When Is the Last Time the New England Patriots Played a Playoff Game Without Tom Brady?

Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are about to embark on a new journey. The playoffs aren’t new territory for the Pats or their legendary head coach. The playoffs without Tom Brady, though? That’s a different story.

The Patriots take on the Buffalo Bills Saturday night at Highmark Stadium to cap off the first night of Super Wild Card Weekend. It will mark the first time in years New England has played a postseason game without the GOAT behind center.

Tom Brady made his legend in the playoffs with the New England Patriots

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick on the field before Super Bowl LII. | Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Brady made his legend in New England. Six of his seven Super Bowl rings came with the Patriots. Sure, he got one with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and he may ultimately win more in Tampa, but he’ll always be remembered as a Patriot because of what he did in the postseason.

He and Belichick were unstoppable. There has never been a coach/quarterback combo like theirs, and there may never be one like it again. Even Bill Walsh and Joe Montana or Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr pale in comparison. Walsh and Montana won three championships together with the San Francisco 49ers. Lombardi and Starr won five in Green Bay.

It’s not just the Super Bowl wins, though they are the most important when it comes to examining a legacy. It’s the fact that once the Patriots made the playoffs, Brady seemingly took it to a different level.

He started 41 playoff games for the Patriots over 17 seasons, going 30-11 with an incredible nine Super Bowl appearances. He threw for 73 touchdowns in the playoffs for New England and 11,388 yards.

Just including his time with the Patriots, he holds Super Bowl records for total touchdown passes (18), passing yards (2,838), and Super Bowl MVPs (four). Those numbers only improve if you include the championship he won with the Buccaneers.

Nobody is better than Brady in the playoffs, but he developed that reputation with the Patriots.

When was the last time the Patriots played a playoff game without Brady?

Scott Zolak and Drew Bledsoe in the 1998 playoffs, New England Patriots
Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe uses his healthy hand to congratulate Scott Zolak after the only New England touchdown of the day | Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

You’d have to go back to January 3rd, 1999, to find a playoff game in which Brady wasn’t a part of for New England. That was a Wild Card game in the 1998 playoffs that saw the Patriots lose, 25-10, to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Scott Zolak was the quarterback for New England in that contest. This was right near the tail end of the Drew Bledsoe-era, but Bledsoe wasn’t able to play because a finger he had broken earlier in the season had not yet healed enough.

“It is extremely disappointing,” he said at the time, according to the Los Angeles Times. “You go through a year’s worth of hard work and games with the goal of getting a shot in the playoffs. When you are not on the field, it’s tough to deal with.”

Zolak got the start for New England and completed just 21-of-44 passes for 190 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception.

It was a different era of New England football.

Pete Carroll was coaching the Patriots and was in his second-to-last season with the organization. He would go on to lead the Pats to a 6-2 start in 1999, but they collapsed in the second half of the season and finished 8-8. Carroll was fired and spent a year out of coaching before resurrecting his career with the USC Trojans.

Belichick took over for the Patriots in 2000 and the rest is history.

Mac Jones has huge shoes to fill for the Patriots

Rookie quarterback Mac Jones was always going to be under pressure. That’s why the Patriots drafted him, after all. He wasn’t the most athletic quarterback in the draft and didn’t have the highest ceiling. He was NFL-ready from day one, though, coming from Alabama. He won a national championship and thrived under the pressure and expectation of being coached by Nick Saban.

If there was ever a perfect transition for a quarterback, it would be going from Saban to Belichick, and the proof is in the pudding for Jones. He thrived as a rookie, leading the Pats to a 10-7 record and the sixth seed in the playoffs. He completed 67.6% of his passes for 3,801 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.

The Patriots will lean on their running game and defense against Buffalo. That has always been the key to success for New England. When push comes to shove, though, this is a league dominated by quarterbacks and what they do in the playoffs.

That’s Brady’s legacy in New England. He’s a winner. A champion.

Those are the expectations in New England. Fair or not, those are now the expectations for Jones.

Stats courtesy of ESPN and Pro Football Reference. 

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