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Tom-foolery: Numbers suggest Patriots fans should cut Brady a little slack

  • New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates after the Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI at the Louisiana Superdome, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2002, in New Orleans. Brady was named the game MVP. (AP Photo/Doug Mills) DOUG MILLS

  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) talks during a post game news conference following an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Dolphins defeated the Patriots 34-33. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) Lynne Sladky

  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers 32-29 in Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston, Sunday, Feb. 1, 2004. (AP Photo/Dave Martin) DAVE MARTIN

  • FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2017, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl 51 in Houston. Tom Brady's missing jersey from the Super Bowl has been found in the possession of a member of the international media. The NFL said in a statement Monday, March 20, 2017 that his jersey was found through the "cooperation of the NFL and New England Patriots' security teams, the FBI and other law enforcement authorities." (AP Photo/Gregory Payan, File) Gregory Payan

  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady steps away from a news conference in Foxborough, Mass., Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. Brady said Thursday that he did not know how New England ended up using underinflated balls in its win Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola

Monitor columnist
Published: 1/10/2019 6:56:53 PM

One of the talking points leading up to Sunday’s playoff game between the Patriots and Chargers is baffling.

Over and over, we’ve heard fans and radio commentators wonder about quarterback Tom Brady’s performance this season. Has it declined since last season? Has he lost a step?

My response?


My follow-up response?

No kidding.

I say that because I think the question is silly. Its answer is so utterly obvious, so very clear, and so totally unfair, that it’s amazing the topic is even being discussed.

Of course Brady is not as good as he was in 2017, for two really, really obvious reasons.

Number one, he was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player that season, and when you’re that good, a drop-off is certainly a strong possibility. In fact, it’s basically guaranteed (well, unless you were Brett Farve in the mid-1990s).

Did anyone seriously expect Brady to repeat what he had done the season before? Another MVP, or close to it?

It’s not unheard of, but athletes in their mid-30s, even in their mid-20s are hard-pressed to duplicate or surpass what they accomplished during an MVP year.

Sure, his stats declined from 2017 to ’18, but it’s not like Brady suddenly turned into Sam Darnold. And besides, have you checked his most recent numbers lately? They may surprise you.

Brady completed 65.8 percent of his passes, virtually the same number as last season. He threw for 4,355 yards, just 222 fewer than last season, when he led the league. He threw 29 touchdown passes this season, 32 in 2017, and had 11 interceptions in 2018, eight in 2017.

Drop-off? Decline? With a group of receivers who are mediocre at best? Perhaps the guy deserves some slack.

Which brings me to my second point, the real meat and potatoes here: Brady won the MVP Award at age 40.

So now this season, at 41, is it really fair, relevant or timely to ask if there’s been a drop-off from 2017?

I’m throwing a flag for roughing the passer. After all, are you, our middle-aged readers, as good as you were last year? I’ll let you fill in the activity.

Brady’s activity is football. He gets crunched every weekend. He’s been getting crunched since 2001.

Somehow, though, he’s figured out a way to avoid injuries, other than in 2008, when a player named Bernard Pollard of the Kansas City Chiefs slammed into Brady’s left knee, tearing his ACL and MCL and leaving football fans around here mad.

No one can be sure why Brady never gets hurt. Maybe it’s because his instinctive footwork in the pocket allows him to avoid solid contact. Maybe it’s because he bends and twists his body like Gumby a split-second before a beefy, quick lineman hits him.

Or maybe it’s because his comfort food, according to a published report, includes a dish like quinoa, with wilted greens, kale, Swiss chard, beet greens, coconut oil and lemongrass.

I don’t even know what quinoa is. I like cooking those mini egg rolls and chicken tenders.

Whatever keeps Brady’s body intact, it’s still remarkable that he racked up such good statistics this season.

Brady’s 29 touchdown passes at age 41 were more than he threw at age 39 (only 12 starts; something about air). And 36. And 32. And 29, 28, 27, 26 and 24.

In other words, the old man threw more touchdown passes at 41 than he did during some of his peak seasons.

True, his rankings among NFL quarterbacks in the major statistical categories fell somewhat from last year, but you can chalk that up, at least in part, to an extraordinary season for QBs in 2018, one with lots of inflated numbers compared to years past.

And you can chalk it up to something else: Brady is 41. The adjective “super” follows this guy around. He was super last season. He was super this season. He’s had a super career. He’s married to a supermodel.

He’s mentioned that he wants to play several more seasons, perhaps make it to 45. If he does – and don’t dare doubt him – is it fair to compare what he does at that age to any other age in his career? A ridiculous comparison, indeed.

Once you’re considered old, throw out your numbers from the past. Compare them to other players throughout league history who have played to 40-plus.

How many have done well? Warren Moon and Brett Favre, and that’s it. Neither was this good, though, and neither did anything worthwhile after 41.

So let’s go back to the original talking point, the question that Patriots Nation seems so preoccupied with, the one that focuses on Brady last season and Brady this season, the one that is worthless and irrelevant, with no place in the discussion as Sunday’s game

Has Brady lost a little – a step here, a bullet pass there – this season over his most recent MVP year?

Here’s a better question: Can you believe how well Tom Brady played this season?

Or this one: Can you believe that Tom Brady will finish in the top 10 in the MVP voting in 2018?

Or this one: Can you believe that Brady quarterbacked the Patriots to another great season, leading New England to a second seed and at least one home playoff game, maybe two?

The Patriots face the Chargers on Sunday in the divisional round of the playoffs. It’s the latest chapter in their unprecedented run of 18
division championships over the past 20 seasons, including 10 straight. They’ve missed the postseason just twice in that span, and they’ve played in eight Super Bowls.

Ah, yes, Super Bowls. Anyone
still grumbling, chew on this – Peyton Manning won five NFL MVP awards, he won the Super Bowl twice and wasn’t named the MVP of either of those wins.

Brady, by comparison, has been named NFL MVP three times, he has won the Super Bowl five times and was named the MVP of four of those wins. Those last two, are NFL records by the way.

Sleep easy, New England. You have the right man for the job.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304, or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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