By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Late Tuesday night, I flipped through the channels and landed on the NFL Network. A 2017 Monday Night Football game between the Dolphins and Patriots was on. Football games are typically fairly easy for us all to remember: state the year, the opponent, and maybe a detail or two, and the entirety of that game comes flooding back to the temporal lobe.
For this one, though, nothing was clicking. Not right away, anyway. Eventually I remembered Jakeem Grant winning a jump ball against Malcolm Butler for a touchdown, and that insane Dion Lewis one-handed catch. But it can be difficult when trying to categorize all of those losses in Miami.
What made this memory so hard to find was the fact that I couldn’t get over what I was seeing: Jay Cutler. At quarterback. In a period of his career where he seemed to genuinely not care about much of anything at all. Beating the Patriots on national TV.
Had you asked me earlier on Tuesday if Jay Cutler had ever beaten the Patriots, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say “of course not” before embodying the smokin’ Jay Cutler meme and peacing out. Alas! In this, his fourth and final time facing the Patriots, Cutler earned his victory vs. Bill Belichick. (Cutler was 0-3 with four touchdowns and five interceptions in the previous three games vs. New England.)
That got me thinking: If I had no recollection of a relatively recent instance of what I would consider to be a surprising quarterback to have beaten the Patriots, then who else am I forgetting? And who else are other people forgetting?
That left me with but one choice: Make. A. Dang. List.
So here it is. A bunch of quarterbacks that you wouldn’t really expect to have a notch on their belt for beating the Patriots during their real reign of excellence from 2001-18. This won’t include losses to Hall of Famers, or All-Pros, or anyone that you could reasonably see beating the Patriots. It also will be light on QBs who were in the AFC East for a long time and won a game or two by default. (Looking at you, Chad Pennington.)
It’ll instead be a collection of names that hopefully inspires you to double-check the box scores, because you can’t actually believe it.
How many had you forgotten?
Nick Foles scores a touchdown in Super Bowl LII. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Nobody, obviously, forgot this one. But Foles kind of has to be the gold standard for this discussion. Bill Belichick isn’t going to lose a Super Bowl to Nick Foles! What are you nuts?!
Ryan Tannehill, after the Titans beat the Patriots in the 2019 playoffs. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)
Again, not a forgotten one. And not necessarily all that random, considering Tennessee Tannehill is actually pretty good. Though he gathered some regular-season wins as Miami’s QB, we mostly chalked that up to the strange voodoo that placed a hex on the Patriots when playing in Miami. We kind of waited for the old Tannehill to show up on that January night in Foxboro. He didn’t. Then Brady left town forever. After a Patriots loss to Ryan Tannehill. End of the dynasty. Ryan Tannehill. Who’d have guessed it, people?
Eli Manning (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Just kidding ha ha good joke by me. The Patriots never lost to Eli, as we all know.
Oh wait! There was that regular-season loss in 2011. Silly of me to forget.
Jake Plummer during the Patriots-Broncos playoff game in the 2005 season. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/NFLPhotoLibrary/GettyImages)
Brady and Belichick were 10-0 in the playoffs together. That perfection streak ended by a team that was quarterbacked by Jake Plummer. Sports are crazy.
Plummer completed 15 of his 26 passes for 197 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the Broncos’ 27-13 win in the 2005 divisional round. Which wasn’t very good. But he gets the W next to his name in the history books forever.
(Nobody has forgotten any playoff losses, obviously. But we had to get those out of the way. A little warm-up session, if you will.)
Jay Fiedler vs. the Patriots in 2001 (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Again, Miami mysteries. Really, Miami quarterbacks shouldn’t count. Nevertheless, let’s start here. The opposing QB when Tom Brady lost his first NFL game was none other than Jay Fiedler. Jay threw for a scintillating 87 yards (with 1 TD and 1 INT) in that game as Lamar Smith ran for 144 yards. Brady was just 12-for-24 for 86 yards, taking four sacks in what was a rough reality check for the second-year QB.
Fiedler — who beat the 2000 Patriots twice — actually got another win vs. New England in 2002. Jay Fiedler went 4-5 vs. Bill Belichick’s Patriots. Almost 11 percent of his career win total as a QB came against the Belichick-coached Patriots. What the heck?
Brian Griese vs. the Patriots in 2001 (Photo by Jim Gund/Allsport/Getty Images)
Brian Griese won 45 games as an NFL starting quarterback. One came against the eventual Super Bowl champs in 2001. The man who preceded Brady at Michigan benefited from the fact that Belichick’s teams have rarely ever played well in Denver. Brady threw four picks that day.
Griese beat the Patriots again in 2002.
Patrick Ramsey throws a pass against the Patriots in 2003. (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Patrick Ramsey! What else can you say?! I don’t care if you are the team historian for the Patriots Hall of Fame. You weren’t guessing this one. Nope. Not a chance.
You might remember that the Patriots lost TWO (2) games in the entire 2003 season. One was the Week 1 whooping in Buffalo, duh. The other was in Washington in Week 4. Patrick Ramsey — Patrick Ramsey!!! — borderline did absolutely nothing in that game, going 10-for-22 for 147 yards. It wasn’t even a huge rushing day for Washington (Trung Candidate led the way with 70 yards). But Brady threw three picks, and Kevin Faulk lost a fumble inside the New England 10-yard line, and Washington won 20-17.
Ramsey played started 24 games from 2002-05. He won 10 of them. One of those wins came against one of the best teams ever assembled.
And people bet real money on this sport!
A.J. Feeley vs. the Patriots in 2004. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)
Much like the ’03 team, the ’04 Patriots lost just two games. One was to a legitimately good opponent (Pittsburgh), and one was not.
That infamous, random-as-heck meltdown on Monday Night Football (orange jerseys surely ring a bell) involved A.J. Feeley under center for the 2-11 Dolphins. He threw for under 200 yards with a touchdown that night. The Dolphins only generated 231 yards of total offense. They stunk out loud. But Brady threw an interception from his butt (his fourth pick of the night), Rodney Harrison committed PI in the end zone, and Feeley connected with Derrius Thompson (who?!) on a fourth-and-10 to author one of the biggest head-scratching upsets in NFL history.
Jake Plummer vs. the Patriots in 2005. (Photo By Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Yes, he had the playoff win in 2005. He also had a regular-season win in 2005. The 28-20 loss dropped the Patriots to 3-3 and helped solidify the fact that they’d be coming back to Denver in the Wild Card round to lose to Jake Plummer for the second time in the same season.
That is some messed up stuff. The dynastic Patriots were derailed in large part to Jake the freakin’ Snake. Unreal.
Plummer beat the Patriots again in 2006, too. He never lost to the Patriots. Enough, Jake. We get it.
Gus Frerotte vs. the Patriots on January 1, 2006. The Dolphins defeated the Pats 28-26. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Gus’ name is not entirely random, per se. But entering 2005, he had started 20 total games in the previous seven seasons combined. But Nick Saban liked him enough to start him 15 times in 2005. The final start of the year came vs. the Patriots, and Frerotte efficiently threw for 239 yards and a touchdown with no picks, as Ricky Williams ran for 108 yards and a score. The Dolphins beat the Patriots 28-26 in Foxboro, dropping New England to 10-6.
All in one year, we’ve got Gus Frerotte and Jake Plummer steering NFL history in a direction away from the back-to-back Super Bowl champions. A threepeat, thwarted by Gustave Joseph Frerotte and Jason Steven Plummer.
Is this a joke?
Joey Harrington runs vs. the Patriots in 2006. (Photo by Paul Spinelli/Getty Images)
I am sorry for dropping the professional facade with those exclamation points, but come on. If this isn’t evidence that someone from the Dolphins organization sold their soul to the devil in exchange for some wins vs. the Patriots, then nothing is.
The Patriots actually got shut out in this one, a 21-0 Miami win that bumped the Dolphins up to 6-7 on the season. Sammy Morris ran for 123 yards and one touchdown for the Fins, certainly catching Belichick’s attention. The Patriots fumbled four times, losing three of them.
Harrington threw for 190 yards and a touchdown. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to get the win.
Harrington had been 0-2 with five picks and no touchdowns in his previous starts vs. the Patriots. But this day came to be known as Harrington’s Revenge*.
*It did not.
Kyle Orton vs. the Patriots in 2009 (Photo By Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Is Kyle Orton random-random? No, not really. He was an NFL quarterback for a while. Won some games. Threw some touchdowns. The whole nine yards.
But this is random: Kyle Orton went 2-1 against the Patriots.
The first win came in 2009, when the Patriots visited Josh McDaniels’ Broncos. The jerseys were ugly, the head coach fist pumps were immense, and the Dave Grohl lookalike under center led a game-winning drive in OT to keep the Broncos undefeated and drop the Patriots to 3-2 on the young season.
Orton later won a Week 17 game in Foxboro as the QB of the Bills, but that one legitimately doesn’t count, as the Patriots rested starters and had no reason to try to win. But, it also does count. Kyle Orton — 2-1 vs. the Patriots.
Chad Henne after the Dolphins’ 22-21 victory over the Patriots in 2009. (Photo by Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images)
It was one thing when the ’09 Pats got lit up by Drew Brees. It was a whole other thing when the ’09 Pats got lit up by Chad Henne.
Henne threw for 335 yards and two touchdowns in a 22-21 win over the Patriots in Week 13. I am having trouble remembering this particular Miami loss. Be right back, going to check YouTube.
OK, back. I remember now. Tom Brady got injured significantly in this game, jogging to the locker room in the first half after having his ribs cracked. He didn’t leave the game though, because he’s tough, and also a psycho. Sam Aiken made an insane play for a touchdown for New England. But then Brady threw a pick in the end zone to Vontae Davis. Then he threw another pick while getting hit on the would-be game-winning drive.
Chad Henne willed it all to happen, some would say.
Andre Johnson celebrates with Matt Schaub in Week 17 of the 2009 season. (Photo by Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)
A borderline entry. Matt Schaub was the QB for the Week 17 game where Wes Welker tore his ACL. He was fine.
Colt McCoy leaves the field after beating the Patriots in 2010. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
The Patriots sure loved to go 14-2 with one bad loss to a terrible team. The 2010 squad brought back this tradition by randomly losing to the Eric Mangini-coached Browns.
Colt McCoy completed 14 of his 19 passes for 174 yards, while also running for 20 yards and a touchdown and taking zero sacks. Peyton Hills did the bulk of the damage, with 184 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Colt McCoy won eight career games. Eight. One of those wins came with the 2010 Browns, who finished the year 5-11 yet defeated the Patriots, who finished the year 14-2.
Kevin Kolb vs. the Patriots in 2012 (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
This is one you might not come up with on your own, but as soon as you were reminded of a September loss to Arizona, you’d scream in disgust, “KEVIN KOLB!”
Kolb was big-time bad during his NFL career, and he wasn’t great in Foxboro, when he completed 15 of 27 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. But the Patriots struggled to score all day, settling for four field goals while having a punt blocked and throwing a pick on the opening play of the game. Stephen Gostkowski missed the game-winner in the final seconds.
And then Kevin Kolb came out to take a knee.
That was actually the start of a three-game winning streak for Kolb. Then he lost a couple of games and never played again.
Andy Dalton vs. the Patriots in 2013 (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
Andy Dalton probably doesn’t get the respect that he deserves. Not that he’s great or anything, but he’s … fine. He is thoroughly OK. But that brutal mic’d up speech, and the overall stench of the Bengals franchise, it’s all kind of worked against him.
Still, you’d think that Belichick’s team would have no problem with him. And in his first ever start vs. the Patriots, he really wasn’t very good. He completed 20 of 27 passes for 212 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown. He did throw a pick.
He probably wouldn’t have gotten a win, but a monsoon rolled in on what could have been the game-tying (or winning) drive by the Patriots, who lost 13-6.
Dalton has since lost all three of his starts against the Patriots, all three in blowout fashion. Life finds a way.
Tom Brady congratulates Alex Smith after the Chiefs beat the Patriots in 2014. (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Alex Smith is certainly well-known enough to not be random, don’t get me wrong. He was the No. 1 pick and all.
But he also wasn’t very good. He averaged about 200 yards per game in his career. He threw 199 touchdowns in 174 games. At his best, he was a moderately effective game manager.
But against the Patriots, he turned into Peyton Manning.
That infamous Week 4 Patriots loss in K.C. in 2014: 20-for-26, 248 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions.
The season opener in 2017 in Foxboro: 28-for-35, 368 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions.
That’s roughly 11 million percent better than Smith’s usual output. Frankly, I still can’t believe that season-opening performance at Gillette. It was the best game of his life. It was ridiculous.
Smith lost a playoff game vs. the Patriots in 2015, but he retired with a 2-0 regular-season record vs. New England.
Sam Bradford vs. the Patriots in 2015 (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
One of the most stunning and confounding losses of the Belichick era remains the 2015 flop against Chip Kelly’s Eagles.
Sam Bradford was under center that day. He completed just 14 passes for 120 yards, but that’s all he needed to do. Two of those completions were touchdowns. Malcolm Jenkins returned an interception 99 yards for a touchdown, and the Eagles got two touchdowns from special teams. (Brief rant: This game is wrongly remembered as being blown on Nate Ebner’s “mortar kick.” In reality, that only gave Philadelphia 15-20 free yards. That’s essentially one free completion. The Patriots had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown, and allowed Darren Sproles to return a punt for a touchdown. That is how games are lost, not from short kickoffs. Rant concluded.)
Maybe Bill was just doing a solid for Chip Kelly with this one. It was one of the weirdest losses, man.
Tyrod Taylor vs. the Patriots in 2016 (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Rex Ryan’s Bills did what Bill O’Brien’s Texans could not. They took advantage of a Patriots team forced to start rookie Jacoby Brissett in the first month of his NFL career.
Tyrod Taylor was the beneficiary. Taylor threw for 246 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 28 yards as the Bills shut out the Patriots 16-0. The only real memorable part of this game was the pregame scuffle in the middle of the field. Heck yeah! That was cool. Nobody really cared about the loss because the Patriots were 3-1 and were one day away from welcoming Brady back to work. They went 14-1 from that point forward and won the Super Bowl.
So it was nice that they gave Taylor a win. (He’s lost his other five starts vs. New England.)
Jay Cutler vs. the Patriots in 2017 (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
He was the genesis for this story, after all. What you have to remember about the 2017 season is that Cutler had retired after the Bears released him following the 2016 season. So he was out. Physically, mentally. Just … out.
Then Ryan Tannehill tore his ACL in training camp. And the Dolphins were like (paraphrasing), “Oh crap, we don’t want Matt Moore to be our quarterback. Better try (and fail) to get Peyton Manning to come out of retirement. If that doesn’t work we can throw a ginormous bag of money at … Jay Cutler or something.”
That plan worked perfectly. Cutler showed up. He looked like he gave very few poops about what was going on. He had that famous Wildcat play. He had a couple of good games against Oakland (a 6-10 team) and the Jets (5-11), but that was about it.
Then he faced the Patriots on Monday Night Football and lit them up. He was 25-for-38 for 263 yards with three touchdowns and no picks.
The Patriots were 10-2 at the time, and they had suffered so many head-scratching losses in Miami that we all probably downplayed it at the time as just a bad night for a good team. In retrospect, perhaps this was the warning sign that a Foles Level Event would be happening just seven weeks later.
Blake Bortles vs. the Patriots in 2018 (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
I still contend that if Blake Bortles had found a better NFL home than Jacksonville, then his career would’ve turned out differently. Nevertheless, my feelings on Blake Bortles don’t matter and they cannot change reality. And reality shows that Blake Bortles is a bad NFL quarterback.
Yet in Week 2 of the 2018 season, on a swampy day in Jacksonville, Bortles looked like he was back at Central Florida as he slung the ball with abandon to beat the Patriots 31-20. Bortles threw for 376 yards with four touchdowns and a pick. He’s thrown for that many yards and that many touchdowns in the same game exactly zero other times in his career.
So while Bortles’ record as a starter may be a grisly 24-49, he can always go to sleep at night with a smile, knowing he dominated a Patriots team that would go on to win the Super Bowl.
Bill Belichick congratulates Aaron Rodgers, a decidedly non-random QB who has beaten the Patriots. (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
So there you have it. That’s a lot of random dudes. How many had you forgotten? (Be honest: You forgot about Patrick Ramsey.)
What’s the point of this exercise? That’s a fair question. There isn’t one, other than to reminisce on some old games and to remember that sports are entirely unpredictable, and there’s a reason that football teams are required to actually take the field each week. Sometimes even the greatest mismatch on paper means nothing on turf. And sometimes Joey Harrington beats the Patriots.
You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.