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The past year or so has been quite the difficult one to comprehend for New England Patriots fans who have watched a once-dominant offense sputter into a nit-and-pick unit that hovers on the border of mediocrity.
The Patriots have been without elite tight end Rob Gronkowski for a majority of that stretch, while the running game has been inconsistent due to injuries and fumbling issues. And since Wes Welker departed Foxborough to head to Mile High to play with Peyton Manning, Julian Edelman has been the best wide receiver ahead of an injury-plagued Danny Amendola and slowly developing Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins.
But while we label every part of the New England offense a trouble spot, we never seem to place blame on one of the most obvious culprits … the quarterback.
Yes, in a way I’m suggesting that Tom Brady is perhaps the player to blame for the Patriots’ woes the past year. The future Hall of Fame, Super Bowl-winning, Gisele-Bundchen-dating quarterback has been one of those “top four” quarterbacks for the past decade, but as Howie Day so eloquently put it, even the best fall down sometimes.
Brady is 37 years old, and over the past three seasons his numbers in regards to passing yardage, touchdown passes, and completion percentage have all been on the decline.
Obviously, it’s hard to proclaim a quarterback ineffective when he has led his team to a 37-11 mark over that span, 39-12 if you count the first three games of the 2014 season.
There’s no doubting that Brady is still a quality quarterback. At 37 and on the downside of his career, one that includes two MVP titles and three Super Bowl trophies, he’s still a superior option to 75 percent of the quarterbacks currently starting for NFL teams.
But now, there are more glaring deficiencies in his game.
For one, his accuracy is not what it used to be. So for as much as we can blame his receiving corps being a very average unit, it doesn’t help that the man throwing passes in their direction is struggling to put the ball on the mark.
His deep ball is not as effective. We’re a long ways removed from the days of Brady to Randy Moss for 40-yard touchdowns. Dobson and Thompkins have over-the-top speed, and Gronk has a knack for big-play scores, but Brady is not as strong of a deep pocket passer as he was back in 2007, when he made it look easy.
Brady’s decline is easily one of those chicken or the egg sort of dilemmas, though, especially because you never want to be premature in taking a quarterback out of that coveted “elite category.”
Brady’s statistics are a product of average receivers, ones that he’s failed to develop strong chemistry with aside from Edelman, who has been in the Patriots system since 2009. Amendola thus far has been a bust of a free-agent signing. Dobson and Thompkins are non-factors each week, and Gronk to this point has been effective but in very limited playing time.
The offensive line lost Logan Mankins, and as evident Week 1 in the second-half collapse against the Miami Dolphins, the unit as a whole is no longer stout. Brady is constantly under duress, and there’s an argument to be made that backups should be starters and vice versa.
It’s no surprise that with Brady getting sacked seven times in three weeks, the Patriots rank 26th in offense entering Week 4.
So while the decline of the New England offense is not solely because of Brady, it’s difficult not to count his degrading skills as a factor. No longer as accurate and with not as strong of an arm, Brady is not making the “elite” sort of plays to a mediocre surrounding cast, something he used to do when his team was winning Super Bowls.
For now, we just have to consider Brady a good quarterback. That is until Brady proves us wrong.
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