There was little fanfare during the 2000 NFL Draft when the New England Patriots selected Tom Brady, with the 199th pick in the sixth round. Although he played for big-time college program at Michigan and had put up good numbers, 20-5 over two years as a starter.
Including two bowl wins, his last the 2000 Orange Bowl, he was considered an afterthought, one wondered (myself included) what would the Pats need with another QB.
They already had a franchise QB in Drew Bledsoe and a solid veteran backup in Damon Huard. Little was expected from the tall skinny kid from Michigan, in fact most people didn’t expect Brady to stick with team, possibly the practice squad but that was it.
Brady himself was slightly cocky for a rookie sixth-round pick, telling owner Robert Kraft upon meeting him, that “Drafting me was the best move you’ll ever make.” Brady did make the team in what was another unfulfilled (5-11) year for the Pats, their first under Bill Belichick.
But forces were moving, and Belichick was ridding himself of all of the older dead weight of previous Pats regimes and installing a new look and attitude in New England.
The 2001 season didn’t start off any better than the last one ended with the Patriots going 0-2 and having Bledsoe nearly die after a vicious hit from Mo Lewis while trying to run out of bounds against the Jets.
Enter Tom Brady, the morale of Pats fans was at another low, although there were rumors that Belichick, wanted to start the kid out of training camp and had complete confidence in his ability.
His first game under center came against the Indianapolis Colts and the Patriots responded by thrashing the Colts 44-13. The team started to win, and Brady and the offense got better week by week. They won eleven games, the division, and then beat the Oakland Raiders in what has become known as the “Tuck Rule” game.
And before Raiders fans get too hot under the collar, let me remind them of the name of Ben Dreith.
In 1976, the Patriots under Chuck Fairbanks went to Oakland for the playoffs and lost, in large part to a “phantom” roughing the passer penalty on Sugar Bear Ray Hamilton when he batted the ball down from Ken Stabler on fourth down.
Had the play stood, the Pats run out the clock. Dreith admitted after the fact that he was a Raiders fan. But that is a story for another time. The following week the Patriots beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship.
Then against the “Greatest Show on Turf” the Pats and Brady did the impossible, they beat the Rams in Super Bowl XXVI as Brady led the team to a game winning FG as time expired.
Brady led the Patriots to two more Super Bowl victories over the Panthers in 2003 and the Eagles in 2004, for an amazing run of three wins in four years joining the Cowboys of the 1990s as the only other team to accomplish this.
In the free agent era, such a feat is amazing and Brady and Belichick reaped in a lot of the credit. But we now live in the age of the Internet, where billions of minute data are at your fingertips, and such we can all mass communicate with each other. As a result, sports blogs became the modern day version of the barbershop debate.
Sports were argued back and forth, team’s merits and faults. Players, especially QBs were debated ad nauseum, the biggest on who was better, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. That’s where the Brady detractors first uttered the ridiculous statement and repeated countless times, “Well, Tom Brady is just a system QB in New England.”
What is a “system QB”? A system QB is a QB who plays for any professional NFL or college team. For every one of them has a system for that particular team to play offense. Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning are all system QBs. As is his brother Eli, Donovan McNabb and...well you get my drift.
But, for the sake of argument as I’m sure many of the Brady detractors are already readying their comebacks, let’s look at some of the most dominant teams of their respective era and compare offensive players, we will not worry about defenses in this thread.
The Dallas Cowboys of the 1970s won two Super Bowls and nearly won a couple more. They had Roger Staubach at QB, with Bob Hayes Drew Pearson at WR with Billy Joe Dupree at TE and a different array of RBs including Duane Thomas, Calvin Hill, Walt Garrison and Tony Dorsett.
The Pittsburgh Steelers of the same era had Terry Bradshaw at QB, with Lynn Swan, and John Stallworth at WR with Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier at RB. And this was a team that was known for its defense! It’s easy to see why they won four of six SBs during their era.
The San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s had Joe Montana at QB with the incomparable Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Dwight Clark as WRs, Brent Jones as a TE and Roger Craig and Tom Rathman as RBs.
The Cowboys of the ‘90s made another run of excellence with Troy Aikman at QB with Michael Irvin at WR, Jay Novacek at TE and Emmitt Smith and Daryl Johnston at RB.
All of these teams had an excellent supporting cast on offense, you will notice that we are not discussing OL here strictly the skill players. And many of these supporting players are now residing in the Hall of Fame in Canton. Which brings us to the Patriots of the 2000’s, Brady has been the QB since that day in 2001 when Bledsoe went down.
His WRs in the SBs were David Patten, Deion Branch, Troy Brown and David Givens, the TEs were Jermaine Wiggins and Christian Fauria and the RBs for the first two were Antowain Smith, Mike Cloud and J.R. Redmond.
The Patriots did add Corey Dillon for the 2004 run.
With the exception of Dillon, the Patriots list of skill players looks remarkably like a cast of “who’s was that?” None of them have the remotest chance of getting the call to Canton. Brady is the only constant.
Brady and Belichick have made a formidable team that over a recent five-year span produced more victories (77) than any team over any era in NFL history.
That is made even more amazing considering that we now live in the era of free agency and it is incredibly hard to keep teams together for so long. The Pats' Offensive Coordinator position has went from Charlie Weis, to young Josh McDaniels to Belichick himself.
It doesn’t matter, as long as Brady and Belichick stay together, the machine or should I say the “system” goes on without missing a beat.
Which brings us to point number two, Brady detractors have long decried that although Brady racks up the wins, he never puts up the numbers of Peyton Manning, Brett Favre et al.
In 2007, Belichick decided that the Patriots receiver core needed an overall after a last minute loss in the AFCCG against the Colts. He then traded a second and a seventh-round draft pick to the Dolphins for Wes Welker, and stole Randy Moss from the Raiders for a fourth-round draft pick.
Donte Stallworth was brought in as the final piece, signed as a FA from the Eagles. Brady now had an array of receivers for the first time, that could rival anyone in the game. He responded by leading the Patriots to the first 16-0 finish in NFL history.
He set records for the most points by a team (589), and TDs by a QB (50) while Randy Moss set the single season record for a WR (23).
The only blemish came in the Super Bowl where Brady hobbled by a bad ankle and relentless Giants pass rush was upset 17-14. That had as much to do with a defensive lapse as anything else however, as Brady led the Patriots to a go ahead TD to Moss with 2:30 remaining.
Brady’s 2008 season lasted all of seven-and-one-half minutes as he was hit by the Chiefs Bernard Pollard on a low hit that blew out his ACL. It was a freak injury, completely unintentional but devastating none the less. The usual Patriots bashers, now flip-flopping, decried that “Without Brady the Pats would go 8-8 or 7-9.”
Forgetting the other half of the connection, Belichick still had a hand in the matter. Belichick, in what have been his best coaching performance of his career, took Matt Cassel who hadn’t started a game since high school and was very poorly regarded as a back up and led the team to an 11-5 record.
A tie-breaker forced the team from the playoffs but it was a monumental performance by Cassel and Belichick.
As the 2009 season is very soon upon us, we hear the usual Patriots bashers say that Brady will not be right, that he can never be the same and the Patriots run of excellence is over. They are now or soon will be back in the pack. No one truly knows how Brady will perform until he gets out on the field in September.
Tom Brady is the unquestioned leader of the offense and the team. He moves and slides in the pocket as well as anyone who has ever played the game. He is calm and collected is known to be as cool as his idol, Joe Montana. He watched his idol in the stands when Dwight Clark made “The Catch.”
Sitting with his father wearing Montana’s jersey, little did he know that someday he would lead his team to three late game Super Bowl wins.
Know this, Belichick has watched Brady all through his rehab, and didn’t hesitate to trade back-up Matt Cassel to the Chiefs for a draft pick. He has restocked the WR position to land Joey Galloway as a free agent.
In fact, the Patriots sold Galloway on them by having Brady throw to him on a visit to New England. Galloway remarked that it seemed like Brady had never been injured.
Fred Taylor was brought in to beef up the running game as added depth to go along with Lawrence Maroney, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk. Moss and Welker return, as does Brady.
This “system QB” is the system. He and Belichick, like them or not form a dynamic duo that hasn’t been seen since Batman rid Gotham City of the Joker and Penguin. Look again at some of the rosters on the teams that dominated through earlier eras. When you look down at the Patriots, only one name stands out. Tom Brady, it is what it is.