SOCIAL DISTANCING AT HOME — When Mo Lewis clobbered Drew Bledsoe in the first game for the Patriots after September 11, 2001, it ended up being a seminal moment in the history of the franchise.
The next seminal moment came on October 31, 2017, almost three years ago to the day. And the Patriots are still very much affected by that day, as was shown vividly at Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Over the last 20 years, Tom Brady became possibly the most iconic sports figure in Boston history. Some old folks will offer up the names Williams, Russell and Orr. There’s your New England sports Mount Rushmore right there.
But Brady has also hurt the Patriots in a way nobody really envisioned five years ago. He proclaimed that he wanted to play until he was 45 years old, and it looks like that’s going to come true.
In 2014, Bill Belichick drafted the heir apparent to the Patriot quarterback job, Jimmy Garoppolo from Eastern Illinois. Garoppolo spent three and a half seasons as Brady’s apprentice, while Brady, apparently taking umbrage from Garoppolo’s mere presence and the obvious transition that seemed inevitable, began to take the Patriots to four of six Super Bowls over the next several seasons, winning three of them, and making replacing him impossible.
It is widely held that Bob Kraft ordered Belichick to not replace Brady, but it has never been substantiated or proven who actually gave that directive. But on October 31, 2017, Garoppolo was traded to the San Francisco 49ers for a second round pick. Garoppolo did show some of what he was capable of to start the 2016 season, but a shoulder injury against Miami in Week 2 ended his season and Brady came back from a suspension after Week 5 to end all speculation regarding Garoppolo.
The Patriots more or less made a deal with the devil, as things have played out. Brady became irreplaceable at an age where quarterbacks are borne off to football’s Valhalla. Brady left the Patriots at the end of the 2019 season, and now those three Super Bowls and four appearances seem more like a bad thing and not a good thing. Not that you would want to give back those three Vinces, but moving forward, was holding on to Brady the best thing for the Patriots?
To make matters worse, Brady is thriving in his new environment down in Tampa Bay. Brady’s Buccaneers are now 4-2 after throttling the Las Vegas Raiders, 45-20. His favorite target, Rob Gronkowski, miraculously came out of retirement and joined Brady in Tampa Bay, and Brady is still looking like a young quarterback rather than someone at the end of his career.
Meanwhile, back home in Foxborough, Garoppolo came to town with his new team, a team that lost the Super Bowl last year to Kansas City. Garoppolo finished 20 of 25 passing for 277 yards, and led the 49ers to a 33-6 victory over the suddenly bad Patriots. His passer rating was only 79.5, brought down by no touchdown passes and two harmless interceptions.
It’s not just the quarterback position. The Patriot defense is simply putrid at this point. The 49ers had 467 total yards of offense. For the second straight game, the opposition’s first punt was in the fourth quarter. The 49ers had 197 total team rushing yards. But we will skewer the defense on another day.
This is about the quarterback position. Brady’s lack of being able to be let go at the right time is now coming back to bite the Patriots on the ankle. The Patriots had to keep Brady, whether by order of Kraft or whatever, and they are paying for it. Brady is still Brady, and the Patriots are no longer a force to be reckoned with.
This may be an overreaction, but this is the worst the Patriots have looked since the early 1990s, and perhaps even the early 1970s. The Patriots are on their first three-game losing streak since losing four in a row in 2002, Belichick’s third season with the Patriots. Right now, as currently configured, the Patriots do not look like a team that can contend for a playoff position, and the quarterback position right now may be the biggest problem on a team with tons of problems.
Cam Newton has gone from a one-game wonder (two if you really want to count the Seattle loss) to a beleaguered quarterback that has lost all his confidence. All teams have had to do is to overplay the run and let the Patriots try and beat them with their depleted passing attack. That means shutting down Newton’s rushing ability and all the diversity he was supposed to bring to the Patriot offense. That also means shutting down the effectiveness of Sony Michel (currently injured), Rex Burkhead and Damien Harris. It is working, and will continue to work until the Patriots and Josh McDaniels figure out how to fix what ails them.
It can be said that the Patriots do not have enough material to remain in the upper echelon of NFL teams. Brady had problems last year finding open receivers, even Julian Edelman. But the melancholy fact remains that Newton has very little to throw to downfield. Jacobi Meyers was the leading pass receiver for the Patriots with four catches for 60 yards. Newton did complete a pass to ten different receivers, but eight of them had only one catch.
Would Brady be any better? Wrong question. Would Garoppolo be any better?
You the Patriot fan need to envision what would have happened if, say after the 2016 season, the Patriots trade Brady and install Garoppolo as their starter. After the comeback Brady pulled off in Super Bowl LI, you’d have to have some big cajones to do something like that. By holding on to Brady and taking two more Super Bowl appearances, the Patriots are paying the price.
You can also ask yourself this question: Could Garoppolo have won Super Bowl LIII over the Rams? The score was 13-3 and the Rams offense wasn’t going to have any say in the final outcome. That was a game that didn’t require Brady like the other Super Bowl wins did.
Garoppolo has been criticized by some as being more of a game manager than a great quarterback. He also has taken a lot of heat for blowing a ten-point lead late in Super Bowl LIV against the Chiefs. But if the Patriots still had him and jettisoned Brady four years ago, would things be better for the Patriots in the long haul? Newton may not still be here beyond this season. The Patriots won’t be in a position to draft someone like Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. The problem is for the future, not for this season only.
Garoppolo’s numbers don’t show that he is Superman at quarterback, but he is clearly better than what the Patriots have. Garoppolo was helped greatly by Jeff Wilson and his 112 yards rushing, filling in for the injured Raheem Mostert. Most of his passing yardage went to just three players, Brandon Aiyuk (6-115), Deebo Samuel (5-65) and George Kittle (5-55). But all four 49ers touchdowns were rushing touchdowns, three by Wilson.
But Garoppolo would be a better option right now than Newton or Jarrett Stidham, who mopped up for Newton in the fourth quarter and threw another bad interception in the Red Zone. Because Brady remained irreplaceable as he neared his 40s, it threw Belichick’s quarterback transfer plans out of whack. Brady is doing exactly what he said he would do, and the Patriots wound up paying dearly for it.
Next week at Buffalo, things aren’t likely to get better. The division could be decided already, and it would be the mother of all role reversals. Newton will start, but Buffalo has an elite defense and they now have a great quarterback in Josh Allen.
Newton may continue to look like a rookie out there without help from his supporting cast, but the bigger problem is beyond 2020. But what can you say? With Brady playing lights out in Tampa Bay, the Patriots whiffed on that call, also.
All dynasties end, and they seldom end well. The same can be said for long careers. If you are one of the folks who wish Brady had played his whole career in New England, you may be the sage ones.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary