The Patriots’ season has been a hot mess so far, a polar opposite of what we are seeing from Tom Brady in Tampa Bay.
The Patriots got off to a great start in their 2020 campaign, soundly defeating the Miami Dolphins, who have turned out to be a reasonably good team. On the other hand, the Buccaneers started off their season with Tom Brady throwing two interceptions and the Saints silencing Tampa Bay 34-23. Fast forward to the end of October, and as Michael Scott once said, “Well, well, well, how the turntables…”
The Bucs are atop the NFC South; meanwhile, the Patriots find themselves in third place and two games below .500.
Besides being 2-4, New England has some other impressive statistics that indicate their lackluster performance:
- They had consecutive regular season home losses for the first time since 2008.
- They are on a three-game losing streak for the first time since 2002.
- Their 2-4 record is their worst through six games since the 2000 season.
- Their 27-point thrashing from San Francisco is the worst home loss since 1998.
Now, I’m not trying to be depressing, just stating the facts. These facts have a trend to them, as well. In 2008, Tom Brady played one series all year; he tore up his knee in the opener. 2002 was Tom Brady’s first full season as the starter. The 2000 season featured Drew Bledsoe as the starter, and Tom Brady threw just three balls the entire year. In 1998, Tom Brady was attending the University of Michigan.
I don’t think I can spell it out more clearly. New England is entering these uncharted waters because they lost Tom Brady. Yes, they still have Bill Belichick, the greatest coach of all time, but that doesn’t seem to be doing much good this year.
I’m not the only one being critical of New England this year. Rodney Harrison was asked by Mike Tirico on NBC’s Football Night in America, “What do you take away from where the Patriots are right now through seven weeks of the season?” and Harrison responded by saying, “Well, they’re really bad, Mike.”
When the Patriots lost to Denver, we gave New England the benefit of the doubt. They had a COVID scare, weren’t able to practice, and Cam Newton was just coming back. After the loss to San Francisco, we can see that a full week of practice made no difference. The 2020 New England Patriots are making mistakes that we haven’t seen over the previous 20 years.
Halfway through the third quarter, San Francisco’s offense was facing a third down. The 49ers ran a pick play to get Brandon Aiyuk open for 35 yards. However, it wasn’t the pick that sprung Aiyuk wide open — it was an error by the New England defense. Both Jason McCourty and Jon Jones covered Kendrick Bourne. As Romo said on the broadcast, the defensive backs should be communicating before the snap and switching once the pick is made; that didn’t happen, and the 49ers picked up a chunk play on third down. These are uncharacteristic errors made by New England. They are beating themselves, and this play is a microcosm of their season.
It is time to assign blame for the Patriots’ failure, and head coach Bill Belichick should take on most of it.
Fans are quick to point out the lackluster roster that the Patriots are fielding on offense. An injured Julian Edelman totes the No. 1 receiver role. N’Keal Harry and Daimere Byrd are the primary outside receivers, and Jakobi Meyers fills in when necessary. So what can you expect Cam Newton to do with this bunch? Well, didn’t Tom Brady lead this group (minus Byrd, but add in Dorsett) to a record of 12-4 last year, winning the division?
If you aren’t satisfied with New England’s roster, isn’t the man to blame Bill Belichick? He is a de facto general manager in New England. Sure, Nick Caserio is director of player personnel, but Belichick is still higher on the chain of command when it comes to decisions about the roster. Speaking of roster decisions, the lack of 2020 offensive talent dates back several years prior.
In 2017, it was well noted that Bill Belichick wanted to move on from Tom Brady and feature his second-round draft choice of 2014, prodigy Jimmy Garoppolo. Robert Kraft came to Tom Brady’s defense and vetoed Belichick’s proposed roster change. Garoppolo was traded for a second-round pick to San Francisco, and Brady went on to throw for 505 yards in Super Bowl LII, and then win Super Bowl LIII. Kraft made the right choice. However, saying “no” to Bill Belichick did not come without its consequences.
Brandin Cooks joined the team in 2017, at the time when Belichick wanted to go with Garoppolo by season’s end. Cooks would be Jimmy G’s go-to guy in the years to come; Bill was planning ahead. However, when his Garoppolo move was canceled, Bill sent Cooks packing to Los Angeles.
We’re left with no replacement for Cooks, no substitute for Danny Amendola (who left after 2017), and then add in Belichick’s planned trade of Rob Gronkowski that offseason until the bulky tight end threatened to retire. Robert Kraft’s move of coming to Brady’s defense had lasting effects. Heading into the 2018 season, Belichick also used a first-round pick on a running back who tore his ACL in high school, then continued to have knee issues at Georgia in Sony Michel.
To make matters worse, Julian Edelman was gone for the first four weeks of the 2018 season, and his replacement was also ~no one~. However, Tom Brady prevailed and ended up winning the Super Bowl that season. Now, the man that Belichick was forced to trade went into Foxborough last Sunday and handed his former coach an embarrassing loss.
Meanwhile, down in Tampa Bay, things seem to be looking up for the 43-year-old quarterback. He has his highest passer rating in a season since his 2017 MVP year and his highest touchdown percentage on passes thrown since his 2010 MVP year. Fans are quick to point out his embarrassment of riches featuring Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Gronkowski himself. However, Evans and Godwin have been injured most of the year, Gronk was “washed” a few weeks ago, and the Bucs’ leading receiver in terms of yardage is Scotty Miller. Have you heard of him before this year?
Before people cry out that Brady wouldn’t have made a difference for the 2020 Patriots, think again. Perhaps they would be 4-2 with Brady instead of 2-4. Furthermore, maybe they would be Super Bowl contenders, too, if Belichick gave the offense more talent instead of less. I’m not saying they need an Antonio Brown-type player on their team, although that would help, but there is a middle ground between Mohamed Sanu and AB that Belichick could’ve brought in to help Tom Brady.
New England has had their rough spells before, but those games are usually followed by an “Onto Cincinnati” performance. We saw it in 2014 against the Bengals, we saw it in 2018 against Miami, but I don’t think we will see it this year from the Pats. It is onto Buffalo, and that is no longer the easy task it once was.
So maybe the Patriots can’t buckle up their chin strap and say, “We’re the New England Patriots, we will win.” The system that we saw work for two decades is broken. Or, more realistically, the system just ventured 1,300 miles down south to Tampa Bay.