Has Brady's Regression Begun?

By JakeElman
Oct. 01, 2014

After a slow start to the 2014 season, we wonder if Tom Brady has started to regress from elite quarterback

Tom Brady, 37, has a 4-2 TD-INT ratio but is only completing 59 percent of his passes (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

Written by Jake Elman

SportsMix

On the final Monday night of September, in an ear-piercing Arrowhead Stadium, one would find it impossible that something would be louder than the hometown fans rooting on both the NFL's Chiefs and the MLB's Royals. But, as Tom Brady struggled and eventually was benched, there was something loud that everyone heard - failure. 

When it's all said and done, Tom Brady is going to finish his career as possibly one of the top five greatest quarterbacks to ever line up behind center. He's done it all, from three (and counting) Super Bowl rings to one of the NFL's bright faces during a peak period for the league. He was the spearhead of a 16-0 regular season, and nearly completed the undefeated season if not for a set of miracles.

But, Brady's in a bit of a struggle right now. Last year was arguably his worst professional season, as he went 4343/25/11 and only completed 60.5 percent of his passes for the AFC East champion Patriots (still dream numbers for most quarterbacks, though). This year, despite fielding a much better team on paper, Brady and the Patriots have come out of the gate extremely slow, only 2-2 through their first four outings.

So, let's ask the question a lot of people seem to be avoiding - has Tom Brady's regression begun, or is the veteran quarterback just starting off slow?

Well, let's look at some facts. Right now, Brady has a 791/4/2 statline through four games, which is average - maybe a bit below average with how the NFL plays today. It means you're throwing for 200 yards and a touchdown per game while also doing a decent job not turning it over, but Brady is only completing 59 percent of his passes, a number way below his career percentage of 63 percent and lower than last year's 61 percent. 

This summer, there was a lot of criticism directed my way because I made the argument Tom Brady is no longer a top three quarterback in the NFL. At this point, I'd rather have Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, or Peyton Manning, and at this rate, I think I'd rather have Andrew Luck. Yes, I know Brady is only two years off a fantastic 4827/34/8 2012 season, but there's definitely regression we're seeing, and I think a good part of it has to do with what surrounds him.

Could Brady be putting those numbers up if Wes Welker was still in New England rather than Denver, Rob Gronkowski was constantly healthy, and Aaron Hernandez was free instead of incarcerated? Perhaps, but I think we can all agree Kenbrell Thompkins and Tim Wright aren't Welker and Hernandez; at the same time, though, we need to admit the Brady of, say, 2006 that could be effective and elite with a lack of major weapons is long gone.

In a span of about a year and a half, Brady has lost his number one wideout that helped him get to two Super Bowls, a young tight end that was capable of big plays, his number one offensive lineman, and other pieces of the team that made Brady remain so good even as he grew in age. Now, that's not to say the Patriots should've kept an injury prone Wes Welker or a criminal in Aaron Hernandez, yet I feel it's unfair to give Brady so much flak for being unable to work with these weapons when the Patriots have done nothing to help him.

Take May's draft, for example. With their first round pick, the Patriots took DT Dominque Easley from Florida and while it wasn't a bad pick, it was a questionable one when you remember that Marqise Lee, Jace Amaro, Allen Robinson, and Cody Latimer - all of whom who could help the offense out immensely - were all still on the board. The same goes for their second round pick, Jimmy Garoppolo; you need offensive weapons, so why are you passing on a C.J. Fiedorowicz? If you really wanted a franchise quarterback of the future, why not wait until the later rounds when you can snag Aaron Murray or A.J. McCarron?

I don't want to play the hindsight game, but if you know that your offense is most likely going to struggle this season, why are you not taking impact players early? If I'm the Patriots, I'm taking a wide receiver who can make big plays with Tom Brady, not using a second round pick on a quarterback who is most likely going to sit for two or three years and contribute nothing barring injury. Instead of signing Emmanuel Sanders, a solid young receiver from Pittsburgh, you land Brandon LaFell. 

This all is relevant because without a solid group of playmakers, I do not think Tom Brady can succeed at this point the way he once did. Not every quarterback is Peyton Manning, someone who only gets better with age; if Peyton had this type of team in Colorado, the Broncos would likely not be a playoff contender. That's not a knock on Peyton, John Fox, or any of the listed players, but Peyton is excelling right now because of what's around him, a fact even the biggest Manning fans will admit without a doubt. 

Tom Brady could probably replicate his 2012 numbers, or do even better, if he had Demaryius Thomas at wide receiver, and Julius Thomas at tight end (now, that's not say Thomas is better than Gronkowkski, but just imagine if Gronk was healthy the way Julius Thomas has been). But, Brady doesn't have that.

Instead, he has to throw to Thompkins and Wright, which is a pretty big drop off from two of the best at their positions. Instead, he has, for the most part, average players that won't make a difference the way Welker or Hernandez could. When Brady was younger, it worked, but it doesn't work when you get older. It doesn't work when you have pressure constantly in his face because of a makeshift offensive line. Every quarterback regresses with age, but we're seeing a quicker one with Brady because of the way the Patriots have set up this roster.

The Patriots enter each season with the same expectations of winning a title, however I don't see it happening this year. Brady looks lost at times, the line is terrible, and though the defense has been pretty good, Darrelle Revis does not look like the Revis these same Patriots feared. Can you win a Super Bowl with a regressing quarterback? Sure, but only if the surrounding pieces are good enough. 

Today, I've seen people asking if Brady continues to struggle, do you bench him for Jimmy Garoppolo, the second round pick in May's draft? Honestly, just knowing the Patriot Way, I think the answer is no. Bill Belichick, for lack of a better word, seems connected to Brady; the two are inseparable, and have made their legacies off one another. Now, if they had drafted better in May, maybe this wouldn't be an issue...

I'm not trying to be a pessimist here, but come on. This is not an easy schedule, and it said something that the Patriots couldn't do what Houston and Miami did - blow out Oakland, something made even worse especially considering the fact the Raiders were playing on the East Coast, a place they haven't won since 2009. In their next few games, the Patriots have to play the undefeated Bengals, Buffalo who could give them a challenge, the Jets, Jay Cutler's Bears team, Denver, a bye week, and then the Colts. Again, this is not at all an easy schedule, and other teams can take advantage of New England's weaknesses easily. Miami did it, Kansas City did it, even OAKLAND did it to a certain extent. 

So, is Brady regressing? At the end of the day,the answer is yes, and I'd make sure to keep an eye on it. To me, this is a very difficult situation that Brady has to work with, especially if Rob Gronkowski were to get hurt again. Brady is still a top four or five quarterback in my eyes - not to mention a great leader - but he can't do all this on his own anymore. The regression is partly 'his fault', but the Patriots deserve a heavy chunk of the blame for not giving him the pieces to excel anymore. The Tom Brady of ten years ago could win with this team, but not 2014 Brady. 

I don't think the Patriots will make a move just yet to take Brady out of the starting role. The Patriots remain the best team in the AFC East, at least on paper, and have shown us plenty of times before never to count them out. It's only when we believe that they're capable of nothing that they shock us and go on an impressive winning streak...any Jets fan can tell you that. 

With my luck, Brady will go out and throw five touchdowns against the undefeated Bengals next week and shut me up...

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