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History major: If EJ Manuel wants to beat Patriots, he has to take a page from rookie QBs who have done it before

09.05.13 at 1:35 pm ET
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When it comes to facing rookie quarterbacks, it’€™s been a bit of a mixed bag for the Patriots as of late.

Rookie starting quarterbacks facing Bill Belichick‘s Patriots for the first time are 4-7 (overall, rookies are 4-13 vs. Belichick’s Pats), with Russell Wilson the most recent rookie to pull out a victory when he led the Seahawks to a win last season.

Rookies were actually in the midst of a very nice stretch against New England before the Patriots crushed Andrew Luck and the Colts last year. Ben Roethlisberger (2004), Mark Sanchez (2009), Colt McCoy (2010) and Russell Wilson (2012) all won as rookies in their first matchup vs. the Patriots. That streak stopped midway through the 2012 season when New England beat Luck and then added a win down the stretch over Dolphins rookie Ryan Tannehill.

Into this picture comes EJ Manuel. The 16th pick in the 2013 draft out of Florida State, he’€™ll be making the NFL start Sunday against the Patriots. It will be the first time New England has faced a rookie quarterback in its opener, and Manuel will be only the 12th quarterback taken in the first round of the draft since 2000 to start on Kickoff Weekend.

‘€œI think he brings a lot. We know he’€™s a real athletic guy,’€ Belichick said of Manuel, who missed the bulk of the preseason because of knee surgery. ‘€œ[He'€™s a] good passer, had a lot of production in college, played well in the Indianapolis game, scrambled well.’€

Said Manuel: ‘€œI’€™m very excited. I’€™m looking forward to the opportunity, [and] very excited to get the season kicked off going against a great opponent. It’€™s a great opportunity to show what we have.’€

Here’€™s a rundown of how rookie quarterbacks have done in their first start against Belichick’s Patriots teams (non-starters in italics):

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
2011: None
2010: Colt McCoy (W): 14-for-19, 174 yards, 101.6 rating, three rush, 20
yards, TD
2009: Mark Sanchez (W): 14-for-22, 163 yards, TD, 2 rush, -2 yards
Josh Freeman* (L): 2-for-4, 16 yards, sacked twice, 1 rush, 5 yards
2008: None
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
2005: None
2004: Ben Roethlisberger (W): 18-for-24, 196 yards, 2 TD
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

When it comes to rookie quarterbacks who have had success against the Patriots, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Manuel can point to a handful of very good performances over the last decade. Here are four commonalities in the performances of the rookie quarterbacks who have beaten Belichick and New England.

‘€¢ No rookie quarterback who has beaten the Patriots under Belichick has been statistically overwhelming. (In fact, in 2009, Sanchez was astoundingly average, ending up going 14-for-22 for 163 yards and a touchdown.) Instead, they’€™ve been smart with the football and have made excellent decisions — they have not thrown a single pick in any of their games against New England. From Wilson’€™s three-touchdown performance last season to McCoy in 2010, to Sanchez in 2009 and Roethlisberger in 2004, all the performances have been virtually error free.

‘€¢ They have all had teams that have played very well as a group on the offensive side of the ball. Their offensive lines have held up nicely — the only time one of the winning rookie quarterback was sacked was 2012 when Wilson was sacked twice. McCoy, Sanchez and Roethlisberger were not sacked in their victories. And they were all smart enough to realize that they weren’€™t going to win the game by themselves. Wilson got a great performance out of his receivers, while the other three had terrific performances out of their running backs. McCoy had teammate Peyton Hillis run for 184 yards, Sanchez had two running backs hit for at least 50 yards each on the ground, and Roethlisberger had Duce Staley (25 carries, 125 yards) and Jerome Bettis (15 carries, 65 yards, one touchdown) to lift the offense.

‘€¢ All four quarterbacks got terrific performances from their defense. Last season against the Seahawks, the Patriots were held to 23 points — almost 12 full points below their league-leading 34.8 points per game average. In 2010, New England was again leading the league in points per game with an average of 32.4 points per game, but the Browns limited them to 14 points that afternoon as McCoy lit up Cleveland. 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.) And in 2004, a New England team that was averaging 27.3 points per game scored just 20 in the loss to Roethlisberger and the Steelers.

‘€¢ Roethlisberger, Sanchez, McCoy and Wilson all had the good fortune to not be playing at Gillette Stadium. No rookie quarterback making his first start against the Patriots has ever won when the game was played in Foxboro. (Luck and Tannehill were crunched last season in their first trip to New England.)

In the end, it will take a impressive performance for Manuel to overcome New England in his professional debut. Is it too much to ask him to replicate the performance of Wilson or Roethlisberger and knock off the Patriots? He doesn’€™t think so.

‘€œIt’€™s still football at the end of the day,’€ he said. ‘€œYou’€™ve still got to execute what you do on offense, and I think that’€™s what it’€™s going to boil down to.’€

Read More: Bill Belichick, EJ Manuel,
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