Every time Tom Brady runs out on the field before a game at Gillette Stadium for warm-ups his musical accompaniment is provided by Jay-Z. To co-opt a line from the rap impresario/Brooklyn Nets minority owner, the Patriots have 99 problems and Brady ain’t one.
That’s not to say that Brady was blameless in Seattle. He was far from it, throwing two interceptions, including one in the red zone, and committing a pair of costly intentional grounding penalties, the first of which took an almost certain 3 points off the board right before the end of the first half. His was a hollow 395 yards.
Like the rest of his teammates, Brady didn’t execute in the clutch. So, Richard Sherman, Pete Carroll, and the rest of the Seahawks got to gloat in the Pacific Northwest gloom after a 24-23 victory on Sunday at CenturyLink Field (as an homage to Seattle’s grunge roots it should be known as the Soundgarden).
But let’s not lose sight of the forest among the conifers in the Patriots’ 3-3 start and a dispiriting loss in Latte Land. Brady, even at age 35, is not, I repeat, not one of the major Super Bowl-title barriers for the Patriots. His play is not a problem, but the solution to almost all of the Patriots’ ones. Perspective should not be as easy to lose as a Patriots defensive back on a deep ball.
There are a lot of NFL general managers who would trade their own mothers for a couple of seasons of Brady under center.
There are times that Brady appears to experience paranormal activity in the pocket or makes ill-advised throws. He might not be as clutch as he used to be in the fourth quarter or late in games, but that’s true of the Patriots as a whole.
When the Patriots were winning Super Bowls it wasn’t about one guy, and their shortcomings aren’t about one guy either, although they are more heavily weighted to one side of the ball.
What is most concerning about the Patriots is that after three seasons they remain stuck on a treadmill of defensive inadequacy. They’re not burning calories, just getting burned. The Patriots are running in place and that place is near the bottom of the league in pass defense.
After being 30th in 2010 and overcoming the 31st-ranked pass defense last year to play in the Super Bowl, the Patriots are 28th against the pass this season. They’ve allowed a league-high 33 pass plays of 20 yards or more and are tied for tops in the league in touchdown passes allowed with Washington and Cleveland (15).
Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson lofted parabolic passes all day with impunity against a Patriots secondary that started the game with a first-round pick and two second-round picks in the lineup.
Wilson’s rain-makers accounted for six plays of more than 20 yards allowed by the Patriots and another earned a 40-yard pass interference penalty.
There are third-world countries that have experienced more progress than the Patriots’ pass defense the last three seasons. The Patriots have changed schemes. Coach Bill Belichick has drafted defensive backs like they come with a 2-for-1 coupon. He even has procured a bona fide, game-changing NFL pass rusher in Chandler Jones. Yet, the Patriots still can’t stop the pass or win the close ones like they did during the Glory Days of McGinest, Bruschi, Vrabel, Law, and Harrison.
Three years after fourth-and-2 in Indianapolis, the Patriots are no closer to having a shutdown defense than they were that ill-fated evening in Indy. That’s the ugly truth for Belichick.
Cocksure Seattle corner Sherman (a 2011 fifth-round pick, taken 121 picks after Ras-I Dowling, if you’re wondering) might be on to something when he hissed about the Patriots: “We’re built for a heavyweight fight. I don’t think they’re built for a heavyweight fight.”
The Patriots are tough, any team with Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork, and Jerod Mayo is not going to back down from a fight. But the Patriots have become the type of team that if you can survive their early barrage of offensive haymakers and make them go the distance they can be had.
An alarming trend has developed with the Patriots since 2009; they’ve become a team that wins when the points are piled up like cordwood and loses when points are scored in moderation.
What defined the Patriots’ three-ring dynasty was an ability to win games by any score necessary and any style needed. They could win shootouts or defensive struggles. Now it’s only the former.
Since 2009, the Patriots are 36-4 in games in which they score 25 or more points, including postseason games. They’re 6-13 (.316) over the same span in games in which they score 24 points or fewer.
The Patriots were 58-3 from 2001 to 2007 when they scored 25 points or more. The losses were the 2006 AFC title game to the Colts, a 28-26 season-ending loss to the Miami Dolphins in 2005 — the game in which Matt Cassel purposely threw a game-tying 2-point conversion pass into Walpole — and a bizarre 29-28 Monday night loss to the Dolphins in 2004, a game that Brady literally threw away at the end.
From 2001 to 2007, the Patriots went 42-26 (.618) in games in which they scored 24 points or fewer. During the Patriots’ last two Super Bowl-winning seasons they were a combined 18-3 in games in which the team scored fewer than 24 points.
Now, is Brady a worse quarterback than he was from 2001 to 2007 or are his failures in losses more visible because the outcome rests on his right arm more than it ever has?
The Patriots have become exactly the type of points-dependent team they used to defeat on their way to lifting the Lombardi Trophy.
It’s not Brady who has changed beyond recognition. It’s the team around him.
That’s the problem.