Comparisons to the Eagles and Rams were unavoidable for the Bears this season, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Both of those teams crafted blueprints worth copying and paths worth following. Indeed, that the Bears were able to pull from those teams to create their own success in 2018 says a lot about how those teams were built.
But during Super Bowl week, a different comparison came to my head while listening to one of Tom Brady’s press conferences in Atlanta. And while I’d like to do a deeper dive on the Bears-Rams comp to figure out a way for Matt Nagy to avoid Sean McVay’s fate, something caught my ear when Brady spoke.
When asked about which ways he is better (or worse) than he was during New England’s Super Bowl run, Brady provided an introspective look at his growth as a player:
“I think I’m a better player now than I was in 2001. I don’t think I was the best player I could possibly be at that point. There’s been a lot of work and effort over the years to try to get to where I’m at now. It’s really about playing at a championship level. I think that takes a different shape every year based on how the team is set up. My first few years, we relied very heavily on the defense to keep the scores low. I kind of did my part situationally where I needed to when I was called upon. And as things have changed, and as our offense has developed and grown, we’ve become more efficient on offense. I’d say we’re a pretty balanced team now.”
A reliance on defense to keep scores low while an offense develops. What a concept! It sounds awfully familiar, though … doesn’t it?
Long before Tom Brady was the G.O.A.T., he was a sixth-round pick from Michigan who, at one point during his college career, was pushed to second string by the Wolverines in order to secure a commitment from hot-shot high school prospect Drew Henson.
And well before Brady was ever mentioned among the all-time greats, he was essentially a game-manager for an offense that ranked sixth in points, but 19th in yards. He said it himself: Brady played situational football while a defense that featured future Hall of Fame cornerback Ty Law, Pro Bowl talents such as Lawyer Malloy, Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Richard Seymour, and Mike Vrabel did most of the heavy lifting (and of course, Adam Vinatieri was there to clean up with all of the important clutch kicks). This was the Patriots’ original blueprint, one that the Bears nearly nailed (save for that whole kicking thing). And it worked on the grandest of stages.
As Brady has developed, so has the Patriots offense. And as Brady points out, the team is now far more balanced than what it was in 2001. With the benefit of hindsight and honesty from the quarterback pulling the strings at the game’s most important position, we now see how a dynasty was born.
None of this is to say Trubisky is the next Brady, Matt Nagy is the next Bill Belichick, or the Bears the next NFL dynasty. Far from it. HOWEVER, thinking back to Brady’s humble beginnings should remind you of the importance of development and how long it can take.
It should also serve as a reminder of how much work went into Brady going from where he was then to where he is today. Brady played situational football and excelled at it while he was growing, and the only reason it was allowed to happen that way was because the defense and special teams didn’t put the pressure on him to do more than he was capable of doing. The Bears put Trubisky in that same situation in 2018, and he did all he could to get the team where it was by year’s end.
So while comparisons to Carson Wentz and Jared Goff are timely, there is a timelessness aspect of what Brady and the Patriots have done. If one aspires to be great, then why stop at modeling yourself after Wentz and Goff. Shoot for the moon. The path has been set out there before you, so why not follow it?