By Jason Keidel
Before the game balls were even handed out, you could sense the growing murmur. Pundits were sharpening their pens and tongues, ready for fresh, hot takes. Ready to play Monday morning quarterback, by anointing Sunday’s quarterback. They were ready to declare a new era in New England.
He’s just as strong, just as handsome and 15 years younger. Yessir, the Jimmy Garoppolo epoch is upon us.
There is serious speculation that Brady will not only finish his career west of Boston, but may not even finish his current contract with the Patriots. The noise, of course, is heard everywhere but Foxborough.
No matter who launched the first, misguided missive, we need a little perspective here. Even with the NFL’s microscopic memory, laughable loyalty and fitting acronym (“Not For Long”), the idea that Brady should languish on the golf course after his suspension is comical.
If Brady’s skills were clearly decaying, if his production were slipping, if his last Super Bowl run were that loss to the Giants five years ago, then maybe…
But not only did Brady win a Super Bowl two years ago, he was better last year. In 2015, Brady passed for 4,470 yards and 36 touchdowns with just 7 interceptions. His passer rating was 102.2.
To get a sense of the distance and distortion between the two… Garoppolo has 452 yards over his career, Brady has 452 touchdowns over his.
Brady has a monolithic focus on football; his devotion to diet, exercise and practice is legendary. He is, perhaps, the youngest 39-year-old in NFL history, with zero signs of slippage. There will come a day when Brady is no longer Brady, a day when the icon is in repose. The game ended for John Unitas, Terry Bradshaw and Brady’s hero, Joe Montana.
So it will for Tom Brady, just not this year. It should be enough for pundits, the public and Patriots fans to see that Brady’s replacement seems to finally be in place. Just don’t put Brady to pasture yet.
And perhaps you should appreciate what this man has done since 2001. No player in any sport has represented his team and town with more pride and production. To give you an idea of his selflessness and team-first ethos, Brady is due to make $30 million over this year year and next, less than Brock Osweiler, who is slated to make $37 million (according to NESN).
New York offers a gridiron tale of two cities. The Giants bagged Eli Manning 13 years ago, and have run with the NFL bulls ever since. Manning, of course, is the only one to befuddle the Brady-Belichick tandem in the Super Bowl. And he did it twice. The Jets have a turnstile at the QB position and haven’t won a Super Bowl during that time, or any time since Joe Namath shocked the world at the Orange Bowl in 1969.
The Giants hired Bill Parcells and Dan Reeves and Tom Coughlin. The Jets hired Lou Holtz and Bruce Coslet and Rich Kotite and Al Groh and Rex Ryan. While the two teams have played in the same stadium for 35 years, they may as well dwell on different planets.
During the Boomer & Carton program on WFAN in New York, Boomer Esiason asked if folks had to start a team from scratch, would they take Tom Brady or Bill Belichick.
The results were interesting, if hardly official. Esiason, the only former player in the room, said that his ex-player peers were way more likely to pick Belichick, while Carton and other fans leaned toward the QB.
Both sides have valid views.
It’s amazing how often a great coach just happens to have a great quarterback. Belichick surely is more than the sum of Brady’s stats. But there’s a reason he always seemed to coach in January, made six Super Bowl appearances and became an icon once he had a fellow icon under center.
But Belichick has also fared well in those brief moments when Brady’s been unavailable.
Belichick has coached 17 games sans Brady since the the epic happenstance of a sixth-round draft pick blossoming into a player for the ages 15 years ago. And the coach is a robust 12-5 since their first Super Bowl victory. It’s a nice mark but an insufficient sample size. We could just as easily point to Belichick’s record in Cleveland, where he had no franchise QB, no chance, and got fired.
Did Belichick make Brady? Or the reverse?
Perhaps the most gripping argument for the coach making the quarterback is in San Francisco. The 49ers have plunged down the rungs of relevance since Jim Harbaugh migrated to Michigan. So has Colin Kaepernick, who is still a Google sensation, but for different reasons. Kaepernick was an unknown before Harbaugh and may not even be in the league next year.
The QB advocate can point to Seattle, where Pete Carroll was toiling in mediocrity until a third-round pick seized the starting job and pulled the team out of their historical malaise.
Carroll’s career NFL coaching record was 47-49 before Russell Wilson started his first game. He’s 47-18 since. The duo has been to two Super Bowls, won one, and of course, famously (and infamously) blew the second.
Fortunately for Pats fans, picking coach or quarterback is not a choice they have to make. Nor do they have to decide on their QB this year, or next. Because it’s very clearly Tom Brady.
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.