sunday to take on the Bills.
5) The Division Landscape Has Changed – Speaking of the Bills, the AFC East picture changed a bit over the weekend. With both Buffalo and Miami both losing this week, the Bills dropped to 5-3 on the year, while the Dolphins fell to 4-4. The Jets improved to 4-5 on the year after beating Buffalo last Thursday night, snapping a two-game winning streak for a Bills team that had gotten off to a great start and had an opportunity to keep pace with New England within the division.
Instead, they lost their third game of the season but more importantly, the loss seems to have snapped the confidence of Bills fans who up until that game seemed to believe their team would finally be in contention in the AFC East. Now all of a sudden, they’ve been brought down to earth a bit and find themselves about to play a Saints team who could further derail their season. A loss next weekend would be a big blow and alter the outlook for a Buffalo team that had seemingly appeared to be the Patriots biggest threat within the Division.
November and December tend to be the time where the good teams rise to the top and the other ones drop off. Should they somehow bring the Saints winning streak to a halt, the Bills road still has some roadblocks. They have two tough games on the road against the Chargers and Chiefs, which then sets up their first head-to-head meeting of the year against New England on December 3rd.
6) Raiders already have an advantage over the Patriots – After this week’s game against the Broncos, it’s worth noting that the Patriots will be a bit at a disadvantage as not only do they have to travel to Mexico City and play the Raiders at an elevation higher than what they’ll deal with this Sunday in Denver, but they’ll also be facing a well-rested Raiders team that will be coming off of a bye after beating the Dolphins in Miami 27-24 Sunday night.
After suffering a back injury that some thought could have ended his season, quarterback Derek Carr has started to settle back in and played well against the Dolphins, missing just nine passes after finishing 21-of-30 for 300 yards along with a touchdown.
Carr said after the game that he planned on getting to work right away on New England, which obviously puts him ahead of Brady since the Patriots will spend this week getting ready for Denver.