New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has defied logic in playing some of the best football of his career at age-40, but the last three weeks have been a little more difficult than usual for the five-time Super Bowl champion.
After throwing just 2 interceptions in the first 10 games of the season, Brady has thrown 4 interceptions in the last 3 games, including a pair of picks in a disappointing Monday night performance against the Miami Dolphins. The loss now puts the Patriots in jeopardy of sliding to the No. 3 seed in the AFC with a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15.
And, while we’ll stop short of pulling the fire alarm and making the mistake of counting out a man who is making an increasingly compelling case as the greatest quarterback who ever lived, the Patriots should be monitoring something of concern from Monday’s defeat. Brady’s arm strength was lacking.
We’re not hinting at any sign of serious injury or anything worthy of major concern at this stage. However, quarterbacks who are asked to carry a heavy load occasionally run into the same issue as innings-eating pitchers from time to time.
Fatigue sets in and a little rest is required, even if rest simply means that New England leans particularly heavily on the running game for a couple weeks and don’t give him any actual time off. And that’s another reason why the Dolphins loss was a bigger killer than it initially appears.
The Patriots still control their own destiny for home-field advantage in the AFC with a win over the Steelers because they’ll control the head-to-head tiebreaker. However, had they won on Monday and entered Week 15 with a matching 11-2 record, a win would have given them a full-game lead in the conference plus the tiebreaker.
With home games against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets to finish the season, that could have afforded the Patriots the luxury of giving Brady an actual rest. Unfortunately for New England, the Dolphins loss takes that away.
Even with a win putting them back into first place in the conference, the Patriots will likely need wins in both of their final two games to put the Steelers away, as Pittsburgh has winnable games against the Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns to finish their season.
With a loss, things get even more concerning because New England is at risk of losing out on a potential bye that would be needed if Brady is just a little sore.
Then there’s the fact that the Patriots take on the Steelers on a short week. A late-season Monday Night Football appointment robs them of an additional recovery day and practice day.
Now, Brady has been limited during mid-week practices pretty frequently this season, so it’s not as big of a deal as if they were playing a Thursday Night Football game, but it’s still problematic if his lack of arm strength is any indication of discomfort.
Look at the two interceptions he threw to Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard last night. On the first, he didn’t have the juice to drive the ball to Brandin Cooks and Howard stepped in front of the route. On the second, Cooks had a step but Brady’s ball was just underthrown enough for Howard to make an impressive recovery.
Besides those picks, Brady struggled throwing the ball down the field most of the night and was most effective in the short and intermediate areas. For most of the season, with the addition of Cooks, attacking down the field has been a strength of Brady’s.
Off nights are to be expected, even for a player of Brady’s caliber. But a loss of velocity is certainly worth keeping an eye on moving forward for New England.
If he rebounds with a big night against the Steelers, we can all forget that it ever happened. However, if the issues persist, it might be time to examine more seriously.
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