Patriots’ Offense Still Starts, Ends with Tom Brady, Won’t Get Better Until He Resolves Issues

Tom BradyTom Brady still doesn’t look like his old self.

Maybe it’s his young receivers or the absence of his behemoth tight end over the middle, but something is just off with Brady right now. It’s not as if he’s Blaine Gabbert or even Andy Dalton bad — although, Dalton was the better quarterback on Sunday — but he also isn’t quite on par with Peyton Manning or Drew Brees this season either. Sunday’s stinker in Cincinnati was just further proof of that.

Brady didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 52 games, which was made into a far bigger deal than it ever needed to be. He threw for less than 200 yards for the second time this season — something he did just once over the last two seasons — and the Patriots scored fewer than seven points in a game for the first time since Week 14 in 2006 — a 21-0 loss to the Dolphins. But his struggles on Sunday went well beyond that, and they weren’t an anomaly either.

Whatever issues Brady seemed to resolve during the Patriots’ win in Atlanta last week came unraveled against the Bengals. The precision and accuracy that Brady rediscovered over the past two games was undone by the pressure the Bengals created up front and the play they got from their secondary. The Bengals sacked Brady four times on the afternoon and hit him a heckuva lot more than that, and their cornerbacks consistently disrupted routes and broke up passes on the outside. The Cincy defense did their best to bother Brady, but he made his fair share of mistakes as well.

Brady was off target all afternoon, failing to connect with Julian Edelman or the newly returned Danny Amendola consistently and struggling with his accuracy on a variety of routes. He finished the day just 18 of 38 passing, including a clear underthrow on Adam Jones‘ game-sealing interception that ended the team’s last-minute comeback attempt. That marked the second time Brady has completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in a game this season — something he didn’t do once in 2010, 2011 or 2012, and that he hasn’t done twice in a season since 2009.

There were always going to be hiccups and struggles with the new offense this season. It’s impossible to expect anything less when you lose four of your top five targets from a season ago and Rob Gronkowski, arguably the best tight end in football, still hasn’t stepped onto the game field. But, that was supposed to be on them, not Brady.

Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, aside from his one 53-yard catch and run, weren’t the dominant receivers we’ve seen over the last two games, but they’re not to blame when Brady throws the ball five feet over their head or 10 yards in front of them. Amendola and Edelman didn’t look like the No. 1 receivers they’re being billed as, but, to paraphrase Gisele for a moment, they can’t throw the ball and catch the ball. None of the receivers are blame free, nor are Josh McDaniels or Bill Belichick, but the lion’s share of it belongs on Brady’s shoulders.

It wasn’t the best weather for good offensive football, and a completely random late-game monsoon of sorts certainly didn’t help on that final drive, but Brady’s day had been decided well before the skies opened up. The silver lining in this all is that Brady is still one of the best quarterbacks in football and he has 12 weeks to figure out what is ailing him. If there’s one guy that you’d bet would stay late to watch extra film or get extra reps in order to work out the kinks, it’s Brady.

Brady will get better and the offense will eventually find a rhythm. It could be next week, four weeks or even 10 weeks from now, but it will happen. There are too many pieces missing right now, and clearly Brady isn’t dealing well with all the change. But, as always, it all starts and ends with Brady, and things won’t get better until he does.

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