Bill Belichick has been planning for life after Tom Brady for quite sometime now. In an article written by my good friend Pat Lane last summer, he mentions how the New England Patriots would never be in the same situation that the Indianapolis Colts were in after Peyton Manning was lost to a season-ending injury in 2011. He’s been quoted saying that the Colts “sucked for Luck” and the Patriots sure aren’t “sucking for Lawrence” so get those thoughts out of your head for good.
Before we get into it, let’s rewind it all the way back to 2001: The Patriots were led by a strong, veteran defense with names like Ty Law, Tedy Bruschi, Lawyer Milloy, Roman Phifer, Willie McGinest and Mike Vrabel. They had a reliable offensive line with Matt Light, Damien Woody and Joe Andruzzi partnered with a power run game of Antoine Smith with receiving backs like Kevin Faulk and J.R. Redmond out of the backfield, and led by a young quarterback in Tom Brady who limited mistakes and kept things simple.
Ahhh, the good ole days.
Now, in 2020 and Bill Belichick has another young and inexperienced quarterback (highly likely) taking over in Jarrett Stidham. In general, the Patriots’ 2001 team has a lot of similarities to this year’s squad. Not only was it a year where fans and the media alike were not necessarily expecting great things, but the roster has also been built the same way it was two decades ago.
The Patriots return a top defense in the league — with veterans Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower and Stephon Gilmore leading the way — that added speed and athleticism through the draft and free agency. A healthy offensive line will see team captain David Andrews return after a one-year absence, while Joe Thuney is still a Patriot through draft weekend; Isaiah Wynn and Shaq Mason have been solid and consistent when on the field, with Marcus Cannon offering considerable experience opposite Wynn.
With added depth across the board and a healthy offensive line, expect the Patriots to help complement the power run game with Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead and second-year back Damien Harris. Julian Edelman is the chain mover that Tom Brady had in Troy Brown to go along with receiving back James White, a healthy (optimistically speaking) Mohamed Sanu as well as developing second-year players N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers itching to make an impact.
Belichick started planning for “Life after Brady” years ago. He drafted his team’s left tackle of the future in (Wynn), added a receiver in the first round for the first time since taking over the Patriots in 2000 (Harry) and also invested high-round selections in running backs that hold onto the football and can help in the power run game (Michel and Harris) in back-to-back drafts.
Stidham has all the tools to become a competent starter in this league with his arm talent, ability to process information and mobility to make plays outside the pocket, and Belichick is setting up his young quarterback for success in his early years just like he did with Tom Brady. Putting a strong, veteran-led defense on the field partnered with a reliable offensive line and a balanced rushing attack to take as much pressure off Stidham as possible.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has also been able to develop quarterbacks in his time in New England and should be able to set Stidham up for success in his first year starting as well — from easy reads to using his receivers underneath and in the middle of the field with nothing risky to the outside.
The only difference between the Brady and Stidham situations? Well, there’s much more pressure on the latter to produce with six Super Bowl championships and another six from the other three teams inside the city since 2001.