“Tom Brady is fine”. “Tom Brady is just off to a slow start, don't worry”. “Just wait until Brady gets Rob Gronkowski back, then we'll see the Brady we're used to”.
That's all that Patriots diehards have been saying over the first seven weeks of the season, as Brady as gotten off to the slowest start of his career. As the greatest quarterback in recent memory, it seems impossible to imagine Brady as a player that is beginning the inevitable decline at the tail end of his career. He hasn't been playing like himself, but surely he'll snap out of it, right?
That's a much more difficult point to argue after week seven's loss to the Jets. Could it be that Brady is just an average quarterback at this point in his career?
A slow start was expected in New England this year. With the loss of Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd, and the absence of Rob Gronkowski,it was almost inevitable that Brady would need time to get the offense on track. With a heavy reliance on rookies and inexperienced players, an uptick in drops and bad timing on routes should have been anticipated.
And those certainly have been there. While Brady completed only 22 of 46 passes on Sunday, six of those were either drops or plays his receivers should have made. Brady also threw the ball away twice, due to play breaking down in front of him. Even with those plays taken into account, that still would give Brady an adjusted 61% completion rate – far from the accuracy and efficiency we're used to seeing from him against a lesser team like the Jets.
It's true that Brady's supporting cast has been less than stellar, but this isn't the first time he's been in such a situation. In 2006 Brady was forced to work with the likes of Reche Caldwell and Doug Gabriel, and he didn't have near the struggles he's had this season. He led that team to the AFC Championship game, which at this point in 2013 seems to be a long shot.
It'd be unfair to judge Brady on just one game with his best weapon, Gronkowski, back on the field, but early returns certainly weren't encouraging. The dominate tight end finished the day his typical stat line - eight catches for 117 yards – but that didn't translate to a better day for Brady and the offense as a whole. Sunday marked the third time this season that Brady competed 50% of his passes, and Pro Football Focus actually graded this game as a career low for Brady. Brady was able to lead the offense a third down conversion only once out of twelve opportunities against the Jets, and he only averaged five yards per pass attempt. Not exactly what Patriot fans were hoping to see.
There are really only two scenarios that would explain the sudden decline in Brady's level of play. Either Brady is finally losing his physical ability at age 36, or he's been made uncomfortable by the many changes in the offense for the first time in his career. While the former isn't impossible, one would have expected to see some hint of that last season. Rarely do players lose their physical ability all at once, and 2012 was as good of a season as ever for Brady.
It's much more likely that Brady simply is no longer comfortable with the tools surrounding him. While Brady has seemed like a player that would be impossible to rattle. But it's pretty obvious that he's not been able to establish chemistry with the new weapons brought in. That was made painfully obvious with Gronkowski back on the field. Brady forced the ball to his tight end repeatedly, ending the game with seventeen targets. Gronkowski did end the game with catches on eight of those, but many of those passes were when he was far too well covered to be thrown to. One of those plays ended in an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Brady was locked in on Gronkowski, but that's not the only evidence of his mental struggles this season. The signal caller has been under pressure a lot this season – Brady was sacked four times and hurried ten times against the Jets alone – and that's caused Brady's mechanics to noticeably break down.
In remarkably un-Brady like fashion, he's imaging pressure when it isn't there and rushing his throws, which is causing him to lean into throws at some points and throw off his back foot on others. That was no more evident than early in the third quarter when Brady's pass intended for Gronkowski was intercepted. On the previous play Brady had been sacked, and from the snap Brady was feeling pressure again. Even though he had enough time to set up and deliver the ball properly, he rushed the throw to a well covered Gronkowski.
Because he was forcing the play, Brady didn't set his feet and it resulted in an under thrown pass that was easily picked off.
Making the move to part with all of Tom Brady's weapons was a calculated risk, and the Patriots pulled the trigger because they had such faith in his ability to make plays regardless of who was lined up alongside him. But Brady is only human, and for almost the first time in his career he's looking like it. There's still just over half a season for Brady to regain the comfort he's lost in the Patriots offense, but right now that looks like that could be a long shot. Unless he settles down soon, New England may see their season end far sooner than they expected.
In addition to yet another refashioned offensive line, a seemingly annual occurrence in Foxboro, the rest of the answer is pretty simple: Tom Martinez is dead. Tom Brady now must do on his own what Martinez once did for him. There were hints of today's Brady as last season dwindled down to the run to the Super Bowl.
I've always liked Brady, who should be considered as, perhaps the all-time best QB (please think before trotting out Montana - played with All-Pros and HOFers everywhere and didn't win anything when he went to KC, or Mr. Regular Seasons, Dan Peyton Marino Manning who won all of one SB between them with fantastic receivers - Rex Grossman, really! that shouldn't even count; name the other QB who started 5 SBs - exactly... and the one season Brady had a wideout you can readily remember, the Pats went 18-0 before the NYG DB mugging was suddenly reintroduced - it's a theme in big games involving the Pats, just ask Ed Reed - for Eli Manning & Crew, and even then it took Assante S. to allow an easy INT to go right through his hands and then break the Belichick DB Golden Rule of NEVER leaving your receiver when the QB scrambles, which resulted in D. Tyree's, One Shining Moment... which is the REAL reason Assante got jettisoned from the Pats the following offseason). However, I have always been afraid of what would happen to Brady if/when Martinez passed; it's akin to the Mike Tyson/Cus D'Amato relationship (IN the ring).
Quite a good article. Well written and laden with the facts ailing the Pats this season. What saddens me is the failure by praise singers to ignore what was destined to occur, while ceaseless in their unquestioned cult-like odes to those who make personnel decisions for the team. You can only change a team's offensive line this much and this frequently. Irreparable harm to its chemistry is bound to be visited upon the team. I continue to question the wisdom of getting rid of what works hoping to come up with better options and outcomes from new and yet to be proven talents. It is even more annoying when one considers the calibre of those brought in as replacements and for even more money. My late dad never missed the chance to chasten anyone who tries to interfere with what works. If it ticks, what do you want to prove by tinkering with it -he often admonished. Brady is only human. You can't keep getting him to hasten to a new beat year after year. The unsettling cracks are apt to show before long. Actually, I feel sorry for him.
@dkwilsonisland Well Put. Hope we have more of your type who do not hesitate calling things as they truly are.
@ORGBAFFTH The Patriots aren't in it to "work". They're in it to win it. Last year's team wasn't going to win it then or now. Maybe da Hoodie decided that the best shot to win another Super Bowl was to build a new team to potential over the last few years of TB12's career. These rookies have already performed better than Ocho-Dinko and Brandon "The Unhired" Lloyd. The future bodes well for them.
@Hippo McG @ORGBAFFTH Your reference to the status of the team's offensive line as it was last season is a bit misguided. You only need look at how much the "O" Line has metamorphosed in the last five years. Remember that tourists like Ocho Cinco and Brandon Lloyd were brought in as a last and desperate effort to fix what then was becoming obvious consequent upon the ceaseless hemorrhaging of talents in the offense year in, year out. Agreed. That effort woefully failed to come up with the desired results. Your contention that "The Patriots Aren't In It To Work"........"They Are In It To Win" hardly makes any sense. What does "Win" be taken to denote in this case. Simply put, if the team does not work as it should, "Winning" would remain but a fleeting dream. Let us please stop playing with words here and rest our loyalties to the team by calling up whoever we know has fouled up to create the mediocrity we now have on our much beloved PATS.