The New England Patriots have won two straight games, including a stunner over Baltimore. And while at 4-5 they stare up at the AFC playoff pack, things seem to be trending in the correct direction.
Or are they?
Not three full weeks removed from all that “Tank for Trevor” talk, I have to wonder what the heck the Patriots are doing. With Cam Newton and little else for a plan at the most important position in sports, isn’t this franchise on the road to midtown? If you ask me before, during or after the past two wins, the response here would be the same.
Now, I’ve been in the Tank for Trevor camp since the disappointing defeat by Denver. Lose every game you have from now through December and pray that the Jacksonville Jaguars win one more. A 2-14 record would have guaranteed you the No. 2 pick overall with a legit shot at Lawrence and the No. 1. Even if the Jags managed to lose the rest, think of what Belichick could have spun at 2. “Hey Jets, you want Justin Fields? It’s going to cost you Sam Darnold AND the third pick overall.”
Instead, this delusion of a playoff push is on. As is a ride to the No. 16 pick in the draft, meaning another big, non-impactful tackle or a trade back for even less.
A football team without a quarterback simply can’t win consistently. With all due respect to the 1985 Bears (Jim McMahon) or Trent Dilfer’s Ravens in 2000, this is 2020. You have to be able to throw the football. All this Damien Harris/Rex Burkhead roadwork is nice … against Jets or in a monsoon vs. the Ravens. What happens when a team sells out to stop the run? Baltimore, depleted up front with injuries to Calais Campbell and LJ Fort, certainly did not.
Yeah, the Ravens stacked the box at times, but they were little people, not run-stuffing types. Any team facing the Patriots right now has to think old-school. It’s only a matter of time before the geniuses around the league figure it out. Four linemen, four linebackers – or three and five if that’s your personnel preference -- any time the fullback and tight end are on the field. Suddenly, it’s on Newton to win games with his arm. No soft zones for Jakobi Meyers to nestle niftily into the dead spots, just play man and let Ryan Izzo prove he can beat a linebacker, or Damien Byrd try to do something other than run slants.
Which brings us back to Clemson’s Lawrence, the prize for being the worst team in the game.
Before New England survived the Jets … literally … the path to Lawrence was a heck of a lot clearer than the much-debated one to the AFC playoffs. To corrupt a line from the late Al Davis, “Just lose, baby!” A 2-14 season would have been akin to the Colts “Suck for Luck” campaign of 2011. I would liken it more to the San Antonio of the NBA in 1997 when David Robinson got injured and the Spurs hit the lottery with top pick Tim Duncan. They went on to win five titles.
New England would have been the ultimate landing spot for Lawrence, not just because of the coaching. Yes, Belichick/Josh McDaniels would benefit the kid for sure. But what is the current Patriots' top asset right now? How about a young, physical and talented offensive line to protect the kid? Look at all the flop first-round QBs. There is a common thread when they get tossed into the fray and fail. Most times, because the guys blocking for them stink, they are running for their lives.
You can go all the way back to when Bill Parcells picked Drew Bledsoe No. 1 and No. 2 Rick Mirer was doomed to fail in Seattle. Mirer was blasted, getting sacked a league-leading 47 times as a rookie. Bledsoe didn’t have much – Vincent Brisby was his top outside receiver -- but he did have two pretty darn solid tackles in Bruce Armstrong and Pat Harlow – a pair of former first-round picks. Bledsoe absorbed just 16 sacks.
Lawrence, and his rookie deal, would have allowed the Pats to re-up Joe Thuney, allow him and David Andrews to groom the young guys like Michael Onwenu and Justin Herron and give the rookie QB a chance.
The recent past is littered with broken top tier QB picks. Just look at what the Jets have done to Sam Darnold for the closest example. Or how Mitchell Trubisky got abused in Chicago. If you can’t protect your green, young quarterback, don’t bother drafting one so damn high.
Finally, the Pats have gobs of cap room in 2021. A rookie QB adds to that luxury. Just think of the spending spree Belichick could have had, amassing weapons around the kid and finishing the restocking job on a rapidly aging defense.
Belichick wants wins as he battles Father Time in his quest to take down Don Shula’s all-time NFL mark. He can also add another unmatchable layer to his legend with a TB12 title. But it takes a plus-plus quarterback to win 11 games a year and hover around multiple AFC title games.
The Patriots missed an opportunity to make that happen.