By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — Tom Brady stood under center on Sunday for the New England Patriots, helping to secure an AFC East division crown for the 16th time of his career. From afar, everything appeared to be the same for the 41-year-old quarterback.
Yet anyone who watched Brady’s play and demeanor on Sunday at Gillette, it was clear that the future Hall of Famer wasn’t quite himself.
“Yeah, we didn’t have our best day in the passing game,” Brady said after the grind-it-out, 24-12 victory over the visiting Buffalo Bills. “But we won, so I think everybody’s feeling pretty good about a win.”
He had completed just seven of his 13 first-half passes for 40 yards and no touchdowns, and he threw a puzzling interception that took at least three points off the board for New England — a play where he and Rex Burkead were clearly not on the same page.
The second half began with another pick, though the blame for that one fell more on Rob Gronkowski, who allowed the short pass to fly right through his hands. Nevertheless, Brady’s pick gave possession to Buffalo at the New England 24-yard line, and the Bills promptly kicked a field goal to finally get on the scoreboard.
Brady did end up throwing a touchdown, but only on a play where Julian Edelman managed to keep his body on top of two tacklers before springing to his feet and sprinting to the end zone. Even with that effort play from Edelman to boost his stats, Brady finished the day just 13-for-24 for 126 yards with the one touchdown and two picks.
Brady posted a 48.3 passer rating on the day, which was the sixth-lowest rating of any game he’s started in his career, and was his lowest passer rating in a regular-season game since November of 2006. It was his third-lowest passer rating in any game played in Foxboro in his career. His 13 completions tied for the fifth-fewest he’s ever had in a home game where he’s played into the fourth quarter, and his 126 passing yards were the eighth-lowest total in such games.
With Brady’s health being publicly questioned this week, a performance like his on Sunday was sure to raise questions about how he’s feeling physically at this point in the year. Brady steadfastly refuted any suggestion that he’s playing while injured.
” I feel great,” Brady said. “I feel 100 percent.”
When asked in a follow-up question if he was taken out of the game early due to health reasons, Brady again stated firmly, “No, I’m not injured.”
While the statistics were clearly lacking for Brady, and while he didn’t appear to be overly enthused throughout the contest, he was certainly all smiles at the podium — not only for the Patriots’ win, but also because the Eagles had just beaten the Texans in a game that moved the Patriots back into the No. 2 spot in the AFC.
And for a quarterback as accomplished as Brady, a down day on the stat sheet hardly matters in terms of how those on the outside might view it.
“Whatever it takes on a week-to-week basis, I think that’s what we’ve got to do,” Brady said. “This time of year, I think whatever it takes to win, that’s what you’ve got to do. We did a great job in the run game, and that was great to dominate all the way around. We stopped them in the run game too and made it tough on them.”
On that, there was no doubt. The Patriots were so dominant on the ground — rushing for 273 yards and two touchdowns on 47 carries for a 5.8-yard average — that the lack of a passing game hardly mattered. The Patriots led 14-0 at halftime and never once had to sweat about the scoreboard. Forcing the passing game to get in gear would have been doing just that — forcing it. Josh McDaniels was happy to break with tradition and roll out 47 rushing plays compared to 26 passing plays, and it proved to be an effective formula against a Bills defense that had little to no hope of slowing down the ground game.
Still, with this being Brady, who’s criticized as being too old or too injured every time he doesn’t have an excellent game, the scrutiny is sure to come. And for those who really want to dive in to potential reasons for concern, Brady notably didn’t complete his pre-game run to the corner of the end zone when he took the field for warmups. That’s a fired-up jog that he’s made for just about every game going back longer than anyone can remember, so when he pulled up short, it drew attention. More is sure to be made about Brady’s overall performance going forward.
In that regard, Brady doesn’t seem as if he cares.
“Great win all the way around,” he said. “I thought the defense played great and gave us a bunch of chances. Just happy we won. That’s it. Tough team, they play hard, and I’m glad we won.”