By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — I hate myself for entering this arena. I apologize in advance. But … a little thought entered my head, and I’ve got to scratch the itch.
It involves, shocker of all shockers, the state of the New England Patriots in a post-Tom Brady world. As you surely know by now, it’s ugly. Grisly. Nasty. Shocking, appalling, ghastly, gruesome, and a whole host of other synonyms I could have stolen from Thesaurus.com. You know it.
As such, a “storyline” of sorts — both nationally and locally — has developed, as people have taken this reality and twisted it all sorts of ways. Some folks (not me!) want to use this as some sort of mark against Bill Belichick, like this year is somehow proof that he’s not a great coach and that all of his success is due to Tom Brady. That’s preposterous, but we don’t have time to get into that. (I did that two years ago and NAILED IT, if you care to explore.)
Others, like Shannon Sharpe, have said things like (paraphrasing here), “I don’t know how Tom Brady won 12 games with this offense last year. I need to reevaluate the things I said about Brady last year.” His heart’s in the right place, sure, but Tom Brady didn’t win 12 games last year. The Patriots’ No. 1-ranked defense won a lot of those games last year.
Still, it’s that point that kind of steers me where I’d like to go, and that is here: The dropoff from Tom Brady World to No Tom Brady World in Foxboro has been staggering, and this is the second time we’ve seen it. Incredibly, the dropoff from a 42-year-old Brady is worse than the dropoff from a 30-year-old in-his-prime Brady.
You see, another foolish narrative came about after Matt Cassel and the Patriots went 11-5 in 2008. Some bozos stated that this “success” showed that Brady’s wins were all due to Belichick’s system, which — just like when it’s stated in the opposite way — is stupid. Beyond stupid.
Nevertheless, even though the Patriots lost every game that mattered in 2008, the “11 wins” crew acted like that proved something. (The “11 Winzzz Crew” also neglected to realize that 11 wins represented a FIVE-WIN DROPOFF from the previous season. That’s the equivalent of an 11-win team going 6-10 the next year. Nobody in their right minds would consider that 6-10 team proof of anything except the existence of a bad team. The 2008 people drive me nuts, in case that wasn’t clear.)
In reality, the dropoff from having Brady under center to Cassel under center was steep. Steeper than steep.
Consider that the 2007 Patriots offense was the best in history. Most points ever. Most passing TDs ever. Most receiving TDs for Randy Moss. The whole thing. It was wild stuff, man.
PATRIOTS OFFENSE 2007 NFL RANKINGS
Yards: 1st, 6,580
Points: 1st, 589
Third down efficiency: 2nd, 48.2%
Pass yards per game: 1st, 295.7
Pass TDs: 1st, 50
INTs: 3rd fewest, 9
Sacks: 5th fewest, 21
Passer rating: 1st, 116.0
While the “11 winzzz!” crew looked at 2008 and saw a successful team, here’s how those numbers shifted without Brady slinging pigskins.
PATRIOTS OFFENSE 2008 NFL RANKINGS
Yards: 5th, 5847
Points: 8th, 410
Third down efficiency: 7th, 43.2%
Pass yards per game: 12th, 223.1
Pass TDs: T-12th, 21
INTs: T-5th fewest, 11
Sacks: 5th-most, 48
Passer rating: 7th, 89.1
Basically, despite being surrounded by the best offense in NFL history, Cassel led the Patriots to being … an OK offense. They actually ran much better in 2008 (142.4 yards per game, 21 TDs) than in 2007 (115.6 yards per game, 17 TDs), which often gets lost in the shuffle.
Now, the 2019-20 scenario is very, very different. Tom Brady did not operate the world’s most potent offense last season. Instead it was a hodgepodge mix of undrafted free agents to complement Julian Edelman at wide receiver, with no real tight end to speak of (all due respect to Ben Watson, who had retired already before signing on for work in Foxboro).
As such, Brady’s offense was … not great.
PATRIOTS OFFENSE 2019 NFL RANKINGS
Yards: 15th, 5,664
Points: 7th, 421
Third down efficiency: 17th, 38.3%
Pass yards per game: 8th, 247.6
Pass TDs: 16th, 25
INTs: 11th-fewest, 9
Sacks: T-5th-fewest, 28
Passer rating: T-16th, 88.2
Now, though, the people who thought last year was bad are starting to see the light on what bad actually looks like. With Cam Newton (and an unfortunate sprinkling of Jarrett “Heir To The Throne” Stidham and Brian Hoyer), things have gotten … well …
PATRIOTS OFFENSE 2020 NFL RANKINGS (THROUGH 8 WEEKS)
Yards: 21st, 351.7 per game
Points: 29th, 19.4 per game
Third down efficiency: 23rd, 40.3%
Pass yards per game: 29th, 192.0
Pass TDs: 32nd, 3
INTs: T-2nd-most, 11
Sacks: T-17th, 15
Passer rating: 31st, 67.0
Now, I could point out that Brady’s Buccaneers rank second in points scored with the fourth-most TD passes and the eighth-best passe rating. But that’s not the point. That standing just shows that Tom Brady remains really, really good, despite being ancient for a man at his position. (I think that story has been covered. I’ll probably write it a few more times this year, myself. But not today!) It’s also not to say that the Patriots should have kept Brady, because the offense most likely would have been mediocre again this year, even with Brady.
The point is that we now have two real apples-to-apples type comparisons of what a Patriots offense looks like with and without Tom Brady. And his value is clearer than clear.
From first to eighth in points scored in 07-08, and from seventh to 29th in points scored in 19-20. From first to seventh in passer rating way back when, and from 16th to 31st in passer rating in the current day. From middle-of-the-pack in touchdown passes a year ago to dead last this year, fewer than the winless New York Jets.
That much should have already been obvious, but now with some hard data to back it up, it helps to really put into perspective what Brady was able to do in New England — both in record-setting undefeated regular seasons, and in painful grinds of seasons, like in 2019.
With that, it’s probably time to talk about the latest calamity for the 2020 Patriots. Here are the leftover thoughts from the Patriots’ 24-21 oops-I-fumbled-the-game-away loss in Buffalo.
–You want to talk about Cam? We can talk about Cam.
He had some good throws, like this 16-yarder through the wind to Jakobi Meyers in the first quarter:
And this one, an absolute bullet to Meyers over the middle late in the first half:
This was probably Newton’s best work of the day, but it didn’t count, due to a Joe Thuney hold. Newton stepped up to avoid pressure, kept his eyes up the field, set his feet and delivered a strike to (who else?) Meyers for 17 yards:
He had some elite runs, too. The touchdown run was vintage Cam, and his 19-yard scamper to set up what should have at least been the game-tying field goal was the type of play that only an athlete with Cam’s ability can make.
Physically, there’s still a lot there with Cam.
It’s just … not consistent. At all.
The fumble, obviously, was the biggest gaffe of them all. He did have a couple of misfires, like this one:
But it really wasn’t a bad day for Newton. It’s just that when you fumble the game (and the season) away, that kind of becomes the dominant story. With good reason.
–How’d you like this third-and-12 play call on the opening drive of the football game?
Did you LOVE it? Seemed like everybody loved it. (The “block” by Ryan Izzo was even better than the play call, if you ask me.)
What about third-and-2 in the second quarter? You like inside handoffs against eight-man boxes? Heck yeah.
Could White have popped that to the outside? Maybe, but not really. Inside handoffs with eight defenders in the box are tough to really pull off with success.
–Is this the worst defensive play in Patriots history? Many people are saying it might be.
That was very “Patriots at Broncos 2005ish” if you ask me. Are Chad Brown, Duane Starks and Monty Beisel in on that tackle???
–I’m not going to lie, I missed this one myself. But my eagle-eyed friend Phil Perry didn’t miss it.
Patriots defense got caught with 10 players on the field on the first play of the second half.
Confusion from Adrian Phillips. Looking to the sideline for help. You can see Josh Uche running onto the field late. He actually makes the tackle basically sprinting from the sideline. pic.twitter.com/idQBmnPSkT
— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) November 2, 2020
The Patriots had 10 players on the field last week on a completion to George Kittle. They had to waste a bunch of timeouts vs. the Raiders earlier this year because they didn’t have the right personnel in the right place several times.
This is … not characteristic of a Belichick-coached team. Nor are the turnovers on offense. While the quarterback change gets the most attention (we are a QB-obsessed nation, you know), there’s quite a bit that’s just out of whack this year.
We’re obviously not privy as to who might be responsible for such mishaps, but with Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick serving as the mystery headset guys, it looks like they’re having some major in-game issues this season — a far cry from last year, when the defense was the best in the league.
With it now being November, the whole “no preseason/shortened offseason” excuse doesn’t really fly. It’s gotta get cleaned up.
–Some ball carriers in the open field do their best to avoid contact. Other ball carriers in the open field are named Kaleb Gunner Olszewski.
Maybe it’s because of his history as a defensive back. Or maybe it’s just because he is Kaleb Gunner Olszewski. But that young man loves to find contact.
–Two very athletic plays stood out from John Simon and Josh Uche. I feel like maybe people underestimate how hard it is to do what Simon did here, where he maintained some pressure on Josh Allen while still staying between the QB and the receiver, really just by kind of feeling where the receiver is by reading the QB’s eyes. Batting the pass down is a nice exclamation point on a very athletic play:
The rookie Uche faced a legitimate challenge when he was in a 1-on-1 situation in the open field with Allen on a third-and-8. Uche didn’t bite on the pump fake or the juke. He made the stop and made it look easy:
–Cam Newton got into some carrrr crashes on Sunday. This one might have been the roughest:
(You’ll notice he has the ball in his left arm and pins it high and tight as he approaches contact. That was not the case later when he coughed it up while running to the left side.)
Speaking of Cam in a car crash, he certainly signed up for one here. (VIEWER WARNING: This play rocks)
Cam popped right back up after absorbing that linebacker to the abdomen, and he delivered this pass on the next snap out of the hurry-up:
That was pretty good.
–I need to find out whom Drew Bledsoe did dirty in order for THIS to be the image used of him during the broadcast:
That’s just not right. Drew McQueen Bledsoe is a handsome guy. He looks like a frat boy who just woke up from a bender. Come on with that thing. It ain’t right!
–This hit knocked the wind out of ME … and I was watching on television:
Playing football seems very sweet sometimes, but most times it seems very lousy, if we are being honest with one another.
–At least the Patriots have a Monday night date with the Jets next week? That’s cool, right? No? OK. Yeah. Things are grim right now. And that is that.