By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — In this day and age, when anyone and everyone has an equal voice on the old internet machine, it’s admittedly difficult to tell what “popular opinion” truly means. If you spend enough time swimming on Twitter, it’s only a matter of time before you drown in the sea of swirling thoughts.
Yet even with that being the case, I think there are probably many football fans out there watching the incessant and breathless coverage of Tom Brady and wondering why the football world is going bananas over the football-playing future of a soon-to-be-43-year-old quarterback who’s coming off a statistically bad season.
Or, in the words of many an internet commenter, “Who cares?!!!?!?!?!?!?”
It is, to an extent, understandable. Brady ranked 27th in yards per attempt last season, he was tied for 13th (with Daniel Jones!) in touchdown passes, and his 60.8 percent completion rate was his worst since 2013, the year that immediately preceded his late-career renaissance. One could easily look at those statistics, and then look at Brady’s age, and then determine that the QB is toast. Washed. Finito. Cooked. Kaput.
You get it? You get it.
Well, maybe those people are right. Nobody can know the future after all. But the point of this exercise is to illustrate why Brady is drawing interest from a solid half-dozen NFL teams, and why some of those teams may be willing to offer significantly more money than the Patriots will. Again, to some, such potential offers are baffling, considering the stats. Here, we’re going to look a little deeper than the box score to show that Tom Brady can still play this wild game at the highest level.
The Perfect Pass
Let’s start with Brady’s most recent game, the wild-card round loss to the Titans. Brady’s stats in that game? Bad. He was 20-for-37 (54.1 percent) for 209 yards with no touchdowns and a pick-six at the end. Those are some bad stats.
But was Tom bad? Not really.
For one, he made probably his best throw of the entire season. Look at this thing.
That’s what we “in the biz” refer to as a “Sweet-As-Heck Football Pass,” or SAHFP. Sorry to use jargon. Sometimes there’s no other way.
If that wasn’t the best pass of the season, that’s only because another pass from that night was:
Good golly, Miss Molly. There was no window to deliver that pass, and Brady was unable to get his lower body into the throw, and yet it went for 21 yards.
He also had a play where he bought himself 6 seconds to dance around the pocket before finding a wide-open Ben Watson, a fellow old, and made a 38-yard connection. Alas, it didn’t count because Shaq Mason ended up a few yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
And despite the unimpressive stats, Brady probably leads a game-winning drive if Julian Edelman just comes up with this catch on a pass that hit him in the belly-button.
That was a real doozy right there, and it helped to produce a sour ending for the Patriots and Brady. But clearly the stats from that game do not tell a complete story.
The Worst Combo: Nobody Open, No Protection
It’s difficult to play quarterback in the NFL, even under perfect conditions. When the offensive line can’t protect you, it’s doubly or triply so. When the offensive line can’t protect you and you don’t have anybody who can reliably and consistently get open? It’s impossible — unless maybe you’re Russell Wilson and you’re the best in the world at running all over the place like a schoolyard QB.
Brady, though, is not a schoolyard QB. He is a tactician. A marksman.
And so, with a career backup at center all year, with a street free agent at left tackle for half the year and a player with zero NFL experience at left tackle for the other half, and with a massive downgrade at tight end, protection became a problem. Likewise, the slow bleed of losing reliable receivers (Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Brandin Cooks) led to a number of rookies trying to master the most complex offense in football while also winning physical battles on the outside. It didn’t go so well.
That may sound like excuse-making, and it sure is. Because it’s reality. The footage does not lie.
This play from the loss to Tennessee served as the perfect picture of what Brady dealt with in 2019 more often than he had since 2013.
Here’s another one that works:
Similarly, look at how the Chiefs attacked Brady:
Those aren’t conditions in which any quarterback on earth can thrive. And they were the norm for Brady throughout the bulk of 2019.
Sometimes, people get obsessed with the throws. You know those throws, the ones that can only be made by three or four human beings on the planet, the ones that make your jaw drop. They’re awesome!
Yet oddly, they’re not often an indicator of a successful quarterback. Michael Vick threw these passes with ease. Dan Marino and Aaron Rodgers may be the most gifted throwers of all time. Josh Allen can throw the ball a country mile. That quartet of QBs has one total Super Bowl victory among them.
There’s obviously much more to the position than being 6-5, 230 pounds … with a laser, rocket arm.
So much damage can be done before the snap, using that wrinkly, ugly, magnificent organ protected by a skull and a helmet on every play.
We’re talking about the brain here, folks.
Admittedly, the brain trust of Brady and Josh McDaniels didn’t produce to the levels that 40 combined years of working for the Patriots should have produced. Still, there were moments.
This clip from the Week 16 faux playoff game vs. Buffalo was a tremendous example. Brady knew before the snap that Rex Burkhead would likely be left alone for a free release on this play, but only if he sold the play-fake to Mohamed Sanu on the jet sweep. And I mean really sold.
Brady was able to sell the fake, keep his back to where he knew the play would eventually go, before spinning, finding a man in his face, and lobbing a quick back-foot throw to Burkhead in space.
A play like that may look easy, but it’s just not made unless a quarterback knows exactly what’s going to happen when he spins around in a vulnerable spot.
He Can Still Move
This is a pretty big one, because if you haven’t made a joke about Brady being unable to run, then you’re a big ol’ nobody. Everyone’s done it.
Yet, as you may recall, ever since 2014, Brady’s upped his mobility — not in the sense that he’s winning foot races up sidelines, but in the sense that he worked hard to improve his ability to escape a collapsed pocket and make something happen. (It’s all anybody talked about in 2014. Surely you recall.)
One of the shining examples of this was evident in the Houston game this year:
If you think that’s what a 42-year-old quarterback should look like, then you’re an absolute weirdo. There’s no other way to say it.
Some other examples:
That’s not how most old guys are supposed to move. Tom Brady is not most old guys.
He Can Still Sling It
Despite what was said earlier, arm strength still matters. Duh. If you got a lollipop arm, you’re not going last very long in the (generic ESPN pregame show host voice) NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. (Unless you’re Peyton Manning randomly that one time.)
And when it comes to arm strength? Folks: The old man can still chuck it.
Look at some of these darts from 2019.
Bullets, folks. Bullets.
This is also the most perfect way that a human can throw a football:
And this one was all right:
Long story short, in case GIFs aren’t your cup of tea: Tom Brady’s arm is as strong as ever.
It’s Not Normal
While Brady’s stats stunk, it’s important to frame them in the context of other QBs who have attempted to play at age 42. Nobody’s even come close, which shows that Brady isn’t anything like those olds who have come before him.
Brady started 16 games, plus a playoff game, throwing 24 touchdowns and 4,266 yards.
Vinny Testaverde started four games in his age 42 season. Warren Moon started two games at age 42. Doug Flutie started one game.
That trio of 42-year-olds* combined to throw for 2,685 yards and 13 touchdowns (with 14 interceptions).
Brady was basically twice as good as every 42-year-old quarterback ever.
*It’s only a technicality, too, as those guys all turned 42 during the season, like cowards. Brady bravely accepted his 42nd birthday before the season started.
That part’s only included in this exercise to show that the history of old quarterbacks really hasn’t mattered much for Brady since he was 38. If you’re still hanging on the doubts based on age, you’re ignoring the reality that precedent hasn’t stopped Brady from smashing expectations for five straight seasons.
This isn’t statistical, and it’s not visual. It’s merely a thought.
None of what you just looked at happens by accident. For an athlete to perform at that level at that age, it legitimately requires a 365-day commitment. While Brady’s TB12 sales pitches may rub some people the wrong way, he’s clearly dedicating his entire life to playing football. And the results? They’re right there.
One can maybe get a greater understanding of Brady’s mind-set when considering that factor. After putting in so much work and effort on and off the field, he played for a team that didn’t prioritize even trying to get good tight ends and kind of played it by ear at the receiver position (Hey, Antonio Brown is available, that’ll probably work out, let’s get him!).
With limited kicks at the can left, Brady has to feel like 2019 was a wasted effort. In that sense, it’s easy to see why the consistent reporting throughout this current soap opera has noted that money is hardly the most important factor for the QB. Building a winner — that is, having a team that can make all of that hard work and dedication worth it — remains the single most important factor.
Obviously, people, these are highlights. Brady had plenty of misfires, especially at Cincinnati and vs. Miami late in the year, when he was battling a mysterious elbow injury. These plays do not paint the entire picture. But they do provide the counter to anyone who might have just looked at the stats and considered Brady to be done.
Brady is not done. And with a satisfactory offensive line, some receivers and tight ends who can beat man coverage, and some more creativity in the offense, he can absolutely be the championship quarterback that he’s been for two decades.