Tom Brady: Why His Best Years Are Behind Him

John ValentovicAnalyst IMay 26, 2011

Tom Brady: Why His Best Years Are Behind Him

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    FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 16:  Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots stands on the field during their 2011 AFC divisional playoff game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on January 16, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Tom Brady has taken a unique yet amazing road en route to NFL stardom. 

    For years, Brady has been one of the game's best players and in a very elite class of quarterbacks.  However, is that about to change?

    Being an underdog is nothing new for Brady.  After deciding to attend the University of Michigan, he was buried on the depth chart for the quarterback position during his first two years at school. 

    It wasn't until 1998, Brady's junior year, that he earned the starting quarterback spot.  He would go on to compile an impressive 20-5 record as a Wolverine, including a win in the Orange Bowl during his senior season.

    Despite his success at Michigan, Brady wasn't selected until the sixth round of the NFL draft in 2000.  He was the No. 199 pick overall, drafted by the New England Patriots, and was passed over for other quarterbacks such as Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman and Tee Martin earlier in the draft.

    Brady began his rookie season fourth on the depth chart for the Patriots, but by season's end was moved up to second.  He was the prime backup for Drew Bledsoe, who's injury during the 2001 season would allow Brady an opportunity to play.  And the rest is history.

    Since taking over as the starting quarterback in 2001, Brady has won three Super Bowls, set the record for most touchdown passes in a single season (50), been to six Pro Bowls and been named MVP of the league twice.  Additionally, he holds a number of other records.

    But Brady has always been more than numbers.  Not only is he a great leader both on and off the field, but he always seems to be at his best when the moment means the most.  He has a reputation of being a big-game, clutch quarterback, and he has certainly earned every bit of that reputation.

    However, lately there have been a few warning signs that Brady's best years may just be behind him. 

    I know that sounds crazy, especially given his statistical production just a season ago.  But here is why he may be on the down side of his career.  Take a look.

His Recent Playoff Performances

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    FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 16:  Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots looks to pass during their 2011 AFC divisional playoff game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on January 16, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Al Bello/G
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Although Brady holds a number of regular season records, he really made a name from himself in the playoffs from 2001 to 2004, when he led the Patriots to three championships in four seasons. 

    He has had a number of memorable moments in the postseason, including leading the Patriots on a 54-yard driving to set up Adam Vinatieri for the game-winning field goal against the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXVI. 

    But over the course of the past four seasons, Brady has been anything but super in the playoffs.

    Including Super Bowl XLII, when the Patriots lost to the New York Giants in 2007, Brady has compiled an 0-3 record while putting up just average statistics.

    In his last three playoff games, Brady has completed 60 percent of his passes, averaged just 240 yards passing and thrown five touchdowns.  However, he has also thrown four interceptions, been sacked 13 times and lost two fumbles.

    Don't get me wrong, those aren't terrible numbers.  But he has looked shaky in each game, and also missed a number of open receivers, especially against the Jets this past year.

    He just didn't look like the Tom Brady we saw earlier in his career.

He Hasn't Been as Clutch in Recent Years

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    FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 10:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots looks to pass against pressure from Terrell Suggs #55 of the Baltimore Ravens during the 2010 AFC wild-card playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 10, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts
    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    During the Patriots run of three championships in four years, Brady was simply invincible at the end of games.

    He seemed to be able to make throws in big situations that nobody else in the league would be able to make.  No matter the pass, Brady was able to make it.

    He was excellent at knowing what the team needed, even if it was just field position or to get in range for a field goal.  He also knew how to move the chains better than anyone. 

    However, recently he hasn't been as good late in games. 

    Against the Jets, he missed a wide-open Deion Branch along the sidelines near the end zone, throwing it behind his receiver.  As a result, Branch was unable to make the play.

    Brady doesn't seem to have the magic he once had in close games.  He actually has looked, well, human.

His Age

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    GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 03:  Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots lies on his back after being sacked by defensive end Michael Strahan #92 of the New York Giants in the third quarter during Super Bowl XLII on February 3, 2008 at the Unive
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Brady will be 34 years old by the time next season gets underway (assuming there actually will be a season to be played), so he will continue to lose the little mobility he already has.

    With the Patriots being so successful during Brady's tenure, they have been to a number of postseasons and played in a lot of extra games.  Although he has always played behind one of the best offensive lines in football, he has still taken his fair share of big hits.

    Eventually, those hits are going to catch up to him.  And at age 34, that time might be sooner rather than later.

Teams Have Proven He Can Be Confused

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    FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 16:  Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots signals during their 2011 AFC divisional playoff game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on January 16, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Image
    Elsa/Getty Images

    One of the biggest reasons why Brady has played at such a high level for the past 10 years is because there has never really been a concrete way to stop him.

    In the past, if teams chose to blitz Brady and get after him, he would make the pay.  He has always been good at recognizing where the blitz is coming from, and knows how to find the open man.  Additionally, he has been aided by the great protection he has had from his offensive line.

    If teams wanted to sit back in coverage, Brady would simply stand in the pocket and pick opposing defenses apart.

    But that doesn't seem to be the case anymore.  He doesn't seem to read defenses as well anymore.

    Opposing teams, specifically Rex Ryan and the Jets, have figured out how to confuse Brady.  Ryan, who is notorious for his blitz schemes, made a crucial adjustment against the Patriots quarterback this past season. 

    Instead of bringing the blitz, Ryan chose to only rush four, and used his secondary to create chaos and confusion.  That confusion allowed the Jets to be one step ahead of Brady.

    If anything, Ryan has provided other teams a blueprint of how to stop Brady and the Patriots.

    It will never easy, but it looks like it can be done.  That wasn't always the case.

Questions About His Health

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    FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 7:  Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots is assesed by the medical staff after he sustained an injury to his left knee in the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium September 7, 2008 in Fo
    Elsa/Getty Images

    In 2008, Brady went down with a left knee injury just minutes into the season.  Upon getting the knee examined, it was revealed that he had tore both his ACL as well as his MCL.

    Soon after he had surgery, Brady's knee became infected, and needed two more operations to clear out the infection.  Although it was a setback to his recovery, he was still able to make it back for the 2009 season, starting all 17 games the Patriots played in.

    Still, Brady isn't getting any younger and now he is playing on a surgically repaired knee.  It has held up just fine since the injury, but he is now more susceptible to re-injuring that same knee.