For 10 quarters leading up to the New England Patriots’ regular-season finale, quarterback Tom Brady did not look like himself. And that’s putting it nicely.
Brady appeared to be in self-preservation mode from the second half of the Patriots’ Week 14 loss to the Miami Dolphins, to their Week 15 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England’s Week 16 win over the Buffalo Bills. Brady was in territory recently unfamiliar as he had something to prove Week 17 against the New York Jets.
Confidence in Brady seemed to be waning as the postseason approached. Was he hurt? Finally staring down that cliff?
Whatever it was, Brady fixed it Sunday, when he went 24-of-33 for 250 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in the Patriots’ 38-3 win over the Jets. There was no falling away with pressure bearing down. There were no business decisions. There were a couple of uncharacteristically inaccurate passes, but there were also dimes.
Brady seemed hesitant to throw downfield in recent weeks. In Week 16, he attempted just three passes of 10 yards or longer, and he went 0-for-3. He didn’t attempt a single pass that traveled 20-plus yards in that loss to the Bills.
Brady went 5-of-6 on intermediate passes and 2-of-6 on deep balls Sunday. He was 3-of-6 with pressure bearing down.
Let’s take a look at Brady’s four touchdown passes to serve as evidence the quarterback was in vintage form Sunday.
— Pressure wasn’t quite bearing down on Brady, but it was creeping up from the interior. He didn’t shy away, instead going through his reads and hitting running back James White on a short in pattern. White did the rest of the work.
— Brady immediately saw a matchup he liked when running back Rex Burkhead lined up across from linebacker Avery Williamson. Brady chucked the ball 30 yards in the air, hitting Burkhead in stride. This throw was longer than any of Brady’s attempts from Week 16.
— Brady escapes from pressure, he doesn’t fall away from it. This play turned into a scramble drill, forcing wide receiver Phillip Dorsett to essentially run a second route. Brady delivered a perfect pass away from the defender on the run where only Dorsett could snag it out of the air.
— The Patriots’ offensive line did a nice job protecting Brady before he found a wide open Julian Edelman in the end zone.
Full disclosure: The Jets were without their top three cornerbacks and playing for a head coach who would be fired as soon as the team got off their plane from New England. They had nothing to play for.
But, still. Brady was pressured, and he wasn’t in self-preservation mode. If Brady was previously injured, he appeared to be feeling better Sunday. These are all good signs for the Patriots’ playoff run.
Here are other notes from our film review:
— The Patriots brought an impressive amount of pressure. It seemed linebacker Kyle Van Noy and defensive end Trey Flowers were in Jets quarterback Sam Darnold’s face all game.
— The Patriots’ run defense was as disruptive as it’s been all season. Flowers and linebacker Elandon Roberts led the way in making plays close to, behind or near the line of scrimmage. Defensive tackle Danny Shelton also had a good game standing his ground at the line.
— The Patriots were able to generate yards on the ground, but not as consistently as they were against the Bills in Week 16. If rookie running back Sony Michel had kept his balance better on a couple plays, they could have generated bigger plays.
— It was good to see Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett involved in the passing game. Julian Edelman continues to be the Patriots’ best offensive weapon, yet pundits are convinced he’s lost a step. Perhaps Rob Gronkowski, an example of a pass-catcher who actually has lost a stop, can get going next in the postseason.
— The Patriots’ offensive line did a nice job of protecting Brady for most of the game. It’s been a strong season for Patriots pass protectors.
— Rookie cornerback JC Jackson had his worst game of the season, and he still let up less than 60 yards. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore was dominant against Jets No. 1 wideout Robby Anderson.