Tom Brady, quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Still can’t wrap my head around it. Not sure I ever will.
That will never seem normal, no matter how long this weird partnership lasts, and neither will any of the ancillary stuff around it.
Brady in a Bucs jersey (whatever their jerseys look like at this point) will always look like a bad Photoshop to Patriots fans.
Watching him talking at press conferences, with the words “Bucs” and “Bruce” and “Mike” plugged in where “Pats” and “Bill” and “Jules” used to be, is going to be bizarre.
And just wait until he runs out onto the field at Raymond James Stadium, Jay Z’s “Public Service Announcement” blaring, and tries to pump up fans who are sitting in a de facto pirate ship.
None of it will ever compute, no matter how long he stays there.
Yet I don’t think seeing Brady as a Buc will be the most shocking aspect of this to Patriots fans.
The vast majority among us have forgotten what it’s like to fret about your own team’s quarterback situation, if they’re even old enough to have fretted at all.
Think about it. When was the last time there was any reason to worry on a weekly basis about the Patriots’ quarterback play?
Was it 2001, when Brady took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in Week 2? Briefly, but Brady proved his competence pretty fast. If you remember it, you remember the tempo of the Patriots offense changed for the better the minute he took over.
Maybe in 2008, when inexperienced Matt Cassel took over after Brady wrecked his knee in Week 1? He figured it out pretty fast, thanks to a super-talented supporting cast that included Randy Moss and Wes Welker.
I suppose it might have been early in 2016, when Brady was suspended for his role in Deflategate and Jimmy Garoppolo’s level of competence was still a mystery, but we knew that was something that had to be endured for just four games — and Garoppolo quickly proved to be a joy to watch.
I suppose the sarcastic among you might say it was this past season, when the offense sputtered and some of the blame was on Brady. But even as he regressed to some degree at age 42, I doubt many of you were worried enough to pick the Titans to beat the Patriots in the first round.
Was Brady as great as he once was? Of course not. Was he a problem? Most teams would love to have such problems.
The truth is, the last time Patriots fans really had to worry about the situation at quarterback probably was the middle of the 1993 season. Rookie No. 1 overall pick Bledsoe was out with a knee injury — it was initially feared serious, but turned out to be a sprain — and journeyman Scott Secules started four games, leading the Patriots to their first win of the season in Bledsoe’s absence.
Upon returning, Bledsoe began showing encouraging signs that he was going to live up to the No. 1 overall billing and that Bill Parcells hadn’t made a major mistake in taking him over Rick Mirer, the No. 2 overall pick who had an excellent rookie season for the Seahawks.
By the end of the 1994 season, when Bledsoe went 45 for 70 for 426 yards in a Week 11 overtime win over the Vikings (the first of seven straight wins to charge into the playoffs), it was clear the present and future at quarterback were set. All these years later, Bledsoe’s legacy is as the second-best quarterback in franchise history. No shame in that.
The Patriots have been blessed at quarterback for nearly three decades now. Meanwhile, the Jets have started 26 quarterbacks since 1993, including Mirer in ’99. The Dolphins have started 25, and the Bills 23, including Bledsoe and Cassel.
In the same span, the Patriots have had seven quarterbacks start: Brady, Bledsoe, Cassel (15 games in ’08), Garoppolo (twice in ’16), Jacoby Brissett (twice in ’16 after Garoppolo got hurt), Secules, and Scott Zolak (one start in ’95, two plus a playoff game in ’98). That’s it.
I’m not suggesting the Patriots are about to return to the dark days of 1992, when Zolak, Hugh Millen, Tommy Hodson, and Jeff Carlson (whom I do not remember at all) all started at least two games. The reports are good on second-year QB Jarrett Stidham, and with Belichick and Josh McDaniels in his corner, he won’t be set up to fail. I could see him starting and having a similar season to Cassel in ’08, albeit with less talent around him.
But right now he’s a mystery, one that has thrown just four NFL passes. We don’t know if he can play until we see it over a prolonged stretch. Heck, we don’t even know right now what the Patriots are trying to be. They’re not going to tank — Belichick abhors that — but they have familiar holes on offense (they need at least two tight ends) and some new ones on defense (with linebackers Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts all moving on).
Trusted veterans Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater re-signed, but it wouldn’t be out of the question for Belichick to deal other veterans before September comes around. The messages have been mixed in terms of roster building, and while I’d never write off a Belichick team as a contender, I just don’t know what they are right now.
For the first time since Tom Brady was in high school, the Patriots have real long-term questions at quarterback. So this is how the rest of the league lives.