All the talking heads on TV and radio can say about the New England Patriots’ current skid is how bad the defense looks and how Bill Belichick has lost his touch. The chorus repeats the mantra: The reason the team is in a two-game losing streak is because the Patriots defense sucks. Albert Haynesworth just lost his job because of it.
But the reason the Patriots aren’t running away with the AFC East isn’t the defense or Bill Belichick…it’s Tom Brady.
Yes, he of a unanimous MVP award. He of three Super Bowl rings. He of the hot-model wife and hot-actress baby-mama. The guy with the once-flowing locks is why the New York Jets “should” bury the Patriots this Sunday, just five weeks after losing to them in Foxboro.
Crazy, right? Not if you’ve been watching the games.
In the loss to the Giants last week, the Patriots defense pitched a shutout in the first half. Does Brady take advantage of the goose-egg for the Giants? His first-half possessions: punt, punt, interception, punt, punt, missed field goal. Brady had the ball for six full possessions and managed…zero points.
No problem, right? We’ve gotten used to the Patriots’ offense coming out of the locker room to start the second half with great success. Instead, against the Giants Brady decided to force a throw into a blanketed Rob Gronkowski…intercepted. The defense held the Giants to only a field goal.
Next possession, Brady is pressured…and fumbles the ball at the Patriots’ 10-yard line. The defense can’t hold this time and the Giants score a touchdown.
Next possession, Brady leads a three-and-out…but gets bailed out by Patriots defensive player Rob Ninkovich when he recovers a muffed punt.
For all the talk about how horrible the Patriots’ defense is, they’ve allowed over 25 points only once this season. Against the Giants, the defense was on the field for 13 drives. They allowed the Giants to score only four times, and one of those scoring drives started on their own 10-yard line (thanks, again, to Brady).
Admittedly, against the Steelers the defense was on the field for far too long. But for how bad they looked, Brady was worse. Brady had the ball eight times in that game; He scored only three times, and one of the two touchdowns came because the Patriots defense started him on the Steelers 8-yard line.
What’s happened to Tom Terrific? That’s the $14 million question. It certainly seems like something in practice isn’t translating to the field. Maybe he switched to decaf this season. Could be that there was a problem installing the pool in his $20M Los Angeles mansion. Maybe the Dunkies around the corner closed? I don’t know.
But one thing’s for sure: Tommy doesn’t like to play against man defense. When facing a zone a quarterback can sit back and throw to the open space; that’s what Brady likes, sit back and wait for his offensive coordinator to get a receiver wide open for him. Against man defense, he has to zip the ball to the perfect spot. Brady can’t – or won’t – zip that ball this season.
Man defenses houldn’t be a problem for the Patriots, with the speed of Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead and Gronkowski and Chad Ochocinco. These guys can get open against a man defense. And they did against the Giants.
Ochocinco ran a beautiful post that got two steps on his defender…but Tommy threw it well behind right to the defender (who dropped the ball). On another play Welker got free…and Brady threw an inexplicably bad pass. It happened throughout the game.
Something clearly changed when Brady injured his knee in 2008. He hasn’t been the same since, and in no area is that more noticeable than his deep balls. The deep passes were so bad last year, and Brady was so addicted to them, that the organization had to get rid of Randy Moss to convince Brady to stop throwing deep. Experts claim the Patriots don’t have a deep threat – but when Ochocinco broke into the end zone with a two-step lead on a beautiful post pattern against the Giants, it wasn’t No. 85 who threw the ball well behind him into the defender’s hands.
We’ve seen this poor play coming for years. The Patriots’ last three playoff games dating back to 2007 – two of them at home – have all been losses. Did you see those passes Brady threw to the fan in the front row trying to hit Welker on an out-pattern in the Super Bowl? Or that interception to David Harris in the playoff loss to the New York Jets last season?
Six years ago, with worse receivers, Brady didn’t make those mistakes. He’s making them now.
To be sure, the Patriots’ defense isn’t great. But it should be serviceable for a team with supposedly one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. That defense has allowed 184 points this season; The Packers’ defense has allowed 179 points. The difference that has the Packers undefeated and the Patriots staring at a three-game losing streak isn’t just five points…It’s the quarterback.
The Packers’ record when the defense allows more than 25 points: 3-0.
“Brady can’t carry the team! You can’t expect him to be perfect!”
No, you can’t. You can’t expect anyone to be perfect. But when one player makes 11% of the team’s salary cap and touches the ball virtually every offensive play, you can expect that player to be Terrific. Yet with every game this season, memories of “Tom Terrific” fade more into the distant past…