The New England Patriots are 9-1, and Tom Brady is vexed.
I’m sure you can understand. If this NFL season were to end today, the Patriots would have to settle for the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff picture. Coming off its bye week, New England delivered what was perhaps its best win of the season thus far, a 17-10 decision in Philadelphia that will go down as the much-ballyhooed defense’s best performance against a quality opponent.
The Patriots rallied back from a 10-0 deficit thanks to trickery off the arm of Julian Edelman, the — yes?— reliable leg of Nick Folk, and a smothering defensive unit that gave little wiggle room to Carson Wentz and the Eagles in the final three quarters.
It’s easy to pinpoint Brady’s frustration: The Patriots, the team he has helped lead to six Super Bowl titles over the past two decades, no longer revolve around him.
Brady has every right to be concerned about the failings of his offense, but the way he mumbled and hissed through his postgame press conference on Sunday, you might have thought Gov. Charlie Baker had just put a three-month ban on electrolytes.
“I don’t think it matters what I think,” he said when asked for his take on an afternoon when he threw for only 216 yards. “It matters what we do.”
On that note, did I mention the Patriots are 9-1?
For head coach Bill Belichick, on the other hand, these grinder games have put him in a postgame mood tantamount to being asked to lead a Paul Brown symposium. These are, after all, the sort of old-school, defensive game plans that Belichick has built his career upon.
“It looked like everyone had fun out there today,” Belichick said.
Well, not everyone.
This is looking worse and worse for Brady; the dour, woe-is-me reflections that follow each team victory. There have been few instances this season when the 42-year-old quarterback has looked to be in his normal, comfortable element, a matter that could seep from the perceived lack of receiving weapons surrounding him, a depleted offensive line, or the simple fact that 42-year-olds normally lose a step at the line of scrimmage.
The greatest quarterback of all-time had to sit in the sidecar during his team’s best win of the season, even surrendering the lone touchdown to Edelman’s part in a gimmick play, the one that worked for the Patriots on Sunday.
The fact that he obviously doesn’t seem to like that role might speak volumes about a great many things.
Maybe Brady is more concerned what his aging performance looks like for TB12 Enterprises. Maybe he’s still ornery over losing Antonio Brown. Maybe he’s just aware of the fact that the Patriots offense might not be good enough to keep pace with the likes of the surging Baltimore Ravens once January arrives.
Whatever it might be, his attitude certainly doesn’t reflect the Patriots’ current standing in the NFL.
They are 9-1, you know.
Brady might not be helping himself either when it comes to his struggling offense. He’s more prone to rolling his eyes after Jakobi Meyers runs a wrong route than he is to work with the kid on making adjustments. He’s been visually upset with guys like Sony Michel, which, as we’ve seen in the past, means little looks outside of the Circle of Trust. On practice days, does Brady even give the likes of Meyers or N’Keal Harry as many looks as he might Edelman and Mohammed Sanu? Or is his ignorance of the younger receivers just as blatant during the week?
The offense’s issues should be fixable. But maybe Brady is above that mission this late in his career.
Which, of course, all brings us back to the soap opera story line that figures to ram its head into the Patriots’ postseason. While nobody dreamed it possible at the start of the season, the fact that Brady could play elsewhere next season becomes more and more of a possibility. If Belichick ever, truly, did have an interest in proving he could win without Brady, cutting ties from the future Hall of Famer isn’t really necessary. The head coach is proving that now, with Brady playing little more than a bit part.
This is Belichick’s team, a realization that hasn’t sat well with Brady.
If Brady is so up in arms with the plight of his offense, then he’s allowing it to overshadow the reality of the total package. Brady wasn’t good on Sunday, but his team was good enough to overcome a deficit and win on the road.
Brady’s attitude says anything but, with a whiny demeanor that suggests he should take a second look at his surroundings.
Or, maybe that’s exactly what he’s doing, with an eye on how they compare to elsewhere.