With just one day until game day, here are some thoughts as we finish out this week before Sunday’s showdown against the Cleveland Browns.
1) The suggestion by Adam Schefter this week regarding the future of Tom Brady reignited the speculation of the status of the quarterback beyond this season, which has dominated the airwaves for most of the past few days.
If you haven’t followed this story, Schefter believes that 2019 could be Brady’s final year in a Patriots uniform and he believes that even if Brady doesn’t opt to retire after this year, his era as the signal-caller in New England may be over and he won’t be back in a Patriots uniform next season.
That’s obviously difficult to even fathom given that the vast majority of the younger fan base doesn’t know this Patriots team any other way. Brady changed the arc of this franchise since he took over as the starter in 2001 and he’s spent every season ever since rewriting both the history and record books for both the team and the NFL with every performance.
But for anyone who has followed Brady throughout his career, it’s obvious that the past few seasons have been more taxing than most. The ESPN report from two seasons ago regarding a rift internally between Brady and Bill Belichick seemed far-fetched initially but there ended up being a little more truth to it than many ultimately thought. One part of the report suggested Brady didn’t feel appreciated, which the quarterback later said, “I plead the fifth” when asked during an interview with Jim Gray when asked if he truly felt that way.
Winning a Super Bowl the following year seemed to cure that problem and it all appeared to die down. However, a lot of that same discussion started again when we found out that the extension he reportedly agreed to this past offseason suddenly left the door open for him to not be here past the end of this year, along with the fact his house was – and still is – up for sale.
It’s easy to dismiss it, but when you fast-forward back to where we are now, it’s hard not to wonder why Schefter felt the need to both bring it up again and continue to push this narrative. He’s a smart guy and one of the most reputable in the business, so it feels like there’s more to this than what he’s letting on.
Let’s be a little honest, it’s clear that things are still far from perfect with Brady. Watching him this season, it feels like it’s been more of a grind for him than in past years. He’s had to work for every pass and every play, with very little coming easy. That’s largely due to the injury situation on offense, along with the fact that the Antonio Brown acquisition imploded and ruined an unbelievable opportunity for the two to tear up the opposition in a season where their defense has been playing at a historic level.
Since that all went south, he’s made no secret that he’s been a little frustrated with their personnel situation on offense. If you’ve watched him closely over the past few games, he’s had to hold the ball until the last second and he’s taken a few tough hits where he’s gotten up a bit gingerly on multiple occasions.
It’s entirely possible that the fact they’re as thin as they’ve been personnel-wise offensively has been wearing on him. Right now, it seems like it’s just not fun. They’re winning, but it’s clearly been a grind. They’ve had trouble running the football and it’s made things more difficult on the passing game, which probably would have been far less productive with anyone other than Brady under center. Yet Brady, as usual, has done a terrific job making the most of what he’s had to work with. Honestly, the odds of anyone else being able to lead this club to 7-0 with this group is probably pretty unlikely.
Maybe the addition of Mohamed Sanu will solve some of it and things will finally kick into gear. Sanu isn’t anywhere near as dynamic or explosive as Brown, but he’s an impact player who has been reliable and should become someone teams will need to account for. That should open things up for guys like Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett and Jakobi Meyers to hopefully be even a little more effective. N’Keal Harry showed plenty of explosiveness during training camp and his addition in a couple of weeks coming back from IR may also be another boost to an offense that needs all the help they can get right now.
Things tend to change from October to December and maybe by then, Brady will start enjoying this run a little more than he seems to right now. Who knows, it’s entirely possible that winning his seventh title could be enough to make him call it a career. After all, winning seven championships would further cement him as the best ever and it could make him decide he’s done putting his body at risk with nothing left to prove. But the thought of him playing elsewhere seems too hard to imagine. With a lot of football still ahead, fans should realize that the end of an era could be coming, so it’s important to at least try and enjoy every moment before it’s over.
White remains the X-Factor in the Patriots offense.
2) Given all the discussion that has centered around the offense, it was interesting comparing Brady’s numbers through seven games last year against where he’s at so far this season.
Considering a lot of the talk about their seemingly poor lack of production in the passing game, Brady’s actually thrown for more yards at this point this season (1992-yards) than he had in 2018 (1876-yards) and has fewer interceptions. He had 7 at this point last year, compared to the 4 he has currently.
But one of the things that stands out right now is the discrepancy when it comes to his number of touchdown passes, which totaled 16 at this point last year compared to his current total of 11. The most staggering difference is in the red zone, which has Brady currently with 4 touchdowns compared to the 12 he had at this point last season.
Many will likely attribute this to the absence of Rob Gronkowski, but if you remember, Gronk wasn’t a scoring machine early last season. In fact, Gronk had just one touchdown through 7 games last season, and just one target (an incompletion) down in the red zone.
At this point last year it was actually James White who led the team in both targets (61) and receptions (45) along with a team-high 6 touchdowns. So far in 2019, he has 38 receptions and one touchdown but he’s been the most targeted receiver inside scoring territory, with Brady connecting on 10-of-11 throws.
While the tight end position has been a problem, it will be interesting to see down the stretch how they may start to do some things to open things up and create some spacing to put up more points. But despite some of the takes we’ve heard on this topic, it’s interesting looking at the totals and seeing how big of an x-factor White continues to be. White’s contributions this season have been quietly consistent, which is probably the best way to describe him.
We know that if history is any indication, the offense will be quite different two months from now. We’ll see how White factors into the changes we’ll likely see over that span and it should make this team fun to watch during the final months of the season.
The news on Gordon was surprising, but not shocking
3) The news of Josh Gordon heading to injured reserve was sort of a surprise but the designation that he would be free to seek employment elsewhere certainly caught many people off guard, especially given everything the Patriots invested into him. However, looking back at how things have been the last few weeks, it may ultimately end up being the right move.
Gordon started off fairly strong to begin the season but as the weeks have progressed, there were signs that not all was well with the veteran receiver. If you watch quite a few of Gordon’s receptions, each time he was brought down hard, he seemed slow to get up and looked like a player who was grinding out each play and really didn’t even want to be out there.
That was a stark contrast from a year ago when he first got here and even going back to Week 1, so it was obvious that something wasn’t right. Not to mention that the two weren’t connecting consistently this season, with Brady hitting Gordon on just 20-of-36 attempts (56%), one of the lowest completion rates with Brady this season among his receivers.
It’s possible that Gordon was dealing with an injury prior to the one he suffered in his final game, which looked both scary and painful. But whatever the reason, he was trending in the wrong direction. That was bad news for a team that’s been in desperate need of turning things around offensively and they made the tough call to turn the page with 9 games left to play.
It’s disappointing but given the physical similarities with Sanu and his style of play, hopefully, the Patriots can make up Gordon’s production. Many people here were rooting for Gordon’s success and you definitely can say the Patriots gave him every opportunity to be successful. Unfortunately, sometimes no matter how hard you’d like them to, things just don’t work out and that appears to be what happened Gordon’s case.
Garopplo and the 49ers are unbeaten so far.
4) What’s happening in San Francisco is hard to ignore and as crazy as it sounds, it’s potentially setting Brady up with a collision course for a Super Bowl showdown against Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers in Miami. Many seem to feel like this would be a terrific match-up, but thinking about it further, it’s not as ideal as people may think.
Most likely remember the debate that raged on when Belichick sent Garoppolo to the west coast and continued on with Brady. Quite a few people were surprisingly split on the move, with a fair amount of them disappointed that the Patriots didn’t figure out a way to either keep Garoppolo around a little longer, or potentially trade Brady.
Well, imagine a situation where Brady faces Garoppolo in the Super Bowl and, heaven forbid, loses to him.
If the Patriots were to be undefeated and it went down that way, that scenario becomes an even bigger nightmare.
It would likely reignite that debate and, if Brady were to walk away, would obviously be one of the most disappointing ways for his career as a Patriot to potentially end.
It’s funny, looking at this situation a few years ago when Brady’s future was being discussed while Garoppolo was still here, Brady to San Francisco was one scenario that made some sense. Given that the possibility of Brady possibly not finishing his career in New England had come up previously, if Brady had left, the logical move would have been for him to go to the 49ers, who he grew up rooting for in his hometown of San Mateo, California. Back then, San Francisco was in dire need of a quarterback and didn’t seem close to solving that situation. The team certainly had enough talent to be much better than they were, but they lacked a viable quarterback.
As frustrating as that would have been here, it would have at least allowed Brady to finish his career in his hometown and it seemed like the perfect fit. Instead, when Belichick sent Garoppolo there, it essentially blew up that scenario. It eliminated that possibility for Brady and got the back-up quarterback out of the conference. It worked out since the Patriots have added two championships and appear poised for a third, but if Brady is thinking about a campaign elsewhere, looking around the league, there’s not really a place that would make sense for him to attempt to end his career the way Peyton Manning did.
With the way things currently stand, both Los Angeles teams have quarterbacks and the lesser of the two, the Chargers, even with Brady, definitely aren’t good enough collectively to win a title. Tennessee might make sense due to his relationship with head coach and former teammate Mike Vrabel, but it’s a risky move because they haven’t even really been consistent on defense.
Chicago or Tampa Bay could use a quarterback change, or possibly even Detroit if Matt Patricia decides to move Matt Stafford for a draft pick and roll the dice for a season or two with Brady. But each of the destinations mentioned are anything less than ideal for Brady to put himself through that to possibly tarnish his legacy elsewhere.
Whether or not any of this is/was ever even a possibility is tough to say, but it’s hard not to wonder if Brady’s NFL future would be further in doubt heading into the end of this season if that opportunity was still available. Instead, Garoppolo being shipped there eliminated that potential vacancy and the further idea that he could be the one to rob Brady of his seventh ring is scary to think about.
Needless to say, it’s O.K. to root for Garoppolo to lead his team to the postseason and win a game. However, rooting for him to make it to Miami might be a different story. Hopefully, it will be a seventh ring that allows Brady to go out on his own terms and if an undefeated season is also part of that story, even better.
But losing to Garopplo and spoiling both? Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.