A season’s worth of irritation, aggravation, and exasperation for Tom Brady bubbled to the surface and erupted with the force of Old Faithful, the quarterback steaming more than the famed geyser because his receivers aren’t faithfully executing their duties. In front of a national television audience, Brady aired out his wideouts on the bench during the second quarter of the Patriots’ 28-22 loss to the Texans Sunday night.
That’s the only type of airing it out this offense is built for.
Brady’s diatribe, which followed a miscommunication with rookie receiver Jakobi Meyers, is one of the signature moments of the season. In one helmet-flipping, lip-reading tableau, Brady’s frustrations and the offense’s limitations were crystallized for the entire country. Brady was urging his receivers to be “faster, quicker, more explosive.” He was imploring them to be aggressive off the ball and achieve separation. He was pleading with them to perform. He was begging them to transform into better players.
The Patriots defense has held down a lot of quarterbacks this season, although it couldn’t restrain Houston’s Deshaun Watson. But the best job of holding down a quarterback in the NFL in 2019 is actually being done by the Patriots offense. Brady is playing quarterback in a straitjacket of Bill Belichick’s creation, and he finally snapped at NRG Stadium.
Brady’s mental state during the game told you all you needed to know about the state of the offense three-quarters of the way through the season. It’s not improving, and it probably won’t. So, get ready for more Dan Marino quarterback theater from TBQB.
Brady wasn’t as bothered as he was after the Buffalo win or as sullen as he was following the victory over Philadelphia, but it’s obvious that he’s not here to cover for the lack of weapons the Patriots have put around him. At age 42, Brady is no longer playing the company man. He has steadfastly refused to endorse this offense. He was asked point-blank if this group was talented enough to take the Patriots to the one acceptable ending to their season.
“Ah . . . like I said, we’re battling,” said Brady. “We’re trying as hard as we can, and, hopefully, we can make enough plays and be the best we can be.
“It all remains to be seen. You can make a bunch of predictions and so forth, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about going out there and doing it.”
Tepid Tommy struck a more conciliatory tone Monday morning in his weekly WEEI interview, praising his receivers. He was like the parent who screams at their misbehaving children and then feels remorse afterward. The truth lies in his in-game outbursts and postgame skepticism, however.
Other than Julian Edelman, the Patriots don’t have any pass catchers capable of consistently defeating man coverage. The Texans didn’t do anything elaborate to build their 21-3 lead. They just did what the Eagles had done two weeks earlier — play man coverage and bracket Edelman in key spots. You don’t need a complicated scheme to defend these Patriots.
It’s obvious to the rest of the NFL that rookie N’Keal Harry, who rounded off a route leading to a Brady first-half interception, is an inchoate option. Fellow rookie Meyers is a gamer, but not a game-breaker. Veteran Phillip Dorsett, who drew Brady’s dismissive ire toward the end of the first half for missing a signal to run a double move, has rarely delivered when asked to accept a more prominent role. Newbie Mohamed Sanu is hobbled and still taking a crash course in Foxborough fluency.
James White is the best pass-catching back in the NFL, and NRG Stadium is his personal Xanadu. But running backs are a supplement to and not a replacement for receivers in the passing game. On the first of White’s two touchdown receptions, the Texans busted coverage. On the second one, Brady made a brilliant play. Teams can still take away White when it counts.
Forget the statistical air-brushing the Patriots engaged in after falling behind, 21-3, to deliver Brady a 300-yard passing day (24 of 47 for 326 yards) and three touchdown passes. Those were empty yards and empty calories.
After flummoxing the Patriots with man coverage, the Texans played zone as if they were strangers thrown together in a football focus group. They treated receivers as if they were radioactive, staying at a considerable distance and not touching them, especially after Houston went up, 28-9, with 9:53 left in the fourth.
Brady was just 9 for 25 when the Patriots built their 21-3 cage. He certainly wasn’t buying that the stat-padding was indicative of the offense turning a corner. The Texans had mentally headed to the locker room by the time Brady hit Edelman for a score with 50 seconds left that allowed the Patriots to generate more than 20 offensive points in a game for the first time since Week 7. They also topped 350 yards of offense for the first time since a win over the Giants Oct. 10, but needed a bunch of garbage-time yards to do so against a pedestrian Houston defense.
Even with the Texans handing out free samples of yardage late, Brady completed only 51.1 percent of his passes, marking the third straight game and the fourth out of five that he has completed below 56 percent of his passes.
It’s really hard to make Brady look bad, but this offense excels at it.
There was a time when it looked as if the Patriots were a no-offense-required operation. Bill Belichick was practically radiant after winning back-to-back games in which the team scored a combined 30 points. But the defense has surrendered 30 and 28 offensive points, respectively, to the two best quarterbacks it has faced, Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Watson. High-level quarterback play — in short supply in the dreadful AFC — renders this superhuman defense mortal, a playoff concern.
The site of two of the Patriots’ great triumphs served as the scene of a sobering loss that calls into question whether what passes for their passing game now is fixable.
What is Brady’s mentality regarding the state of the offense?
“What it has been all year,” he said. “Try to do the best we can do out there, and see if we can do a better job in all areas. See if we can get to a good place and put ourselves in a good position.”
The offense is not in a good place. That puts Brady in a bad spot.