Is it time to start talking about Tom Brady? It might be time to start talking about Tom Brady.
No, we don’t think the New England Patriots quarterback has reached his “cliff,” and he’s still proven to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season, leading his team to a 7-3 record. But Brady hasn’t quite been himself 10 games into the season, and he had his worst performance of the year Sunday in New England’s 34-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Brady went just 21-of-41 for 254 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. It was the second game in three weeks Brady hasn’t thrown a touchdown. He’s now on pace for 27 touchdowns this season, which would be his lowest mark since 2013 when he threw just 25 scores while targeting guys like Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson.
One issue Brady seems to be facing is he’s at times forcing the ball to wide receiver Josh Gordon. The wideout’s 12 targets tied Julian Edelman for the most Sunday. Edelman caught nine passes for 104 yards. Gordon, meanwhile, caught four passes for 81 yards.
Gordon is a big-play threat any time the ball comes his way, but he’s also been, understandably, unreliable. Gordon came to the Patriots two weeks into the 2018 season. Growing pains are expected, and Brady and Gordon clearly are trying to work through them. But sometimes that comes at the expense of successful drives.
Brady’s best pass to Gordon came on third-and-13 with 10:49 left in the first quarter. The Patriots caught the Titans in zone and had an advantageous matchup with Gordon covered by linebacker Wesley Woodyard and safety Kevin Byard. Brady’s pass was perfectly placed, and Gordon hauled it in for a 44-yard gain.
Then Brady’s next three passes all went to Gordon with nothing to show for them.
The first of which passed through Gordon’s outstretched arms.
The next came on a quick hitch. Titans cornerback Adoree Jackson immediately brought down Gordon for no gain.
The third target came on a slant. The ball clanged off Gordon’s hands.
Brady’s next target to Gordon, late in the first quarter, came on first-and-10. Gordon caught a pass on a slant route 10 yards down the field and picked up an extra 4 yards after the catch.
Brady’s next attempt to Gordon came after play fakes to James White out of the backfield and Cordarrelle Patterson on an end around.
The play, which came on a jumbo set with offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle at tight end, sent just one receiver, Gordon, downfield.
Gordon was double-covered, so Brady intentionally threw it short. Gordon had fallen in the end zone by the time the ball landed.
Gordon slipped again on Brady’s next target to the big receiver.
Brady targeted Gordon five more times in the game. Two passes were broken up, one was thrown away, one was overthrown, and Gordon gained 23 yards on a slant route.
Much has also been made of Brady’s “noodle arm” after Sunday’s game. I wasn’t seeing it.
Overall, these were the causes for Brady’s 20 incompletions:
— Seven throwaways
— Four pass breakups
— Two underthrows
— Ball passed through Gordon’s arms
— Ball bounced off Julian Edelman’s helmet
— Gordon slipped on route
— Behind White, possible miscommunication
That’s at least 12 incompletions that had nothing to do with Brady’s arm strength or accuracy.
Seven throwaways is a lot for one game. The Titans did a good job of marrying their pass rush and coverage. Brady’s receivers weren’t open, and by the time they might have found some space, the pass rush was bearing down on a banged-up offensive line.
On one of the underthrows, Brady did appear to lack velocity on a throw near the sideline to White. Brady’s decision-making, however, was a bigger problem than his arm strength or accuracy. At least one of the three sacks he ate was his fault, and he missed an open Chris Hogan to instead target Gordon or Edelman on multiple dropbacks.
Brady seemed flustered by what Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel and defensive coordinator Dean Pees — both formerly with the Patriots — threw at him, and it seemed to get in his head. That it doesn’t appear to be physical is a good sign. Brady usually doesn’t struggle with decision-making, and he should be relatively back to normal after the upcoming bye week.
Here are our other observations from this week’s film review:
— Perhaps the biggest series of the game came at the end of the second quarter when the Titans got the ball with 5:26 left in the half. The Patriots trailed just 17-10 at the time. Two plays into the series, the Titans faced a third-and-17 and converted on a 20-yard completion from quarterback Marcus Mariota to wide receiver Corey Davis over Stephon Gilmore.
One play, and a false start, later, the Titans faced second-and-14. They converted after a 12-yard hookup between Mariota and tight end Jonnu Smith over linebacker Kyle Van Noy and an 11-yard completion between Mariota and Titans tight end Anthony Firkser over safety Devin McCourty. Running back Derrick Henry scored after two 1-yard carries from the 2-yard line.
The Patriots got the ball back with 1:09 left on the clock and managed three first downs but couldn’t get past the Titans’ 43-yard line.
If the Patriots had halted the Titans for either a punt or field goal, they would have been given more time to score, and it only would have been a seven-or 10-point game. Instead, the Patriots trailed by two touchdowns and couldn’t get down the field before time in the half ran out.
In an ideal world, the Patriots force the Titans to punt, have plenty of time to score a touchdown, get the ball back after the half, score again, are suddenly ahead, and the game changes.
Instead, the Patriots played from behind all game and never got any closer than a seven-point deficit away from competing for the win.
— Cornerback Stephon Gilmore had his worst game of the season, allowing over 90 yards and a touchdown and getting flagged twice for pass interference. Safety Patrick Chung also let up a touchdown and struggled.
— Edelman and cornerbacks Jonathan Jones, Jason McCourty and JC Jackson were bright spots. There weren’t many others.