(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Sal Paolantonio interview fast-forward to 26:33 of the following attachment: Ep 13: Remembering 2020; Nick Canepa on Jack Murphy Stadium; Sal Paolantonio Joins the Show | The Eye Test for Two | Spreaker
For years NFL watchdogs wondered who was more responsible for New England’s dominance – Tom Brady or Bill Belichick. But now, one year into the Brady-Belichick divorce, ESPN national correspondent Sal Paolantonio believes they have their answer.
“I’m going with Brady over Belichick,” he said on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast. “I’ve said it a lot this year. I said it at the beginning of this year. I always thought Brady was the driver of the bus.”
The numbers this season support him. In their 20 years together, Brady and Belichick appeared in nine Super Bowl, won six Lombardi trophies and walked off with 17 division titles. But in their first season apart, Brady is 10-5 with Tampa Bay, and the Bucs are going to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
And Belichick? At 6-9, he’s enduring his first losing season since 2000 – or the last time Brady didn’t start – and his first non-playoff year since 2008, the season Brady missed all but one game with a season-ending knee injury.
Connect the dots, and you have Brady in a takedown.
“Design matters,” said Paolantonio. “But if you don’t have talent to execute that design in the game of football it’s just not going to work. And to me, I will take Brady. And I think the proof is, without a doubt – overused phrase – but it’s key. The proof is in the pudding this year.”
Again, he has the support of overwhelming numbers. Brady’s 36 touchdown passes ties his 2015 total and is the most he has thrown at any time since 2011 when the Patriots went to Super Bowl XLVI, while Brady’s replacement, Cam Newton, has twice as many interceptions (10) as touchdown passes (5).
Furthermore, Newton has been benched three times and four times failed to complete 10 passes, while the Patriots were swept by an opponent (Buffalo) for the first time in two decades.
If there’s a question in New England, it’s not about defense or the offensive line or the coaching staff. It’s about the quarterback. Namely, what does New England do and where does it go in 2021?
“People are saying now that Belichick has his biggest rebuild of all time; his greatest task of all time,” said Paolantonio. “No. No. No. Time out, people. He had that last year. Basically, they are where they started at the beginning of the year. Where was the succession plan?
“They had to know that Brady was leaving. Where was the succession plan? Don’t tell me it was Jarrett Stidham, a backstop of Cam Newton. So the Stidham experiment failed, and the Cam Newton experiment has yet to pay the dividends that they want it to.
“And, also, what you are seeing is … what’s catching up with Belichick and that entire operation … is that Brady papered over all of their poor personnel decisions. They always churned the roster every year. Wide receiver. Running back. Get rid of Lawyer Milloy. Get rid of Ty Law. It doesn’t matter.
“Richard Seymour? He can go. It doesn’t matter. Why? Because you always had 12 (Brady’s number) to make it better. He was the guy who was going to make it all better for Belichick. With Brady out of the picture, now you’re seeing that all those personnel decisions can’t be fixed by Brady’s presence on the field.”
He’s right about that. The Patriots don’t have one receiver with more than 53 catches. They have as many TD catches by running backs (4) as they do wide receivers. And their leading scorer is their quarterback, whose 12 TD runs are only four short of the entire offensive production, pass and run.
Bottom line: This is a team with a myriad of problems, most of which are on the offense that Brady once led.
“The other thing,” said Paolantonio, “is the opt-outs. They (the Patriots) had more COVID-19 opt-outs in the summer than any other team. So the players were smart enough to see … those players that opted out and took care of their health and their families before their profession … were smart enough to see that the succession plan for Brady was not going to work. So (they said), ‘We’ll take a step back and take care of ourselves and our health and our families.’
“I always said Brady, and now I think the proof is overwhelming. And I got the Bucs and the Chiefs in the Super Bowl.”