By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There’s always someone.
In the case of the eventual and unavoidable end of Tom Brady’s career, there’s always someone who wants to be first to report the impending demise.
Three years ago, it was Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus who said Brady was no longer a top-five NFL quarterback. Brady has since won two Super Bowls, earned two Super Bowl MVP Awards, thrown 97 touchdowns to just 18 interceptions, and — funny enough — earned the highest Pro Football Focus grade in the history of the website with his 2016 performance.
Last summer, it was ESPN’s Max Kellerman who said Brady was “just about done” and “is going to fall off a cliff” and “is going to be a bum in short order.” That’s a swing and a miss from Max.
Now, here in the summer of 2017, Cian Fahey from Pre-Snap Reads is stepping to the plate.
Fahey — who has an extensive background covering football for Bleacher Report, Football Outsiders, and Rotoworld, Sports On Earth — wrote an article examining the problems facing older quarterbacks in the NFL. That crop included the soon-to-be-40-year-old Tom Brady. (The story ran on June 29 but started making the rounds in Boston this week.)
Fahey uses “interceptable passes” to evaluate quarterbacks, and even though Brady threw just seven interceptable passes in his 12 regular-season games, he was charted as having thrown nine interceptable passes in three playoff games.
Without a doubt, the win over the Texans was an ugly one, with Brady going 18-for-38 for 287 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs. That came against the NFL’s No. 2-ranked pass defense. And surely, Brady had his downs in Super Bowl LI vs. the Falcons, including a bad decision that led to his first-ever postseason pick-six.
But where Fahey is going to lose a lot of folks is when he writes this: “The Patriots won the Super Bowl so Brady got all the plaudits. Yet it was by far his worst game of the season. He repeatedly tried to give the game away.”
It’s just … why must all analysis of Tom Brady jump to this level? Why are so many people so eager to make a mockery of “conventional wisdom” while trying to register a worthwhile argument?
Obviously, Brady had the pick, and he could have been picked off again on the famous Julian Edelman reception. He had at least two dangerous throwaways up the field that had a chance to be intercepted on some of those do-or-die drives in the second half. On the play before James White’s winning overtime touchdown, Vic Beasley got a hand on the lob pass to Martellus Bennett in the corner of the end zone. All of this was plain to see.
But why, then, does Fahey by necessity tie these interceptable passes to an “abrupt drop in arm strength”?
“There might have been some credence to the idea that Brady’s suspension to start the season worked in his favour,” Fahey wrote. “Had he been tasked with playing four more games before the Super Bowl last year, his arm strength would have been pushed right to its limit.”
It’s just an odd conclusion to draw, especially because it dismisses Brady having one of his best games of the season in the AFC Championship Game vs. Pittsburgh (32-for-42, 384 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs). But that performance, according to Fahey, was made possible not by Brady’s arm strength but by “the worst gameplan you’ll ever see from a defense facing Brady.”
It also overlooks some of the picture-perfect throws Brady made throughout the fourth quarter and overtime of Super Bowl LI. Brady attempted 62 passes on the night, a number he hadn’t reached in four years and had never reached in his extensive postseason career. At age 39, while getting walloped all night long by the likes of the 288-pound Grady Jarrett and the 273-pound Courtney Upshaw, Brady delivered passes all over the field on those final three drives that could not have looked any better if Rembrandt had been commissioned to paint them.
Fourth-and-3, late third quarter, trailing 28-9:
On numerous plays, Brady put the perfect level of touch on passes that hit his receivers on the numbers, whether that was running a 15-yard out or a 12-yard comeback or sprinting over the middle.
There were passes perfectly fit between two defenders:
Brady actually threw that one off his back foot and with a defender interfering with his throwing motion:
Don’t forget the perfect lob up the right sideline to Bennett for a 25-yard gain on a third down in the fourth quarter:
Brady’s second pass of overtime — to Danny Amendola running a 12-yard out to the left side — could not have been any better:
On second-and-13 later in overtime, Brady threw an absolute bullet through traffic into the chest of Edelman:
The list could go on.
The man’s got arm strength.
Typically, a man does not set a Super Bowl record with 466 passing yards if he’s got a noodle hanging off his right shoulder.
One could rightfully compile the number of inaccurate or flat-out bad passes in Super Bowl LI and come to some type of determination. But to conclude they were thrown by a weak arm is to overlook too many throws that were, simply, perfect. (Unless his arm strength can fluctuate from snap to snap.)
There were more “interceptable passes” in that game, without a doubt. But that had to do more with the Falcons’ pass rush and game plan than it did Brady (who had two weeks of rest before the game) feeling fatigued. You can’t simply dismiss one great performance against the Steelers because of a bad defensive game plan and then completely ignore an optimal game plan from the Falcons in the very next game. It’s illogical, and it’s ignoring the same things that were overlooked after 2013, when Brady was “washed up” while coincidentally playing behind arguably the worst offensive line of his career and had an incredibly weak receiving corps.
But of course, Brady is turning 40 this summer, and he is a human being (probably), and so his NFL career will one day end (we think). And when (if?) it does, whoever wrote the most recent doomsday column will be seen as The Man Who Saw It Coming™.
Maybe it will be Fahey this year. Or maybe he’ll just be added to that ignominious list of those who came before him with a premature prediction of the demise of Tom Brady.
Regardless of what the future holds, we know this: Tom Brady had a strong arm in Super Bowl LI. To say otherwise is to ignore what is plain to see.