Life without Brady: some historical context
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 07, 2008
By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts history major
If our old pal history is any indication, heart-broken Patriots fans can still cling to hope, even as they acknowledge the loss of Tom Brady for what's being reported as a season-ending injury.
Of course, the pundits at large don't think so. Jeffrey Chadiha on ESPN.com writes that "there's no way the Patriots make the playoffs without Brady." Even the most important "pundit" on Planet Pigskin, the Cold, Hard Football Facts themselves, declared in the aftermath of Sunday's game that if "Brady's absence is an extended one, New England will suffer dearly."
But history tells us these immediate reactions may be jumping the gun.
Remember the 1968 Colts? That team went 13-1 before losing to Joe Namath and the Jets in Super Bowl III. But the great Johnny Unitas watched almost all of it unfold from the bench, after suffering a shoulder injury in Week 1. In his place came Earl Morrall, an aging QB who rarely played during a 13-year career with five different teams. Yet Morral led the team to one of the great seasons in history: the 1968 Colts stood as the most dominant team of the Super Bowl Era before being surpassed by the 2007 Patriots. (They also stood as the greatest team never to win a Super Bowl being being surpassed by the 2007 Patriots in that category, too.)
Remember the 1972 Dolphins? The only undefeated team of the championship-game era lost their franchise QB, Bob Griese, in Week 5. In came – guess who! – Earl Morrall. He led the Dolphins to the undefeated season, playing every game from Week 5 through the AFC championship game, before being replaced by Griese in Super Bowl VII. In an interesting twist, the Dolphins played its worst offensive game of the year in the Super Bowl with Griese at the helm, scoring just 14 points.
Remember the 1999 Rams? They lost their franchise QB, Trent Green, in the preseason. In came supermarket stock boy and Arena League veteran Kurt Warner, who led the Rams to one of the great offensive seasons of all time (526 points scored) and a Super Bowl title.
Remember the 2001 Patriots? It goes without saying that New England fans remember it: franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe went down in Week 2 and the team appeared headed for the glue heap – not the Super Bowl and future dynasty status, which is where the team ended up under the guidance of anonymous Bledsoe back-up Tom Brady.
So yes, there is hope among the heartbreak, although this situation with Brady is different than the ones just outlined.
The 1968 Colts planned for Unitas' injury, and knew Morrall would be their man. The perfect 1972 Dolphins were a run-first team with a top-notch defense and didn't depend upon Griese the way the Patriots did Brady. Green, before being replaced by Warner, had never established himself in St. Louis the way Brady had in New England.
The best parallel in that best-case-scenario group is probably the 2001 Patriots – a veteran star replaced by totally green kid – but that is also quite flawed. The 2001 Patriots were considered a bottom feeder (5-11 the previous year and 0-2 to start the 2001 season), so expectations were quite low. Plus Bledsoe was never the caliber of quarterback that Brady was when he went down yesterday.
But there are more accurate parallels to New England's situation today.
The 1993 Dolphins. They were fresh off an AFC title game loss and were built around Dan Marino. When Marino went down for the season after five games, the 4-1 Dolphins turned to Scott Mitchell (who had done absolutely nothing in his career). Mitchell played well (84.6 rating) to keep the Dolphins alive, but in the end the defense fell apart and they closed with five losses in a row. (Mitchell, for his part, parlayed his 84.6 passer rating into a big contract in Detroit; so Brady replacement Cassel certainly has financial incentive to play well.)
The 1999 49ers. The 1999 season looked to be another chapter in San Francisco's amazing run. All was well at 2-1 until Steve Young went down for the year and they could manage only a 2-11 record without him, mostly behind former CFL star QB Jeff Garcia.
The 1991 Eagles. This team might provide the best comparison to the 2008 Patriots. In 1990, QB Randall Cunningham put up MVP-caliber numbers, completing 271 of 465 passes (58.3%) for 3,466 yards, 7.45 YPA, 30 TD, 13 INT and a 91.6 passer rating. With a solid defense to go along with him, the sky was the limit for 1991.
Then, in the first quarter of the first game, Cunningham (who had never been hurt) went down for the season and it was a brand-new ball game. The Eagles did have an experienced backup in Jim McMahon, a Super Bowl champion with the 1985 Bears. But this was a McMahon far removed from his glory days. He had thrown a total of 33 TD passes in the five years since his crowning win.
The Eagles shifted gears. They went from an explosive squad with a great passing game to a team that employed a four-way running back committee, kept McMahon from doing too much, and played stingy defense.
And, after a rough start, it nearly worked. The Eagles won seven of their last eight games to end the year at 10-6, the same record they had in 1990, but with an entirely diffferent type of ball club.
The 1991 Eagles just missed out on the playoffs. But the story has an amazing twist: The Eagles were led by Rich Kotite, in his first year as an NFL coach. So the 2008 Patriots clearly have an advantage over the 1991 Eagles in the head-coaching area. Bill Belichick is considered one of the best coaches in history. Kotite is a poster boy for ineffective NFL leadership.
The 2008 Patriots, facing the same situation, may shift gears in a similar way as the 1991 Eagles, turning to the ground game and taking some of the air our of their spectacular passing game.
But clearly, all is not lost for the Patriots. There's precedent for the highest of highs to balance the lowest of lows.
It's up to Matt Cassel now, to become a footnote to history or a maker of it.
A sad day for Patriots fans and NFL fans in general, but spellbinding theater as well.
Forearm Shiver: the CHFF Blog
- Wise Guys: Broncos, Patriots, 49ers Top Expected Win Totals In 2013
- Hockey Announcer Gone Wild: You Want To Party (Maybe) With This Guy
- Best Pass Defense Ever: Ronde Barber And The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Reese Witherspoon Arrest Video: Hot, Bothered And Handcuffed
- Sam Adams In A Can, Just In Time For Summer Drinking Season
- 'Cheeseheads' Reality Show Destined To Suck
- The 5.0 Club: Best Rushing Teams in NFL History
- Sieves: The Worst Run Defenses In NFL History
- 2013 NFL Schedule: The Year Of The Denver Broncos
- Boston, Sports, Patriotism And Terror
- Monsters of the Midway: We Need The Chicago Bears More Than Ever
- The 100 Stingiest Defenses In Football History
- NFL Crown Rule: Will It Dethrone Rushing King Adrian Peterson?
- Big Tease: 2012 New England Patriots And NFL's History Of Offensive Failures
- Epic Fail: The Wide Receiver Draft Class Of 2012
Must See Videos