FOXBORO, MASS. — By now, you’ve probably heard that Tom Brady is on the “decline” — that Father Time finally has caught up with the 41-year-old quarterback.
(And, depending on which media talking head you subscribe to, you might’ve heard that Brady actually has been an average signal-caller all along.)
Well, Sean McDermott isn’t buying any of it. In fact, the Buffalo Bills head coach believes the New England Patriots quarterback never has looked better (an objectively false claim).
“To me, he looks even better than he has in years past, believe it or not,” McDermott said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters. “I know that the numbers may not support that, but I think his game is strong, he doesn’t turn the ball over, so I think he’s as good as ever.”
McDermott is right: Brady’s number’s don’t suggest he’s playing better than ever. Sure, his surface numbers — 65.9 percent completion percentage, 3,979 yards, 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions — are, for the most part, in line with his career averages. But the deeper cuts tell a different story.
Brady’s fourth-quarter QB rating of 94.0 ranks 18th in the NFL, and his conversion rate of 40.4 percent on third down ranks 19th. He’s also completing just 53.5 percent of his passes on third down, compared to 57.9 last year, 66.7 in 2016 and 63.5 in 2015. Furthermore, Brady’s numbers in the red zone rank near the bottom of the league in most categories.
(Hat tip to WEEI’s John Tomase for digging up these stats.)
So, why then does McDermott believe Brady has taken a step forward rather than the giant step back that so many believe he has?
“I think the way he’s allocating the ball to different receivers, how he’s getting them in and out of plays, how they use the no-huddle offense,” the second-year head coach said. “Strategically, I think that really showcases his ability — not only with his arm, physically — but also his mental capability.”
Now, we’re not going to call McDermott a liar, but his answer doesn’t really hold up.
Yes, Brady has done a good job of incorporating players like James Develin and Josh Gordon into the passing game, and he still spreads the ball around better than most quarterbacks. But he also has all but abandoned Phillip Dorsett, has neglected to throw to a wide-open Chris Hogan on many occasions, and one could make the case he was too focused on Gordon after the Patriots acquired the star wideout in September. Brady also has deemphasizes Rob Gronkowski’s role in the offense, though that probably is due to the tight end’s noticeable decline, which McDermott also denies.
As for getting New England in and out of plays and into a no-huddle offense, the Patriots could be fairly criticized for not using the no-huddle more often.
Ultimately, it’s no surprise McDermott is wiling to prop up Brady. What’s he supposed to do, give bulletin-board material to a future Hall of Famer? But his denial of what’s become obvious to so many is noteworthy, if for no other reason than it’s a take that few — if any — have had this season.
Maybe McDermott is just like the card-carrying members of Patriots Nation: Unwilling to admit the greatest quarterback in football history finally looks mortal.