In case you didn’t notice, the sky is falling on New England.
At least, that’s the impression you’ll get if you spend any time consuming the apocalyptic Patriots takes that have dominated the local football discourse over the last month-plus since it became obvious that Aaron Rodgers would land with the Jets. With Rodgers’ New York arrival now finally here, the Patriots apparently are toast, doomed to a freefall toward the AFC East basement. They might even fight for a spot in the conference cellar, depending on which talking head you’re listening to.
If you’re feeling a sense of deja vu, there’s a reason for that. Similar things were said and written about the Patriots last offseason when New England’s conference rivals were loading up while Bill Belichick was signing Terrance Mitchell, Ty Montgomery, Malcolm Butler and Jabrill Peppers.
Yeah, about last year.
It’s easy to assume that Rodgers and the Jets will leapfrog the Patriots in the divisional pecking order, that they’ll even contend with the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs for conference supremacy. And, in fairness, those things definitely could happen. Rodgers, even at age 39, still is a very good quarterback and New York is loaded with young talent on both sides of the ball.
But recent history indicates we should pump the brakes a bit.
The Denver Broncos were supposed to compete for a Super Bowl after adding Russell Wilson to an already-talented offense. Well, they wound up being terrible and their first-year head coach got fired in December. And it sure sounds like half the team can’t stand Wilson, which is the least surprising outcome.
The Las Vegas Raiders were primed to build upon their surprising 2021 playoff berth after hiring Josh McDaniels, trading for Davante Adams and signing Chandler Jones. They also stunk, with Jones looking close to washed up at age 33 — aside from that time he stiff-armed Mac Jones into oblivion — and McDaniels hearing people call for his job amid a 2-7 start.
The Los Angeles Chargers were ready to contend with the Chiefs after landing J.C. Jackson, trading for Khalil Mack and re-signing Mike Williams. They ended up looking like, well, the Chargers, which is to say they lost a bunch of close games and went one-and-done in the playoffs in embarrassing fashion.
The Miami Dolphins were ready to establish themselves as a legitimate threat after hiring Mike McDaniel, trading for Tyreek Hill and signing a slew of talented offseason players. A midseason trade for Bradley Chubb was supposed to shore up their leaky defense. It didn’t, and Miami finished just one game over .500 before bowing out in Round 1 of the postseason.
The Cleveland Browns allegedly would tread water with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback until Deshaun Watson returned from his suspension. Watson then would form a dynamic duo with Amari Cooper and Cleveland would sniff a division title in a down year for the AFC North. None of that happened.
The Indianapolis Colts supposedly solved their one big problem by jettisoning Carson Wentz and importing Matt Ryan. Frank Reich would do his thing and a talented roster would challenge the Tennessee Titans for the AFC North title. Well, Reich didn’t make it through November, Ryan eventually got benched and the Colts now are praying they’ll get a franchise quarterback with the fourth pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the Jets. After being aggressive in the draft and landing some good prospects, New York was in a position to make real noise in the AFC East if Zach Wilson could get his head on straight. He didn’t, and the Jets finished 7-10, including two ugly losses to the Patriots.
Just about the only thing that played out as expected in the AFC was New England regressing with Matt Patricia and Joe Judge leading the offense. And yet the Patriots were Jakobi Meyers not lateraling — or Rhamondre Stevenson not fumbling, or Bailey Zappe converting a manageable third down in overtime, or Hunter Henry not getting screwed by the NFL rulebook — away from making the playoffs. They also were, like, a few plays away from finishing 5-12. Such is the life of a middling team in its post-Tom Brady era.
New England went 5-2 against those teams this season. Five of them finished below the Patriots in the standings, with the Dolphins finishing just one game ahead after losing to New England in Week 17. The Chargers won two more games than the Patriots, but their offseason acquisitions had little to do with it. And we’d venture to guess that New England would’ve won a head-to-head matchup against Los Angeles, given Belichick’s track record against Justin Herbert.
You see, things happen.
Players can suffer significant injuries. Quarterbacks can struggle to acclimate to new environments, especially those who miss nearly two full seasons. Teams sometimes can be proven right for moving on from superstars despite the inevitable backlash. First-time head coaches can be in over their heads. Injury-prone quarterbacks who’ve dealt with concussions can have lost seasons. Fancy new wideouts aren’t always able to elevate mediocre quarterbacks and reverse cultures of losing. Impressive draft classes might not be enough to end 12-year playoff droughts.
To that end, things can go wrong with quarterbacks nearing 40 years old — unless they’re Tom Brady.
Rodgers is coming off arguably the worst season of his career. His 64.6% completion percentage was below his career average, as were his 26 touchdown passes. His 12 interceptions were the second most of his career. His 3,695 passing yards were the fewest he’s posted in a full season since becoming a full-time starter. So, too, were his 94 rushing yards.
Rodgers occasionally flashed his usual brilliance, but he also was slower and more careless with the ball than ever before. He didn’t look like a quarterback nearing the Max Kellerman Cliff, but he did look like a future Hall of Famer on the back nine of a fantastic career.
Some will say Rodgers simply was checked out, resigned to his eventual Packers departure and uninspired by a lackluster supporting cast. And there might be some truth to that line of thinking.
In that case, the Jets are hitching their wagons to a quarterback who’s prone to wavering levels of commitment. They’re making a desperation play for a player who’s grown increasingly enigmatic and selfish in recent years, becoming Brett Favre 2.0 after once vowing never to replicate Favre’s late-career nonsense.
And if you thought a fresh start would cause Rodgers to put aside his desire to make everything about him and hold a franchise over a barrel, think again. Apparently unsatisfied with New York’s in-house talent, Rodgers last month reportedly asked the Jets to pursue a bevy of his former Green Bay compatriots.
Who’s next? Eddie Lacy? Jermichael Finley?
Everyone will say the right things in the coming days and weeks. The honeymoon period between Rodgers and the Jets will look and sound like a Disney movie — when Disney movies were good.
But don’t be surprised if it ends up feeling more like a “White Lotus” episode.
NFL fans and bloggers weren’t the only ones annoyed by Rodgers’ drawn-out decision-making process. Some Jets players reportedly also were turned off by the weeks-long saga.
Others, like cornerback DJ Reed, were loving it. Whatever it takes to move on from the Zach Wilson era, apparently.
Maybe Rodgers really will turn over a new leaf in the Meadowlands. After all, Brady went from being a self-described “miserable” quarterback on a declining team in 2019 to leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title in 2020.
But Rodgers isn’t Brady. That much is clear by now. Plus, it only took a couple of years for Brady to pull rank on the Bucs and put that franchise through its own baffling retirement drama.
Honestly, the more we think about it, perhaps those situations are more analogous than we initially gave them credit for. Despite the way things went in 2022, the Bucs surely don’t have buyer’s remorse over signing Brady in 2020. And if Rodgers leads the Jets to their first championship since 1969, few will care if the whole thing goes up in flames in a couple of years.
But the reality is there is no guarantee that the Rodgers-Jets experiment will work in Year 1 — far from it, in fact. And Rodgers hasn’t even been that good against the Patriots during his career despite Belichick fawning over him whenever he gets the chance.
There’s also no guarantee that the Jets will be better than the Patriots in 2023. Yeah, it’s easy to rag on Mac Jones and say that Belichick has been exposed since Brady left, but New England has good players on its roster, especially on defense. There still are very smart football minds in Foxboro.
Let’s see what the Patriots do during the rest of the offseason, including in the draft, before we write their obituaries. Perhaps they will go out and swing a trade for DeAndre Hopkins after swapping out Meyers for JuJu Smith-Schuster. Who knows? Maybe they won’t make any further offseason noise and still end up sweeping the Rodgers and the Jets. That would be par for the course for these franchises.
And therein lies the crux of this diatribe: We have no idea what’s going to happen over the next 10 months. We’re all just guessing and making projections based on limited information.
It might not be the preferred strategy in today’s day and age, but let’s all take a deep breath, cool it on the hot takes and just see what happens.