Bill Belichick was probably already going through a bad day even before witnessing referee incompetence at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
That’s because “The One That Got Away” looked dynamite against the New Orleans Saints.
All while his own, aging future Hall of Fame quarterback turned in another ordinary performance that has come to define his season.
It’s not like we didn’t expect this juncture to pass at some point, but here we are: witnessing what has to be classified as a signature win — filled with nuggets of clutch — for Jimmy Garoppolo, while Tom Brady continues the struggle for offensive answers in what increasingly seems like his final season with the New England Patriots.
This is exactly what Bill never wanted to see happen.
Garoppolo had a Brady-like performance in leading the San Francisco 49ers to a comeback win over the New Orleans Saints, completing 26 of his 35 passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns in the win. This, for certain, was a statement game for Garoppolo and the 49ers, who have been soaring atop the standings this season, but yet seemingly lacking a shining moment that would seem to cement their Super Bowl chances as being authentic.
It came on Sunday in the Superdome, where Garoppolo led the 49ers down the field in the final seconds to allow kicker Robbie Gould to nail down the win.
“Jimmy is a baller,” 49ers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “You can look at him and see what kind of player he is. He works hard. When you’ve got somebody like Jimmy with the personality that he has, in the clutch moments he’s not going to fold.”
If this all sounds increasingly frustrating for Patriot fans to hear right now, well, it should. The 49ers are soaring right now on the back of a quarterback who should still be yours, with a receiver who could have been yours had you not elected to choose Mohamed Sanu instead at the trade deadline. How does it sit to realize that Sanders’s showing on Sunday (157 yards and a touchdown) was more production than Sanu has given the Pats over five games (135 yards, one touchdown)? Woof.
Does it sting knowing that Garoppolo could be here teaming up with Sanders at Gillette Stadium in a Patriots uniform?
Nah. Brady’s otherworldly performance in the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles and raising Lombardi No. 6 last February would suggest the Patriots still made the right call to go with the elder statesman.
But do you think Belichick feels that way right now? Especially after watching his team’s offense struggle to the point where he felt compelled to challenge a first down marking, a decision that ultimately would end up costing his team Sunday’s game against the Chiefs?
We can debate exactly why the Patriots didn’t make more of a push for Sanders (whom the Broncos sent to San Francisco for third and fourth-round picks), while the Patriots settled on Sanu (whom the Falcons dealt for a second-round pick). But the most obvious assumption is because Sanders is a free agent after this season. Sanu has another year left on his contract.
Whatever the reasoning, it doesn’t look good — particularly after performances like Sunday, when Sanders is all over the field and Sanu can’t get out of his own way along with the rest of the Keystone Cop wide receivers that are doing their best to make Brady compete with even the most memorable Pouting Peyton face of years past.
Only a couple of weeks ago, we started dreaming of what a Jimmy G.-Brady showdown in the Super Bowl would look like. Now, after watching weeks of unrest on the offensive side of the ball, even the most ardent Patriots supporter has to wonder just how realistic that is.
Would you rather have Garoppolo or Brady? Right now? Today? Garoppolo. But we’ve learned not to base these things on one game. And frankly, as decent as he’s been in his young career, this is Garoppolo’s one defining moment, of which Brady has had countless. (I’d even include his scamper at the tail end of Sunday’s game, giving the Pats a new set of downs and threatening overtime.)
Would you rather have Garoppolo or Brady the past three years? Please.
Would you rather have Garoppolo or Brady heading into the 2020 season?
They’re not going to rip your TB12 membership right out from under you if you answer honestly.
Frankly, though, this is what Belichick seemed to fear way back when Brady went to Bob Kraft and reportedly demanded that the team trade Garoppolo.
“If we trade Jimmy, we’re the Cleveland Browns, with no succession plan,” one person inside the organization said in Seth Wickersham’s notable take on the matter from early last year.
How frightening does that statement sound now, particularly after watching Brady struggle mightily over the last month?
“Two weeks before the Nov. 1 trading deadline, Belichick met with Kraft to discuss the quarterback situation,” Wickersham wrote. “According to staffers, the meeting ran long, lasting half the day and pushing back Belichick’s other meetings. The office was buzzing. The meeting ended with a clear mandate to Belichick: trade Garoppolo because he would not be in the team’s long-term plans, and then, once again, find the best quarterback in the draft and develop him. Belichick was furious and demoralized, according to friends. But in the end, he did what he asks of his players and coaches: He did his job.”
Jimmy G. Traded for a second-round pick. The same collateral that got the Patriots Sanu.
There is no succession plan in New England, because it’s happening across the country. There’s no plan in place should Brady decide to play elsewhere, nobody except Jarret Stidham waiting in the wings should Brady decide to ultimately call it a career.
Maybe none of that matters if the Patriots can pick up Lombardi No. 7, and everybody can agree it was all worth it in the end.
But on days like Sunday, when the youngster comes of age and the master looks like he’s aged rapidly over the course of the season, it has to sting Belichick intensely.
The end might be near for the New England Patriots and their dynasty. But that’s not because Tom Brady might be at the end.
It’s because the man who was supposed to pick up the slack is suddenly proving he can do it.
Not exactly the way Belichick had planned it.