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Will The Real Tom Brady please stand up?

Posted by Bill Koch on December 23, 2009

Anybody else curious why we’re hearing so much about Tom Brady’s injury status lately?

The sound you hear is Bill Belichick running interference for his cover boy quarterback. He’s trying to divert your attention from the fact that Brady is slowly and silently making his way down the other side of the mountain, his best days behind him, his peak as much a part of history as his 50-touchdown season in 2007.

Before you flip out and start posting death threats (although all feedback is welcome as always), consider the facts. It isn’t like Belichick to allow any nugget of information to leak out of his Foxboro lair, especially when it concerns the health of his franchise player. If Belichick won’t tell you that Stephen Neal has a chronically bad right shoulder and likely wouldn’t pass a league physical right now were he to be cut or traded, he sure as hell isn’t going to say whether or not Brady is playing through legitimate pain. The running joke on the New England Patriots injury list for the past six years is that Brady is listed as “probable” every week, a vague “right shoulder” ailment cited as the cause. It’s Belichick’s way of tweaking a system that he regards as ridiculous – he doesn’t want to give opponents any advantage, whether it be through some misguided trash talk by his own players or by telling that week’s opponent that the leader of his offense has a sore arm and can’t get the ball down the field.

With that in mind, listing Brady’s rib, finger and shoulder ailments on that Wednesday list is no longer a laughing matter. It’s out of character for Belichick to be so revealing. It gives the Foxboro fan base a reason to rationalize the 9-5 record that New England has posted so far – Brady’s hurt. It’s that simple. But it’s not.

Ignore for a minute the 3,945 yards that Brady has thrown for this year – even quarterbacks on bad teams can put up those kinds of numbers, because they’re usually behind and slinging the ball all over the place. Look a little deeper. Take away Brady’s six touchdown passes in that 59-0 thrashing of Tennessee, and he has only 18 touchdown throws in the Patriots’ 12 other games. He’s been careless with the football, throwing at least one interception in New England’s last four games and in seven of its last nine. Brady has been picked off at least once in nine games this season, his worst period of turnovers since his second full season as a starter in 2002-03. His decision-making was what caused Belichick and the rest of the Patriots’ staff to stick with Brady instead of handing Drew Bledsoe his job back in 2001. That was always considered Brady’s greatest strength – his mind. Not this season. Look no further than last year to see Matt Cassel’s nine turnover-free games while directing an offense that featured just about all of the same weapons.

And it continues from there. Brady’s quarterback ratings from the last four weeks read like a D-student’s marks in high school – 55.0, 101.5, 74.0 and 59.1. Even Brady’s best statistical game during that stretch, a 352-yard effort against Miami, was clouded by the hideous fourth-quarter interception he threw in the Dolphins’ end zone to help pave the way to a 22-21 loss. New England’s point totals from the last four games are equally staggering. This perceived offensive juggernaut has scored 17, 21, 20 and 17 points in the last four weeks, a Cleveland Browns-like output for a unit that features two of the NFL’s best receivers in Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Brady was better and more efficient when he had David Givens, David Patten, Troy Brown, Deion Branch and Mike Vrabel as his targets.

Moss has taken most of the heat for the recent offensive difficulties, and it’s easy to blame him for just about anything that goes wrong in Foxboro. That was Moss’ reputation when he came to New England, a player who was perceived as a dog at certain times in Minnesota and almost all of the time in Oakland. Belichick has come out publicly in defense of Moss, insisting that he’s still very much a part of New England’s game plan going forward. What Belichick doesn’t have to say is that Brady is as well, for better or for worse. Belichick won’t say how concerned he is about that in so many words, but his Brady injury smokescreen and rare peek into the training room in Foxboro should tell you all you need to know.

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