Hackett: It's time for Tom Brady to get comfortable with being uncomfortable

Jim Hackett
December 20, 2018 - 9:36 am

USA Today Sports

Back in August Tom Brady said something publically that caught my ear at the time. His quote: “This team needs a great quarterback and you know, hopefully, I can go out and be that.” 

As benign and Patriot-like as that sounds, it’s reminiscent of how Terry Francona often used to talk during his time in this town, where only if you read between the lines, would you find the true essence of what he was trying to say on many occasions.

What I think Brady was saying was that this team as he saw it wasn’t great, certainly not as talented as previous Patriots teams. Furthermore, to compete at the level we have all become so accustomed to over these 18 years, he himself would really need to be great to make a legitimate shot of championship contention happen.

He was right. And though Tom Brady is great and that greatness is unequivocally indisputable, 2018 has not been great for the Patriots and Brady’s performance to date this season has also not been great. 

There is a lot to unpack in those preseason words that Brady so profoundly said. Let’s start with the burden associated with those words. 

Know-it-all loudmouth frauds like Max Kellerman, Rob Parker and any number of mindless national talking heads have been taking brainless cliché filled, simple-minded, headline-grabbing takes of Brady’s “decline” since the Patriots 2-2 start in their Super Bowl-winning 2014 season. It’s old and tired. Fully played out before its inevitable truth is ever realized. Nice job morons.

However here we are in 2018 and the oh-so-tired theme of this eventual cliff has finally been given some legs. Inconsistent play and two straight December losses have many people asking questions and seeking answers. Has the cliff finally arrived? I say no, but there are problems and the burden Brady placed on himself before the season even started to me tops of the list. 

When you are under pressure to succeed human nature leads you to revert to what you know best and what you can control. Nobody that has ever manned the quarterback position has ever controlled and dominated the middle of the field better than Brady. Nobody has ever played the position better than Brady, but his dominance in between the numbers is downright Herculean. Nobody is remotely close in terms of success in that aspect of the game and there are plenty of Hall of Fame quarterbacks to pick through if you try, the exercise is futile. Here’s the problem: What has long since been a symbol of Brady’s dominance has become a flaw in recent performances. 

Brady throws to the middle of the field almost exclusively now. Whether it’s a 5-yard dump off or a30-yard bullet up the seam, it’s his security blanket, his comfort zone. Why wouldn’t be? This is where he’s had so much success. The problem is that I know it, you know it, defenses know it and now they can stop it. Four games with 20 points or less this season underscore the issue. Need more evidence? How about two losses when they scored a measly ten points including Sunday’s hot mess in Pittsburgh. 

There have been many comparisons between this Patriots team and the 2009 edition that punched out in round one of the playoffs. One thing that does look familiar to me is Brady’s over-reliance underneath. In 2009, it was a broken highlight reel of dump offs to Wes Welker. I for one was not unhappy to see Billy O’Brien leave town because at the time I felt the offense looked predictable and easily defensed. My finger was pointed right at him. However, watching Brady closely this season I feel like I’m in a time machine watching that frustrating 2009 offense over and over again. 

That 2009 season was a year where that Patriots team didn’t have the necessary talent either, perhaps Brady was pressing then and leaning on that oh-so familiar comfort zone underneath in the middle of the field. What’s different now is that the offensive game planning isn’t nearly as predictable, but Brady’s decision making is. The end result is not only throw to the open man (one of Brady’s greatest assets and core tenants) but rather, these days it’s throwing to where he’s most comfortable and least likely to make a mistake. Unfortunately, history shows that when you are trying not to make a mistake is exactly when many mistakes happen. Playing with caution, playing like a man carrying the team’s success squarely on his own back is quite the burden I would think.

Standing at 9-5 with some surprising losses and underwhelming team performances in tow I’m led to this: Perhaps it’s time to be less cautious and just sling it. If Brady will trust himself to throw outside the numbers as much as I trust he can, he should excel. They have the personnel. Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett make their living on the outside. Versatile guys like Julian Edelman, Rex Burkhead and James White can also be split outside. Cordarrelle Patterson is another option as well. Though it may not be his most comfortable throw to make, I think it’s time for Brady to get a little uncomfortable and keep defenses off balance. 

Of the many things we’ve heard that went wrong in the last 20-30 seconds of Sunday’s loss in Pittsburgh one thing hasn’t been noted enough; the fact that the Steelers had as many five guys crowding the middle of the end zone on the last three plays. Hmmm, I wonder why?

Just in case you forgot what it looks like when Brady throws to the outside take a look at this, I’m quite confident he can do it:

With Buffalo and the lowly Jets coming to town the next two weeks, it’s an ideal time to get a little uncomfortable and get back to winning. 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all.

Related: Hannable: Five things Patriots need to focus on in final two games

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