New England Patriots: Tom Brady Will Be Better Than Ever in 2012
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is still getting better. That may sound crazy given that the 35-year-old, three-time Super Bowl champion is beginning his 13th NFL season. But the stars are aligned for Brady to have his best season yet.
Brady achieved career-best numbers in passing yards (5,235, the second-highest single-season total in NFL history), yards per attempt (8.57) and pass attempts (611) for the Patriots last season.
But none of his other key passing statistics—including completion percentage, touchdowns, interceptions, true quarterback rating (QBR) or traditional quarterback rating—were the best we've seen from Brady.
As a traditional pocket passer, Brady's game is not predicated on elusiveness or mobility, skills that tend to diminish with age.
He's also four years removed from the torn ACL that cost him his entire 2008 season, the only year in which he's failed to play in all 16 games since he became New England's full-time starter in 2001.
The Patriots underwent significant changes this past offseason, following a bitter defeat to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. All of those moves point towards Brady having the best season of his NFL career, and here are five reasons why.
The Defense Can't Get Any Worse
The New England Patriots had the 31st-ranked defense in the NFL last season based on total yards allowed per game. That includes having the second-worst pass defense in the league.
The Patriots also ranked 28th in third-down conversions, allowing opponents to get a new set of downs 43.1 percent of the time. This stat is more relevant to the offense since it means less possessions for Brady.
Some of the defensive ineptitude can be attributed to the proficiency of New England's offense, which ranked No. 2 in the NFL in total yards and No. 3 in points per game. Those numbers suggest that their opponents got the ball back quickly and were constantly playing from behind.
But even the most optimistic Patriots fan would acknowledge that the defense needed some help.
Head coach Bill Belichick apparently recognized the problem too, as New England spent each of their first six picks in April's NFL draft on defensive players.
New personnel, along with the expected organic improvement from one of the NFL's youngest defenses, should help the Patriots improve their defensive performance across the board. That's bad news for opposing defenses that were hoping to see less of Brady and Co. in 2012.
Josh McDaniels Is Back
In 2007, the New England Patriots set new NFL records for touchdowns (75, including 67 by the offense) and points (589) scored in a season.
Tom Brady also set the NFL single-season record for touchdown passes in a season with 50.
You know who was the Patriots offensive coordinator in 2007? Josh McDaniels, the same guy who's back to lead the New England offense in 2012 after a three-year sabatical.
McDaniels didn't actually take three years off. But he probably wishes he did after a disastrous two-year run as the head coach of the Denver Broncos.
After a surprising 6-0 start to the 2009 season, the Broncos went 5-17 over their next 22 games before McDaniels was fired in December of 2010.
The 11-17 record was unimpressive. But McDaniels is probably best known for spending a first-round draft pick on quarterback Tim Tebow in 2010.
After spending the 2011 season as the offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams, McDaniels is reunited with his mentor Belichick and Brady, a quarterback that would make any offensive coordinator smile.
A repeat of 2007 may be ambitious. But don't be surprised if McDaniels and Brady combine to help New England's offense rewrite the NFL record books once again.
Addition of Wide Receiver Brandon Lloyd
When new New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels agreed to return to the team that launched his NFL coaching career, he brought a shiny new toy with him.
Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd—after seven mostly disappointing seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins and Chicago Bears—had a breakout season in 2010 while playing for McDaniels in Denver.
Lloyd recorded career highs in receptions (77), receiving yards (1,448), yards per reception (18.8) and touchdowns (11) on his way to his only Pro Bowl appearance.
He was traded to St. Louis early last season and again had success playing in McDaniels' offensive system.
His success with the Broncos and Rams was enough to convince Lloyd to sign with whatever team McDaniels ended up with when he became a free agent after the 2011 season.
Tom Brady and the Patriots are now the beneficiaries of that loyalty.
If Lloyd can stay healthy, as he has each of the past two seasons, he'll be a significant upgrade over Chad Johnson, who failed to make an impact on New England's offense in his one year with the team.
Now Brady has one more downfield threat with which he can attack opposing defenses. Where's the justice in that?
A Full Offseason of Preparation
It's hard to believe that Tom Brady had the most passing yards, second-most passing touchdowns and third-highest quarterback rating of his career in a season that was preceded by a lockout-shortened offseason.
But that's exactly what happened.
Last year's NFL lockout affected the preparation of all 32 teams. But Brady's 2011 season was even more incredible when you consider that New England got virtually no production from Chad Johnson.
The Patriots also had two tight ends—Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez—who were entering just their second seasons in the NFL, and both had spectacular seasons.
Gronkowski had the best season ever for an NFL tight end, notching 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 receiving touchdowns.
New England has had a full offseason to re-incorporate Josh McDaniels, allow Brandon Lloyd to get comfortable with his new teammates and find more ways to deploy the unique talents of Gronkowski and Hernandez.
No wonder Brady wants to play for another 10 years.
For a man that owns three Super Bowl rings, you would almost think that Tom Brady has none.
The New England Patriots haven't hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy since defeating the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.
Instead, they've suffered two heartbreaking losses in the NFL's championship game over the past four seasons, both at the hands of the New York Giants.
Brady and the Patriots are now 1-3 versus the Giants in their last four meetings (including the two Super Bowl losses), a stat that has helped cement Eli Manning's legacy as one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks.
Losing to Manning is one thing, but Brady was also clearly outplayed by Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in last year's AFC Championship Game, a game that New England was lucky to win.
With a seven-year championship itch to scratch and a legacy that's losing a bit of its luster, Brady will be more motivated than ever to play at a high level in 2012.