Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Quarterback Quiz: New England Patriots

Here, as promised, is the first segment of my inaugural feature, which may be prosaic, but what hey. I figured that it would be interesting to go through each of the 32 NFL teams, some of which I know quite a bit about and some of which I know cotton-pickin'-zilch about, to examine the central part of their offense, the QB, and see how important they are to their team, if their team needs to target a new signal-caller in the draft, etc. So, I started with the AFC East, in order of finish, and of course, this one is fairly easy. Aside from the Patriots, the East is a woeful division, which is accurate for its baseball counterpart -- the Yankees, the Red Sox, and a whole lotta also-rans. So, look for the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins next.
New England Patriots (16-0): Tom Brady

This year should just be renamed The Year It Was Good To Be Thomas Edward Brady and have done with it. 50 TD passes broke the all-time record (49, set by Peyton Manning in '04) and he had just 8 picks, 4,806 yards, and a 117.2 passer rating -- his previous high was 92.6, also set in 2004. Not to mention a Pro Bowl selection, a near-unanimous MVP, an AP All-Conference selection, a supermodel girlfriend, and, as far as I know, still only one illegitimate son. It was kind of ridiculous how far Brady took off this year -- just last season, he had 24 TD passes and 12 picks, which is downright Rex Grossman-like if you take a look at the spike his performance took.

Of course, that might have had something to do with the Patriots themselves going undefeated in two more regular-season games than the '72 'Fins -- who still have not been able to recover from it, it seems, especially if you listen to Don Shula doing all sorts of verbal cartwheeling. The season Brady put together had people discussing if he belonged in the Namath/Montana/Bradshaw/Elway category of the all-time greatest QBs ever, and come February 3rd, he very likely will have the chance to win his fourth Super Bowl ring in eight seasons. Not bad for a sixth-round, 199th-overall draft selection out of Michigan, whose scouting report basically equated to, "Tall, skinny, and useless. Miracle he even got picked."

According to Brady, the one thing that the scouts must have overlooked was his competitiveness; this being a guy who hates to lose at anything and even challenges his family to contests such as "See how much salsa you can eat without taking a drink." Aside from being alternately venerated and reviled in Boston (depending on whether or not he's been spotted wearing his Yankees hat recently) Brady is the keystone for a formidable offense that broke the 1998 Minnesota Vikings' record for all-time points scored in a season, with 589 over the Vikes' 556. The Patriots' offense is largely centered on the rifle attached to Brady's right shoulder, and in fact, you sometimes wonder if Laurence Maroney is standing on the sidelines waving his hands in the air and yelling, "HELLO! Belichick! Yo! Running game, remember that? I get handoff, I go?!" Which no one can hear anyway, so he's left to plead his case to Matt Cassel, Brady's backup, who must be either totally relieved or deeply dismayed to get drafted to a team where he's only likely to see a set of downs in case of Armageddon and simultaneous mass suicide by Boston sports fans.

The Patriots have been trying to balance out their attack by calling more play-action fakes and running plays, so now Maroney gets to get into it while Cassel is patiently holding the clipboard -- but the fact remains that this is a case of a team defined by a quarterback and a franchise centerpiece. The Patriots may target a quarterback in the draft (not in the first round since they got stripped of it this year due to Spygate) -- in 2016.

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