Tom Brady has dominated the NFL in every way imaginable: playing his best when the moment is biggest, scoring at will with an effortless vertical attack and methodically picking defenses apart. But nobody's ever beaten teams the way Brady is beating them now.
After playing six games in seven weeks, the New England Patriots are undefeated. This is no shock to casual football fans because, hey, they're the Super Bowl champs. Nor does it surprise Pats fans blessed with the luxury of assuming their team always is and will always be the best in football.
But close observers noted key losses to the Pats' roster over the offseason—most notably, All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis—and Brady's undeniable physical decline. They fretted over the lack of dependable running backs, the turnover on the offensive line, the lack of depth in the defensive front seven and the strip-mined secondary.
They were right to worry about all of those things. Indeed this Patriots squad is a flawed, one-dimensional team that (on paper) is eminently beatable.
But Brady is playing the most incredible football of his life, turning the 2015 Patriots into a juggernaut—and just like the historic rival to whom Brady will always be compared, he's doing it in the twilight of his career. Whether Brady keeps this up for a few seasons, a few months or a few weeks, though, let's not let what he's actually accomplishing on the field get lost in the Patriots mythos.
In Week 7, Brady and the Patriots hosted the rival New York Jets and beat them, 30-23. As expected, right? The Jets made it interesting, but the Pats had 'em all the way, right?
The Jets defense had allowed an average of just 12.2 offensive points across their first five games. Even after Brady and company hung 30 on them in Week 7, they still boast the fourth-fewest total points allowed (including two special teams touchdowns). By the end of the season, the 2015 Jets could be considered one of the better defenses of the modern era.
The Patriots knew they couldn't run on the Jets, so they simply didn't. According to Pro Football Reference, no team in NFL history has ever run fewer times, and only one team has run for fewer yards, than the Patriots did against the Jets and won.
Brady threw 54 passes on Sunday, the eighth-highest total out of his 215 career regular-season games. Only twice in his life has he thrown more passes in a winning effort—and one of those times was in Week 2.
In fact, Brady is throwing far more this season than he ever has. Through six games, he's throwing 10.3 more passes per game than his career average and 5.7 more than his next-most-prolific season, 2007.
Incredibly, at the ripe old age of 38, Brady's rate stats are right up there with (or even above) his very best years, even that magical 2007 season:
|Tom Brady Rate Stats, Top 5 Career Seasons|
|Pro Football Reference|
Brady is completing passes at the exact same rate as 2007, throwing touchdowns 74 percent as often as when he had Randy Moss streaking downfield to catch them, and yet tossing interceptions less than one-third as often. Brady is on pace to finish with the fifth-most pass attempts in a single season (669) yet tie Peyton Manning's single-season yardage record (5,477).
If we're rounding it all up, Brady will finish with 43 touchdowns and three interceptions—the most bonkers touchdown-to-interception ratio of all time, better than his record 36:4 ratio in 2010 (minimum of 320 attempts).
Even though the mad, giddy verticality of that 2007 season isn't there, and even though he's sacked almost twice as often today (6 percent of dropbacks) as he was that season (3.5 percent), Brady is still blazing a trail: Few have been this effective, few have been this prolific and none have been this prolific and effective while so fastidiously avoiding mistakes.
Brady's accuracy percentage—completion rate adjusted for drops, throwaways, spikes, etc.—is 81.9 percent, according to Pro Football Focus. That's the highest it has found in nine years of measuring. Brady's average time to throw is 2.20 seconds. That's the lowest PFF has found in the five years it has kept track.
Brady is making decisions better and faster than anyone else ever has, and he's throwing the football more accurately when he pulls the trigger. Peak Manning, peak Drew Brees, peak Kurt Warner, peak Steve Young? Forget 'em.
Brady has achieved a state of quarterbacking nirvana beyond the ken of anyone who's ever touched a football.
Of course, it's impossible to talk about Brady's place in history without talking about Manning, too. If 2004 was to Manning what 2007 was to Brady, and if 2013 was to Manning what 2015 is to Brady, what year will be to Brady what 2015 has been, so far, for Manning?
Manning had his best seasons at ages 28 and 37, and now he appears to be all but done. Brady's two best seasons were at 30 and, apparently, 38. Brett Favre had one of his best years at age 40 and was cooked at 41.
How much longer can the aging Brady play like this? How much longer can he shred the NFL behind a mediocre offensive line and a No. 1 wide receiver whose game is so stunted he averages almost as many yards after the catch (5.4) as he does before it (5.8)?
At what age will Brady's body deteriorate too much for his mind (and coaching staff) to compensate? When will the rest of the NFL figure out a way to stop the Patriots' one-dimensional attack as they did with Manning?
We've never seen a quarterback play quite like this, and we may never see it again. Let's give Brady his proper due, then sit back and appreciate every masterpiece he gives us.