By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The last thing this world needs is another story about how great and wonderful Tom Brady is.
Well, too bad.
Amid what has been a heavily scrutinized calendar year for the greatest player in Patriots history, Brady has not compiled the statistics that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing out of him in recent years. While a dip of some sort might have been expected after losing some key players on offense and being without Julian Edelman for four weeks, the drop-off has been slightly more significant than most folks predicted.
The statistical backstep has happened across the board. His yardage is down, as is his completion rate and passer rating. He’s on pace to throw four fewer touchdowns and two more interceptions than he did last season. The slide is notable, even if it’s not indicative of a “cliff” or a “noodle arm” or whatever the hot takers du jour are suggesting.
And it’s notable for a few reasons.
The first of which – to us normal people – would be the financial implications. The Patriots added incentives to Brady’s contract this season that allow him to make an extra $5 million. To do so, he’d have to rank in the top five of a number of statistical categories. He’d be able to earn $1 million for each category. In those categories, he currently ranks 16th, 22nd, 17th, 15th and 11th.
Things aren’t looking great for Tom’s bank account. He and Gisele may have to cancel their summer vacation, or at least downsize to a more sensible Airbnb.
One of those categories that’s received tremendous attention is the column for touchdown passes. Considering Brady had finished in the top five in that category for the previous four years, it seemed like near-lock. (We’re fudging numbers slightly here, as Brady ranked seventh in 2016. But, prorated out to account for the four games missed to a bogus suspension, Brady would have ranked third. You get the idea.)
But this year, the touchdowns have not been coming in bunches. In a year where seemingly every week invites a new quarterback to throw for five touchdowns in a game, Brady has yet to throw more than three touchdowns in a single game. The lack of touchdowns took particular focus during the Patriots’ bye week, as Brady had just completed a stretch of three games with just one touchdown. Total.
That’s not very Brady-like. And it led to a deluge of takes from far and wide about the immediate and sudden downfall of Brady. A closer look shows that was hardly the case.
From Weeks 8-10 — in games at Buffalo and at Tennessee, with a home game vs. Green Bay sandwiched between – the Patriots possessed the football inside the opponents’ 10-yard line on nine separate drives. On those nine drives inside the 10-yard line, Brady threw just 10 total passes. None of them went for touchdowns. Five of those 10 passes came on the same drive, thanks to a defensive penalty and a fresh set of down. That means Brady threw just five total passes on the other eight drives.
In those same nine drives, the Patriots went with 15 running plays, six of which went for scores. Five of those touchdowns came from the 2-yard line or closer.
Those are instances where, if the Patriots wanted, they most likely could have scored via pass. And specifically, if Brady felt it was significantly important to inflate some of his stat totals — either for financial or aesthetic purposes — one can reasonably assume he might have been forcing the issue. He certainly has the authority to check into pass plays out of certain sets, and if he so desired he could express to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels a need for more passing plays near the goal line. (Peyton Manning, for instance, threw 24 touchdowns from inside the 10-yard line during his record-setting 55-touchdown season in 2013. Eighteen of those came from inside the 5-yard line, with 10 being thrown from the 2 or closer.)
Instead, Brady was content to hand the ball off and allow his running backs to finish the job. That’s a big reason why the Patriots rank fifth in the NFL with 13 rushing touchdowns.
Overall, the Patriots have made nine trips inside opponents’ 10-yard line where Brady threw the ball zero times. All nine of those trips ended with touchdowns. (That doesn’t include a 10th time, when Brady took a knee to set up a game-winning field goal against Kansas City.) That’s nine goal-line opportunities where Brady’s right arm was never even considered as a means to score a touchdown.
On the year, Brady has thrown nine touchdowns from inside the 10-yard line. And of those nine touchdown drives, five of them included running plays from inside the 10 that were stopped short of the goal line.
That break from really attempting to throw touchdowns from near the goal line in Weeks 8-10 was a bit overdone by the coaching staff. And it was only moderately successful; five of the nine drives ended with touchdowns, while four ended with the Patriots settling for field goals.
Perhaps that’s partially why when the Patriots finally drove inside the Jets’ 10-yard line this past week, Brady threw three consecutive passes. All three of those passes, though, went for incompletions.
That’s not to say that Brady hasn’t been able to capitalize on his opportunities close to the goal line this year. He threw three touchdowns from inside the 10 against Chicago, two against the Colts, and one apiece in Weeks 1-4.
When he’s been given the opportunity to play darts near the goal line, he’s generally done well. He just hasn’t been given the same opportunity that he normally might be given.
Perhaps that will change going forward, but for his part, Brady seems to genuinely not care, so long as the Patriots keep winning.
“Just wins. That’s what we’re here for, to win games,” Brady said Sunday after notching another potentially made-up NFL record. “I’m trying to be a part of as many of these as I can and I love being out there with my teammates and working hard trying to figure out how to get the job done each week. It’s not easy, but we’re just here to win.”
It may just sound like lip service, and for all we know, maybe it is. Perhaps behind the scenes, Brady is tossing chairs and slamming tables in fits of rage over the directives to hand the ball off to score touchdowns. That, though, doesn’t seem likely. (Patriot Of The Week Award? That’s a different story.)
And while it may not qualify as breaking news in Year 19 of Brady’s career that he’s going along with certain strategies and approaches and play calls that benefit team over individual, it is nevertheless notable.
It’s noteworthy because, in an honest world, not every quarterback would be OK with absorbing all of the accompanying scrutiny that comes with a three-week stretch that includes just one touchdown pass. Yet one can reasonably state that Brady has accomplished some things during his professional career, so the national attention and near-hysteria that results whenever his numbers don’t pop, it really doesn’t seem to bother him.
A wise man once said that stats are for losers, and the final score is for winners. With the Patriots sitting at 8-3 and slowly climbing their way up the AFC standings, that’s a philosophy that clearly drives the Patriots program. Even after a reportedly contentious and uncertain offseason, it appears as though the quarterback is still buying in.