Tom Brady Looked Back to Old Self Against Steelers, Still Important to Remember Struggles of First Half of Season

Tom Brady, Rob GronkowskiTom Brady struggled for the better part of eight weeks to open the 2013 season. Then he churned out one of the best performances of his career in Week 9.

So, which is the real Brady? It would be easy to assume it was the one we saw on Sunday at Gillette Stadium: The one we’re used to seeing. But the Steelers are shockingly bad at this stage of the year. They were only giving up 181 passing yards per game going into Week 9, but much of that had to do with opposing teams straying from the pass after already taking a lead. We already had a pretty good idea that Brady could shine against bad defenses. We just didn’t know he could be that good.

Everything finally seemed to fall in place for Brady and the Patriots’ offense. Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola looked fully healthy and everything has finally seemed to click for Aaron Dobson the past two weeks. Starting Stevan Ridley from the first snap certainly helped, as well, since the Steelers had to respect the run game. Also, Pittsburgh is terrible.

Brady’s best games have come against the Buccaneers, Falcons, Saints, Dolphins and Steelers — the worst defenses the Patriots have faced this season. His worst games have come against the Jets (twice) and the Bengals — two of the best defenses in the NFL.

It seems simple to say Brady has played well against bad teams and poorly against good ones, but that’s the way the season is stacking up. Unfortunately for New England, things don’t get much easier as the season progresses. The Panthers rank third in total defense, the Texans first, Cleveland fourth and Baltimore 11th.

So, we’ll see right after the bye whether this showing from Brady is what we can expect moving forward. It will help that Brady has Shane Vereen coming back, too.

And Brady doesn’t need to play as dominantly the rest of the year as he did against the Steelers — and he was fantastic — but he does need to continue improving on the first eight weeks of the season, despite New England’s 7-2 record.

Perhaps the most impressive play of the game for Brady was the 81-yard hookup to Aaron Dobson. Brady hit many of those to Randy Moss over the years the two players were together, but he’s struggled to connect on the deep ball during the last half of his career. On this one, though, Brady hit the Marshall rookie perfectly in stride. He didn’t overshoot it or make Dobson get in a jump-ball scenario. Brady was solid over 20 yards all game. He connected on 4-of-6 deep balls for 193 of his 432 yards.

Looking back, it’s no huge surprise that Brady struggled so much without Gronkowski, Amendola and Vereen — not to mention Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Danny Woodhead, Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch. The problem was, we had grown to expect too much out of the future Hall of Famer. After watching Brady for 13 years, we just assumed Brady could withstand it all, including losing nearly all of his targets from last year while facing some of the NFL’s top defenses.

Replacing all those veterans were rookies, undrafted players and other team’s castoffs. Kenbrell ThompkinsBrandon Bolden and Matthew Mulligan are not Lloyd, Vereen and Gronkowski. And as good as Julian Edelman can be, Welker he is not.

So, now that Brady’s weapons are back, he has a week to mend his injured hand shoulder and the team has confidence heading into the backend of the schedule, vintage Brady may once again be modern Brady. The Patriots are done with throwing players into the fire to see if they’ll work. And with that, Brady’s troubles may be done, as well.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.

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