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Tom Brady Proved a Point in 1st Year After Split from Bill Belichick

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2021

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) warms up before the first half of an NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
John Bazemore/Associated Press

Tom Brady is washed up. He's a system quarterback under Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels who won't be the same player with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Critics swung and missed with those takes. They're backpedaling like Prime Time Deion Sanders right now.

In the Brady-Belichick split, we have to give Year 1 to the quarterback. At 10-5, Tampa Bay punched its ticket to the playoffs, while the New England Patriots (6-9) head toward a sub-.500 record for the first time since 2000before Brady took over the team's starting job for Drew Bledsoe.

At 43 years old, Brady proved he's not in rapid decline and that greener pastures exist outside of New England. 

For two decades, Brady and Belichick were an iconic duo. Quarterbacks and head coaches garner all of the spotlight, especially when they're winning titles. The Patriots dynasty claimed six Lombardi Trophies. Many of us wondered who was more valuable to New England's dominance, Brady or Belichick?

We'll never have a clear-cut answer to that question, but Brady showed that his talent transcends the Patriots' system. 

Let's take a look at his passing numbers over the last two terms. 

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2019: 4,057 yards, 24 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 60.8 percent completion rate 

2020: 4,234 yards, 36 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 65.9 percent completion rate

In Week 16 against the Detroit Lions, Brady threw his 36th touchdown of the season, which is a Buccaneers record. In Week 14, he also topped his number for the oldest player in NFL history to throw for 30-plus touchdowns.

Brady doesn't need Belichick and McDaniels; just give him receivers who can win their one-on-one matchups. He'll hit them in stride. According to Pro Football Focus, the Buccaneers quarterback leads the league for completions and yards to pass-catchers in single coverage:

PFF @PFF

Tom Brady targeting single coverage: 🎯 129 completions (1st) 🎯 1,732 yards (1st) https://t.co/XTpMVzetFS

By the way, Brady still has the arm strength to stretch the field. In Week 7 against the Las Vegas Raiders, he dropped an accurate deep ball into wideout Scotty Miller's breadbasket for a 33-yard touchdown:

PFF @PFF

TOM BRADY 10¢ THROW https://t.co/2d5DcRonbk

Clearly, Brady still has enough in the tank to elevate his performances with a high-end supporting cast, which is what he wanted in New England. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Patriots needed to add more playmakers for a chance to keep the six-time Super Bowl champion in the fold:

"They are willing, sources say, to pay him in excess of $30 million per year to keep him in New England -- a significant commitment that would bring his salary more in line with other elite QBs. That would help, but it may not be all. If Brady is going to return, he wants to see the team spend on some weapons -- which they attempted to do last offseason by signing Antonio Brown, only to have it fail."

Strapped for cash, the Patriots couldn't make splashy moves during free agency. Despite Brady's move to Tampa Bay, he's still on New England's books for $13.5 million in dead cash this season, per Over the Cap.

Brady went from 34-year-old wide receiver Julian Edelman and running back James White as his top pass-catchers to Pro Bowlers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. In addition, the Buccaneers acquired tight end Rob Gronkowski from the Patriots after he came out of retirement and signed wideout Antonio Brown.

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton
New England Patriots quarterback Cam NewtonCharles Krupa/Associated Press

While Brady flourished with a bevy of talented pass-catchers, quarterback Cam Newton struggled with the Patriots' lackluster group. Keep in mind Belichick serves as the club's head coach and general manager. He's the roster visionary who also fits the pieces to team needs.

New England signed wideouts Damiere Byrd, who caught 44 passes for 488 yards and three touchdowns in his first four seasons, and Marqise Lee. The latter exercised the COVID-19 opt-out this year. The front office drafted tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene in the third round. They have recorded two catches for 10 yards combined. 

The Patriots' additions didn't compensate for Edelman's nine-game absence due to knee surgery or N'Keal Harry's slow development. 

Wideout Jakobi Meyers leads the Patriots in catches (53) and receiving yards (661), but he doesn't have a touchdown reception.

Like Brady last season, Newton doesn't have much around him, but the latter's numbers pale in comparison to his predecessor's. He's thrown for just five touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Brady threw for five touchdowns against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 4.

Because of the Patriots' offensive struggles, critics have started to see Newton as a washed-up quarterback, but is he really over the hill, or does New England's lack of offensive weapons make it seem that way? With the difference in Brady's productivity between 2019 and 2020, we should reserve judgment on Newton's career outlook.

The Patriots have benched Newton during three blowout losses to the San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams and Buffalo Bills, but we cannot lay the fault solely on the 31-year-old's shoulders.

New England Patriots head coach and general manager Bill Belichick
New England Patriots head coach and general manager Bill BelichickAshley Landis/Associated Press

Brady's new chapter in Tampa Bay highlights a glaring issue that Belichick must address in the coming offseason. No one could blame a quarterback for his struggles with New England's limited pass-catching group.

Yet Brady helped lead the Patriots to 12-4 before a first-round exit in the playoffs last season. He had a healthy Edelman, but White was his second-best target, logging 72 receptions for 645 yards and five touchdowns. Instead of washed up, we should've called Brady a miracle worker. In truth, he's the glue that held the Patriots' subpar offense together. 

Without a normal preseason, in a new system as the oldest player in the league, Brady exceeded expectations based on the circumstances. 

Newton isn't the most accurate quarterback, but his five touchdown passes through 14 games seems like an eye-opening problem for New England, not him.

Apparently, Belichick cannot just plug a quarterback into McDaniels' system and sleepwalk through a double-digit win season with a reserved playoff spot. However, Brady can go to a team stocked with talent and still put up big numbers. 

Brady signed a two-year deal with the Buccaneers, but he could accomplish his goal of suiting up until 45 years old, playing at a high level without the Patriots' system that supposedly made him great.      

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