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Patriots Rant: The Second Half

Posted by Chase Stuart on January 16, 2007

Yesterday, I went on a big anti-Patriots rant. Today I'll conclude it, by looking at the Pats from 2003-2006. Once again, here's the official PFR Warning from Doug:

I’ve got a busy week ahead, so Chase will be taking over for some/most of the upcoming week.

Chase hates the Patriots.

Chase really, really hates the Patriots.

He has been ordered to use the “rant” categorization instead of trying to pretend like he’s doing honest analysis. management — which also hates the Patriots, but only the normal amount — will not be held responsible for anything he might say.

While Doug and I enjoy providing logical and dispassionate analysis nearly every day, I think it's probably good to show that at heart we're both sports fans, and therefore capable of intense and maybe even irrational hate. Anyway, let's start off at the beginning of the 2003 season...

The Pats can't reach an agreement with Lawyer Milloy, and cut him right before the first game. A Boston Globe columnist writes that "Bill Belichick is pond scum again. Arrogant, megalomaniacal, duplicitous pond scum." The Pats then lose their opening game to the Bills 31-0, and Tom Jackson remarks that Bill Belichick has lost his team. So far, so good. Unfortunately, the Patriots would then win 23 of their next 24 games, and 35 of 38 games, and hoist two Lombardi trophies in the process.

So why did the Pats do that? Well because Tom Brady is the best QB ever! At least that's the response you get from Patriots fans, who routinely play up this "we're a great team, we're morally superior to everyone else" and just flat out don't recognize the boatloads of talent on the roster. That 2004 team in particular was stacked. And without a doubt, Belichick did an incredible job coaching the past these last few years.

But let's start with Brady, who I now hate much much more than Peyton Manning. Brady supporters always start their arguments with the number three (which hopefully stays that way forever), but then soon move to "1". As in Tom Brady led the league in TDs in 2002, so he could compile big time stats if he wanted to. While it's true that Brady led the league in TDs that year, it's also true that his 28 TDs were the second fewest to lead the league since the 1982 strike-shortened season. But every Brady conversation inevitably becomes a Brady v. Manning debate, and for the sake of my own sanity, I've been forced to become a big time Peyton Manning backer.

Let's go to the numbers. Obviously Manning just obliterates Brady in the totals (16,000 more yards, 128 more TDs), so let's look at the averages.

For his career, Brady has an 88.4 QB Rating, has averaged 6.37 adjusted yards per attempt, completed 61.9% of his passes, averaged 7.0 yards per attempt, and owns a 1.88 TD/INT ratio. Manning has a 94.4 QB Rating, has averaged 6.97 adjusted yards per attempt, completed 64.0 % of his passes, averaged 7.7 yards per attempt, and owns a 1.98 TD/INT ratio. That's not very close.

But some Brady supporters admit he wasn't that good in his first year, and think we should just compare the two when they started becoming stars. Over the last five years -- i.e., starting when Brady led the NFL in TDs -- how do Brady and Manning compare to their contemporaries?

Fourteen QBs have attempted 2,000 passes since 2002. Manning laps the field, averaging 7.58 AY/A, while the number two QB (Trent Green) averaged 7.07 AY/A. Marc Bulger's third, Matt Hasselbeck's fourth, and Tom Brady's fifth. Drew Brees and Steve McNair aren't far behind, either. Donovan McNabb (1,972 attempts) is right behind Trent Green, and Daunte Culpepper (1,895 attempts) is ahead of Brady as well. If you lower the limit even more, Ben Roethlisberger (1,032 attempts), Carson Palmer (1,461) and even Rich Gannon (907) pass Brady.

In other words, if we never watched a game of post-season play, we'd say that Peyton Manning is well ahead of everyone else, Trent Green and Dononvan McNabb are on the next level of passers (and of course McNabb's a better QB than a passer), and there's a big group with Bulger, Hasselbeck, Brady, Brees, McNair, Culpepper, Palmer, Gannon and Roethlisberger for the best QBs of this era.

But of course we do watch playoff football, where Tom Brady becomes...well, I'll let you decide. Brady's career playoff adjusted yards per attempt ratio? 6.23. Career playoff QB rating? 86.8. Average unadjusted yards per attempt? 6.60. Completion percentage? 60.6%. I won't make you scroll up....EVERY ONE OF THOSE NUMBERS ARE LOWER THAN HIS CAREER REGULAR SEASON AVERAGES. Brady doesn't turn from Drew Brees and Matt Hasselbeck into Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas in the post-season, he turns into a slightly less effective version of himself.

Yet Patriots fans think he will end his career as The Best QB of All Time. Which I find pretty interesting, considering you'd be hard pressed to point to a single great season Brady has had. Maybe you remember this summer, when I looked at the best QBs of all time in both a single season and for a career. Here are Brady's ranks:

Year Rank
2005 85th best of all time
2004 182nd best of all time
2003 231st best of all time
2001 480th best of all time

Not a very inspiring list, is it? You may notice that I left out Brady's 2002 season. That's because he averaged 5.68 adjusted yards per pass that year, which was below the league average. So in his one "record-breaking" season, Brady finished below the league average for QBs in the single most important statistic. That might have something to do with New England missing the playoffs that year.

So can Brady really be considered among the all-time greats when he his best years weren't even very good? Six Steve Young seasons rank above Brady's best year, as do five Peyton Manning years, four Roger Staubach years, three Joe Montana years (along with many others), and even a Ken O'Brien, Vinny Testaverde and Chad Pennington year!

Brady's got just one season among the top 180 of all time. Steve Young, Joe Montana, Dan Fouts and Roger Staubach all have seven in the top 180. Marino has six, and Ken Anderson, Fran Tarkenton, Trent Green and Peyton Manning all have five (I'd imagine Manning's 2006 season would also get there, but I haven't run the numbers for this year just yet). Really, Brady has little to go on other than his post-season success. For his career (pre-2006), Brady ranks as the 27th best regular season QB of all-time, mostly because he hasn't hurt himself with any bad years yet. But I think you'd be hard pressed to look at his numbers alone and call him anything more than a very good QB. (And his playoff numbers are worse than his regular season numbers).

Anyway, that felt much better. Let's go back in the timeline now. The Pats are obliterating everyone they face in 2003, and lead the league in points allowed that year. In particular, New England's incredible against the pass, leading the league in yards per attempt allowed, TDs allowed, and interceptions. Even this year's Ravens couldn't do that. So if you want to start giving credit for a 14-2 season, that's the first place you should look.

Now I was out of the country in January 2004, so I couldn't see the 2003 playoffs. New England beat Tennessee 17-14, after Brady led New England on a 13 yard drive to kick the eventual game winning field goal. That's not a 13 play drive, but a 13 yard drive. Patriots supporters would say "Brady did enough to win", but they needed a 46 yard kick from Vinatieri to win that game, hardly a gimme. Especially since The Most Clutch Playoff Kicker to Ever Miss Two Chip Shots in the Super Bowl had missed from 44 yards earlier. As it was, the kick from 46 just made it over the cross-bar. (Yes, I'm well aware this is Vinatieri's patented move these days, and I sure hope he can do it again this weekend.)

From what I've read, Drew Bennett dropped a 4th down catch in the game's final minute that could have given Tennessee a great chance to tie the game. Maybe Brady's aura made his hands go numb. Brady threw for 201 yards on 41 passes, so this certainly was not his finest day. But the defense won it for the Pats, as a Rodney Harrison INT set up their critical TD.

We move to the AFC Championship game, where the Colts fell the Pats, 24-14. This it the Ty Law game, where Law intercepted three Manning passes. The Pats D was the story of the day, with 4 sacks and 4 INTs and a fumble recovery. The Colts defense wasn't very good that year, but it did allow only one TD to the Pats. Brady played an alright game, but threw an INT at the Colts goal-line, which is inexcusable for any QB not named Brady. The Pats got a safety and five FGs, in part because Brady averaged just 5.46 AY/A. It's no secret who the hero of this game was. And because I didn't see the game, I won't comment on the Patriots' alleged mugging of the Colts receivers.

So Tom Brady's 5-0, after being incredibly lucky in the first three playoff games, and having an incredible defense in the last two. Now comes the Super Bowl, where even I'll admit Brady played an excellent game. He threw for 354 yards and 3 TDs, although to be fair that come on a whopping 48 attempts and he did throw an INT. It wasn't one of the top ten Super Bowl stat lines of all time by a QB, and it wasn't even the best by a QB that day. Jake Delhomme ate up The Genius' D by throwing for 323 yards on 15 fewer passes, and had 3 TDs and zero INTs.

Adam Vinatieri missed two FGs that day, from 31 and 36 yards out. If the Panthers get a 2 point conversion, that game probably goes to overtime. Certainly Brady deserves credit for the W, but I'm not going to gush over him about it.

In 2004, the Pats were good. Scary good. This is an all-time great team, for sure. And just so we don't forget, Brady had an absolutely miserable game on Monday Night Football against the Fins (maybe the national TV audience pressure got to him), including one of the worst INTs I've ever seen. But because it's Brady, we shrug that off. Unfortunately, that game's the only thing I've got on the Pats all year, outside of getting creamed by the Steelers in mid-season.

In the playoffs, the defense was the story again, holding the Colts to just three points. That might have been the best game plan I've ever seen by a coach, so big props to BB for that one. That Colts defense was absolutely terrible, though, and Brady only passed for 144 yards and 1 TD on 27 passes. The Colts were mauled by Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk (34 carries, 200 yards) but still didn't put many points on the board.

Brady played well in the AFC Championship Game against the Steelers, but the story was again the defense. The Pats had a defensive score and forced four turnovers, and completely overwhelmed Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. Tom Terrific threw for 207 yards and two scores.

In the Super Bowl, Brady was again very good, throwing for 236 yards and two TDs. The defense forced four turnovers though, and completely shut down the Eagles running game (Brian Westbrook had 15 carries for 44 yards). A great win by the team, but the defense was again the silent hero.

After this year, the Pats suffered a lot of losses, and 2005 wasn't a great season by New England standards. Having to hear all the "Well now it's the playoffs" talk by Pats fans was pretty sickening, but fortunately there's a happy ending. The Pats blew out the Jaguars, who like they do seemingly every other week, decided not to show up. The Pats got an INT returned for a TD and allowed only 3 points, and the Patriots offense amazingly recovered all four of their fumbles.

And then in Denver last year, the Brady/Belichick magical joyride came to an end. Brady was picked off at the goal line again, but this time Champ Bailey ran it back for a TD. Brady threw two picks, and his team scored just thirteen points. Six net points in a road playoff game certainly isn't very awe inspiring.

This is getting long-winded, even for me. I'm gonna cut things short here and just add a few quick points.

The game Sunday was awful to watch, as the Chargers just gave the Pats the game. As a wise man in red once said, they let them off the hook. Tom Brady's luck never ceases to amaze me. On third down he gets hit, sacked and fumbles, and if it's any other QB it's returned for a TD. Instead his lineman recovers, the Chargers got an Unnecessary Roughness penalty, and New England has a first down. Brady throws an INT, it's returned and fumbled. These things just don't normally happen. Sure handed Eric Parker drops a ton of balls, and can't hold on to a punt. If Vincent Jackson learns how to drag his toe, the Pats lose. If Marty doesn't waste a timeout on the challenge, the Pats probably lose. If anyone on the Chargers can catch a ball, the Pats lose. Brady should have been picked off five or six times, but every single bounce broke the Pats way. It was like watching the 2001 AFC Championship Game all over again.

So now we get Colts-Pats, with the premiere QB of our time against the man people think is the premiere QB of our time. What do us Pats-haters/Colts-fans have to hang our hats on?

In 2001, the Pats swept the Colts in the regular season, winning two blowouts. In 2002, the teams didn't play. In 2003, the Colts lost to the Pats at home and then lost in the playoffs on the road. In 2004, the the Colts lost to the Pats on the road, and then lost to the Pats at home.

To recap, the Colts are now 0-6 against the Patriots, including three games in Indianapolis. The Colts stunk against NE in the regular season, and stunk against NE in the playoffs. There's no playoff curse at work here.

The Pats had a good amount of turnover since then. And guess what? In 2005, the Colts beat the Patriots in Foxboro. In 2006, the Colts beat the Patriots in Foxboro. The Colts have no reason to be afraid of playing New England in the RCA Dome.

If history holds, the team that won in the regular season would win in the playoffs. From 2001-2004, the Pats were always the better team, and that's why they won. In 2005, the Colts were clearly the better team, and they won. This year, I think the Colts were the better team at the time they played, although I think NE might have been the better team this year.

But there's little reason to think "Manning against the Patriots in the playoffs" scares the Colts at all, unless the Pats are bringing back Romeo Crennell, Charlie Weis, Eric Mangini, Joe Andruzzi, Deion Branch, David Givens, Ted Johnson, Ty Law, Willie McGinest, David Patten and Adam Vinatieri. The true hero in all those old games was the defense, and hopefully this game being indoors will be the ticket Peyton Manning needs to get to the Super Bowl.