The end is not here for Tom Brady. I don't believe it is even near, though I suppose nothing would be a surprise with a franchise that will never permit sentimentality to leak into a personnel decision.
I have always thought Brady might punctuate his career by playing a year or two with another organization, have his own Joe Montana/Chiefs situation. Maybe that day is closer than we thought, a year or two away rather than some post-age-40 postscript on his Patriots career.
I don't think anyone is rooting for that to happen, other than those who believe Jimmy Garoppolo '14 is akin to Brady '01, a theory that suggests draft-day gifts from the football gods will come along whenever you need them.
But the thought of what Brady might bring in return ... yeah, it is fascinating to ponder. The Patriots got three first-rounders and a second-rounder for Jim Plunkett in '75. Teams aren't so generous in dealing draft picks these days ... but this is Tom Brady, a superstar of such magnitude that his talent will erode before his reputation does.
Ah, I've already gone off on that tangential Last Days of Brady path longer than I intended to do. I do not believe Brady's poor play recently is a harbinger of everything else to come. Provided he is healthy -- and I'm convinced the calf injury is still an issue -- he will not finish 30th in the league in passer rating and 29th in yardage and 417th or so in yards per attempt. He will escape the McCown District in the stat rankings soon enough.
The Patriots will not in a spot below first place in the AFC East. They will make the playoffs for the seventh straight year and 11th of the last 12 seasons. They may even make the AFC Championship for the fourth straight year.
It was barely a month ago that a final four appearances was a foregone conclusion in our minds. Yes, they've been a mess. It's jarring because it's so rare, and it leads to exaggeration of just how bad it is.
Belichick has made some missteps -- trading Logan Mankins wasn't a terrible idea in a vacuum, but trading him without a competent replacement was downright dumb.
And you bet Brady is fuming about this. He won't say it, but he lets it be known in the pregnant pauses before his boilerplate answers about the team's personnel, his use of "we" rather than "me" when asked about his own poor play.
Who can blame him? For the organization, drafting Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round was a wise big-picture move. But Brady should hate it. What does he care about finding his successor? He's 37 and should have a shot at winning that elusive fourth championship.
But he looks around him and sees Aaron "You're Not The Boss Of Me" Dobson and the carcass of Danny Amendola and a one-legged Gronk and the admirable but limited Julian Edelman and wonders -- he has to wonder -- why that pick wasn't used on some help.
Peyton Manning has an arsenal to envy in Denver. Drew Brees gets Brandin Cooks this year. Phil Rivers got Keenan Allen a year ago. Brady gets Tim Wright, and it only took the departure of one of his most trusted bodyguards to make it happen.
I'd love to know what Brady is saying to his confidantes -- or to Belichick, behind closed doors -- about this situation. He should have more help. He deserves more help. Why is he the one among the league's great quarterbacks who has to deal with unnecessary, team-inflicted extra degrees of difficulty?
But the end? No, that is not near, for Brady or this franchise's unprecedented run of success in the salary-cap era. We don't know when it will arrive, and maybe it will sneak up on us, but I know this is not it. This team has too much talent, at least on defense, to go on this way. Belichick will draw up the blueprint to repair this, and Brady will put it into action, just like he always has done.
What we have learned is what the end will look like when it gets here.
That's been the chief takeaway in the aftermath of the 41-14 loss to the Chiefs Monday night. When the Patriots do slip for real, it's going to be ugly, for one reason: There's an awful lot of schadenfreude aimed at the Patriots, a desire to see Belichick humbled and Brady's life seem something less than perfect.
A large part of it is envy. A large part is that other teams' fanbases are sick of them.
But the race to declare the Patriots dead is primarily driven by the irresistible desire by some in the media to see Belichick get his comeuppance.
It's a practical glee born from the coach's obfuscation and condescension through the years, his frequent refusal to offer anything more than a snort and a truism as an answer to even the most basic of question.
Vengefulness, especially this premature kind, is not a good look for the media, and it is one that is liable to look foolish a few Sundays from now.
Which perhaps is why the reveling in the Patriots' demise begins so prematurely. Because you've got to savor it while you can, knowing it's not going to last.
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