FOXBOROUGH — Fantasy football owners everywhere, apparently including OJ Simpson, had to scramble to deal with the loss of Antonio Brown after the ultra-talented former All-Pro receiver was released by the Patriots last Friday evening.
Real-world quarterback Tom Brady had to deal with far more than that.
New England’s GOAT passer not only had to move on from his one-week fling with Brown in South Beach that included a pretty touchdown connection for the duo in the dominating win over the Dolphins, but has essentially seen nothing but change all around him all summer and through the first three weeks of regular season action.
Sunday’s 30-14 win over the Jets included a new starting left tackle in Marshall Newhouse, the absence of trusted passing back James White due to the birth of a child, Pro Bowl fullback James Develin being sidelined with a neck injury and watching go-to slot pal Julian Edelman leave with a chest injury prior to halftime never to return.
This is in addition to the fact that Brady has no tight end presence to speak of in the post-Gronk era, almost no contributions from the running game through three wins and didn’t get to finally practice with guys like Edelman or Josh Gordon until the final stages of the preseason.
All Brady did Sunday was throw for 300-plus yards with a pair of touchdowns in another quite comfortable win. For the season, he’s now completed 72 of 106 throws (67.9 percent) for 911 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions for a 116.5 passer rating.
Despite all the change, all the circus, all the uncertainty around him, the 42-year-old is his constant, productive, stable, winning self.
“A lot of things you can’t plan for, and you’ve just got to do the best you can do, and a lot of moving parts, a lot of guys playing a lot of positions they’ve never really been in,” Brady said of rolling with the punches against the Jets and into next Sunday’s trip to Buffalo to take on the unbeaten Bills. “That’s the NFL, so there’s nobody feeling sorry for anybody out there. There’s no teams that are, ‘Man, poor Patriots.’ No one feels sorry for us; we don’t feel sorry for them. It’s just, we’ve got to go out there and try to win a game. Certainly, 3-0 is a good feeling, but you don’t really get anything for three wins. We’ve got to do a lot more than this.”
Whereas a week ago the talk was about just how good the Patriots 2019 offense might be with Brown atop the receiver depth chart – comparisons to the record-breaking, Randy Moss-led 2007 unit were all the rage – things have now changed swiftly and dramatically.
The dismissal of the offense-altering Brown is just the most flashy part of the story.
Edelman’s status after reportedly undergoing X-rays on his ribs is uncertain. Gordon, who has his own past issues, not Brown, settles back in as the supposed No. 1 receiver. The line remains influx. Maybe by extension, the running game is nothing like the one that finished last season.
The premature talk of a high-powered offense and 19-0 season will likely quiet down, but the goals remain the same.
In New England, where the Patriots have been to eight straight AFC title games and three straight Super Bowls, there is no such thing as managed expectations.
The defending champions are simply expected to defend their title. Heck, during a halftime ceremony on Sunday in which Ty Law received his Hall of Fame ring, the former Patriots cornerback guaranteed a seventh Super Bowl banner would be added to the Gillette Stadium after this season.
And whoever they are, whatever their previous roles, the players who step on the field are expected to get the job done.
“Expectation never changes,” said wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, who Brady may lean on a bit harder in coming weeks. “It’s the standard here, that’s set, and that’s a high standard. Everybody is expected to play at a high standard.”
That’s most true about Brady, because it’s happened so many times for so many different Patriots teams over the years. Regardless of the caliber of his defense (it’s dominant this year), his weapons (they’re changing on a weekly basis at almost every position) or the opponent (a formidable stretch of foes is lingering not too far down the schedule), Brady is supposed to lift New England to a championship level.
It’s that simple. And yet it’s not that simple at all.
The personnel groupings, the lineups, the game plans that Josh McDaniels puts together, they’ll all change, maybe as much this season as they ever have.
Stars, like Brown this year or Gordon a year ago, come. Stars, like Brown this year and Gordon a year ago, go.
In the end all that’s left is Brady, standing tall in the pocket and tall in the locker room as Bill Belichick’s leader on the field trying to find a way each week to win and advance toward the unwavering expectations of life as a Patriot.
It’s the standard that Belichick and Brady have created over two decades.
It’s a standard that through all the change being thrown at him, Brady is expected to maintain and live up to.
So far, even at a stage when every pass he throws seems to set another age-based record, he’s more than been up to the challenge. If that continues, despite all the change, it will add yet another chapter to the never-ending Brady legend.
A perfect season may no longer be in the cards. Video-game scores and stats may be less likely than they seemed just a week ago.
But if Brady reaches the heights of New England expectations yet again, it might just be one of his most impressive performances yet.