When the world first learned that the New England Patriots would be without starting quarterback Tom Brady for their first four games of the season due to the suspension he received for his role in the infamous ”Deflate-Gate” scandal, even the most skeptical supporters of the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Miami Dolphins thought dethroning the Pats might finally be possible.
Unfortunately for the rest of the division, New England survived Brady’s four-game suspension despite some shaky play under center to begin the current campaign a healthy 3-1, and on Sunday, head coach Bill Belichick and company added another win to their resume with a 35-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals to improve to 5-1 in Brady’s second start of the season.
Following a concerning start to Brady’s home debut that left the hosts down 14-10 in the third quarter, New England’s star signal-caller connected on a pair of consecutive, four-yard touchdown passes to running back James White and tight end Rob Gronkowski to put the Pats up for good. Somewhat modest in victory, Mr. Bundchen didn’t offer much in the way of in-depth analysis while speaking to the media after the 18-point win.
”I think we’re at a decent place,” said Brady via ESPN. ”So we’ve just got to keep stringing these games together. They [the Bengals] made it challenging on us, but we’re trying to figure out what we’re made of, and it was good to get going there in the second half.”
Now two games into a seven-game stretch in which they’ll play just twice at Gillette Stadium, the first-place Patriots haven’t looked anything like a team that was supposed to be hobbled by Brady’s suspension, and the hamstring injury that cost Gronkowski the first two games of the season and limited him in Weeks 3 and 4 hasn’t affected the perennial playoff participants either.
Statistically speaking, the Week 6 performance that the Boston Herald has since labelled as ”more ho-hum greatness” saw Brady finish 29-35 for 376 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions with a completion percentage of 82.9 and a 140.0 passer rating. In fact, since returning, Brady has totaled 782 yards passing with six touchdowns and no interceptions on the way to registering the highest passer rating [135.5] for a two-game start to a season in NFL history.
Although those stats are probably haunting more than a few defensive coordinators this week, the only numbers that really matter to the rest of the division are 13, seven, and ultimately, four—as in the Patriots have won an unbelievable 13 AFC East titles in the last 15 years, it’s been seven years since a team not named the Patriots last won the division and New England’s seven straight AFC East crowns, and the four Vince Lombardi trophies that Brady and Belichick have brought back to Beantown during their 15-year reign of terror over their NFL roommates.
Of course, when winning becomes as common as breathing, it’s tough to get rattled for any game, and as Brady told the media following Sunday’s win over the Bengals, state of mind is paramount.
”You’re not going to win because you’re emotional,” said Brady via the Boston Herald. ”I think having your attitude right—mentally and physically right—and easy to play, that allows you to be at your best for your teammates.”
”It’s a process to get to that point,” added Brady. ”But we were definitely there today.”
In 2016, New England’s hooded head coach has used the addition of tight end Martellus Bennett to frustrate and confuse opposing defenses. Initially, Belichick used his newest offensive weapon as Gronkowski’s surprisingly-effective stand-in when he was injured, and since both Brady and the big guy have returned, New England’s bench-boss has begun playing the two tight ends together to form an unstoppable pass-catching duo that’s already made the Pats’ weak receiving corps obsolete.
So far, the only mark on New England’s otherwise-spotless record came from its 16-0 loss to Buffalo at home in Week 4. But that was Brady’s last game on the sidelines, and after traveling to Pittsburgh for this week’s date with the 4-2 Steelers, the Patriots will have their shot at revenge in Week 8 when they head to Buffalo for a divisional rematch with the 4-2 Bills before their bye in Week 9.
After returning from their bye week, Brady and the Pats will only face two teams that currently own winning records in the final eight weeks of the season—Week 10 vs the 4-1 Seattle Seahawks, and Week 15 at the 4-2 Denver Broncos. But if the last two games are an accurate indication of what’s to come, what remains of the regular season is little more than a formality for the undisputed kings of the AFC East.