7 Up for the GOAT

7 Up for the GOAT

As a sports fan, you always hope that you will get to watch a once-in-a-lifetime talent. As someone who has been a fan of the NFL since 2009, I have the pleasure and honour of saying that I have been able to see much of the career of the GOAT: Tom Brady.

In winning his 7ᵗʰ Super Bowl – and first away from the New England Patriots – Brady has secured his status as the Greatest of All Time, though it is a title that many have already been bestowing upon him for years. And what makes it even better is when you look at how his NFL career began.

You would imagine that someone who would go on to be the GOAT would have been the #1 pick in the NFL Draft, but that was far from the case with Tom Brady. In fact, the quarterbacks taken in the 2000 NFL Draft went as follows:

  • Chad Pennington (Jets) – Round 1, 18ᵗʰ overall
  • Giovanni Carmazzi (49ers) – Round 3, 65ᵗʰ overall
  • Chris Redman (Ravens) – Round 3, 75ᵗʰ overall
  • Tee Martin (Steelers) – Round 5, 163ʳᵈ overall
  • Marc Bulger (Saints) – Round 6, 168ᵗʰ overall
  • Spergon Wynn (Browns) – Round 6, 183ʳᵈ overall
  • Tom Brady (Patriots) – Round 6, 199ᵗʰ overall
  • Todd Husak (Redskins) – Round 6, 202ⁿᵈ overall
  • Ja’Juan Seider (Chargers) – Round 6, 205ᵗʰ overall
  • Tim Rattay (49ers) – Round 7, 212ᵗʰ overall
  • Jarious Jackson (Broncos) – Round 7, 214ᵗʰ overall
  • Joe Hamilton (Buccaneers) – Round 7, 234ᵗʰ overall

It’s unbelievable now to think that Brady dropped to the 6ᵗʰ round, with 6 other QBs picked ahead of him, and while a couple had successful careers, Brady’s career eclipsed that of all the others combined years ago. It just shows how too much focus was put on measurables rather than work ethic, drive and intelligence.

Of course, a 6ᵗʰ Round pick is not going to automatically become a starter and the Patriots had their franchise QB at the time in Drew Bledsoe, and Brady started his rookie season as the 4ᵗʰ string, but worked his way up to 2ⁿᵈ on the depth chart by the end of the season, making just 3 passes during the season, going 1-for-3 for 6yds. Who knows how long Brady would have been stuck behind Bledsoe – who had signed a then-record contract in March 2001 – but fate intervened, with Mo Lewis’ hit on Bledsoe in Week 2 of the 2001 season forcing the QB out of the game. Brady came in and the team never looked back, with him going 11-3 as a starter to secure a playoff spot, and while Bledsoe came in as a replacement in the AFC Championship game when Brady got hurt, this team was clearly now Brady’s, and they were in the Super Bowl. With the scores level and just 1:30 left on the clock (no timeouts remaining, Brady drove the team downfield from their own 17-yard line to the Rams’ 31-yard line allowing Adam Vinatieri to kick the game-winning field goal to earn the Patriots’ first ever Super Bowl.

Just 2 years later, Brady had led the Pats back to the big game and again engineered a game-winning drive to set Adam Vinatieri up for a field goal to defeat the Carolina Panthers. Then they were back to defend a year later against the Philadephia Eagles, with a 24-21 victory securing the Patriots’ 3ʳᵈ title in 4 seasons.

Fast forward to the 2007 season and Brady led the Pats to an unbeaten regular season, before wins against the Jaguars and Chargers saw them reach the Super Bowl to take on the New York Giants. The heavy pressure from the Giants’ front 7 caused Brady problems all game, but it still took a moment of magic from Eli Manning and David Tyree to set the Giants up for a game-winning touchdown, Brady’s first Super Bowl loss. It was the Giants who Brady found himself facing again in his next Super Bowl appearance 4 years later and again it took a moment of magic from Eli Manning and Mario Manningham to help set up the Giants for the game-winner.

It took Brady 3 years to reach another Super Bowl, this time against the Seahawks but once again at the University of Phoenix Stadium, where he lost his first Super Bowl. Brady went toe-to-toe against Seattle’s much-vaunted “Legion of Boom” and led a 10-point comeback in the 4ᵗʰ quarter, while rookie CB Malcolm Butler made a key interception in the dying moments to save the patriots from a 3ʳᵈ consecutive loss in the big game. 2 years later, facing the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI, the Patriots found themselves 28-3 down midway through the 3ʳᵈ quarter, but Brady led them to score 25 unanswered points, before leading the team downfield to score the game-winning TD on the opening possession of overtime, securing Brady’s 5ᵗʰ Super Bowl victory.

Brady was back looking for a 6ᵗʰ ring the next season, but though he threw for 505yds (a Super Bowl record), the Philadelphia Eagles managed to secure a 41-33 victory. They were back the next year though, taking on the LA Rams in the lowest scoring Super Bowl in history, and while Brady did not score a touchdown in this game, he still managed to engineer a late touchdown drive that would end up being the difference, becoming the first player in NFL history to win 6 Super Bowls.

If there was any argument remaining against Brady being the GOAT by this point, it was that all of his success had come at the Patriots under Bill Belichick, who had also had success with other QBs that went on to struggle elsewhere, however with his contract running out ahead of this season, Brady chose to move to new pastures and signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Of course, they were by no means a poor team when he arrived, having a strong defence and O-line as well as some great offensive weapons and a high quality coach (though Bruce Arians had never won a Super Bowl. The impacts of COVID-19 clearly hurt the Bucs in the early weeks of the season as they had to make do with a reduced preseason that included no matches, and the team went 7-5 before their Week 13 Bye. However, the team had been growing as everybody gelled, while Brady had also called for the team to bring in 3 players in Rob Gronkowski (who had returned from retirement to join his former teammate), Antonio Brown and Leonard Fournette, who the Jaguars had released after being unable to agree a trade with anyone for him. The team won their remaining 4 regular season games, with Brady setting several franchise records, including the best season passer rating (102.2) in team history, and also the most games with four or more touchdown passes (4). As the 5ᵗʰ seed in the NFC, the Bucs saw off the Washington Football Team, before running the QB gauntlet of Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes to win Super Bowl LV, Brady’s 7ᵗʰ Super Bowl. In this game, the 3 players he had fought for the team to bring in accounted for 4 TDs, while Brady also showed his experience of the game, overruling the coaches’ decision to change the play when the Chiefs called a time-out with the Bucs offense in the redzone as he knew he had the match-up advantage with Tyrann Mathieu in man coverage, resulting in the Bucs buying a Pass Interference penalty that brought them up to the Chiefs 1-yard line, setting them up for a key TD right before half time.

nfl super bowl lv tom brady buccaneersWith his story complete (for now), let’s look at some of the incredible stats surrounding Tom Brady:

  • Tom Brady now has more Super Bowl wins (7) than any NFL franchise, with the nearest being the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers (6)
  • Brady has played in 10 Super Bowls, only the Patriots (11) have played in more, but 9 of these included Brady
  • Brady has been voted Super Bowl MVP 5 times, his closest rival is Joe Montana (3)
  • Brady is the 1ˢᵗ QB to win a Super Bowl for both and AFC and an NFC franchise
  • Brady is the 1ˢᵗ QB to win a Super Bowl in 3 different decades (2000s, 2010s, 2020s)
  • Brady and Rob Gronkowski have connected for 5 passing touchdowns in Super Bowls, surpassing Joe Montana and Jerry Rice (4)
  • Brady’s 34-11 postseason record works out as .756 winning percentage. The best all-time winning percentage for a franchise is the Patriots, at .638

And the scariest thing: As Tampa begins to find a way to legally change the city’s name to TOMpa, you can be sure that Brady will already be looking ahead to the 2021 season and the chance of ring number 8.

Kyle Shanahan has a problem…

Kyle Shanahan has a problem…

Kyle Shanahan has a problem, and he needs to address it quickly.

Watching the San Francisco 49ers enter the 4ᵗʰ quarter with a 10 point lead, I assumed that a team with one of the best defenses in the NFL would be able to see the game out from here and I switched part of my brain off to think back to the halftime show. So imagine my surprise when the still focused part of my brain saw the Kansas City Chiefs draw level and go on to take a 20-31 victory.

This was Shanahan’s 2ⁿᵈ Super Bowl appearance in the last 4 years, having been the Offensive Coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons when they faced the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. In that game, the Falcons found themselves ahead 28-3 midway through the 3ʳᵈ quarter and 28-9 ahead entering the final quarter, but eventually lost in OT 34-28. Following the game, Shanahan was heavily criticised for not putting more focus on a rushing attack that contained Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, which would have helped the Falcons reduce the time available for the Patriots to come back.

nfl kyle shanahan falcons 49ersOnce again in Miami, I feel that the rushing game was not featured enough in the final quarter, despite the dominance of their rushing game through the playoffs. Even in this game, the rushing attack was having some success. The Niners finished the game with 141 yards from 22 carries (6.4 yds/carry), if you look at just Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert then you get 86 yards from 17 carries (5.1 yds/carry). In contrast, Jimmy Garoppolo attempted 31 passes, completing 20 for 219 yards, 1 TD and 1 interception. Granted, the stats would have been impacted slightly by the need to get down the field in a short period of time after going behind late on, but there still doesn’t appear to be a big enough focus on the rush. With running backs like Mostert and Coleman and an elite Tight End like George Kittle, who is an effective blocker and not just a receiving threat, the Niners’ running game is dangerous, but it also does 2 other very important things:

  • It keeps the clock running between plays, limiting the time the Chiefs have to come back
  • It gives the defense time to rest and recover. Even an elite defense will tire and fade if they aren’t getting a decent break within series, as we saw when Damian Williams broke off a 38-yard rushing TD to end a drive in just 2 plays and effectively guarantee the win

Now I’m not putting all of the blame on Shanahan. Jimmy Garoppolo missed a deep throw late on to Emmanuel Sanders on 3ʳᵈ & 10 that would have probably ended in a Touchdown, or a 1ˢᵗ & Goal at worst. There were also a couple of dubious calls, such as a no-call on what appeared to be an offside – which really seemed to help flip the momentum, while Damian Williams’ go-ahead touchdown was too close to call and eventually came down to sticking with the on-field decision to award the touchdown.

The thing is, sport has narratives, and ever since the Falcons lost in the Big Game, there has been a narrative that Shanahan chokes in the big moments. Unfortunately, the way that this game finished will have done nothing to help dispel this, and if anything has added fuel to the fire.

And so it comes back to my initial point: Kyle Shanahan has a problem and he needs to address it quickly. He is a fantastic coach and I fully expect him to grow from this experience and improve his play-calling. But he has to find a way to break that narrative, as even if he doesn’t believe it himself, it will weigh him down and be on the minds of him, his staff and his players. I seriously hope that he can get past this.

Super Bowl LII: Moments that made the Eagles Fly

Super Bowl LII: Moments that made the Eagles Fly

The 52nd Super Bowl was a fantastic show of offensive ability with a record 1151 yards made from scrimmage over the 60 minutes. After a thrilling encounter, the Eagles came away with a 41-33 victory to lift the Vince Lombardi trophy for the first time in the franchise’s history.

Well it was a fantastic game, the amount of sport from this weekend that I already planned to write about and my inability to stay awake throughout meant that I was not going to write about the game, until my cousin decided to be helpful on twitter and promote an article that I wasn’t doing…

 duff

Thanks Lucy!

Luckily though, I had the match recorded and the tweet had given me some inspiration so I watched the game back and the rest, as they say, is history!

In some sporting events, there is clearly one moment that decides the result of a game. A missed kick, a costly penalty, a Hail Mary. This game went so back and forth, the Pats were able to stay in it right to the last and were not far from taking the game to overtime. So with this in mind, I wanted to look at some of the moments that won Philadelphia their first ever Super Bowl. By this I do not necessarily mean the touchdowns and successful kicks – though some of these will certainly feature – but rather events that will have had an impact on who had the momentum and the way the game panned out.

Pre-game – Malcolm Butler was the hero of Super Bowl XLIX with his late interception of Russell Wilson and has developed into a dependable cornerback who has started all but 1 regular season game for the Patriots this season. Yet a decision was made at the eleventh hour to hold him out of the defense and only play him on special teams. It is not currently clear the exact reasons for his drop, but there have been mentions of poor practices following an illness early in the week and also a violation of team rules. To drop a starting defensive back at the last moment against a receiving corps that includes Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz is a dangerous move and will have surely put the Patriots at a disadvantage.

1st Quarter, 4:25 remaining, 3rd & 4 – With the Eagles settling for a field goal on the opening drive, Tom Brady drives the Pats the length of the field but his 3rd down pass to Rob Gronkowski in the end zone is deflected away by Jalen Mills and the Patriots are forced to kick a field goal to level the game at 3-3. Though it was well defended by Mills, Gronk should be a matchup nightmare but the pass made it too easy for the cornerback. This was systematic of the Brady-Gronkowski link in the first half as they only combined for a single 9-yard catch.

1st Quarter, 2:41 remaining, 1st & 10 – Following a 36-yard rush from former Patriot LeGarrette Blount, Nick Foles connects with Alshon Jeffery for a 34-yard touchdown. The field goal was missed, leaving the Eagles with a 9-3 lead. The coverage from the Patriots was not poor, but Jeffery is a large receiver that specialises in this kind of play. Whether it was caused by the late withdrawal of Butler, but it is odd that the Pats did not line up Stephon Gilmore against him considering he is usually the man to match up against the big-bodied receivers. When the Pats defense later adjusted to have Gilmore follow Jeffery, his effectiveness in the Philly passing game was reduced.

2nd Quarter, 15:00 remaining, 3rd & 2 – The Patriots again got in the Philly red zone but failed to convert the chance into a touchdown. A sweep play to Brandin Cooks was well blocked on the right, leaving the receiver with a 1v1 against safety Rodney McLeod to earn 1st & Goal. Rather than trying to step around McLeod, Cooks saw him begin to duck into the tackle so attempted a hurdle, but McLeod reacted quick enough to stop him making the necessary yards in what ended up being a bizarre looking play. New England were forced to attempt a field goal but a fumbled hold put Stephen Gostkowski off and he kicked wide, leaving the Eagles with a 9-3 lead.

2nd Quarter, 13:11 remaining, 1st & 10 – Tom Brady connects with Brandin Cooks for a first down, however he is blindsided by Malcolm Jenkins while trying to gain extra yards and left the game with a head injury. He did not return to the pitch. The hit was completely legal, but unfortunately there was a helmet-to-helmet clash in the collision that Cooks – who had been looking the other way when hit – came off worst from. This was a big loss for New England as Cooks was their downfield playmaker, so the offensive capability was reduced for the rest of the game.

2nd Quarter, 12:04 remaining, 3rd & 5 – The Patriots decided to go for a trick play on 3rd down and it so nearly worked! Brady handed off to James White and looked to get out of the way of the defense, but when White reversed the play to Danny Amendola, Brady was in space on the right and ready to make the first down. Unfortunately for the Pats, Brady may be an elite quarterback but he is not an elite wide receiver and he was unable to make the catch over his shoulder on the run. While a trick play was a great idea, Brady is still recovering from a hand injury that almost ended his season early and is not the most athletic of quarterbacks, so the decision to use him as a receiver here was an odd one. The Pats then decided to go for it on 4th down but were unable to convert and turned the ball over on the Eagles 35 yard line still 9-3 down.

2nd Quarter, 0:38 remaining, 4th & Goal – With Eagles 15-12 up and less than 2 yards away from the end zone, they decided to take a risk and make a trick play of their own. With Foles up at the line of scrimmage pretending to call an audible, the ball was snapped direct to Corey Clement who ran left and reversed to Trey Burton, who threw a pass to none other than Nick Foles, who had a simple catch for a touchdown! As well as an incredibly ballsy play, the fact the Eagles scored with a receiving touchdown for their quarterback must have been incredibly satisfying following Brady’s early drop. The successful conversion gave the Eagles a 22-12 lead going into halftime, and the morale boost may have proved vital considering the Pats came out swinging in the 3rd quarter.

3rd Quarter, 7:24 remaining, 3rd & 6 – Nick Foles scores with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Corey Clement, which is then converted for a 29-19 lead. In my mind, this is the most contentious play of the game as watching the replays I feel that Clement did not have enough control to have been classed as completing the catch before stepping out the back of the end zone. The officials had so many looks at this, but I feel that the decision on Sunday flies against other similar plays during the regular season. Considering the Pats end up needing a touchdown and 2-point conversion on their final drive, the decision to award the touchdown here rather than call an incomplete pass as leave Philly settling for a field goal has a huge impact on the remainder of the game. One thing for sure, the catch rule needs looking at before next season!

4th Quarter, 5:38 remaining, 4th & 1 – Nick Foles completes a 2-yard pass to Zach Ertz to keep the chains moving. While the Pats offense failed to convert many of their big plays, their defense allowed too many vital plays from the Eagles and could not get off the field. At this point in the game, the Pats led 32-33 and their offense was performing much better. Had they turned the ball over on downs here, I am sure they would have put at least 3 points on the board while using up as much time as possible, leaving Philly with a hard task to pull off the win.

4th Quarter, 2:25 remaining, 3rd & 7 – Foles connects with Ertz again on another vital play for an 11-yard touchdown. The play is reviewed a number of times due to the ball coming out as Ertz dives for the line and hits the ground, but in my view he was clearly a runner by that point so just had to cross the plane of the line. This put the Eagles back ahead 38-33 following a failed 2-point conversion, a lead that they would not relinquish.

4th Quarter, 2:16 remaining, 2nd & 2 – With the Patriots needing a touchdown to win, Tom Brady is sacked by Brandon Graham and fumbles. Eagles defensive lineman Derek Barnett recovers. This is the only sack of the entire game! The Eagles score a field gone from the ensuing drive and leave the Patriots with about a minute to go the length of the field, score a touchdown and a 2-point conversion.

The final play – The Patriots manage to drive into range to legitimately attempt a Hail Mary to the end zone. Rob Gronkowski goes up in coverage but is unable to collect the ball, which bobbles around a bit but hits the ground before any Patriots player can collect it. The game ends with the Philadelphia Eagles victorious.

America’s Game: Previewing Super Bowl LII

America’s Game: Previewing Super Bowl LII

For a sports nut like me, this is a busy week: Transfer deadline day in the football, the start of the 6 Nations and – most importantly for this piece – the Super Bowl. The 2018 Super Bowl will be the 52nd Super Bowl (for those of you who can’t read Roman Numerals) and will be a match-up between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots, the Eagles’ first appearance in the big game since they lost to the same team in 2005.

The Super Bowl is one of the biggest events in the sporting calendar and draws attention from around the globe, hence the big money spent on commercials during the game and the halftime show – this year we have Justin Timberlake making his return following 2004’s Nipplegate controversy!

But enough about wardrobe malfunctions and the inevitable trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story, if you’re reading this then it is for the sports talk! So without further ado, let’s have a look at the storylines going into Super Bowl LII.

A place in the history books

dynBy defeating the Jags in the AFC Championship game, the Patriots became the first franchise to make it to 10 Super Bowls, while the next best franchises (the Steelers, Cowboys and Broncos each have 8 appearances). If they win on Sunday, they will join the Steelers on the top of the NFL pile with 6 victories.

While this record in itself is great, it is even better when you realise that the Pats’ first Super Bowl victory came at the end of the 2001 season, whereas the Steelers won their first Vince Lombardi Trophy at the end of the 1974 season. After last year’s 5th Super Bowl victory, I wrote about how Bill Belichick’s Patriots are probably the greatest dynasty in modern sports, and to make it back to the Super Bowl despite star receiver Julian Edelman missing the season through injury shows just how impressive this franchise is.

I don’t think anyone will be too surprised if Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels and Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia are both in Head Coaching roles elsewhere next season, yet it is hard to imagine the franchise not pushing for a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance.

The GOAT

Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, it is almost impossible to argue against this. He already has 5 Super Bowl Rings but looks well on his way to a 6th, which would mean no franchise has more rings than him as an individual.

He certainly benefits from a system that made even Matt Cassel look good, but he continues to perform regardless of the players around him. His experience in the big games and the big moments is next to none and was perfectly highlighted by the way he cut the Jaguars apart in the 4th quarter of the AFC Championship game. It is not just blind luck that has seen him named Super Bowl MVP 5 times!

He has struggled sometimes in the past against teams that are getting pressure on him – see the Pat’s 2 losses to the Giants – but I think even the Eagles’ highly rated defence will struggle to deal with him for the whole game, though they may be helped if a certain tight end is unavailable…

Gronkwatch

When fit, Rob Gronkowski is one of the best offensive weapons in the NFL. His combination of pace, size and strength is a nightmare for defenders to match up against, while the quality of Tom Brady and the Pats’ receiving corps means that he can’t be double covered as regularly as a defense would want.

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Even with Edelman (and possibly Gronkowski) missing, Brady still has some great options to throw to

Gronk was forced off just before halftime in the AFC Championship game after failing a concussion test following a hit from Barry Church. While the reports coming out suggest he is on track to play, concussions are notoriously difficult to put a time frame on and he is still going through the concussion protocols at the moment.

It will not be the end of the world for the Patriots if he is missing – he has had his injury issues over the years so they are used to playing without him – but having a player of his ability on the field certainly helps to open up the defense.

 

 

As a Titans fan I come into this game as a neutral, but will be leaning my support towards the Patriots as I am continually impressed by Brady and this football dynasty. I would love to see this crop of players continue to break records!

I certainly think the Eagles have a chance, especially if Gronk is unable to play, but after last year’s comeback victory over the Falcons, I really can’t look beyond the Pats for the victory and Super Bowl MVP number 5 for Brady. How do you see the game going?

The New England Patriots – Greatest Franchise in Modern Sports?

The New England Patriots – Greatest Franchise in Modern Sports?

Well my sleeping pattern is well and truly ruined at the moment after staying up to watch Super Bowl LI (51 for those of you not fluent in Roman Numerals), but it was totally worth it! What looked set to be a huge victory for the Atlanta Falcons turned into the largest comeback ever by the New England Patriots. Down 21-3 at half time and looking a shadow of the team we’d seen dominating the AFC all season, the Pats were soon 25 points down courtesy of Tevin Coleman’s touchdown. Despite this, they managed to turn the game around to draw level with less than a minute remaining on the clock, and won it with James White’s second rushing touchdown of the night on the opening drive of overtime. This late comeback from the Patriots turned an OK Super Bowl into probably the greatest Super Bowl ever, with 24 records being set and 7 equalled over the course of the game.

When the Falcons went 25 points up, I said to my cousin that if any team could turn this around it would be the Patriots, though I admit even I didn’t think they would be able to do that. In a league designed to keep teams as equal as possible (drafting in reverse order, salary caps etc.) the Patriots still manage to dominate. Since Bill Belichick took over as head coach ahead of the 2000 season, New England have only failed to make the postseason on 3 occasions (also the only seasons they have not won their division) and have made it to 7 Super Bowls, winning 5 of them. Throughout this, they have constantly updated their squads, with new, unheard of players coming in to replace the veterans. The one position where they stayed the same (barring injuries or suspensions) is at Quarterback, where Tom Brady has been the starter ever since taking over for the injured Drew Bledsoe in the second game of the 2001 season.

The Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era New England Patriots are clearly one of the greatest dynasties in the history of modern sport, up there with Fergie’s Manchester United. Below are the reasons that I have picked out as to why they deserve this recognition.

 

Who’s he?

Throughout the years, it has become commonplace for fans to look at the Patriots’ receiver corps and wonder who is actually going to stand out. Since Belichick took over, the Pats have only drafted 2 receivers in the 1st round: Tight Ends Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson. New England has become famous for picking up receivers that no-one else wants, either late in the draft or in trades where their current team considers them surplus to requirements.

Wes Welker was an undrafted free agent who lasted 1 game with the San Diego Chargers and spent 3 seasons at Miami before being traded to the Pats. During his time in New England, he caught more passed than any player in the league (led the league in receptions in 2007, 2009 and 2011) and also ranked top 5 in yardage. He was also selected to at least one of either the Pro Bowl or the All-Pro Team in every season with the Patriots. Though he scored more touchdowns in his first season with the Broncos, he never managed as many catches or yards in a season after leaving New England.

Julian Edelman was the 232nd pick of the 2009 draft, going to New England in the seventh round. Often used as a kick/punt returner, and even spelling as a defensive back, Edelman was frequently used as a replacement for Welker when he was not available. Since Welker left, Edelman has often been Brady’s favourite wide receiver, and it was his highlight reel catch that kept their game-levelling drive going at the weekend.

An undrafted free agent in 2008, Danny Amendola spent the 2008 season on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad, and started the 2009 season on the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad, before being signed by the St. Louis Rams in late in September 2009. One of the more recognised receivers in the Rams squad, he would not be considered a star at the WR position. Though he may not be as hyped as Welker and Edelman have been in the Patriots offense, he was probably their star receiver in Super Bowl LI, making 8 catches for 78 yards, a touchdown and 2 point conversion.

Chris Hogan was another undrafted receiver, failing to make the roster with the 49ers, Giants and Dolphins before finally making the Buffalo Bills active roster after some time on their practice squad. In 3 seasons with Buffalo, he started only 6 games, but in his 1st season at the Patriots he started 14 and appeared in 15. He posted a number of personal bests in his first season in New England, including a franchise record 180 yards in a playoff game against Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game (his highest yardage in an entire season with the Bills had been 450 in the 2015 regular season). A player Bill Belichick saw as having major potential, Hogan did a great job of helping the Patriots cope with the loss if injured tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Unlike the other receivers mentioned, Randy Moss was a 1st round pick (21st overall) to the Minnesota Vikings in 1998. He posted impressive stats for the first 5 seasons but then 3 seasons of injuries saw a decline in his stats, even after moving to Oakland in 2005. He was traded to the Patriots in 2007, with a number of legal controversies to his name and critics saying his skills had deteriorated. However he starred over 3 full seasons, including New England’s 16-0 campaign. After leaving the Patriots in early 2010, he never again managed to reach 30 catches of 500 receiving yards in a season.

This doesn’t even just to apply to receivers, all across the roster, New England have gone for players that no-one else considers to be valuable or who have question marks surrounding them. These players will frequently become stars in the Patriots team, often not performing to the same level if they go to another team. The Patriots, better than anyone, seem to find players who can fit into their system rather than going out and getting the big names. They are not afraid to let big players go – see Jamie Collins’ trade to Cleveland this season – as they know they will find players who can fill the void. This is very much a team rather than a group of individuals like you may find in some organisations.

The GOAT

The 1st quarterback to win 5 Super Bowls, Tom Brady is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. Many critics will follow the same line as Osi Umenyiora that Brady is a very good quarterback in a very effective system. It is a fair point, considering Matt Cassel managed an 11-5 season in 2008 with Brady injured, and this season New England opened 3-1 with a combination of Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. However, the way that Brady helped lead the Pats back from the brink on Sunday night showed the true quality that he has. Even earlier in the game, many of the incomplete passes were dropped by the receivers. He may be benefiting from the system, but it takes a great player to win as much as he has – 25-9 in the postseason – especially as he has been named Super Bowl MVP a whopping 4 times and league MVP twice.

Let’s consider some of Tom Brady’s stats as if he was a franchise (comparisons excluding New England):

  • Franchise Brady has won 5 Super Bowls. Only the Steelers and Cowboys (6) and 49ers (5) can boast as many Super Bowl wins.
  • Franchise Brady has appeared in 7 Super Bowls. Only the Steelers, Cowboys and Broncos (8) have appeared in as many.
  • By my calculations, Franchise Brady’s 25-9 postseason record works out as 0.735. The highest all-time postseason winning percentage for a franchise belongs to the Baltimore Ravens, who hold a record of 0.652

Not bad for a player picked in round 6 (pick 199) in the 2000 NFL draft, the 7th quarterback to come off the board!

While it is true that Brady hasn’t done this on his own, he has been one of the few recurring pieces in the puzzle over the past 16 seasons and is clearly a clutch performer. He has always performed at a high level, and when he has then been given a top quality receiver like Moss or Gronkowsi, his stats have gone to another level. Matt Ryan was rightly named the League MVP this season, but if Brady had not been suspended for the first 4 games, things could have been hugely different. His completion percentage this season (67.4%) was second only to the 16-0 season of 2007 and his 28:2 TD:Interception ratio rightly put Brady second on this year’s MVP list.

He may be 39 now, but Brady shows no signs of slowing down in his quest for greatness. His ability to read the defense is second to none and his all-round game just seems to be improving as he learns when to scramble effectively, as noticed with the 1st down he gained on the ground late in the Super Bowl comeback. As long as he can stay healthy and keep the motivation, there is no reason Brady cannot continue to dominate the league for a number of years.

The puppet master

Throughout the above sections, I have mentioned about how the Patriots manage to maintain their success despite a constant replacement of top players with new, unheard of talent. Perhaps the only person who has been more of a constant over this time is head coach Bill Belichick.

Often surly and keeping his cards close to his chest when speaking to the press, Belichick chooses to let the team’s performance on the pitch speak for him. This is a player who would rather get a number of later-round draft picks rather than one top-round pick, so that he can find the players with potential who fit into the system of football that he wants to play. He also seems to know the rules of the game better than almost everyone and will often push the rules to the limit and find any loophole he can to get an advantage over the opposition, as we have seen with his use of elligible and inelligible receivers.

Vince Lombardi got a trophy named after him. John Madden got a video game series. What will Bill Belichick get when he retires?

Haters gonna hate

Only the top teams get to the point where they are almost universally hated by every other team’s fan. The Cowboy’s reputation as “America’s Team” and the Patriots’ decade and a half of dominance have led to almost all other fans having a deep hatred of them. Much of this will be down to jealousy, but of course, any little misdemeanour will be picked up on by others. I’m not saying that Spygate and Deflategate were little misdemeanours, but they have led to many fans trying to suggest (hopefully tongue in cheek) that any success is due to devious methods and league conspiracies.

The top franchises will always end up with negative press, but they can come through this and continue to not just impress, but also dominate.

 

It may not be until Belichick and Brady are gone that we realise just how impressive a dynasty this was. Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, Manchester United have not just struggled to be at the top, they have struggled to compete enough to get near the top! Will the Patriots go in the same direction? I’m sure Patriots fans will be hoping they don’t have to find out for a number of years yet.

 

What are your thoughts on the Patriots? Want to give your opinion on anything I’ve mentioned? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PStetheridge