One lesson learned last season in the NFL was the importance of the backup quarterback. Two teams who looked poised for a playoff run were cut down when their starting quarterbacks were injured. With that in mind, the biggest fear for the New England Patriots in 2012 is a season ending injury to Tom Brady.
Last season the Indianapolis Colts lost Peyton Manning before the season began. A continuing neck problem caused the NFL’s only four-time MVP to have surgery and miss the entire season. Without their star player the Colts had problems at that position the whole year and ended the season with the worst record in the league. The Chicago Bears were 7-3 and had won five straight games when their star quarterback Jay Cutler broke his throwing thumb. With backup Caleb Hanie at the helm, the Bears would lose five of their final six games.
What every team learned from the Colts and Bears in 2011 is that the loss of a starting quarterback can end a team’s season. The Patriots have lost Tom Brady once before. Just minutes into the 2008 season, Brady was sacked by Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard suffering a season ending knee injury. The Patriots were lucky in that the backup that year was a prepared Matt Cassel who would lead the team to an 11-5 record and would finish the season tied atop the AFC East with the Miami Dolphins.
Cassel’s success in 2008 was unprecedented. Very rarely does a backup step in and lead a team the way Cassel did. If Brady were to go down again in 2012, it’s unlikely that an inexperienced quarterback would step in and lead the team the way Cassel did. That’s why the inexperience of backups Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett is concerning for the Patriots.
Following the debacle of 2011 for the Bears, they brought in former Redskins and Raiders starter Jason Campbell as insurance. The Patriots made no such move. The Patriots primary backup in 2011 was an undrafted free agent. Hoyer has seen no significant time as an NFL quarterback and the little time he has played, he’s had little success. The other backup is the team’s 2011 third-round draft pick. Mallett has yet to appear in a regular season game for the Patriots.
The Patriots have two quarterbacks backing up Brady in 2012 that have only limited experience and virtually no success at the NFL level. For a team that has built itself to make a run at another Super Bowl, an injury at quarterback would quickly spoil such a feat.