By Jason Keidel
You never hope for harm, even among the enemy. So even the most ardent Patriots hater doesn’t wish any ailment upon Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett.
But, both did get hurt during their celebrated cameos as quarterback of the most celebrated franchise in the NFL. They acquitted themselves very well, leading the Pats to a 3-0 record. However, it was the fourth game that finally and forever dismissed a most silly assertion.
That the New England Patriots are the same team sans Tom Brady.
Armed with our Ph.D in Monday Morning Quarterbacking, we rush to the front of the line with fresh takes on the young NFL season. After four weeks, we’re ready to crown one team a champion, fire a few head coaches, and bench a few QBs.
But our opinions quickly descend from fresh to foolish. And there’s no greater gibberish than the notion that the Patriots are simply a system team, that their selfless, corporate coda allows for any level of talent. And that, by extension, the quarterback is an interchangeable part of a Teflon, gridiron machine.
Their selflessness makes them more able than most to overcome injury or adversity. It allows them to move like-minded players to various positions. It makes them playoff contenders every season.
But without Tom Brady, the Patriots aren’t the emblem of NFL success over the last 16 years. Without Tom Brady, they don’t reach six Super Bowls. Without Tom Brady, they don’t win four of them.
And unlike his wounded backups, Brady is more than healthy. He’s rested. He’s hungry. And he’s back.
And we can dispense with that utter gibberish that has lingered like a rancid cloud over the airwaves, and embrace reality. The Pats are a Super Bowl team this week, and were not last week.
We can (and often have) recycle the jokes about Rex Ryan. Especially those of us who were closely acquainted with his time as Jets coach, when he was at his burly, bombastic best.
Even with his neck inches from the vocational guillotine, he still found time to jump on a conference call with Julian Edelman, posing as a local reporter.
But Ryan, it turns out, isn’t quite the football genius that he or his late father would have us believe. At least not enough of one to shut out the New England Patriots, at New England, their first such loss since 1993.
That doesn’t happen with Tom Brady under center. It happens with Jacoby Brissett. It happens with Jimmy Garoppolo, who may have Brady’s broad shoulders and Hollywood cheekbones, but it takes more than three wins to wrench a four-time Super Bowl champion from his perch. You can indeed lose your job to injury. But not to stupidity.
Sure, the Pats had won seven straight without Brady, but those games were scattered over years, and only proves Bill Belichick is a great coach who can improvise, and build a game plan around the contours of his current quarterback.
With a few exceptions – Joe Gibbs won a Super Bowl with three different quarterbacks, and Bill Parcells won with Jeff Hostetler – a coach’s career hangs on the coattails of his quarterback.
When you mention iconic coaches, you name his quarterback before you get to the coach’s last name. Walsh had Montana. Noll had Bradshaw. Landry had Staubach. Johnson had Aikman. And Belichick has Tom Brady.
Seattle was a .500 club before they got Russell Wilson. Now they have their mail forwarded to January. Green Bay isn’t a perennial contender because the Super Bowl trophy is named after their former coach. They win because their last two quarterbacks have been Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre, and Aaron Rodgers, who will have a bronze bust next to Favre in about ten years.
We know the exceptions to the QB coda – ’85 Bears, 2000 Ravens, last year’s Broncos – but now, more than ever, the game pivots on the play of your quarterback.
It’s hard for us west of Rhode Island to like the Patriots. They are run by a smug, sarcastic coach whose hobo-chic wardrobe has become the toast of talk shows and sitcoms. The Patriots have been busted for taping opponents’ practices, and they are (poorly) playing the victims of DeflateGate – a vast, right-wing cabal, fueled by envy, out to get their beloved Brady. That’s as silly as those trendy bromides that Brady is overrated.
We who love football should at least nod at the aesthetic splendor of a truly fine player like Brady. And it doesn’t take a jeweler’s eye or Jon Gruden’s QB Camp to see how sublime Brady really is.
It took a federal judge to bench Tom Brady. And now that he’s back, you can be sure he won’t spend any time on the pine for years, not until he gets fitted for that gold jacket in Canton. And you can be sure his backups won’t be with him.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.