The Week in Overreactions: Tom Brady can carry the Patriots

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com


Can Tom Brady overcome all the shortcomings on this Patriots offense? (USATSI)

New storylines emerge every week. Some are reasonable, most are not. "The Week in Overreactions" focuses on the latter. Those items that offer a cursory "How do you do?" as they blow past reality straight for THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER! We're here to keep everything in perspective. Questions, comments, casserole ideas? Hit us up on Twitter at @ryanwilson_07.

'Are the Patriots' injuries even too much for Tom Brady to overcome?'

We've been on the Patriots bandwagon since the preseason, picking them to face the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. And right up till Sunday, we felt pretty good about that. But this time around, Tom Brady, in all his do-goodin' handsome magnificence can't singlehandedly will this team to victory, even if history suggests otherwise.

Brady has been the face of the franchise for more than a decade, but he's always gotten help; whether from his receivers or running backs, or a ball-hawking defense. This season, for any number of reasons, New England sorely lacks both.

On Sunday, all the Patriots had to do was beat the Dolphins. Manage that and they would have the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the AFC, homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, and any rematches with Peyton Manning and the Broncos would take place in Foxborough and not Denver.

Instead, like four other division leaders in Week 15, New England lost. And in the process, not only fell out of the conversation for the top seed, but could have slipped to third in the conference if the Bengals hadn't come up short against the five-win Steelers on Sunday night.

In a normal year, a late-season setback wouldn't mean much. But for these Patriots, 2013 has been anything but normal. The team came into the season without its five top receivers from a season ago, which meant Brady spent the first two months trying to get on the same page as rookie wideouts Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson.

Despite the sputtering passing game, New England was still 5-1 when tight end Rob Gronkowski made his debut in Week 7, and in the subsequent weeks Brady and the Pats started to look a lot like ... well, Brady and the Pats.

But the defense had lost two of its best players for the season in nose tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo, and opponents were taking advantage of their absence. Heading into Week 15, the Pats' defense ranked 18th overall, according to Football Outsiders, 14th against the pass and 28th against the run.

Brady has some history with putting the team on his shoulders but this time is different. Because last week, Gronkowski joined Wilfork and Mayo on injured reserve, meaning that New England's offense was again without a big downfield playmaker. Yes, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are good players, but they're best in complementary roles, not as primary targets.

"Our margin of error is very slim," Brady said Monday morning during his weekly appearance on WEEI. "We can't make any mistakes or give them any opportunities. If we have plays that are there to be made, then I've got to throw it and hit it. We've got to come up with them.

"We're not winning by 30 points. Every game comes down to the end. We've just got to do a better job when we have opportunities as a team in all three phases to make plays to help us secure wins."

Also not helping: For the second straight week, left tackle Nate Solder had to leave the game with a head injury. This comes after right tackle Sebastian Vollmer landed on injured reserve with a leg season earlier this season. Solder's injury forced All Pro guard Logan Mankins to left tackle Sunday, which only added to the upheaval, a recurring theme this season.

And while we like to cling to the old bromide about the Patriots being fine as long as they have Belichick and Brady, this team has been so decimated by injuries that not even a future Hall of Fame coach and quarterback can consistently make up the difference.

We say that fully understanding that despite the latest setback, New England is still 10-4, currently the AFC's No. 2 team, and will again be headed to the playoffs for the 11th time in Brady's career. But unlike previous teams that featured Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, and Gronkowski, this group won't scare a lot of opponents. We saw that Sunday with the Dolphins, we wouldn't be surprised to see it in Week 16 against the Ravens, and again when the Pats get to the postseason.

The narrative earlier this season was that Brady was finally showing his age and the substandard play proved that; the reality is that Brady remains one of the NFL's best quarterbacks but he just can't do it alone.

We've seen this before, back in 2006, when the Patriots shipped Deion Branch to the Seahawks and Brady was stuck throwing to the likes of Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney. Those Patriots still managed 12 wins and made it to the AFC Championship Game. But the biggest difference between the '06 team and the '13 version: Fewer injuries to key players and a seventh-ranked defense.

This time around, Brady's on his own. And his comments after the Dolphins loss could end up applying to the season at large.

"We had plenty of chances," Brady said. "We made some good plays. We made a lot of s----- plays."

'The Ravens are right back in this thing!'

The Ravens very well could back back in this thing after an incredible Monday night win over the Lions that included six (!) Justin Tucker field goals, including a game-deciding 61-yarder (!!). But let's keep things in perspective. That's all we're saying.

'Jay Cutler should've stayed on the bench'


Trestman made the right decision (for now, anyway) returning to Cutler. (USATSI)

Bears coach Marc Trestman knows quarterbacks. So when he says Jay Cutler is his starter, even after Josh McCown, played extremely well in his absence, we have no reason to doubt him.

(Kicking field goals on second down in overtime ... that's another story.)

Of course, with Cutler it's never easy. On Sunday against the Browns, he returned to the lineup after missing four games, and immediately had everybody questioning Trestman's decision. Cutler first drive ended with an interception in the end zone, and he added a pick-six before the first half. But over the final 30 minutes, he looked sharp, ending the day with three touchdowns while completing 71 percent of his throws.

Afterwards, wideout Brandon Marshall conceded that Cutler was not only rusty, but under a lot of pressure to perform well in light of McCown's success.

“Well, you guys have been around Jay for a while now, so he's not going to show it,” Marshall said. “The human side of things, you have a guy in Josh McCown playing lights-out, probably playing the best football of any quarterback in the National Football League. I can only imagine the commentators and fans back home after the first and second picks, what they were saying. I'm sure they were ready to hang [Cutler]. This team has been resilient all year, faced adversity really well all year. It was nothing short of that today.”

For now, going with Cutler seems like the right move. Credit to Trestman for getting ahead of the story and announcing that Cutler was his guy, even last week, days after McCown won Player of the Week honors and before Cutler was officially cleared to return to the lineup.

And even if there were reports Sunday morning that the locker room was divided on who should be the quarterback, winning fixes everything, at least temporarily.

Outlasting a hapless Browns team is a good start, but the Bears still have work to do. They'll face the Eagles next week and end the season against the Packers. Winning out would guarantee Chicago the division and a homefield playoff game but a loss in the next two weeks could not only mean no NFC North title, but no playoffs altogether.

And while it's easy to talk about the quarterbacks -- Chicago has two capable ones -- the defense has been the Achilles' heel this season. But after a season's worth of questions, they turned a corner against the Browns.

Yes, we know, the Browns: Annual NFL laughingstock that hasn't made the playoffs since the 2002 season. Fine. But this is still impressive: In the last two weeks, Bears cornerback Tim Jennings has held Dez Bryant and Josh Gordon to six receptions, 79 yards and a touchdown each.

"It's unbelievable," cornerback Zack Bowman said. "This is two weeks in a row. He had Dez last week, and he had Gordon this week. I'm just speechless, man. He's one of the best corners in the NFL."

And the Bears will need that if they want to play in January.

'Joe Philbin should be fired'

Back in Week 10 some idiot wrote that Joe Philbin should be fired. Not so much for what the Dolphins were doing on the field, but because of the afterschool-special off-field drama that saw Jonathan Martin leave the team amid allegations that he was bullied and that Richie Incognito was the ringleader, and that Philbin seemed to have no idea what was going with his players.

Now, the Dolphins are coming off impressive back-to-back wins against the Steelers and the Patriots, and look every bit like a legit playoff team with a young franchise quarterback leading the way. And much of the credit for keeping this group focused goes to Philbin, who comes off about as interesting as a pile of rocks but clearly knows to motivate his players.

So, yeah, we owe you an apology, Joe.

Philbin's done a masterful job under tough circumstances, and if Miami makes it to the postseason he should be in the conversation for coach of the year.

'Saints have no competition in the NFC South'


Cam Newton and the Panthers aren't ready to concede the division. (USATSI)

Continuing the idiot theme...

Typically, we try to avoid hyperbole. But on Sept. 30, after the Saints whipped the Dolphins on national television to move to 4-0, and with the rest of the division featuring the 1-2 Panthers, 1-3 Falcons and 0-4 Buccaneers, we felt confident in writing that the NFC South was a wrap:

Yes, there's three months of football left. And yes, the Saints travel to Chicago and New England the next two weeks. But even if they drop those two games, who's going to make a move in the division to challenge them?

The answer, of course: the Panthers, one of the best stories of the season and currently fifth in the NFC. Both New Orleans and Carolina currently sit at 10-4 and this Sunday, two weeks after getting blown out in the Superdome, the Panthers host the Saints. A win will give Carolina a one-game division lead heading into the final regular-season game.

So again, for the second time in this space, we're apologizing. The Panthers coaching staff -- Ron Rivera, Mike Shula and Sean McDermott -- have all exceeded expectations, and quarterback Cam Newton is playing some truly inspired football. I think it's fair to say that no one saw this coming but either way, it's been amazing to watch.

 
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