Sports

Ben Volin | On Football

For Tom Brady, the end game has become apparent

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The two loudest statements in Monday night’s 41-14 debacle against the Chiefs came without any words being said.

The first came when rookie backup Jimmy Garoppolo tossed a touchdown pass with 7:25 left in a blowout loss. Coming off the field, Garoppolo got some pats on the head from teammates and had a nice conversation with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

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Rob Gronkowski sought out Garoppolo, interrupted his conversation with McDaniels, and gave him congratulations for throwing his first career NFL touchdown.

But not everyone was outwardly happy for the kid.

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Tom Brady gave passive high-fives to the other offensive players coming off the field — Gronk, Julian Edelman, the offensive linemen — but stayed clear of Garoppolo. Brady didn’t offer him any congratulations or daps.

When they returned to the bench, McDaniels sat in between them — Brady on the bench, Garoppolo on a water cooler. The two quarterbacks didn’t appear to speak. Brady watched the rest of the game silently with his arms folded, with no teammate coming within 20 feet of him.

The second statement came in the postgame press conference. Coach Bill Belichick was asked if he would “consider evaluating the quarterback position” this week after Brady turned in his fourth bad game in a row, throwing for 159 measly yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions in the loss that dropped the Patriots to a surprising 2-2.

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Belichick stared down the reporter, smirked, and moved on to the next question.

So, no, there isn’t a quarterback controversy in Foxborough this week. Obviously, one bad game — even one bad four-game stretch — isn’t enough to have Belichick consider taking Brady out and putting in Garoppolo.

Nor should he, of course.

Garoppolo had good numbers — 6 of 7 for 70 yards and a touchdown to Gronk — but it came in garbage time. Garoppolo is still only nine months removed from playing mid-level college football, and needs more time to marinate. Brady still gives this team the best chance to win each week.

But it’s time to start wondering if the clock is running out on Brady’s Patriots tenure a lot more quickly than we thought. He says he wants to play well into his 40s, but the way he has opened the 2014 season, the Patriots look smarter each day for drafting Garoppolo in the second round this past May.

Everything should be on the table now with Brady and the Patriots, if Belichick truly wants to do what’s best for the team, as he constantly stresses.

Brady will be 38 next Aug. 3, and his contract is insanely team-friendly — if he is on the Patriots’ roster on the final game of 2014, his salaries for 2015 ($7 million), 2016 ($8 million), and 2017 ($9 million) become fully guaranteed, but at less than half the going rate of top-tier NFL quarterbacks ($20-plus million). That’s cheap money for the Patriots, but it’s also cheap money for a team desperate for a quarterback — like, say, Houston, where the coach (Bill O’Brien) is a close ally. Or, say, Tampa Bay, where the general manager (Jason Licht) used to work for the Patriots and is close with Belichick.

Trade Brady now? Of course not. But this four-game stretch certainly has opened some eyes about Brady’s level of play.

Belichick offered little insight into his analysis of the quarterback position. When asked about why he put in Garoppolo in the fourth quarter, he replied with, “We played everybody tonight.” When asked about Garoppolo moving the ball in the fourth quarter compared with the offensive staleness under Brady, he replied, “I think our team competed there at the end. That’s what they should do.”

Brady didn’t offer much insight either. I asked him how he took the news of coming out of the game when the score was 41-7. He had just thrown two bad interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.

“They told me I was coming out, so . . . ” And he just let it hang there.

“It’s just a disappointment,” he said later. “You never expect these things.”

Look, this definitely isn’t all on Brady. The offensive line has been a mess ever since the team traded Logan Mankins in late August. They’re changing up the combinations every game, and on Monday night, seemingly every series.

But, to be honest, it all starts with Brady. On the very first series Monday, Brady forced a bad pass to Brandon LaFell that fell incomplete. In the second quarter, he was so focused on Gronk in double coverage that he didn’t see a wide-open James Develin. In the third quarter, Brady had all day to throw, but had a miscommunication with Edelman and threw a terrible pick. Two series later, he had plenty of time to throw another bad pick, this one returned for a touchdown by Husain Abdullah.

“I was just forcing it,” Brady admitted.

Brady’s stats are among the worst of his career — his 5.77 yards per attempt are shockingly bad, almost 2 full yards below his career average of 7.4. He’s just feeling the pass rush, getting happy feet in the pocket, not seeing the field, and not willing to push the ball down the field.

“Confidence, I’m not worried about whether it goes up and down,” Brady said. “There’s going to be a lot of negativity. Everyone’s going to tell us how terrible we are. It’s just the way it goes in the NFL.”

That was the one thing Brady got right on Monday night.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.
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