Sunday Mail: Age Isn’t The Reason For Tom Brady’s Relative Struggles So Far

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Man, the way some of you guys are talking about Tom Brady two games into the season, it sounds like you expect he’ll need to update that recently unearthed, quintessential college-jock résumé soon, maybe put in a call to someone at Bernie & Phyl’s to find out if they were actually serious about offering him a VP position.

I didn’t pick up on it during the live chat Friday, but upon combing through the questions to pull this sucker together, I was taken aback at how many of you are unsettled by Brady’s performance through two games this season.

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To your collective credit, the tone didn’t match the usual “HE’S TURNING INTO TOMMY HODSON, MIKE!!!” shrieking that comes out of your radio way too often. Some of the queries — not all, but some — offered legitimate questions about what the expectations should be for the 15th-year quarterback.

Let’s sort through a couple of them — four specifically — then I’ll offer a longer answer addressing what I think is going on at the end. Here goes:

I know you’ve attempted to answer this, but is Tom Brady on the decline? Brady can’t throw the deep ball period. He misses wide open receivers down field, this season and especially last season. There is no excuse for that.
— Ozaer

He’s regressed on the deep ball, no doubt. That slippage may have even been underway while Randy Moss was still around. Also of no doubt: He has missed open receivers this year. Happened more than usual last year, too, an anecdotal observation that shows up in his completion percentage. There’s not an excuse for the decline, but there are a couple of valid reasons. We’ll get there, but first, more fretting …

chad be honest brady’s play thru the 1st 2 games shows he is eroding. He is no longer elite, not even as good as he was in 2011 super bowl run. His play shows he is closer to Alex Smith now than Aaron Rodgers. Sad to say the days of great qb numbers and huge fantasy stats are over.
— Dewayne

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To say he is close to Alex Smith is to acknowledge you have not spent a lot of time taking in the full-scale Alex Smith experience, which is really a master class in mediocrity. Also: Who cares about fantasy stats? The year the Patriots won their first Super Bowl, Jay Fiedler had more touchdown passes than Brady. So did Jeff Garcia, Aaron Brooks, and Brian Griese. The year the Patriots won their most recent Super Bowl, Daunte Culpepper, Donovan McNabb and Jake Delhomme all had more touchdown passes than Brady. The Patriots can win again without huge numbers from Brady.

Hey Chad. What’s your honest opinion on Brady? All-time great Patriot, obviously, and a top-10 QB still. But it seems pretty obvious he’s slipped significantly in the last 2-3 years. Think he can still take them to a Super Bowl?
— WestCoastRed

I assume you mean the all-time great Patriot. or all-time greatest Patriots. He could turn into a skinny version of JaMarcus Russell right now — minus the purple-drank habit, of course — and he’d still go down as the greatest Patriot of all-time. I’ll answer the part about the Super Bowl after this similar question, posed slightly differently …

Chad, does it make you a bad person to admit what everyone can see, Tom Brady currently is not one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but he has enough left that a team could win with him…..
— Steve Grogan

OK. [Exhales]. Here’s what I think is going on with Brady, currently the 29th-rated quarterback in the league this season, one spot behind today’s counterpart, the Raiders’ Derek Carr, and 27 spots behind Tennessee great Ryan Fitzpatrick.

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One, he doesn’t truth the offensive line yet. He got buried in Miami and consequently made sure to get the ball out in a hurry in Minnesota — he threw that thing like he thought Jared Allen and Carl Eller were still Vikings. It’s going to take the line time to mesh, and it’s going to take a longer time for Brady to trust this post-Mankins, post-Scarnecchia bunch.

Two, I’m convinced the calf injury is legit, and its affected his touch and velocity much more than age has.

Third, the man is 37 years old. Of course there will be signs of regression. Despite evidence to the contrary, he is indeed human. He creaks when he wakes up on Monday mornings in a way that didn’t happen when he was 26. He needs more maintenance now than he did in 2004.

But racing to declare his glory days behind him is way premature. Even at this age, if he’s healthy, he has so much going for him as a quarterback that he’d be above-average even if he had to suddenly start throwing lefthanded. No, he’s not what he once was. Arguably no one in history has been that. But can you win with him? I mean, of course. Absolutely. And it wouldn’t surprise me a damn bit if that fourth Super Bowl is secured in a similar manner to the first three — with Brady, stats be damned, making all the right plays, and a supporting cast, especially on defense, that assists him more than any has in at least seven years.

We good on Brady? All right. Now let’s flip it around and complain about his receivers …

After a full season and two weeks of little improvement for 2013 receivers (Aaron Dobson, Kembrell Thompkins, and.Josh Boyce), are you going to continue to Neville Chamberlain on these guys (such upside!), or did we strike out real hard?
— Will

My expectations were never high for Boyce or Thompkins. Boyce was a fourth-round pick, hardly a certainty. And Thompkins was a rookie free-agent find who seized an opportunity last season, had his moments, but saw his playing time slip as the season went on. I actually thought — before Brady raved about him — that there was a chance he might get cut in camp. Dobson’s really the only one who matters. He was a second-round pick. He has the total package in terms of size (6 foot 3, 210 pounds) and speed. And he did have his moments last year, including a 130-yard, 2-TD game against Pittsburgh in November. He had the best rookie season of any Patriots receiver since Deion Branch in ’02. But he’s had a tough time staying on the field, and it’s apparent Brady doesn’t entirely trust him yet. Big year for him, but call me Neville for now. I think he can play.

I know you’ve covered Peter King a bit already, but as a professional journo, how does it make you feel to read the stuff he continually cranks out, with seemingly no ethics or sense of himself, and get paid what he does? Is there a prevailing bitterness in your industry toward types like King? What he does with Goodell would be like you pandering to D&C by explaining away ratings dives and paycuts.
— Pistol Pete

It’s not a bitterness. It mostly eye-rolling bemusement, as in, “Does this guy have any self-awareness whatsoever?” I think we knew the answer right about the time he weaseled a kid out of a foul ball and didn’t get what he had done wrong. (Google “Tejada” “baseball” and “Peter King” since the SI Vault is a disaster now.) There has been a laundry list of Ugly American-type of incidents since.

I actually haven’t read his column in its entirety for a long time; I read the Kissing Suzy Kolber version, a hilariously vicious weekly takedown of his MMQB column, albeit one that recently has lost a little of its bite. Can’t blame the author for getting burned out having to do that every Monday.

I’m sure of King being very good once. I remember him as such, anyway. He’s also a guy who hit the internet at the perfect time. But once he worked his way up to the point where he was well-known and clearly had no intention of doing anything to lose his place at the table, it’s pretty clear he sacrificed some integrity.

I do wonder whether he is aware of that. It certainly seemed the other day, when he cited a source close Roger Goodell that the commissioner plans to be a leader in — isn’t this an awful phrase? — “the domestic-violence space,” that he was perfectly willing to remain in the toady position, gratefully accepting whatever semi-true morsels were thrown his way.

I don’t think he’s going to do anything drastic. There will be no I’m-mad-as-hell moment where he’ll like give up his lofty place in the pecking order by revealing source who told him the NFL had seen the Ray Rice tape. But I do think he’s aware of how he’s perceived right now. I took this tweet as a clue:

Maybe I’m reading too much into a simple acknowledgement. But it doesn’t take much imagination to read King’s atta-boys to ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. and Kevin Van Valkenburg — the journalists who detailed how the dastardly Ravens have known precisely what happened with Ray Rice and his fiancee in that elevator all along — as acknowledgments of something else entirely: Thanks for doing the job I could not.

Is Hanley Ramirez a potential FA target? I assume the Dodgers will continue to try to re-sign him, but you do pay for power and he is ready to be a 3B.
— Bobby V.

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Interesting. I’d definitely talk myself into that one if it happened … but I doubt it happens. He’s still an awesome talent — he was eighth in the MVP balloting last year despite playing just 86 games. But 20 homers and a .345/.402/.638 slash line for a shortstop is heck of a season, even if the numbers were put up in just over half a season. That’s the problem with Ramirez, though — he can’t stay on the field. He missed 76 games last year, and he’s played just 122 this year. Durability is a serious concern, especially since he’s going to command a lot of money. And he’s a bit of an enigma, still. This is from an LA Times story Saturday in which the writer speculates on Don Mattingly’s frustration with Ramirez’s injuries, noting that he’s missed 31 games despite going on the DL just once.

He’s a difficult guy to read, maybe more so for the press, since he’s mostly shut us out in the second half for reasons never shared. This is the final year of his contract, so he has plenty to play for beyond winning a division. Hard to imagine he’d bow out for a couple of days with so much at stake, but this is Ramirez and traditional thinking can be a perilous route.

Sounds like another Ramirez we used to know, doesn’t it? The difference is — or differences are — that Manny was superior to Hanley, and the Red Sox paid for his peak. Hanley’s probably isn’t worth it.

Until next week, the mailbox is closed. Exit music, please:

Could think of a song this week (suggestions always welcome), so let’s instead go with a timeless classic from a different genre: The Bruins’ John Wensink neutering the entire Minnesota North Stars bench at once.

This, as any Bruins fan worth his or her spoked-B knows, occurred in December 1977. The franchise moved to Dallas in 1993. The timeline doesn’t quite match up, no, but I’ll forever believe this moment is exactly why the Stars relocated. Players just couldn’t show their faces in Minnesota anymore. ESPN’s has a 30 for 30 short scheduled for the fall on the North Stars’ surrender to Wensink. Not sure when it will be available online, but it premieres next Saturday at the Boston Film Festival.

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