By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Football is a team sport, as everybody knows, and the New England Patriots are off to a rough start. Nobody on the team can feel too exceptionally about the work that’s been done so far, and even surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer/arguably greatest QB of all time Tom Brady isnt immune.
No, the reigning NFL MVP has not gotten off to the hottest of starts in 2018, and as a result the 41-year-old — you have heard that he’s 41, right? — ranks outside of the top 10 in most statistical categories — and outside the top 20 in some, too.
The reasons are obviously multitudinous. Julian Edelman’s suspension, the roster whiffs of Kenny Britt/Jordan Matthews/Malcolm Mitchell, the departures of Brandin Cooks and Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola, the early deficits, the vaunted Jaguars defense, the double coverage on Rob Gronkowski, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So these stats aren’t at all reflective of a quarterback who is washed up or falling off a cliff or any other hyperbolic overreactions anyone wants to make.
But they are numbers that you wouldn’t expect from Brady. Here’s where he ranks in some key categories.
25th – 644 yards (214.7 yards per game)
PASS YARDS PER ATTEMPT
24th — 6.44
19th — 64.0%
T-19th — 64
T-11th — 6
15th – 93.9
20+ Yard Passes
T-20th – 7 (Bortles, Eli, Cam, Rodgers, Tannehill, Taylor)
40+ Yard Passes
T-28th – ZERO
In terms of yards per attempt, Brady trails the likes of Josh Allen, Ryan Tannehill, Alex Smith, Sam Darnold, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco and Case Keenum.
Brady’s thrown fewer touchdowns than Andy Dalton.
He’s completing passes at a worse rate than Nick Foles.
He’s thrown for fewer yards than Blake Bortles.
(There is one “stat” that Brady fans can feel good about, and that’s QBR. Brady ranks sixth in the NFL with a 68.7 QBR. That’s not really a “stat,” per se, so much as it is sort of a half subjective/half scientific method of analysis.)
It’s obviously a ghastly scene for Brady, who was the NFL’s best player a year ago and likely did not anticipate getting off to such a start. And with the state of the 1-2 Patriots being somewhat in question, the mind might naturally wonder how this start compares to some other poor starts for the team and quarterback.
That curiosity would first lead to 2014, when the sky was falling in New England after a blowout loss in Kansas City had the Pats sitting at 2-2. Word was leaking out that the team was looking to switch to Jimmy Garoppolo “sooner than later,” and Brady’s “age and contract situation” was topic A1 in the city of Boston.
Concerned Patriots fans will be happy to know that in some ways, Brady’s start to 2014 was worse than what’s happened thus far in 2018.
Tom Brady, Games 1-3, 2014:
58.8% completion rate
210.7 yards per game
5.54 yards per attempt
Those numbers are all worse than Brady’s current numbers, save for the interceptions (he has two this year). Brady also took seven sacks through three games in 2014, and he’s only been sacked twice this year.
Plus, those numbers got even worse after Week 4 in 2014, when Brady went 14-for-23 for 159 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Back then, the offensive line was the major issue. This year, the problem seems to be a lack of receivers who can create their own separation. But Brady was able to return to dominant form for the 11 weeks that followed (66.2 percent passing, 7.6 yards per attempt, 294.4 yards per game, 29 TDs, 9 INTs), and then he threw 10 postseason touchdowns (with four picks) with a 100.3 passer rating en route to winning his fourth Super Bowl and third Super Bowl MVP award. That history provides hope that all is not lost when a season starts slowly.
On the flip side of that would be the 2009 season. That year, in Weeks 1-3, Brady completed 61.3 percent of his passes, and averaged 6.1 yards per attempt and 290.3 yards per game while throwing three touchdowns and two interceptions. His passer rating was 79.9. He did improve upon those numbers in the following 13 weeks, but his 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in that span did not live up to Brady’s own standard. The 2009 season is remembered along with 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2013 as the most mediocre seasons in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era.
Brady and the Patriots would surely hope to avoid adding 2018 to that short list of mediocrity, and the quest to save the 2018 season will begin in earnest on Sunday at home against the 3-0 Miami Dolphins. That should come as a little bit of good news and a little bit of bad news for Brady.
The quarterback faced Miami twice last season. In the game in Foxboro, Brady was excellent and efficient: 18-for-28 (64.3%), 227 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT. The Patriots won 35-17, and the score was only that “close” because a bad shotgun snap by New England gave the Dolphins a free touchdown.
A game like that one, and the train is back on the track in New England.
But when Brady and the Patriots met the Dolphins for a second time last season, the results were slightly different. Brady went 24-for-43 (55.8%) for 233 yards, one touchdown and a pair of interceptions. Brady’s passer rating of 59.5 that night ranks as the 18th-worst start in his career. Both interceptions that night were made by Xavien Howard, who currently is tied for the NFL lead with three picks already this season.
It was ugly.
There were, though, two important caveats. For one, that game was in Miami, which for whatever reason has had a Bermuda Triangle effect on Brady and the Patriots for nearly 20 years. Secondly, Rob Gronkowski didn’t play that night as he served a one-game suspension for going WWE on Tre’Davious White the week before. Playing this weekend, in Foxboro, with Gronkowski — it should certainly help the cause as Brady and the Patriots attempt to climb to 2-2 and start looking a lot more like the Patriots we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over the past two decades. (Relevant to this conversation: In Gronkowski’s last three home games vs. Miami, he’s caught 14 passes for 291 yards and four touchdowns.)
But for now, the picture is ugly. Brady looks to be light years away from even coming close to reaching the incentives in his contract (finishing top five in passer rating, completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown passes, passing yards). But those are likely just as far out of his mind at this moment.
The focus right now, for this week, has to be about returning to the sputtering Patriots offense to the ruthlessly efficient unit that has rolled over the rest of the NFL for so long. It’s a big week in New England.