For the longest time the New England Patriots were a terrible organization. I mean Washington Redskins and pre-2011 Detroit Lions terrible. No, it wasn't Bill Belichick that brought the Patriots out of their slump, it was Bill Parcels and a number one overall pick named Drew Bledsoe. In 2000, the Patriots drafted Tom Brady in the 6th round. Even though the team already had their franchise quarterback and had no use for Brady, the team drafted him anyways. Further proof how much the Patriots loved Bledsoe (besides the numbers he was putting up), they offered him a record (at the time) ten year/$103 million dollar salary in March of 2001. Whoops.
Tom Brady's Stats: N/A
The Defensive Era (2001-2003)
Bill Belichick has always been a defensive guy. It may not seem like that now but Belichick won a Super Bowl with the Giants as Bill Parcells defensive coordinator before he ever was a head coach. Belichick came into the Patriots with two main goals: establish a great defense (slash a great team) and do it as cheaply as possible. In free agency he went out and got veterans like Mike Vrabel and Roman Pfifer to go along side linebacker/defensive end guys already on the roster like Tedy Bruschi and Willie McGinest. In 2001 Belichick drafted in the first round a kid out of Georgia named Richard Seymour (DT). Belichick set up a 3-4 scheme with an emphasis on versatility. Linebackers and defensive ends that were dropped by other teams flourished in Belichick's system which focused heavily on confusing opposing offenses.
Belichick went out and got some scrubs to help out his offense, guys like wide receiver David Patten and running back Antowain Smith to low but heavily incentive-laden deals. Plus, the Patriots already had an elite wide receiver on their roster- Terry Glenn.
Belichick originally designed his system around a versatile and cheap defense and around his franchise quarterback- Drew Bledsoe. Reports indicate that Belichick was not thrilled with the huge contract Bledsoe received considering how economically fiscal he was trying to be, but he had a franchise quarterback nonetheless.
Then Bledsoe gets injured in Week One of the 2001 season and never started another game for the Patriots.
Jets DE John Abraham tackled Bledsoe hard in the middle of the game which caused Bledsoe to gt a concussion and have internal bleeding. Belichick puts in this youngster from Michigan by the name of Tom Brady. Then wouldn't you know it, the Patriots not only go on and make it to the Superbowl, but they defeat the Greatest Show On Turf.
People forget many things though about Brady early in his career. First, Bledsoe didn't go away in 2001. Bledsoe was eligible to play later in the 2001 season but Belichick chose to stick with Brady because his team was winning. Also, Bledsoe played in the second half of the Patriots/Steelers 2001 AFC Championship game and led the Pats after Brady got injured to a game-winning drive towards the end of the game.
Second, Brady was not *that* good of a quarterback early in his career.
While the Brady-led Patriots won both the 2001 and 2002 Superbowls, Brady was really only good in the fourth quarter of those games. Most of the early Brady-led teams were won by defense and special teams, not offense. The Pats needed something called "The Tuck Rule" in order to defeat the Raiders during the AFC Divisional Round.
Tom Brady's Stats: 61.9 completion percentage, 3,409 passing yards/year, 23 TD/year, 12.67 INT/year, 1.82 TD/INT, 6.64 YPA
The Corey Dillon Era (2004-2006)
The Patriots finally had a running back! Most of the Patriots offense was centered around Brady and his passing attack. Sure the Patriots had guys like Kevin Faulk, backs who were versatile enough to block and catch, but were really not all that great at running. You know that essential skill every running backs needs to have. So in 2004, the Patriots traded away a second round pick for Bengals running back Corey Dillon. Rudi Johnson was emerging in Cincy after Dillon got injured and Dillon got upset so the Bengals traded away their "troubled" back.
Before we move on, I just need to go on a tangent real quick. When Dillon was complaining about his reduced role in Cincy before he got traded, he made it public that he wanted out. Then, when he came to New England, he was quiet as a mouse. You didn't hear a peep out of him. Commentators and those in the media use Dillon as an example now of how Belichick can take on troubled athletes. Bullshit. Not that Belichick can't take on troubled athletes, but the fact that Dillon was labeled a troublemaker. Same logic that because Chad Ochocinco danced in the endzone he was automatically deemed a hindrance to his team. Dillon just wanted to be the main guy and as history as shown us, it sucks to be in Cincy and that front staff is stubborn to the point of retardation. (Hell, Marvin Lewis is still their head coach). Maybe Corey Dillon should not have make his frustrations public, but he was never a troublemaker from the getco.
Anyways, off tangent. Brady now has started to emerge as an elite regular season quarterback, the Patriots finally have a running back that's legitimately Pro-Bowl worthy (Dillon did go to the Pro Bowl in 2004), and the Patriots defense full of former nobodys is still holding strong.
The 2004 Patriots was the most well-rounded team Tom Brady has ever played for and that showed when the Patriots won their third Superbowl in three years.
Dillon played two more years with the Patriots but never replicated his 2004 season again and was cut by the Pats in 2007 with Laurence Mauroney now becoming the main back for the Patriots.
During this time we also start to see signs of a shift away from a defensive oriented team to an offense oriented team which is almost epitomized by Brady's stats. Brady went to his second and third Pro Bowls in 2004 and 2005 and in 2005 Brady, for the first time in his career, had a 4,000+ passing yard season.
Although do not get it twisted, the Patriots were still good from 05-06 and they were still winning games and going to the playoffs. In 2005 the Patriots won the AFC East with 10 wins and in 2006 they won the division again going 12-4.
Tom Brady's Stats: 61.9 completion percentage, 3,777 passing yards/year, 26 TD/year, 13.33 INT/year, 1.95 TD/INT, 7.45 YPA
The Record Breaking Season (2007)
During the off-season the Patriots traded a 4th round draft pick to the Oakland Raiders for Randy Moss and offered free agent Wes Welker a one year/1.35 million dollar contract. Finally Brady had some legitimate receivers to throw to. As well as David Patten and Deion Branch worked within Belichick's offensive system, these guys would barely be number three recovers for most other franchises (In fact, look how well Branch ended up in Seattle).
Then Spygate happened. The Patriots were playing the New York Jets- led by former Patriots defensive coordinator Eric Mangini- and whooped them 38-14. Eric Mangini then decided to be a little bitch and ratted out Belichick for stealing signals. So what did Belichick do? He said to everyone "fuck y'all" and starting running up the score on everyone. This caused the magical record breaking season for the Pats.
We all know how this season went. Brady threw for a record 50 touchdowns. Randy Moss caught a record 23 touchdowns (just FYI Jerry Rice caught 22 touchdowns in 12 games. Moss did it in 16. Barely). The Patriots went 16-0 and won their first two playoff games leading to Tom Brady's fourth Superbowl appearance.
Sadly, the Patriots lost to the Giants. While the defense was able to hold and contain Eli Manning for the vast majority of the game (I mean, come on, Eli needed a no-name to catch the ball on his head slash have Pats safety Rodney Harrison be an idiot and not knock the ball down in order to win), the Giants defense did what no team was able to do throughout the 2007 season- put a halt to the Tom Brady and the Patriots offense.
This brings me to the Pats defense. While statistically we do not to start to see the Patriots defense falter, philosophically we do. As we will see later, this will bite them in the ass. This change of philosophy was evidenced by the Pats signing linebacker Adelius Thomas to a five year/35 million dollar contract. The Patriots hadn't needed to pay big money for a linebacker before because they were able to find versatile, hungry guys to play for them. After New England starting winning Superbowls, signing veteran linebackers was even easier. New England was the place you could come to in order to retire on a high note (at least that was their sales pitch). But Thomas was a big name. He was extremely talented yet versatile enough and willing to play in a Belichick defense. However, two years later Belichick got pissy at him, starting benching him, and eventually released him after the 2009 season. This was just an indication and a foreshadow of what was later to become of the Patriots defense and its philosophy.
Tom Brady's Stats: 68.9 completion percentage, 4806 passing yards, 50 TD, 8 INT, 6.25 TD/INT, 9.4 YPA
The Matt Cassel Era (2008)
During the first game of 2008, Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard dives at Brady's feet in an attempt to sack him. However, what Pollard ended up doing was three things. First, he caused Brady to tear up his knee which in turn caused Brady to miss the entire 2008 season. Second, he changed the way officials and referees call penalties for quarterbacks. Now if a defender looks at a QB wrong his team is charged with a 20 yard penalty. Third, we finally got to answer the question: What was the cause of the Patriot's success: Tom Brady or Bill Belichick? The answer: both.
First, let's take a look at what this offense looks like without Tom Brady. This team still had Wes Welker and Randy Moss as wide receivers. Plus, the Patriots had one of the best offensive lines in the game. What's been going unnoticed throughout Belichick's tenure in New England was his stock piling of offensive lineman.
The Pats drafted Dan Koppen in the fifth round of the 2003 draft. He has been to a Pro Bowl. The Pats drafted Matt Light in the second round of the 2001 draft. He has been to three Pro Bowls. The Pats drafted Logan Mankins with their first pick in the 2005 draft. He has been to three Pro Bowls. Three-fifths of this offensive line are Pro Bowlers and the other two lineman who started for the Patriots in 2008 (Dan Connelly and Nick Kaczur) no slouches themselves.
With the great O-line and wide receivers the Patriots had, it's no wonder they were still able to put up points. While Cassel ended up putting good end-of-the-year numbers, those numbers are skewed a bit by two 400 yards passing games he had in Weeks 10 and Weeks 11. Throughout Cassel's first ten games he only averages 200 passing yards per game (Also, as a Cassel fantasy owner this year and as a guy who rode Cassel to a fantasy championship, I can tell you that I was not starting Cassel until Week 12)
Cassel wasn't losing games for the Patriots and the defense hadn't completely fallen off yet as the Patriots went 11-5 yet missed the playoffs (even though San Diego got to go to the playoffs at 8-8 just because they won their division)
Tom Brady's Stats: N/A
Everybody Leaves (2009)
Things change. It's the way of the world. Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis and Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel left after the 2004 season to pursue head coaching gigs after they won three Superbowls with the Pats.
In 2009, everybody seemed to have left.
Another aspect of this entire post that has not been mentioned was the Pats Vice President Scott Pioli. Belichick brought in Pioli when he got hired by the Patriots to help run the front office. The two clearly brought magic and great things to the franchise. Then, in 2009 Pioli leaves the Patriots to become the Kansas City Chiefs GM. Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels also leaves to become the new Denver Broncos head coach. The Pats then trade QB Matt Cassel to Pioli's Chiefs which in turn caused the Denver Broncos to trade away their Pro Bowl and franchise QB Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears (Thank you Josh McDaniels!) Rodney Harrison and Tedy Brushci retired in 2009 and the Patriots shipped Mike Vrabel to Kansas City in the Cassel trade.
These changes did not seem to have any short term effects as the Patriots won ten games in 2009 and again won the AFC East. But these changes become extremely important for what the Patriots are today.
One of the main reasons Tom Brady and the Patriots won three Superbowls was because of Belichick's defense and his ability to pick linebackers/defensive lineman to fit his scheme. However, after 2004, Belichick stopped doing that. As mentioned earlier, the Adelius Thomas signing was the beginning of the end for Belichick's defensive scheme. The loss of the scheme along with losing most of his core defensive nucleus of guys caused the Patriots to start to lose their defensive identity.
Tom Brady's Stats: 65.7 completion percentage, 4398 passing yards, 28 TD, 13 INT, 2.15 TD/INT, 7.8 YPA
The Defenseless Era (2010-2011)
For the past season and a half, Belichick's team has focused so heavy on the offensive side of the ball to win games and watched his defensive side suffer. Everything the Patriots had done defensively since 2004 has now started to catch up with the team.
In 2010, we saw that the Patriots didn't need their defense to win games like they did in the early 2000's. The Pats won 14 games and earned the #1 seed in the AFC. Tom Brady only threw four interceptions during the 2010 regular season and only threw an interceptions in two regular season games. They shipped out Randy Moss early in 2010 and created an offense around Wes Welker and Deion Branch; an offense that didn't turn over the ball. There have only been two quarterback seasons where a quarterback finished the season with a TD/INT ratio above 6:1- Tom Brady in 2007 and Tom Brady in 2010.
To further emphasize the offense, BenJarvis Green-Ellis emerged as an elite running back for the Patriots scoring 13 rushing touchdowns and also did not fumble the ball. The Patriots also signed RB Danny Woodhead off of the Jets practice squad to make their 2010 team one of Tom Brady's most explosive seasons ever.
The Patriots also drafted two great tight ends to help the offense (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) in 2010 who have become great players for the Pats. In the 2011 draft, Belihick drafted an offensive lineman in the first round and two running backs in the second round.
However, the lack of defense caused the Patriots to lose to the Jets in the first round of the playoffs in 2010. The Jets defense shut down Tom Brady and the Patriots defense was so bad that they were not able to shut down Mark Sanchez. As Jets LB Bart Scott famously said after the game:
[Haters] talk crap about the defense, like we ain't the third best defense in the league. All we here is about they defense, they can't stop a nosebleed! 25th in the league, and we the ones that get disrespected!?Scott's comments would hold especially true for the Patriots 2011 season. As of the writing of this post, the Patriots defense is 17th in terms of points allowed, 9th in terms of rushing yards allowed, and last in terms of passing yards allowed.
Tom Brady's Stats: 66.0 completion percentage, 278.08 yards/game (Brady has only played 25 games through these two seasons. This number extrapolated to a full seasons would average 4,449.28 yards/season), 59 TDs, 14 INT, 4.21 TD/INT, 8.14 YPA
So what does this all mean? I don't know. In 2011, the Patriots still look like they are going to win their division. They may not be winning games like they used to but they're doing better than their AFC East rivals the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.
What about going forward? I think as long as Bill Belichick is the Patriots head coach, they will continue to win games and win a lot of them. He's an extremely smart man and knows how to run an offense (even though he might now know how to pick wide receivers). He knows first and foremost that nothing happens without an offensive line. In the 2011 draft he drafted Colorado offensive lineman Nate Solder who looks amazing. I feel like the the quarterback has eight seconds to throw the ball of every play for the past ten years. I believe Belichick will continue to draft offensive lineman because he knows that is his bread and butter. He also has an elite quarterback waiting in the wings- Ryan Mallet. I have no doubt that in 3-5 years when Brady starts being washed up, Mallet will take his place and help the Patriots score points and win games.
However, the Patriots defense going forward scares me. Since 2004, the Pats have not focused on their defense (at least like they used to) and have not been doing anything close to what the did a decade ago in order to help them get back to winning Superbowls. To me this 2011 season looks like a trend, not an outlier. Since 2007, the Patriots have shown that if they do not improve their defense, they will not win another Superbowl.