Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Contemplating Tom Brady's Future

So Lebron James says that Tom Brady isn't a great athlete...

And he's right.  He's right.  Brady has all the elusiveness of a pine tree and the speed of a garden slug, so apparently one doesn't have to be a great athlete to play quarterback in the National Football League. If we are to judge athletic prowess for the position based solely on Brady, the criteria would have to be based on arm strength, toughness and intelligence - because that's all Tom Brady has going for him.

Which is quite enough in the New England Patriots' system, and for football in general.

However, James based his opinion on the fact that football players generally play one just one side of the ball. They don't have to worry about scoring on one end and then having to defend on the other end which, when put in the proper context, means that he doesn't think any football player is a great athlete.

But where James has missed the boat is when he says that Brady affects just one side of the ball, and even then only when he throws the ball - when in actuality, quarterbacks have the capacity to control a football game in all three disciplines, and they do this by playing the field position game-within-a-game, and by controlling the clock - and while it is true that Brady doesn't play defense, it is equally true that he is the best there is at putting his defensive teammates in position to have the best chance at being successful.

Super Bowl 51 is a perfect example of how quarterbacks affect their own defense and special teams in addition to the offense.

Falcons' quarterback Matt Ryan may have been the National Football League's Most Valuable Player in 2016, but more than anything else, he won the award based purely on numbers, which also means that the MVP award is a joke, because the definition of what the NFL MVP embodies is that he is the player who is most valuable to his team.

The Falcons' offense is flashy and their natural philosophy is to be aggressive and to score quickly, putting up huge numbers and making fantasy owners champions in their leagues - but on the field where the outcome actually counts, big numbers and flashy playbooks only get one so far, and most times gets their team in trouble more times than not.

Ryan is athletically superior to Brady when it comes to natural ability, but when that game was on the line - when the world championship was on the line - Brady's will and determination carried his team while Ryan couldn't compensate for his team's sudden collapse with the prize practically in their hands.

Having the ability to be aggressive and to score quickly is fine for coming back from a deficit late in a game - which Brady and his Patriots obviously possess - but it otherwise stinks for both a defense and special teams.  For example, the Falcons ranked 26th out of 32 teams in plays per game, and were in the bottom half of the league in time of possession.  They were dead last in number of third downs faced per contest while converting barely a third of their chances.

This adds up to putting a lot of pressure on a defense, as they rarely received adequate time on the sidelines for proper rest, as the Falcons were either feast-or-famine in nature, playing long ball and ranking tops in the league in yards per pass attempt by a wide margin - and when the Falcons offense was in a tight spot, Ryan engineered exactly one comeback and two game-winning drives during their 11-5 season.

Conversely, Brady won the Super Bowl MVP simply by being being able to call upon his superior football acumen, which in football - and particularly at quarterback - is akin to the superior physical athleticism required in many other sports, but with a cool, sniper-like calmness normally found only in professional golfers...

...who, by the way, don't necessarily have to be tremendous athletes, either, they just have to possess nerves of steel and display pin-point accuracy, all while being watched by thousands of spectators under the suffocating blanket of deadly silence. But golfers don't have 270 pound linebackers bearing down on their position - and neither do basketball players, for that matter, and it would be interesting to see James drive the lane knowing that he was going to get belted and driven into the ground.

So collectively, as we've identified, football players don't even rank in the top three of professional athletes when it comes to sheer athleticism.  Basketball players are far better athletes, while soccer players are even better and hockey players are even better still - but to compare athletic superiority from one sport to another is pointless, as football is as similar to basketball as apples are to oranges.

When someone states that Brady is the best athlete in the world, contextually speaking, those people are most likely talking about championships won and sheer intimidating presence, the innate ability to make ordinary players around him better and to put a team on his back when the chips are down and the lights are brightest, no one else in football comes close...

...and neither does Lebron James, for that matter, who has been to the finals in eight of his fourteen seasons, and sports a record of 3-5, while Brady has been to the Super Bowl seven times in his fifteen years as a starting quarterback, and can boast a 5-2 record while playing with a supporting cast that he makes better just by being on the field.

In that respect, Brady is the best athlete that ever played professional football, and it really doesn't matter what anyone else says.

But for how much longer?  As we saw last season and particularly in the first half of the Super Bowl, teams can scheme to neutralize Brady for a time, but rare is the instance where we've seen a defense able to contain him for an entire game, and he remains the most lethal and heartless sniper in sports, as we all saw in the second half of the Super Bowl.

Like it or not, Brady was horrible in the first forty minutes of Super Bowl 51, as the three things that can make Brady look human - pressure up the middle, his receivers being punked at the line of scrimmage and zone coverages - the Falcons were able to employ, but just as bad as he was in that span, he was equally terrific in the final twenty minutes of that game...

...so good, in fact, that when the coin toss for overtime went in the Patriots' favor, even the most ardent Brady detractor admitted that the Falcons were toast, or as Atlanta receiver Taylor Gabriel told an over-confident Mohamed Sanu on the sidelines while Brady was struggling in the first half, "It's Tom Brady, though."

Gabriel knew all too well, and so should have Sanu, as they had both faced - and lost to - Brady in the recent past.

One could make an argument that Brady's occasional struggles are a symptom of his impending decline, but if that were the case, the same could have been said after losing to the Giants in Super Bowls 42 and 46, and after the 2015 AFC Championship game, all of which were not considered Brady's finest hours.

But what has to be remembered is that Brady is human and is just as susceptible to age and injury as anyone else, and that the Patriots, for all of their excellence in game-planning, are still vulnerable to the trappings of talented opposing coaching staffs with the benefit of having 17 years worth of film from which to plot against the man that is universally known as the Greatest of all Time.

To combat those things, the Patriots' roster is constantly evolving with trends and the times.

Many feel that the Patriots have been loading up on talent in order to take advantage of the time that Brady has left, but what the influx of talent is really all about is preserving Brady so that the diminishing of his skill set will not be as sudden and pronounced as those of other quarterbacks who attempted to play beyond their physical capabilities.

The most recent example of this phenomenon is how the Denver Broncos were able to win a Super Bowl a scant two seasons past despite having a clearly washed up Peyton Manning at quarterback.  The Broncos sat Manning for the second half of the season under the guise of him suffering from a severe case of Plantar Fasicitis, with Brock Osweiller leading the offense during that span.

For Manning, the move was clearly a health-preserving measure mixed with a gloomy forecast on the horizon for the Broncos offensively, who were averaging barely 20 points per game with Manning throwing wounded ducks and taking a beating in the pocket - relying on their top-ranked defense to keep the score close and their running game to carry the load.

And it worked, particularly against New England as Brady took the beating of his life behind a patchwork line in front of him and no running backs to take the load off behind him. Yet, behind by eight points and with ten minutes to play in the game, Brady put his crippled offense on his back and drove the Patriots 63 yards in six plays down to the Broncos' 17 yard line where the drive stalled on downs.

Twice more Brady drove his offense down the field in that fourth quarter, turning the ball over on downs one more time before finally scoring a touchdown on the final drive, only to be stoned by the Denver defense on what would have been a game-tying two-point try - only curious play calling keeping the Patriots from consecutive trips to the Super Bowl.

That has been Brady's M.O. since the 2014 playoffs, as Brady rebounded from horrible starts in games against the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks to win his fourth Lombardi Trophy, then the almost-burger in the aforementioned AFC title game in 2015, and including last February's Super Bowl against Atlanta where he led the most epic comeback in NFL history to win his fifth trophy.

Point being is that Brady is showing his age.  Now, instead of running around with his teeth on fire for sixty minutes like he did in his youth, he takes a more mature and responsible approach to the game.  He knows, as does every player in the NFL that no matter how poorly he plays in a game, if given the opportunity to make amends, he tends to do just that, and more.

He still has the arm, as his thrilling display against the Falcons will attest, and he certainly has the brains and experiences to know how and when to use particular tools in his skill set, and he most assuredly enjoys ripping the hearts out of his foe - but the real test will come when he can't put the team on his back and pull out the tough game.

Has he reached that point yet?  Hardly, and it's laughable to even suggest such a thing, but it's coming and you can bet that Brady and Bill Belichick will never let it reach the embarrassing level that Manning did.

The competitive fire that will always burn inside Tom Brady will someday just not be enough. His dedication as a family man may turn him into a civilian before that point comes, as his wife has made very clear her desire for Brady to hang up his cleats - so enjoy him while he's around.

Too often, we as fans tend to take success for granted, as we have been fortunate enough to watch Brady play for the better part of two decades, taking over a doormat of a franchise and willing it to seven conference championships and five world titles.  Let that sink in, and let the game slow down for you - watch Brady work the pocket, never taking his eyes off of his five in the pattern, his snap release generating plenty of heat on the way to it's target.

Appreciate Tom Brady while you still have him, because it's not going to be much longer that he'll be taking snaps.  Don't be angry or sad when he retires, because the man has done his job better than anyone ever has, and has earned his rest.

Besides, he's not a great athlete anyway.  Right, Lebron?


  1. I have no idea where to put this, so....
    I come not to bury Brady, but to praise Edelman. I hope Brady gets Edelman a good birthday git or whatever.
    Don't get me wrong. Brady deserves his Super Bowl MVP, etc. I'm just saying he owes Edelman for it.
    On the Incredibleman catch, it was poorly thrown. Yes, it might have been Edelman zigging when he should have zagged or whatever, but in the end an interception goes on the QB - and Brady hit a Falcons DB in the hands.
    And it was a bad decision. Perhaps one safety closed after the bobble. Perhaps. The other, however, wa double covering Edelman, and the other was close enough to be in the play. There were 3 Falcon DBs and only 1 Patriot WR.
    It was first and 10 so a throwaway as opposed to throwing into double - if not triple - coverage was probably OK. Better would be any other WR who Edelman drew coverage away from, but hey...
    As I said, hopefully Tom gets Edelman a great birthday gift or something because he turned what could've been a disaster into a highlight.

  2. I guess you're forgetting that that play was on 1st down and if Edelman doesn't catch it, it's not that big of a deal

  3. What a delight it has been to watch this patriot team play, especially watching and following Tom Brady take over a game with such determination and fire. I know, and I'm sad, that this wonderful and heroic player will someday succumb to Father Time, but I can, at the same time, rejoice in the thought, that I will be able to watch Tom Terrific, like a good coffee, play till the last drop. Go get'em, Tom!