With the Patriots teetering on the edge of irrelevance even before the corner turns to November, this is probably not the ideal time for yet another torturous mental exercise.
But it’s a fitting one, and achingly relevant to their current condition. So allow me to apologize in advance, because I have to ask, if only to get it out of my own mind:
What would the Patriots' record be right now if Tom Brady were still their quarterback?
Torturous. Sorry. Told you.
I know, it’s not just an annoying question; cue up all the Why do you guys keep writing about the Bucs quarterback? responses, as if being out of Foxborough means he’s ever out of mind. It’s also an annoying question that can’t be answered with any precision.
There are no analytics that can tell to the fraction of a passing yard how Brady would be faring for the 2020 Patriots, or how the 2020 Patriots would be faring with him.
There is no reverse butterfly-effect scenario that can bring him back here and allow us to pretend none of this ever happened, no DeLorean to take us back in time to repair the beginnings of any rift with Bill Belichick that led to his departure.
The most realistic option for an answer isn’t even based in realism; that would be to deactivate the “reject trade” option on the 2020 Madden video game, swap him from the Bucs to the Patriots for Cam Newton and, oh, Shalique Calhoun or someone to make it even, and replay these first six games.
(I don’t have Madden, and my 14-year-old smuggled the PS4 to his room anyway, so someone else must take on this important simulated responsibility.)
What we’re left with, besides the big ol' what-if that grows larger with every Bucs win and each 1992 flashback the Patriots offense delivers, is a game of guesstimation.
I think it’s fair to presume a few things: The Patriots would have won the same games with Brady that they have won with the recently discombobulated Newton (Dolphins, Raiders). They absolutely would have eaten alive the Broncos with Brady. And I’d bet they would have won one of the alleged “moral victory” losses to the Seahawks and Chiefs.
So I’d put them at least 3-3, and probably 4-2. Ah, definitely 4-2.
That is not to suggest all of the Patriots issues are due to Newton. His dual-threat abilities in that Week 2 loss to Seattle might have given Pete Carroll more to consider than facing Brady would have. He didn’t even play in the Chiefs game. But he’s been, well, bad for three games now. And I don’t know that we ever saw Brady have three bad games in a row in his nearly two decades as the starter.
Newton has missed open receivers time and again over the past couple of games. His weaknesses lately are Brady strengths. But it also must be acknowledged that he’s working with a rather diminished supporting cast, even from a season ago. And we know how Brady felt about that group.
It’s funny — not in the ha-ha way, but in the we-all-should-have-seen-how-frustrated-he-was way — to look back to the first half of last season and remember how annoyed Brady was, and how much he foreshadowed what was to come, at the issues with the Patriots offense.
They scored a bunch of points early — at least 30 in six of their first seven games — yet I recall Brady struggling to hide his frustration even early on. In Week 3, a suspense-free 30-14 win over the Jets in which the Patriots were up, 20-0, at halftime, Brady was already lamenting the attrition on the offense (Julian Edelman got hurt in that game and I’m not sure he’s been healthy since.)
“Lot of moving parts, guys playing a lot of positons they’ve never really been in,” said Brady after that one, lamenting that the Patriots punted seven times. “But no one feels like … this is the NFL, so there’s nobody feeling sorry for anybody out there. There’s no teams that are, ‘Man, poor Patriots,’ you know?”
That was the week after Antonio Brown’s debut and finale as a Patriot. Brady never let that go, did he?
The Patriots will play their seventh game of the season Sunday. When they played their seventh last year, they remained undefeated with another rout of the Jets, this time 33-0.
Brady didn’t show much frustration after that one despite throwing just one touchdown pass (to Phillip Dorsett), but after a win over the Browns the following week, the season turned south.
The Patriots got outclassed by the Ravens, 37-20, in Week 9, the first loss in a 4-5 stretch (including the noncompetitive playoff loss to the Titans) that concluded the Brady era.
Brady’s most obvious frustration with his circumstances was after a Week 11 win over the Eagles, when he curtly answered nine questions in a postgame press conference that lasted less than two minutes. His full answer to the question of whether he was concerned about the Patriots offense: “It doesn’t matter what I think. It matters what we do.”
A few weeks later, with nothing changed for the better, he couldn’t hide his discouragement during the playoff game, yelling not only at favorite target (with ire, not with the football) N’Keal Harry, but also Edelman for lining up in the wrong spot. They were among his final scenes as the Patriots quarterback.
He knew the Patriots didn’t have enough long before they proved it to the rest of us. Maybe the hypothetical shouldn’t ask what would their record be with him now, but instead this:
Why didn’t we listen to what Brady was trying to say then, when the record was great but his knowing mood was anything but?