On Football: With Brady on verge of playoffs, Patriots done
Three AFC East teams won in Week 15 - yes, even the Jets. The Patriots' only defeat was historical.
For the first time since the 2008 season, New England will neither reach the playoffs nor win the division. For the first time since 2000, the opening year of Bill Belichick's reign at Foxborough, the Patriots will run out of victory records.
New England has the NFL's longest postseason episode, 11 seasons, all with a man named Tom Brady at the quarterback. Dallas holds the NFL brand for 20 consecutive seasons with a winning record. Minus Brady, the Patriots are a year behind.
As always, Belichick offered little insight into how a multi-year championship candidate slipped to a 6-8 record. He didn't want to mention that a main reason - and probably the main reason for all of this success in two decades - is now wearing a Buccaneers uniform. And almost certainly Belichick and Company will be missing on the way to the playoffs.
"To win these games we have to do a better job," he said after a 22-12 defeat in Miami that highlighted the problems facing the Patriots in 2020: little talent on the offensive; sketchy defense, especially in coupling situations; a lack of precision; and yes, little cohesion between the guys who wear headsets and those with helmets.
"I have to do a better job and together as employees and as a team we have to perform better."
In essence, the Patriots lost more than their chances of winning when they lost their quarterback. They lost leadership, leadership, big chunks and their mojo. Like Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky, Brady made everyone around him - including the coaches - far better performers. He didn't just do it during the Games, but during the week in preparation. He did it through motivation. He did it with his arm, his head, and his heart.
Nobody says the Patriots have missed their hearts this season; Their narrow wins against Baltimore, Arizona and even the Jets prove their strength. Veterans like Devin McCourty, Stephon Gilmore, and Matthew Slater would never let boredom invade their locker room.
But they also lost to Denver, San Francisco and Houston, all of whom will spend the postseason at home. Without Brady, the responsibility for an often understaffed defense was too high. Without Brady - not to mention Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski - there was no one to reverse the offense. And without Brady, there was very rarely a significant boost from the coaching staff.
'' It felt like we've been watching it all year, whether it's attack, defense, a game, a missed opportunity to defend, a turnover on the offensive, it just doesn't seem to matter, it's just outside our reach. '' McCourty said. "So you end up in the position we are in."
What is that position like when the patriots move forward?
Within the division ruled by Brady there is a new king, the Bills. A team is on the rise in Miami. Both are young and dynamic, well trained - Sean McDermott from Buffalo and Brian Flores from Miami are in discussion for Coach of the Year - and with something New England doesn't have and is allowed to go: likely franchise quarterbacks.
There's also the Super Bowl defending champion Kansas City to the west; an up and coming aspirant from northern Cleveland who joins the resourceful and resilient Pittsburgh and Baltimore; and two teams with solid bases in the south, Tennessee and Indianapolis.
Aside from the Chiefs and Andy Reid, all of them have relatively young head coaches who prove to be successful for a while. Belichick is 68 years old and is facing a major rebuilding project.
And one of the building blocks he has to find is a quarterback. Cam Newton wasn't the answer; not even close. Some observers believe the Patriots will seek an experienced QB to try to restart the offense, perhaps a Matthew Stafford or a Matt Ryan if they become available. Others suggest that Belichick will try to bring one of his previous quarterbacks - no, not the one in Tampa - back in Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett.
New Brady has not had to develop a young starter in the most important offensive position since Brady in his early 20s. That's probably the way to go given the lack of talent on this side of the ball, but does Belichick have the patience and the longevity to go down that route?
Regardless, in a year gambled during a pandemic that hit the Patriots hard, Belichick and his staff may spend January not planning games but re-evaluating them. You might even have time to tune in to see Brady and the Buccaneers make the playoffs.
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