Ramble On Sports

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Brady’s flaws become shockingly clear

Posted by Bill Koch on January 11, 2010

Tom Brady sideline demeanor

Tom Brady is finished.

He’s done winning Super Bowls. He’s done being one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. He’s done leading the league’s first dynasty of the new millennium, his power stripped by his ever-growing outside influences that have taken his focus away from the field. Look no further than No. 12 to start playing the blame game for the New England Patriots’ 33-14 demolition at the hands of the hungry Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in Foxboro.

Nobody wants to point the finger at Brady, because ripping him in New England is like ripping Michael Jordan when he was in his prime in Chicago. No Bulls fans wanted to hear that Jordan was a selfish coach-killer who rode teammates to their breaking points, refused to sacrifice his own personal statistics for the good of the team and generally stunted the growth of any promising player who could have helped him win an NBA title sooner. No Patriots fans want to hear that Brady is past his prime and done winning, that all those trips to New York and California at the expense of punishing offseason workouts and hours of film study have taken their toll. They want to point the finger elsewhere. Let’s look at some of the common targets.

The Offensive Line

All season we’ve heard that New England’s offensive line was the cause of Brady’s struggles. That’s simply not true, and the season-ending numbers prove it. The Patriots actually made remarkable improvement on the line after Matt Cassel absorbed a league-leading 47 sacks last year. New England allowed just 18 sacks this year, their lowest number since the NFL expanded to a 16-game schedule in 1978. Brady himself hit the deck 16 times, the fewest in his 10-year career, and was sacked just twice during the last six weeks of the regular season. For a little perspective, Brady was sacked 21 times during his record-breaking 2007 season, 26 times in 2004, 32 times in 2003 and 41 times in 2001 – all years in which the Patriots reached the Super Bowl.

The Defense

It’s hard to get too excited when you’re talking about Adalius Thomas and Derrick Burgess as your edge pass rushers, but the Patriots defense wasn’t as bad as you might think this season. New England held its opponents to 22 points or less in 12 of the team’s 16 regular season games, two more times than it did last year, and posted an equal number of sacks (31). The Patriots forced 43 takeaways, 14 more than they did in 2008, and posted a plus-6 turnover ratio, better than last year’s plus-1. New England was plus-7 in 2001 and plus-9 in 2004, both Super Bowl years. That’s a very small margin despite the overwhelming public perception that those teams had so many more playmakers on that side of the ball.

New England did allow 33 points on Sunday, but look a little deeper into the box score. Four of Baltimore’s six scoring drives started in New England territory, including a pair inside the Patriots’ 35 that ended in field goals. The Ravens began their touchdown drives in the first quarter at the New England 17 after Brady’s fumble and at the New England 25 after Brady’s second interception. Ray Rice did go 83 yards for a touchdown on the game’s opening play, but Baltimore averaged barely three yards per carry (51 carries, 151 yards) the rest of the afternoon. That certainly can’t be considered poor play by the Patriots defensive line.

The Wide Receivers

Wes Welker was out on Sunday and Randy Moss has been catching heat for allegedly dogging it on the field, but neither one of them can be seriously at fault for Brady’s inability to consistently push New England’s offense into the end zone in 2009. Welker led the league in receptions and Moss led the league in touchdown receptions, giving the Patriots a spectacular 1-2 punch. The perceived lack of a third receiver is a baseless myth as well, because the Patriots have won without one in the past. Julian Edelman finished behind Welker and Moss with 37 catches for 359 yards this year and Kevin Faulk added 37 catches of his own. During the championship seasons, Deion Branch (35 catches, 454 yards in 2004), Troy Brown (40 catches, 472 yards in 2003) and the duo of Terry Glenn and Charles Johnson (14 catches apiece in 2001) finished third in catches among New England’s receivers. There’s certainly not much of a difference to be found there.

No, the underlying fact in all of this is that Brady has changed. He’ll be 33 in August before the 2010 season starts, entering the final year of his contract, and he’s not the kid with the chip on his shoulder who willed himself into being one of the league’s elite quarterbacks anymore. He forgot what made him great in the first place around the time he started dating Hollywood actresses and supermodels and began jetting off to Paris and Milan instead of busting his ass with the rookies at minicamp. He gave away the parking spot close to the Gillette Stadium entrance that is awarded to the Patriots’ hardest offseason worker in favor of the high life – the luxury apartment in Greenwich Village, the mansion in Brentwood, the $10,000 suits complete with matching scarves – and at the same time handed off the respect of his teammates and his ability to lead them like he had before. He’s not one of them anymore. He’s above them, and he lets them know it without saying it. He spit in the faces of New England’s medical staff when he had one of his childhood buddies perform his knee surgery in 2008 and spit again at the training staff by trying to go through his brutal rehabilitation on his own while staying on the West Coast. No other Patriots’ player with any regard for his job security would have been allowed to do such things.

Not even Bill Belichick could see it. The man who may go down as the greatest coach in NFL history, a man who won three Super Bowls in four years and has captured five rings in the salary cap era, couldn’t coldly and clinically evaluate Brady like he had with so many others. It was Belichick’s decision to bench Drew Bledsoe, New England’s franchise player at the time, in favor of Brady that launched the Patriots’ dynasty and cemented Belichick as “The Genius.” Tedy Bruschi was forced into retirement. Brown was replaced in the slot by Welker. Lawyer Milloy and Ty Law were both cut when their contract demands became too much. Richard Seymour was traded for a first round draft pick, the type of move designed to make the Patriots a younger team that can stay under the cap and still feature quality depth.

Brady should have followed Seymour out the door. He should have been traded before the start of the season for draft picks and he likely would have fetched a pair of first rounders or a combination of a first round pick and several lower round choices, future players that New England could have used to turn over its roster. Cassel could have been retained for the same contract that Brady is playing under right now – six years, $60 million – and slipped nicely into Brady’s spot under the salary cap. At 27, Cassell could have led New England into the new decade with fresh enthusiasm and the everyman quality that its players responded to so well when Brady possessed it.

Instead, New England has a quarterback for the foreseeable future who is as old as Joe Montana was when he won his final Super Bowl in the 1980s, older than Troy Aikman was when he won his last Super Bowl in the 1990s and older than Terry Bradshaw was when he won his last Super Bowl in the 1970s. Montana’s 49ers, Aikman’s Cowboys and Bradshaw’s Steelers watched their respective dynasties decay as their play declined through injury and the relentless assault of time. The same thing is already well underway for Brady’s Patriots, and he’s powerless to save them this time. He’s not their hero anymore. He’s done.

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One Response to “Brady’s flaws become shockingly clear”

  1. SteveTheFlorist said

    I agree that Brady showed signs of slippage. I agree they should have traded him in the grand scheme of things. However, I do not think Bob Kraft would have allowed that. For
    better or worse Brady is the face of the franchise in Kraft’s eyes. I do not think Brady was the problem on this years team.

    I beleieve the problem has more to do with a lack of playcalling adjustments. Bill O’brien did an adequate job in his first as
    play caller, but he could not adjust fast enough to keep the defense off guard. The times the patriots looked the best yesterday were in the hurry up when Brady was most likely calling
    plays.
    Hopefully next year will be an uncapped salary year and the patriots will be able to load up and make one last run at it with Brady at the helm.

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