In between the mumbles and grumbles, Bill Belichick’s most common retort whenever he’s asked a question is that he’s only concerned about what’s best for his football team. Losing Tom Brady for four games, which looks all but inevitable now that his appeal was denied, may fit that bill.
The last time the Patriots were forced to play without Brady was 2008, when he tore his ACL following a vicious hit he took in the first quarter of the first game of the season. Undrafted backup Matt Cassel was forced to take over Brady’s duties without any prior notice, and led the Patriots to an 11-5 record. Though the Pats narrowly missed the playoffs, the ’08 campaign may go down as one of Belichick’s finest coaching jobs, given all the adversity the team faced.
The relative success of that season shows that the Patriots should be able to withstand Brady’s absence for a quarter of the schedule. This time around, 2014 second-round pick Jimmy Garoppolo is slated to temporarily take the reins, and he’s had more than a year to prepare for this moment.
“I’ve got this. I’m just as handsome as Tom and I’ve got this.” pic.twitter.com/PdZ33q9slT
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) July 13, 2016
Garoppolo, 24, is still largely an unknown at this point, given that he’s only taken the field in preseason games, blowouts and regular season finales. But the Patriots thought highly enough of his skill set to select him with the 62nd pick in the draft, despite the fact that he played college ball at Eastern Illinois in Division I-AA.
Following their season-opener against the Arizona Cardinals, the Patriots will return home to take on the Dolphins, Texans, and Bills for the remaining three contests of Brady’s suspension. Given the Patriots’ dominance at Gillette Stadium—they’ve won 83 percent of their games in that building—they should be favored against each one of those lackluster opponents.
With a blossoming young defense, the Patriots shouldn’t have to light up the scoreboard to win this season. As long as Garoppolo can manage the game and avoid turnovers, it’s fair to expect them to be victorious in three of those four games.
If that’s the case, then a rested Brady would return for a Week 5 matchup against the lowly Cleveland Browns with the Patriots in position to win the division and secure a first-round playoff bye. It would be like he never left, except for the fact that his soon-to-be 39-year old body would be sparred four weeks of wear and tear.
Though Belichick would never admit this publicly, that’s the most favorable outcome for the Patriots—even more than having Brady’s suspension vacated. Garoppolo is a free agent next year, and a strong showing in Brady’s absence could allow the Patriots to trade him for a first-round pick. That would be the ultimate payback, considering the NFL stripped the Patriots of their first-round selection this spring.
This legal ruling was an extraordinary win for Emperor Goodell, who successfully destroyed Brady’s reputation over an alleged equipment violation. But the Patriots are in position to have the last laugh, and Belichick is probably rubbing his hands in anticipation—letting out a menacing laugh in a darkened video room somewhere.
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