If Derek Carr is able to lead the Raiders to an upset win over the Patriots on Sunday in Foxboro, he would break new ground for rookie quarterbacks against Bill Belichick. Since 2001, no rookie QB in his first or second start of his initial season in the NFL has beaten Belichick in New England.
In that span, Belichick has faced rookie quarterbacks on 19 occasions, and New England is 14-5 against them. However, none of those losses have come at home. Last year, Geno Smith turned the trick at MetLife Stadium when he led the Jets past the Patriots in overtime. In 2012, Russell Wilson did the same in a home game for the Seahawks. Colt McCoy shocked the Patriots in a Browns blowout in 2010 in his first time against New England. In 2009, Jets QB Mark Sanchez knocked off the Patriots in his first-ever game against Belichick in the Meadowlands. And in his first year in the league, Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers past the Patriots. All of those games were away from Foxboro.
Belichick said this week he’s been impressed with several aspects of Carr’s game, and as a team that was interested in taking a quarterback in the early stages of the 2014 draft — Carr went 36th overall to the Raiders, while New England chose Jimmy Garoppolo at No. 62 — the Patriots were able to get what Belichick called a “good look” at Carr. The coach was impressed by the Fresno State product.
“His athleticism, [as well as his] arm strength, Belichick said. “[His] ability to get the ball down the field and avoid negative plays in the pocket with his athleticism, mobility and some running ability, too, are all things that we saw in college that I’d say are showing up this year in the NFL as well.
“He’s only been sacked a couple of times,” Belichick added of the 6-foot-3, 214-pounder who has completed 47-for-74 passes for 414 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions while adding 55 rushing yards. “He’s an athletic guy back there. He can certainly get the ball down the field. We know he’s a smart kid. I think all the things that we saw from him at Fresno and when he’s had an opportunity to do them in this league have continued to show up. Obviously the systems are different, but from a skill standpoint I think his skills are his skills and they’re pretty good.”
(One other note as it relates to rookie QBs against New England — on some of those occasions, Belichick has faced rookies twice a year, and interestingly enough, in that span, Geno Smith is the only signal-caller to win his second game against the Patriots in his rookie season. Previously, Belichick had gotten the better of the first-year players, beating the likes of Ryan Tannehill and Sanchez the second time he faced them when they were rookies. And dating back to 2004, Belichick also managed to best Roethlsberger in the AFC title game after the then-rookie beat the Patriots in the regular season.)
Here’s a look at the breakdown by season:
2013: EJ Manuel (L): 18-for-27, 150 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Geno Smith (L): 15-for-35, 214 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT, sacked four times
Geno Smith (W): 17-for-33, 233 yards, 1 passing TD, 1 rushing TD, 1 INT, sacked four times
2012: Russell Wilson (W): 16-for-27, 293 yards, 3 TD, sacked twice
Andrew Luck (L): 27-for-50, 334 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT, sacked once
Ryan Tannehill (L): 13-for-29, 186 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, sacked three times
Ryan Tannehill (L): 20-for-35, 235 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, sacked seven times
2010: Colt McCoy (W): 14-for-19, 174 yards, TD
2009: Mark Sanchez (W): 14-for-22, 163 yards, TD
Sanchez (L): 8-for-21, 136 yards, TD, 4 INT, sacked two times
Josh Freeman* (L): 2-for-4, 16 yards, sacked two times
2007: Trent Edwards** (L): 10/20, 97 yds, INT, sacked once
2006: Vince Young (L): 15/36, 227, 2 INT, sacked five times, two rush, 29 yards, TD
2004: Ben Roethlisberger (W): 18-for-24, 196 yards, 2 TD
Ben Roethlisberger (L): 14-for-24, 226 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT
Luke McCown (L): 20-for-34, 277 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT
2003: Byron Leftwich (L): 21-for-40, 288 yards, TD, 2 INT
2002: Joey Harrington (L): 22-for-44, 210 yards, 3 INT
2001: Chris Weinke (L): 15-for-36, 144 yards, 3 INT
* Freeman replaced ineffective Josh Johnson midway through fourth quarter
** Edwards replaced J.P. Losman after Losman injured on first series
We’ve been over this before, but in the wake of Carr and the Raiders coming to town, it’s important to note there are certain basic elements that all of the rookie quarterbacks who beat the Patriots have been able to accomplish to over the years.
– All of the winning QBs have been very smart with the ball. Only one (Smith) threw an interception. They’ve all done a terrific job managing the game, not taking a ton of negative plays and not worrying about deficits in the early going. In 2012 (against Wilson and the Seahawks) and 2013 (Smith and the Jets), the Patriots were up by double digits in the second half before it went off the rails. New England also held early leads in 2004 against Roethlisberger and 2009 against Sanchez. If Carr is going to be able to pull off the upset, history tells us that he’ll have to make up some ground if he wants to make it happen.
– None of the winners have been statistically dominant — none threw for more than 300 yards — but they’ve all been relatively accurate. In addition, they’ve all been smart enough (or been told by their coach and/or offensive coordinator) not to try to take over the game by themselves, making sure to put the real work in the hands of their skill position players. Last year, Smith got a tremendous outing from wide receivers Jeremy Kerley (eight catches on 10 targets for 97 yards and a touchdown) and David Nelson (four catches on seven targets for 80 yards), as well as running back Chris Ivory (34 carries for 104 yards). If Carr can get similar efforts out of his skill position players, that would go a long way.
– They all have gotten lockdown performances from their defense. Last year against the Jets, Brady was sacked four times and finished without a touchdown pass on the way to an overtime defeat. In 2012 against the Seahawks, the Patriots finished with 23 points ‘ almost 12 full points below their league-leading 34.8 points per game average. In 2010, New England again was leading the league in points per game with an average of 32.4, but the Browns limited them to a shockingly low 14 points. In 2009, the Patriots averaged 26.7 points per game, but they scored just nine points that afternoon against the Jets. (In that one, New England stalled out in the red zone three times.) The Raiders defense will have to be up to the challenge.
– All of the rookie wins came relatively early in the season — the latest victory was Nov. 7, 2010, when McCoy and the Browns knocked off New England in Week 9.
Is Carr capable of going where no rookie quarterback has gone before? It will take a superlative effort, as well as an excellent afternoon of complementary football out of the rest of his teammates (as well as the coaching staff) to pull off the victory. If he stumbles, he can always point to the tidy little blueprint assembled by the likes of Wilson, Smith, Sanchez, McCoy and Roethlisberger for some guidance. But in the end, it remains to be seen if the partial path forged by that quintet will serve as a complete road map to victory for the rookie come Sunday. Ultimately, it’ll be a journey he’ll be taking alone.