We can mark this up as Bill Belichick “one” and Tom Brady BRC “zero.”
The New England Patriots won their first game in the post-Brady era, defeating the Miami Dolphins 21-11. And while it’s true the Dolphins are a below-average football squad that happens to start a 37-year-old journeyman quarterback, the Patriots demonstrated that they’ll be just fine without the G.O.A.T.
Meanwhile, Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell 34-23 in a matchup with their division rivals, the New Orleans Saints. Brady struggled as he threw two interceptions — including one that was returned for a touchdown — on an absolutely terrible throw outside of the hashmarks.
It actually looked a lot like the last pass he threw as a member of the Patriots when then-Tennessee Titans cornerback Logan Ryan picked him off to return it for a touchdown in New England’s postseason loss last season.
Here were the Patriots with a starting quarterback who had lost eight consecutive games. Here were the Patriots looking as they always have despite the fact that they’re missing some of their best players opting out due to the coronavirus pandemic. And here were the Patriots dominating an AFC East foe as they always have during Belichick’s 20 years in New England.
There were numerous things to be proud of as a Patriots fan. You once again saw Belichick’s greatness as he and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels catered their offensive scheme to Newton’s strengths. They made a quarterback who has completed just 59.7 percent of his career passes look like the most accurate quarterback in the NFL as he went 15-of-19 (79.0 percent) without turning the ball over a single time.
Yes, it’s true that most of Newton’s completions were on one-read throws. And sure, it’s true that most of his passes were on short attempts, as he threw for just 155 yards in the win. But in case you’ve been sleeping under a rock for the past two decades, that’s been New England’s offense — short, quick and efficient.
The Patriots’ new read-option offense with Newton was a complete success in its opening week. New England dominated the time of possession battle, holding the ball for 34 minutes and 12 seconds to the Dolphins’ 25 minutes and 11 seconds. Newton led all Patriots players in rushing with 75 yards and two touchdowns as New England ran for an astounding 217 yards on 5.2 yards per carry.
New England had six different players register rushing attempts with Julian Edelman even getting in on the action with a 23-yard rushing attempt on an end-around. That play was as a result of the Patriots’ read-option offense and Newton’s threat as a runner.
It’s true this was only one week against an opponent that won’t come close to sniffing the playoff race this season. It’s also true that now that teams have film on the Patriots’ read-option offense, New England will have to figure out a way to counter.
Furthermore, Newton still has to prove that he can win as a drop-back passer and that he can lead the Patriots to victories in shootouts and games where they’re forced to pass. In other words, games where they’re not dominating the time of possession against an overmatched opponent.
However, this was classic Patriots football. It was Belichick out-coaching his opposition. It was New England not making any mistakes — they had zero turnovers and just three penalties. And most importantly, it was Belichick tailoring the offensive scheme to maximize his quarterback’s strengths while minimizing his weaknesses — just as he did for so many years for Brady.
This is not to say Brady was a product of the system. We’re long past those years where all of the credit was given to the defense and Belichick for New England’s Super Bowl victories of the early 2000’s.
However, we all know who the real king is in New England — and it’s the guy who is patrolling the sidelines for the Patriots.
Make no mistake about it, Brady will improve. The Buccaneers will be better and they’ll obviously push for a playoff spot with the six-time Super Bowl champion leading the way. Remember that this is a team with a lot of new faces — Rob Gronkowski, LeSean McCoy and Leonard Fournette to name a few — and they were matched up against arguably the best team in the NFC.
But if there’s anything that this game further solidified is that Belichick and the Patriots will keep on running the show just fine without Brady.
Belichick proved that when he went 11-5 with Matt Cassel as his starting quarterback in 2008 — the only QB in modern NFL history to never a start a game in college — and he proved that again when he went 3-1 with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett as his starting quarterbacks back in 2016.
Belichick continued to compliment his new quarterback following the win. He realizes that he can’t treat Newton with the same tough love that he gave Brady for so many years. Every player is different, which means every guy requires different tactics to be motivated. Belichick kept it short and sweet when it came to his assessment of his new franchise quarterback.
Via Hayden Bird of Boston.com.
“I mean look, there’s room for improvement from all of us, so I’m not saying it was the best executed game in the history of football, but we did some good things in all three phases the game,” Belichick noted. “We’re proud of that, and we’ll go back to work on the things that we need to do better, but I thought he (Newton) did a good job for us.”
Meanwhile in New Orleans, “Tompa Bay” quarterback Brady was blunt in his assessment of his own struggles in Week 1
Via Jenna Laine of ESPN.
“It’s a game of execution. Obviously they made more plays than we did, and I made just some bad, terrible turnovers. It’s hard to win, turning the ball over like that. So I’ve obviously gotta do a lot better job.”
The Patriots may not win a Super Bowl this year, but they’ll be in the playoff hunt. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising in the least if they won an AFC East title this season. They’ll obviously have their hands full with the Buffalo Bills.
However, what Week 1 showed is that the Patriots will continue to play their brand of football without Brady — and they’ll remain in games because of it despite their lack of talent.
And while Brady remains as motivated as ever with arguably the best supporting cast of his career, he’ll no longer be protected by the “Patriot Way.” That means no margin for error. That means no more stellar defensive play covering up for shortcomings.
Brady is going to have to win every game in Tampa Bay the hard way. And while the Buccaneers will be a threat in the NFC for the first time in years, Brady is going to realize rather quickly how the grass isn’t always greener on the other side after all.