By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
The advantage of a dictatorship, if such a thing can be stated, comes in the clarity. One person makes the decisions. One person takes the credit. And, in this case, one person gets the blame.
And so, in the longstanding matter of Coach or Quarterback, the answer is growing clearer by the day, at least to the masses, whether there is nuance or not. Tom Brady and the surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 5-2 while the crumbling New England Patriots are 2-4, though that is just part of the story. The more disturbing part is how the Bucs are winning and how the Patriots are losing, the latter of which is drawing a rather unsightly scene in Foxboro.
Simply put, the Patriots look slow, soft and woefully ill-prepared, which can’t help but bring one to a conclusion that Brady camp came to long ago.
It was never Belichick the coach who covered for Belichick the GM.
It was Brady the QB.
An overly simplistic conclusion? Perhaps. Sure. Yes. But even Belichick knows that only the bottom line matters in the NFL, and the bottom line leads us to this:
The last time the Patriots were 2-4 after six games was in 2000, which just so happens to be the last time they played an entire season without Tom Brady as the starting quarterback.
It is what it is.
“We were clearly out-coached, outplayed, just out-everything,” a candid Belichick said yesterday after the carnage, a 33-6 loss to the San Francisco 49ers that wasn’t remotely so close. “So we need to just keep working here and find a way to just do everything better. We’re just not performing at a good level right now in any area. So that’s across the board. We just got to get back to work and keep working and find a way to play better than we played tonight and coach better than we coached tonight. So really there’s not much else to say about it.”
Well, yes and no. In a general sense, Belichick is right. But we all know that Belichick is a stickler for details, where the devil usually resides.
Fact: The Patriots turned the ball over four more times yesterday, bringing their season total to 14, tied for second-most in the league. They could have had more had they not recovered two of their own fumbles. They have thrown a league-leading 12 interceptions.
Fact: The Patriots allowed the 49ers to rush for 197 yards and four touchdowns on 37 carries, an average of 5.3 yards per rush that should have nothing to do with who plays quarterback.
Fact: The Patriots seem woefully short on talent, particularly in the area of skill players on offense, and the kindling in their dumpster fire of a season is a collection of high-draft picks, from Sony Michel to N’Keal Harry and beyond.
All of this brings us back to Belichick, who has been called everything from a mastermind and genius to a puppet master and manipulator during his 20 years in Foxboro. Many of those titles were well-earned. But what Belichick looks like now is a man who has badly overplayed his hand at quarterback and everywhere else, a man whose arrogance has clouded his judgment and, now, his ability to lead.
If we’re being fair, Belichick never wanted to be in this position. He had a succession plan in place for Brady, whether Jimmy Garoppolo was the answer or not. But this really is about so much more than that, a management mistake that goes to the highest levels of the Patriots organization. Owner Robert Kraft was more committed to Brady than Brady was to him, and Kraft and Belichick both underestimated what Brady meant to the fabric of the Patriots. To think that the Patriots could just pluck another quarterback out of the draft or off the scrap heap was the most arrogant of premises, a dangerous game to play at the most important position in sports.
Again, think about it: in the span of two years, the Patriots let go of Brady, Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett for a second-round pick, a compensatory selection in next spring’s 2021 draft and castoff wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. That is so colossally bad that it cannot be stated enough.
And then, during a free-agent season featuring more quarterback options than ever before, the Patriots opted for the last item on the discount rack, a quarterback whom many believed was damaged beyond repair. Unlike the Denver game, Cam Newton had a full week of practice this time. To call his performance awful would be a gross understatement. Newton’s passer rating yesterday was 37.9, a number that Brady had not posted in any Patriots game with at least 15 pass attempts (Newton’s total yesterday) since 2006.
In the end, of course, those are just numbers. What we can say now, without any doubt, is that numbers may have been the least of what Brady gave the Patriots during his 20-year career here. Brady’s numbers were lackluster in 2019, after all, but the Patriots still won 12 games because Brady did not make mistakes, at least not to the degree Newton does, even in an unhappy state. And his teammates believed in their quarterback, even if they did so less than years prior, which is something the Patriots desperately lack now, something they desperately need: a quarterback that people can believe in.
Is it over? No. At least not in the long term. Belichick has been an excellent coach throughout his career, with or without Brady, though the former is obviously far more accomplished than the latter. But what the Patriots underestimated, from Belichick on up, is that players believe in players, play for each other, play for the quarterback more than their coach. And the Patriots now have neither a quarterback nor any real plan to get one, though that is just merely the first item on a long list of deficiencies.
The Patriots stink right now, folks.
And on a day like today, well, we all know who to blame.