Tom Brady’s AFC East departure may be cause for celebration, but the New York Jets’ yearly set with New England only gets marginally easier.
In September 2001, the New York Jets inadvertently unleashed the Tom Brady nightmare on the NFL when a Mo Lewis hit knocked Drew Bledsoe out of their Week 2 showdown.
Nearly two decades later, it’s apparently over. Like many in the near-retirement community, Brady, 42, is headed to Florida courtesy of a two-year, $50 million deal bestowed to him by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Uprooted from New England will be Brady’s six Super Bowl titles, three MVP awards, five All-Pro nominations and a 30-8 record against the Jets.
Needless to say, the response from a metropolitan area desperate for good news is perhaps comparable to the galaxy-wide celebration after the fall of the Galactic Empire in Return of the Jedi‘s closing act. Social distancing and quarantining might be the only thing stopping a parade down the Canyon of Heroes bidding Brady farewell. Brady is now the NFC’s problem. Sure, Tampa Bay visits East Rutherford in 2021 but that’s an extremely tolerable substitute for the yearly couple.
It thus feels like the Patriots’ day of reckoning has finally come. Two decades of torture, perhaps straight-up bullying, will finally come back to bite them. Long have fans of the Jets, and probably every football fan outside of the New England area, waited to see the departure of Brady plummet the Patriots back to the dark times: the days of Pat Patriot on their helmets, the days where 8-8 was considered Patriot progress. The will of Foxboro patrons could well be tested in the coming months. Brady did leave New England with no concrete succession plan in place. Their current savior under center is slated to be Jarrett Stidham, a 2019 fourth-round pick whose already minuscule playing time was dramatically slashed when Jamal Adams victimized him for a pick-six in the meaningless stages of yet another Jets defeat.
But, if Jets fans are smart, they won’t crack open the Brady-induced bubbly just yet.
For one thing, the Jets really can’t gloat about anything until they gain some sustainable success against the Patriots. The series, of course, has been ridiculously one-sided since that fateful September late afternoon and, even in Brady’s declining years, things weren’t shifting in the Jets’ favor.
There’s no denying that Brady at his worst is better than many quarterbacks at their best. He’s undoubtedly in a position to make the Buccaneers better. But there was no denying that the past few years saw Brady lose a step or two. In Brady’s last eight matchups against the Jets, his passer rating dipped under 90 on four separate occasions. New England won each of those games by an average of two touchdowns, including a 33-0 shellacking in a Monday night game back in October.
In fact, even when the Jets managed to keep Brady in relative check, victory isn’t guaranteed. When Brady posted a passer rating under 90, the Patriots were nonetheless 10-7 in games against the Jets.
It should be obvious by this point that the Patriots are the Patriots…not the Bradys. They’ve built their dynasty by a team effort, not by any one individual effort. Nobodies, spare parts left for football dead by other squads, have risen to play crucial roles in New England victories. Sure, the on-field brilliance of Brady has served as a jolt to several of these resurrected careers, but no amount of offensive prowess could explain what the defense has done.
Last season, no team allowed fewer points, first downs, or yards than the Patriots. Opponents converted only an astonishing 24 percent of their third downs against them. Their 25 interceptions were five more than their closest competitor (Pittsburgh). This is a fearsome unit that has lost some crucial pieces, but they still retain vital weapons like both McCourty brothers (Jason and Devin, the latter of whom inked a two-year deal).
September’s visit to Gillette Stadium, for example, saw the Jets score their first touchdown in defeat when they jumped on a muffed New England punt in the end zone. It was their first touchdown scored in Massachusetts in nearly four calendar years. You can’t pin that one on Tom Brady.
Fellow secondary hawks like Stephon Gilmore and Patrick Chung will likewise be back, as will experienced pass rushers like Dont’a Hightower, Adam Butler, and Chase Winovich. Such firepower is enough to keep any quarterback on edge, much less one vying to be the face of the franchise.
Whoever succeeds Brady on offense, be it Stidham, be it a veteran free agent, be it a rookie from the upcoming draft, has been set up in a relatively pleasant situation. Protection will be available from an experienced line that let up only 28 sacks last season. The Patriots even denied the Jets a chance to let one of those men block for Darnold, franchise tagging All-Pro guard Joe Thuney. New England has routinely gotten by with a strong rushing attack, and the current edition is no exception. Sony Michel is the lead back, complimented by dual-threat James White and the powerful Rex Burkhead. An arsenal of receivers both experienced and young will be available to the new thrower. Julian Edelman leads the way, while the Patriots worked their way into first-round receiver N’Keal Harry with last year’s 32nd pick. Phillip Dorsett could leave via free agency, but reliable reserves are on hand via Mohamed Sanu and incoming free agent Damiere Byrd.
Of course, the whole thing revolves around the constant of Bill Belichick. The famous scowler was there before Brady and he’ll obviously be around afterward. His mind games and expertise will still be around to haunt the Jets. Enough has been said about his relatively fruitless days at the helm of the Cleveland Browns, but remember that this is a guy that won 11 games with a full season of Matt Cassel at quarterback.
The departure of Brady does indeed present the Jets with an opportunity. It apparently took his leaving to finally convince the Jets to fix their long-lingering blocking problems, problems addressed by the arrival of up-and-comers George Fant and Connor McGovern. Fellow divisional foes Buffalo and Miami have also used the offseason funds afforded to them to improve. The Dolphins, in fact, plucked linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts from the Patriots’ lineup.
There’s little argument to the idea that the Jets have gotten better over the past few days, especially on paper. Their backfield saviors of Darnold and Le’Veon Bell have the potential to move freely with improved blocking. They’ve maintained secondary depth with the re-signings of Brain Poole and Arthur Maulet. Is it enough to finally deal a fatal blow to this monster? We’ll see in September.
It’s time to work on the field. The Jets have finally been granted a silent wish in the form of Brady leaving. Time will only tell they’ll wake up soon or if a new, scarier nightmare has only just begun.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags