By BEN SHATZMAN
The Patriots dismantled the undefeated Bengals, 43-17, at home on Sunday night. Tom Brady threw for nearly 300 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. A New England team that had been struggling appeared to have returned to its winning ways. But even after the landslide victory, Tom Brady found himself in the headlines for off-the-field reasons. ESPN reported that tension between Brady and his coaching staff could lead to the end of Brady’s historic tenure in Foxborough. Brady, as ESPN reported, has been “uncomfortable with Patriots’ changes.” Although Brady has vehemently denied any such internal issues with his team, the fact of the matter is this: Tom Brady has the right to be disappointed with the staff that he has won three Super Bowl titles for, because they have failed to surround him with the talent he deserves.
The Pats are still the favorite to win the AFC East this season. They have won their division 11 of the 13 seasons Tom Brady has been on the team. Now 3-2, the Pats appear to have moved on from their sluggish early-season start, and are playing classic Patriots football. But despite having one of the greatest quarterbacks to every play in the leagueunder center, the Patriots rank in the bottom half of the league in passing yards. Yes, the Patriots have always been known to run the ball a lot – more than some feel they should – but where has New England’s prized passing attack gone? Most of the leagues’ top quarterbacks are currently leading the NFL in yards: Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, Peyton Manning and so on. Not Tom Brady. The reason for this is simple: New England, year after year, has provided Brady with one of the league’s worst receiving corps – one far, far less talented than those of New Orleans, Atlanta, Denver, etc.
With an all-time great under center, why has New England not made a move – via draft, signing or trade – to acquire a big-play pass-catcher? Rob Gronkowski is as good of a receiving tight end as any in the league, but with no outside receiving threats, opposing defenses can focus their game plans on containing Gronk. Today, New England’s number one receiver is Julian Edelman. Edelman’s a good player who catches everything thrown his way, but he’s only 5’10”. He’s not much of a deep threat, and is more of a 10-catches-for-eight-yards-a-piece kind of guy. He’s perfect for Tom Brady, but not as a number one receiver. Edelman is far better suited in a Wes Welker, slot receiver type role. A few seasons ago, Edelman was the Patriots third or fourth option. But Edelman is the number one because he is the best wideout the Pats have to offer. Behind him on the depth chart are unproven young players (Aaron Dobson), small, Edelman-like slot receivers (Danny Amendola) and guys who have failed to make much of an impression at the pro level (Brandon LaFell). These guys are okay – maybe a little better than okay – but Tom Brady deserves better talent.
The only seasons Brady has had a true number one receiver on his team were ’07, ’08 and ‘09. On draft day 2007, the Pats acquired superstar receiver Randy Moss from the Raiders. In Moss’ first season in New England, he broke Jerry Rice’s single-season record for touchdown receptions with 23. In Brady’s first season with Moss, he broke Peyton Manning’s single season record with 50 touchdown passes. Oh, and the Pats went 16-0 in the regular season and nearly recorded the league’s second perfect season before losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl. Moss caught 11-plus touchdowns in his final two seasons in New England. With other solid receivers like Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth on the roster, teams could not implement similar shut-down-Moss gameplans like the ones seen today versus Rob Gronkowski.
Despite the success of the Brady-Moss duo, the Pats have not acquired a big-name receiver since Moss’ departure. The franchise notorious for trading draft picks in order to stockpile picks in later years has failed to draft a potential-packed receiving stud. Gronkowski was a second round pick, and a great one at that, but besides him, little has been done to give Tom Brady big-time targets. With the number of star receivers who have entered the league in the last few years, it’s shocking – and frustrating for Brady fans. Doesn’t the Pats’ front office see what everyone else sees? What about Bill Belichick?
Tom Brady is still a top-five quarterback in the NFL. He is still the same Tom Brady that won three super bowls, as exhibited in his surgical picking-apart of a top Bengals’ defense. If Brady does, in fact, have issues with his staff, you can’t blame him. With just one star receiver alongside No.12, the Patriots offense would be Broncos-like in terms of effectiveness.
It’s time for moves to be made in New England. As a longtime fan of Tom Brady, I would be sad to see Brady leave the Pats for any reason, but it’s his teams’ job to ensure that the franchises’ all-time greatest player retires in blue and white.