By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — I’ll keep this brief, because … are you kidding me?
Perhaps you are, if “you” in this instance are a Boston sports radio yakker or just a person on Twitter or really anybody alive who wants to relitigate whether the trade of Jimmy Garoppolo was a good or bad thing for the New England Patriots.
Rather than ramble, let’s get right to it.
Were the Patriots right to keep Tom Brady and trade Jimmy Garoppolo?
Y. E. S.
OK, story over, thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.
Fine, I’ll expound.
Of course, with the Patriots’ long-term quarterback situation being a bit of a mystery at the moment, it would be easy to say that the Patriots would be much better off if the ever-handsome James Richard Garoppolo was under contract in New England for the next five years. Technically, that may end up being true.
But to look solely at that matter is to overlook some fairly important details.
Such as … making back-to-back Super Bowls with Tom Brady at quarterback.
Such as winning one of those Super Bowls, and only losing the other one because of a mystifying decision to bench a top defensive back who only would have needed to make one tackle in order for the outcome to have turned out differently.
Obviously, following this team in this market is different than following every other team in every other market. A ridiculous — and I mean ridiculous — run of success spread out over two decades tends to warp perspectives on what is normal and what is not normal. As such, a sixth Super Bowl victory for the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick duo can be brushed aside as “just one title” or some other absolutely foolish descriptor.
Just look down in Tampa, with Brady’s new team. That franchise absolutely smells (respectfully) and has smelled for some time. Yet when you walk in the door, what do you see? A big shiny picture with a big fat Lombardi Trophy right in the middle of it:
Brady is in the building 🤩 pic.twitter.com/ujcPCKjuXd
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) July 27, 2020
The Bucs won that Super Bowl at the end of the 2002 season. The Bucs have made it to the playoffs just twice in the 16 seasons that followed, losing their only two playoff games in that span. They haven’t even made the playoffs since 2007, which … (checks calendar) … yes, confirmed, was a long time ago.
Yet the Tampa Bay Buccaneers still cherish that one Super Bowl victory from 18 years ago because SUPER BOWL VICTORIES ARE RARE AND ARE WORTH CHERISHING.
The New York Jets and the bulk of their fanbase would probably be willing to sacrifice at least one limb (maybe two) for a shot at winning a Super Bowl, as that moribund franchise hasn’t even played in a Super Bowl since 1968. Ask a Jets fan if a trade that preceded back-to-back Super Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl victory was a bad one, and he’ll probably throw fists.
At least the Jets have a Super Bowl trophy in a display case somewhere in Florham Park, though. The Bengals, the poor Bills, the Browns, the Cardinals, the Chargers, the Falcons, the Jaguars, the Lions, the Panthers, the Texans, the Titans and the Vikings have never won a Super Bowl. Ever. That’s 37.5 percent of the 32-team league. Of those 12 teams, four of them have never even played in a Super Bowl.
That’s just one reminder that WINNING A SUPER BOWL IS RARE AND IS WORTH CHERISHING.
The Packers — maybe the most stories franchise in the NFL — has won exactly one championship since Belichick started rewriting history in New England. They’ve only played in three Super Bowls since 1967, winning two of them. That’s the GREEN BAY PACKERS we’re talking about.
The Steelers — the league’s other superpower — have played in four Super Bowls since 1980, winning two.
Now we’re really going to sit here and gripe about something after the Patriots made back-to-back Super Bowls and won the last one, to cap off a stretch of making four Super Bowls in five years and winning three of them?
Stop it. Please.
Would the Patriots have made the Super Bowl in 2017 without Tom Brady? No, they would not have made the Super Bowl in 2017 without Tom Brady. The greatest postseason quarterback of all time had the greatest postseason of his career that year, throwing for 337 yards with three touchdowns and no picks vs. the Titans in the divisional round before throwing for 290 yards and two touchdowns against the Jaguars’ top-ranked defense in the conference championship before setting a Super Bowl record with 505 yards and three touchdowns (no picks) in the Super Bowl loss to Philly.
But maybe that year is moot in terms of the Garoppolo trade, as the team could have kept Garoppolo that year and moved on from Brady in the offseason.
Here’s a news flash for everyone: IT IS A GOOD THING THAT THE PATRIOTS DID NOT MOVE ON FROM TOM BRADY IN THE OFFSEASON. BECAUSE HE WENT OUT AND WON A SUPER BOWL.
Sure, the Patriots’ adaptation of a run-heavy attack late in the year was the main offensive driver toward that championship. No doubt about it, the run game was important.
But the low-scoring Super Bowl vs. the Rams tend to cloud the memories of everyone who witnessed Brady complete over 77 percent of his passes while throwing for 343 yards and a touchdown vs. the Chargers (who were GOOD) in the divisional round. And somehow, some way, just because Brady didn’t rack up a thousand touchdown passes and threw one admittedly grisly pick in the end zone, his unbelievable performance in a frigid Kansas City somehow gets forgotten.
After the Chiefs took a 21-17 lead in the middle of the fourth quarter, Brady completed 11 of his 19 passes for 137 yards, including three separate completions on third-and-10 in overtime to suck the souls out of the favored Chiefs.
The third one was pretty nice.
That was the type of performance that would be held up as a legendary moment for any other sports city. Oil paintings of Brady tossing his helmet in elation would be commissioned. Statues would be built. Murals would adorn sports bar walls.
And instead of remembering Super Bowl LIII as a “boring” game with no offense, the same glorification of a picture-perfect game-winning pass from two of the greatest of all times would probably get some better treatment in terms of memorializing the moment.
People don’t celebrate like that in New England, though. Not anymore. The shock/surprise/elation of winning a championship deadened a bit over the years. Really, that’s only natural when it happens as often as it did from 2001-18. It’s nobody’s fault.
So in New England, it was only a matter of time before we had to “debate” whether the Patriots should have kept Jimmy Garoppolo.
You understand this is madness, yes?
Even leaving aside Brady’s post-Garoppolo-trade accomplishments (which is a stupid thing to do, but I’ll play along), it’s not as if Garoppolo has lit the world on fire. He’s been … fine. Sure, he’s won a ton, as evidenced by that 25-8 career record as a starting quarterback (playoffs included).
But when Garoppolo first started his winning ways in San Francisco, he threw six touchdowns and five picks in his five starts. He was 1-2 as a starter in 2018, completing under 60 percent of his passes while throwing five picks and three INTs. On a team without a ton of offensive talent, Garoppolo unsurprisingly didn’t exactly shine before suffering his torn ACL.
Then came 2019. Garoppolo “went” 13-3 in the regular season and 2-1 in the playoffs. He was not bad. But he was not the engineer of that team by any stretch. The Niners ranked second in the NFL in rushing yards and first in rushing touchdowns. The Niners’ defense was suffocating, ranking second in total yards allowed while boasting the league’s No. 1 pass defense. Offensively, Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman combined for 1,939 rushing yards and 15 rushing TDs. George Kittle emerged as the best all-around tight end in the NFL. Rookie receiver Deebo Samuel was a huge hit for GM John Lynch. Emmanuel Sanders turned back the clock.
Long story short, the 49ers were loaded. They didn’t really need Garoppolo to be great. He had one great regular-season game (317 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs at the 5-10-1 Cardinals) and three above-average regular-season games (at New Orleans, at Cincinnati, and another one against the Cardinals). And come playoff time? They didn’t even let the man throw the ball.
Garoppolo was 11-for-19 in the divisional round before going a ridiculous 6-for-8 (SIX FOR EIGHT!) in the conference championship.
When they finally needed Garoppolo to lift them with his arm, he went 3-for-11 for 36 yards with an interception and a fourth-down sack to lose the Super Bowl.
Garoppolo? He’s fine. But nobody should make him out to be anything more than a scruffy, more handsome version of Kirk Cousins. Both men are absurdly rich for being … OK at quarterbacking.
For anyone bemoaning the Patriots not having Jimmy Garoppolo right now, I ask you this: Do you wish Kirk Cousins was the Patriots' quarterback?
Jimmy G. vs. Kirk Cousins, 2017-20, and 2019-20.
Jimmy is Cousins. Cousins is Jimmy. Einhorn is Finkle. Finkle is Einhorn! pic.twitter.com/lYKKKE0PBw
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) October 22, 2020
It’s a “story” this week because Garoppolo is visiting Foxboro, Brady is gone, the Brady succession plan was very bad before the Pats lucked into Cam Newton, and Newton is now struggling. Got it. OK.
But instead of measuring whether the Patriots were smart to keep the greatest quarterback ever and win a Super Bowl, some better questions would be whether the Patriots were smart to slowly erode on offense, forcing Brady to throw passes to Ryan Izzo, Matt LaCosse, Mohamed Sanu, a too-old Ben Watson, and undrafted rookies Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski in 2019. A better question might be whether the Patriots were wise to essentially spend two years nudging Brady toward the exit, ultimately failing to even try to re-sign him for 2020 or make a late push once free agency actually began.
The way that Tom Brady is playing down in Tampa, with a handful of highly gifted offensive weapons and an organization eager to shape itself around Brady’s unparalleled championship drive, it surely is an indication that the quarterback has plenty of NFL life left. While “on pace” stats rarely — if ever — line up with eventual reality, it’s nevertheless worth noting that Brady is on pace to throw 13 more touchdowns than he did a year ago. His completion rate has gone up 3.3 percentage points, and his passer rating has jumped by a tick under 10 points.
The man can still sling the pigskin. The fact that he’s no longer doing it for the Patriots has just about nothing to do with Jimmy Garoppolo and his million dollar smile.
Questions of mishandling the end of the GOAT’s career in New England are more apt in this situation. Likewise, questions about how in the world a Patriots succession plan of Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer was in the cards until Cam Newton fell into their lap ought to be asked. But whether the team failed by getting rid of Jimmy Garoppolo? Come on. If the Patriots turn into every other football team and go a long time without winning another championship, that question will only look more foolish as time goes on.
Perhaps that’s too nuanced of a take in a market like this during a week like this, when many observers are getting a little ticked off at the 2-3 Patriots. But it shouldn’t be. Unless you want to give this back.
Didn’t think so.
OK. Maybe I didn’t quite keep that one short. That’s my bad. But no, keeping Tom Brady and moving on from Jimmy Garoppolo is not really much of a debate point. Acting like it is worth debating is nothing more than participating in intentional acts of bozoism.
I thank you for your time.