The Patriots have an elite quarterback issue. No, it’s not about missing That Brady Guy. Lacking an elite quarterback is not the issue plaguing the Patriots I’m referencing. It’s about having no way to stop them anymore.
Coach Bill Belichick and his defenses used to be a roadblock for the NFL’s premier passers. Now, they’re just roadkill. The Patriots dynasty made its bones on taking down and tamping down the best quarterbacks the league had to offer.
The dynasty was born suppressing Kurt Warner and the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. It was cemented by the playoff mastery of Peyton Manning. The list of acclaimed QBs stiff-armed by the Patriots is distinguished.
Ben Roethlisberger never beat the Patriots in the playoffs — losing two AFC title games — or a Tom Brady-led team in Foxborough. Andrew Luck had zero luck against the Patriots (0-6) while throwing 12 TDs and 12 interceptions. Russell Wilson threw away a Super Bowl to . them.
The last time the Patriots added to their Lombardi Trophy collection, they reached the Super Bowl by defeating Patrick Mahomes, bottling up the 2018 NFL MVP and the Chiefs for three quarters before prevailing, 37-31, in overtime. Sacked four times, Mahomes was only 16 for 31 passing, even if he managed 295 yards and three scores.
Those were the days. Those days are over, as evidenced by Lamar Jackson’s five-touchdown toying with the defense last Sunday in a 37-26 New England loss. Fresh off face-planting against Jackson, the Patriots have a date with the pound-for-pound best QB in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers, this Sunday in Green Bay.
The two-time reigning league MVP is like a defensive advanced calculus problem, especially at hallowed Lambeau Field. In Rodgers’s last 21 home starts, he has thrown 52 touchdown passes and three interceptions. That’s not a misprint. The Kyrie Irving of the NFL needs just two more TD passes for 500 for his career.
“This is a great, great, great quarterback,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
And the Patriots don’t really straitjacket great quarterbacks the way they used to. Even with a callow receiving corps that has earned his wrath at times, A-Rod is a problem.
The Patriots’ lack of recent success against high-quality/high-end quarterbacks is both glaring and alarming.
Dating back to December of 2019, when the Patriots rode a 10-1 record into a matchup with Deshaun Watson and the Texans, they’ve struggled against upper-echelon QBs.
Overall, their record is 20-23 since then. It’s much worse against high-end/high-quality QBs (an admittedly subjective qualification) in at least their third NFL season: 1-12*.
Perhaps you’re curious about that asterisk. It’s because I refuse to count the wind-whipped 14-10 win over Josh Allen and the Bills last December. It’s omitted because the Patriots’ best defense was the elements.
They haven’t forced Allen to punt in two non-nor’easter contests since, with the Bills scoring touchdowns on 10 of 13 red zone trips, including 6 of 6 in a 47-17 playoff pasting of the Patriots last January.
Jackson, responsible for New England’s lone elite QB win, in 2020, and Baltimore were a perfect 5 for 5 in the red zone last Sunday at Gillette.
Even counting the wind-aided win against Allen, the Patriots’ record is abysmal against upper-crust QBs over parts of four seasons now, more than a Belichick blip.
That’s certainly not comforting with Rodgers on the docket, Mac Jones’s availability up in the air, and the team staring down a potential 1-3 start.
In the 13 contests referenced, the Patriots allowed an average of 29.9 points per game and 394 yards of offense. The quarterbacks — Watson, Mahomes, Wilson, Allen, Jackson, Brady, and Dak Prescott — threw 34 touchdown passes and six interceptions while completing 68.1 percent of their passes for an average of 281.7 yards per game.
The Patriots’ best effort against a great quarterback recently was against their former one. In his return to Fort Foxborough last October, Brady was 22 of 43 for 269 yards with no touchdown passes as Tampa Tom was limited to 19 points.
If they could bottle the Brady-vengeance vibes, perhaps the Patriots could bottle up a few more elite QBs.
Belichick used to be the guy who caused all kinds of problems for such signal-callers. Now it looks as though he has no answer for experienced franchise quarterbacks. The key word is “experienced.”
Belichick can still befuddle young franchise QBs such as Justin Herbert of the Chargers. But young quarterbacks are inherently easier to fool, and Belichick once had Allen’s number, too, until Allen grew up and outgrew the chess match.
The 39-year-old Rodgers is a chess master.
“A guy who can read every defense and make every throw,” said Patriots safety Devin McCourty. “I mean, as dangerous a QB that you will play.
“Each time you play him, you just talk about things you can do to keep your defense spinning … try not to let him know exactly what you’re in because he’s going to get to the best play.
“There are other quarterbacks who can do that. But he’s going to get to the best play, and then you’re going to have to deal with him throwing a very accurate ball to a guy that’s attacking the weakness of the defense.
“You get everything with Aaron Rodgers, just for a long time as good as you’ll see a guy play quarterback in this league.”
Did I mention that Belichick has less time to dedicate to defensive adjustments now that he’s triaging his ailing offense? Great.
The Patriots defeated Rodgers in 2018. He’s 1-2 all-time against Belichick’s Patriots, completing 55.9 percent of his passes with four TDs and no picks. However, one of those games was a relief appearance for Brett Favre in 2006.
Rodgers still wields his magic. We’ll see if Belichick can summon his old dark arts to reverse the results and the fortunes of the Patriots against the best QBs the NFL has to offer.
Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.