After falling behind to an opponent at Gillette Stadium, Tom Brady and the Patriots began their patented fourth quarter rally as they often do at home. We’ve seen this before. We saw it last week, when Brady downed the Texans on a last-minute drive.
This time the Patriots trailed 30-16 with under 9:00 remaining before Brady led the Patriots on two scoring drives. It seemed like the usual Brady comeback. Hurry-up offense, precision passing, and a game-tying touchdown pass to Danny Amendola on 4th-and-goal.
All Brady needed next was a shot at a game-winning drive. He never got it. After Cam Newton was sacked on a 3rd-and-10 by Deatrich Wise, Jr– the Patriots lone bright spot among a sea of below-average pass rushers — a yellow flag hit the field, as a sinking feeling rushed through the packed crowd of Patriots fans in Gillette Stadium. It was an illegal contact penalty on Stephon Gilmore, the Patriots $65 million free agent acquisition. First down for the Panthers.
Newton ended up driving the Panthers downfield with help from another flag on Patrick Chung, and a clutch catch by a gimpy Devin Funchess. Graham Gano nailed the 48-yard game-winning field goal, and the Panthers (3-1) escaped with a win over the Patriots (2-2) in Foxboro, 33-30.
Where do the Patriots go from here? Brady is having one of his best seasons (1,399 yards, 10 TDs, 0 INT, 116.6 passer rating) as the offense looks to be among the league’s best, yet the Patriots are another Brady miracle away from being 1-3, with three losses at home, thanks to one of the worst defenses in league history through four games. This is uncharted territory for the Patriots in the Bill Belichick-era.
Yes, the Patriots have stumbled through the first month of a season before, only to win or at least make the Super Bowl. But this defense is historically bad by all measures.
Jason La Confora of CBS Sports wrote a piece yesterday suggesting the Patriots should trade backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo in hopes of getting defensive front seven players in return. I don’t think it’ll happen because it’s not as easy as it sounds for the Patriots, but I tend to agree. Whether the Patriots want Chargers pass rusher Melvin Ingram, or one of the many prospects the 49ers are harvesting during a rebuilding year, something needs to be done. This defense will probably improve as is, since it’s difficult for them to get any worse. But it seems impossible to think this defense can improve enough for the Patriots to seriously contend for another championship. That’s evident by the Patriots first four games with Brady playing as is.
Another trade piece to monitor is Malcolm Butler. Butler has not played well since last year’s AFC Championship Game, and will all but likely be in another uniform next season. The Patriots may attempt to help their front seven in return for trading Butler soon.
The Patriots will still win the AFC East with what they have, despite the panic that has rightfully ensued. The Jets (2-2) and Dolphins (1-2) aren’t very good at football in 2017, and the Bills (3-1) won’t keep this up. It’s amazing Buffalo is playing as well as they have thus far.
But the Patriots need to at least tinker with what they have by making moderate moves at the very least, or they’re in big trouble. If a move is made, expect it to happen after Thursday Night’s game in Tampa Bay, where the Patriots will have 10 days before they travel to New York to face the Jets.
Deshaun Watson: The man
Last May, after the Texans moved up 13 spots to select Deshaun Watson with the 12th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, I praised the move in a column I wrote for a class taught by J.A. Adande.
I could just lazily let this column speak for itself, but I also have video proof, via our Medill NFL Draft show, which was filmed the morning after Watson was drafted by the Texans. Fast forward to 4:04 on the video below and give it a listen.
Look, no one wants to hear me boast about my Watson premonition last May. But when thinking about this past draft, how can the Browns pass on Watson with three first-round picks.
Granted, Watson has started just three games, and the Browns hardly have the pieces that the Texans do (solid defense, offensive playmakers in DeAndre Hopkins, Lamar Miller, Will Fuller IV) but by just watching Watson thus far, you can tell he is a winner.
It may be too early to pile on teams that drafted quarterbacks ahead of Watson, but sometimes scouts, general managers, and fans get caught up in a player’s “potential” rather then focusing on a talented player who has demonstrated leadership in big-game situations in college.
Watson led Clemson to two National Championship Games, slaying mighty Alabama in the second on a game-winning touchdown pass on the last play of the game. Yes, quarterbacks should still be evaluated on their size, mechanics, arm strength and the mysterious attribute called potential. But what about mental toughness, poise, clutch play versus a near-NFL quality defense in Alabama?
Houston made the right move in trading up for Watson, and through three games, it’s shown.
Larry Fitzgerald: An under-appreciated career?
At the end of an otherwise horrid game between the 49ers and Cardinals in Arizona, Larry Fitzgerald once again added to his legend with yet another extraordinary overtime touchdown in University of Phoenix Stadium.
Since this game lacked significance, I suspect most of today’s talk around the league will be regarding Panthers-Patriots, Raiders-Broncos and others, I think Fitzgerald should be mentioned.
On Twitter last week, one of my Northwestern colleagues stated Fitzgerald might be a top 5 wide receiver of all-time. He just might be.
If you combine his career stats with his virtually immaculate postseason play (which includes his 2008 postseason that led the Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII), I don’t see why he wouldn’t belong in the Top 5. Sure, their are many others with resumes near Fitzgerald just from the last few decades. Guys such as Marvin Harrison, Calvin Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Terrell Owens and Andre Johnson. But with Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. still many great years away from joining the conversation, it may be at least fair to say that Fitzgerald is up there with the very best of the last 20 years, in which high-volume passing became more prevalent.
I’d have him at No. 2 during that span, barely behind Randy Moss.