KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tom Brady sat on the bench, tilted his head back to look up to the skies. Maybe he was just trying to clear his head. Maybe he was hoping for an alien spaceship to beam him up so he could escape the embarrassment of the New England Patriots' prime-time debacle. Maybe he was wondering how his legendary career has taken such a dramatic turn for the worse, so quickly.
The Kansas City Chiefs utterly dominated the Patriots in a 41-14 beat-down on Monday Night Football, to the point where the dreams of New England's AFC East rivals had become a reality—Brady was pulled from the game.
Don't expect it to become a regular trend—not, at least, if Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is being honest with himself.
How could he possibly blame Brady for his own shortcomings as a personnel man?
That being said, how could anyone watch the debacle unfold on Monday night, and not wonder what's going on with Brady?
He went 14-of-23 (60.9 percent) for 159 yards (6.9 yards per attempt), a touchdown, two interceptions, two fumbles and one lost fumble. This season, he is 81-for-137 (59.1 percent) for 791 yards (5.8 YPA), four touchdowns and two interceptions. That puts him on pace for his lowest single-season numbers in each category for any season where he’s started all 16 games.
Whether Belichick pulled Brady because he was struggling, or because he simply wanted to make sure his franchise quarterback didn't get injured in garbage time of a blowout, we'll probably never know—or at least, we'll have to find out another day.
When asked for his reasoning behind benching Brady, Belichick would only say, "We played everybody tonight." And he offered this gem of a "quote" when asked if the quarterback position would be evaluated this week with regards to who would be the starter:
Brady said he would retire when he sucks. Well, the offense has sucked lately, but how much of that is because of Brady?
"It was a bad performance by everybody and just want to make sure we never have this feeling again," Brady said during his postgame news conference. "I think there's not much we are doing well enough on a consistent basis—run game, pass game, consistently when we have to throw it, have to run it, convert on third down, red area. It's all a problem."
That’s not Brady skirting the blame. That's Brady telling the truth.
The Patriots offense can't decide on its best offensive line combination, its best skill position players, or its best identity—maybe because the offense has no best offensive line combination, no best skill position players, and no true identity.
Right now, their identity is a team trying to find its identity.
They can't pass-protect consistently, so they have to use running backs and tight ends as blockers instead of potential pass-catching options for Brady. But Brady can't find anyone open, so they have to shuffle their skill position players on a regular basis just to see what works.
Defenses don't have to crowd the line of scrimmage because the Patriots can't get big plays in the running game, but they don't have to put extra defenders deep because Brady can't complete long passes through the air.
What came first, the chicken or the egg?
Brady couldn't be expected to overcome all of those shortcomings in terms of roster composition, but he should be expected to complete a pass of greater than five yards with some kind of regularity. Even that seems like a lofty expectation this season.
Passes five yards or more have been such a challenge that it should be no surprise that Brady has hit only one throw on 16 attempts of 20 yards or more, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
It certainly doesn't help that the Patriots' two best outside-the-numbers wide receivers were inactive as healthy scratches on Monday night, but make no mistake: Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins weren't going to make the difference in a 41-14 drubbing.
It certainly doesn't help when left tackle Nate Solder is being beaten like a rug on a consistent basis, week in and week out, but don't go thinking Marcus Cannon is the magic pill that will make the offense look like a reincarnation of the dominant 2007 team.
At this point, though, the '07 record-setting offense is a distant memory. The Patriots would probably settle for anything they've had over the past four years, as it's all been better than what we've seen over the past four games.
|Tom Brady, since 2010|
There is still plenty of time for the Patriots to turn it around, but they won't suddenly become a more talented team in the next 12 weeks.
The improvements will have to come from within: It's going to be up to the wide receivers to do a better job of getting open, solidifying themselves as the best option for the team; the offensive line to execute blocks at the line of scrimmage and give Brady the time he needs to find those receivers; and the quarterback to take advantage on the occasions where his teammates give him an opportunity.
Brady turned a rough start last season (he was completing 58.9 percent of his passes for 1,014 yards, 6.4 yards per attempt, seven touchdowns, two picks and an 87.4 passer rating) into a late-season bid for league MVP. If he does the same this year, it will be one of the more stunning in-season turnarounds the NFL has ever witnessed.
Brady has been one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. Nothing that happens for the remainder of his career can change that. How much longer that career lasts, though, is another question entirely, and one that could be determined by Belichick, Father Time, or some combination of the two.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained via team news release and all stats obtained via Pro-Football-Reference.com.