The uncomfortable reality that is a fading Tom Brady

Kirk Minihane
October 02, 2014 - 11:29 pm

Tom Brady has left Patriots fans scratching their heads this season. (Getty Images)

This is how it ends. 

Unless you're John Elway, the final page or two of Act III for a great quarterback is ugly. Ask Joe Montana, or Dan Marino, or Brett Favre, or Johnny Unitas, or Terry Bradshaw, or Y.A. Tittle, or Dan Fouts. Look it up. 

And that makes sense. It's how it works: when you get older, you aren't as good as you were in your prime. I think we have enough sample size to arrive at that conclusion in every sport.

So that leads us to Tom Brady. Let's get the obvious out of the way: Brady's offensive line has been brutal, his skill players aren't exactly elite (though he's done more with less in the past) and Josh McDaniels has bursts of astonishing cluelessness. All true. But so is this, and it's becoming increasingly clear that Brady is in serious decline. And there's no reason to think it's suddenly going to improve. 

Want to start with some numbers? Here's Brady's passer rating (not a perfect stat, I'll quickly concede) the last five years:

2010: 111.0

2011: 105.6

2012: 98.7

2013: 87.3

2014: 79.1

How about completion percentage?

2010: 65.9

2011: 65.5

2012: 63.0

2013: 60.5

2014: 59.1

Yards per attempt?

2011: 8.6

2012: 7.6

2013: 6.9

2014: 5.8

Touchdown passes?

2011: 39

2012: 34

2013: 25

2014: On pace for 16

Passing yards? 

2011: 5,235

2012: 4,827

2013: 4,343

2014: 3,164

Excuses can be made -- have been and will continue to be -- but these numbers are tough to dismiss. And the statistical reality is that Brady has been one of the three or four worst quarterbacks in the NFL this season.

He's 29th (out of 34) in passer rating, right behind EJ Manuel, who was benched this week. He's 33rd in yards per attempt, behind stiffs like Chad Henne, Matt Cassel, Josh McCown, Geno Smith. Brady -- I think the second-best quarterback in the history of the sport, an absolute immortal -- is 27th in completion percentage, again right next to Manuel and Smith (one guy who has been benched and another who will soon be). And (according to Pro Football Focus) Brady is last in the NFL in completion percentage when holding the ball for 2.5 seconds or longer (40.5).

Also this, to slightly injure the theory that this is all an offensive line issue: Brady's passer rating with no pressure is 83.0, about as mediocre as it gets.

“He started looking for the rush when there was no rush. He thought after a certain amount of time somebody was coming, he was fidgeting. . . .  Most quarterbacks don’t like getting hit.  They get hit and they turn into a totally different person.”

That was Bart Scott talking about Brady. It wasn't last week, or two weeks ago (and boy does Scott stink on CBS -- adds nothing). It was January 17, 2011, after Scott and the Jets came into Foxboro and knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs. And that's a dirty little secret about Brady that's now out for all to see: He's not the same guy under pressure anymore. He changes, and that wasn't always the case.

I don't know if it's the knee, or aging, or lack of faith in the line, but it exists. And we've seen Brady make terrible throws this season with absolutely no pressure -- the two picks in Kansas City (two of the worst of his career), the near INT in the end zone against the Raiders. On 3rd-and-9 at the Miami 44 in the fourth quarter of a 23-20 game, Brady missed a wide-open Edelman, a shocking overthrow. He's last in the NFL in completion percentage in passes over 10 and 20 yards. Not all of these attempts were under duress. Is that all the fault of the line? The receivers? The coaches? Bob Kraft? Ned Yost?

And I need this explained to me: Why does Chad Ochocinco go from Carson Palmer to Tom Brady and regress? Why does Tim Wright go from Mike Glennon to Tom Brady and disappear? How does Danny Amendola catch 85 passes from Sam Bradford, come to New England and produce nothing? There is a history of this and for the life of me I can't figure out why receivers do less with Brady -- significantly less -- than they did with average quarterbacks.

We all agree that the supporting cast is lacking. Not even up for debate. But does Philip Rivers -- right now the best quarterback on the planet -- have great skill players? The team is averaging 2.4 yards per carry. Is Malcom Floyd (six catches last year in two games), Keenan Allen (a second-year receiver actually doing something), Eddie Royal and Antonio Gates that much better than Gronkowski, Edelman, Amendola and LaFell? Look at the resumes and it's pretty close. And Rivers is completing 70 percent of his passes and leads the league with a 114.5 passer rating. Brady's been sacked nine times, tied for seventh-most in the NFL. Of the nine players sacked at least nine times, Brady's rating and completion percentage ranks last and last. Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 10 times -- his passer rating is 109.1. 

Think about this: A year ago today, if you called the other 31 teams and offered Brady straight up for their starting quarterback for the rest of the season, how many would've said no? Denver (and has the Manning-Brady divide ever been larger? Brady is still ahead on the all-time scale but it it isn't even a competition right now), Green Bay, maybe New Orleans. Now? San Diego, Seattle and Indianapolis are all no-brainers, right? So that's about where Brady is when you rank 'em -- he's dropped from the top three to that 8-12 group. There's no shame in that, of course, but that's where he is, and that's solely based on history, not his current form.

If his name was Chad Henne and he had put up these numbers through four weeks, he'd be exactly where he was at the end of the game Monday -- on the bench, watching Jimmy Garoppolo. 

And this isn't some moronic plea to sit Brady and start Garoppolo. I'm all for trolling, God knows, but there is a limit. And when you list the many problems for the 2014 Patriots Brady doesn't crack the top five. But Brady at his best would've hid, or at least lessened, some of the weaknesses. He doesn't do that as well as he used to. He's been, to date in '14, a below average quarterback for a below average team. And at 37 years old, and in his fourth straight year of statistical decline, there is no reason to think it's going to suddenly change.

Brady will never win another MVP. He's never going to play in another Super Bowl in New England. His best days are gone, and the days at a level right below his best days are gone. There will be flashes of the old form, but those will be outnumbered by what we've seen the last year and a half. It's only going to get worse for Brady and the Patriots over the next couple of years.

And that is how it ends. 

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