ORCHARD PARK, N.Y — There have been many, many reasons for the two-decade long dynasty built by Bill Belichick and the Patriots, and one of them was as much a credit to how good he was as it was to how bad the rest of the division was.
For 20 years, Tom Brady owned the AFC East. Selection No. 199 of the 2000 NFL Draft became the greatest quarterback of all time on his prodigious talents, but there’s no doubt he got some help by default as he feasted on the rest of the division.
While he stood tall in the pocket, the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills put bad quarterback after bad quarterback up against him, a lineup of patsies who toppled over like flimsy targets in a carnival game.
That era is over, and Monday night’s game in Buffalo told a different quarterback story. Brady successor Mac Jones won’t have it so easy, but for those of us watching those lopsided scores for so long, we might have it a lot more fun.
The Bills’ Josh Allen has ascended to the rarefied air of NFL quarterbacking, and in this, his fourth year in the league, continues to improve with every passing season. And while he has the experienced upper hand on his young opponent, the Patriots’ starter has been poised and solid enough as a rookie to seem a worthy opponent for years to come.
”Yeah, absolutely,” ESPN “Monday Night Football” analyst and former NFL quarterback Brian Griese said in a weekend phone conversation. “Part of Bill Belichick’s success in the AFC East is that he’s feasted on young quarterbacks. The Jets, Miami, and Buffalo, they had this cycle of young quarterbacks that Bill could take advantage of. He took advantage of Josh Allen in the first two seasons.
“Last season was a completely different story. I think that Bill looks at Josh Allen differently this year than he ever has. It’s not going to be, ‘Hey, I can fool this young quarterback. I have to manage him.’ Bill understands that Josh Allen is going to be around, be in the division.”
Belichick made it abundantly clear early last week how impressed he has been with Allen’s improvement, heaping the Bills’ starter with praise.
“His improvement has just been tremendous,” Belichick said. “Where it was three years ago, completion percentage, passer rating, decision making, production, it has just gone [up]. It’s risen at a really remarkable rate. It’s just remarkable how good he has become.
“Last year, this year, he’s built on that, what it was when he came into the league, but he’s really made tremendous improvement and has a lot of command of the offense.
“They audible a lot. They change things. They, obviously, have a lot of confidence in him. He handles them well on the line. Every once in a while they’ll run a bad play where they run into a bad look or a blitz or something like that. He doesn’t get fooled much by anything. It’s really, really impressive to watch how he’s developed there.”
Of course, Jones has received plenty of praise around the league as well, and has positioned himself as a favorite for offensive rookie of the year thanks to that mixture of poise, accuracy, and relatively mistake-free football. He’s not yet in Allen’s class, but the idea that he, along with Tua Tagovailoa in Miami (and who knows with the hapless Jets), could be waging competitive battles for years to come is intriguing.
Jones has done his part by proving how NFL ready he was, aided no doubt by dropping into the win-now, free agency-fortified Patriots.
”To me it starts with his understanding of the game and his ability to process the information,” Griese said. “Most rookie quarterbacks come into the league, and especially first-round draft picks, they go to teams like the Jets or Jaguars that are struggling. We know that’s not the case here.
“Everything I’m saying is based on Mac having the best supporting cast around him and best coaching staff in football, and they are important pieces of the conversation. Those are just the table being set and then he had to go out and do the job. He deserves a lot of credit for understanding what they’re trying to accomplish. He’s not going out there and playing like a rookie.
“I think each week Josh [McDaniels] has put a little bit more on his plate as he realizes Mac can handle it, one, two, demonstrate he can go out and execute it, make the right decision in crunch time, under duress and not make the terrible play.”
For so many years, relatively terrible quarterback play was the norm for three teams in the AFC East. Maybe that conversation is changing.
“Oh absolutely,” ESPN’s Marcus Spears said. “Unless Buffalo and that [Allen] contact hamstrings them from roster building to keep him supported, yeah, it should be a rivalry for a while. I don’t think Miami is far behind. Tua is good enough and has enough room left to his ceiling to be uber-competitive.”