The Miami Dolphins visit the New England Patriots later today to finish the 2019 regular season. This year has been a strange one for the Patriots, who are 12-3 on the year but have never felt like the dominant team we have seen over the last several years (decades?). The talk of Tom Brady declining has returned, especially since he did not make the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2008 - when he was injured in the first game of the year.
Is Brady in decline? I had a great discussion with Bernd Buchmasser, the managing editor of Pats Pulpit, SB Nation’s Patriots team site, about Brady and how he has looked in 2019.
“Between 2015 and 2017, Brady had arguably the greatest three-year run a quarterback has ever had [audience boos] and I don’t think he is quite on that level anymore [audience cheers],” Buchmasser said when asked about a potential Brady decline. “That being said, I still think that he is among the best quarterbacks in the NFL and certainly capable of leading New England’s offense to another Super Bowl.”
Turning the conversation to specifically the 2019 season, I asked Buchmasser for his impression of Brady’s performance this season. “Brady looked good early on during the season, but the losses of starting center David Andrews to permanent and starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn to temporary injured reserve hurt the blocking up front,” he replied. “This in combination with a revolving door at the receiver positions created problems for Brady: too often he did lock in to his most trusted targets (Julian Edelman, James White) and made a few questionable decisions. It also led to his throwaway number skyrocketing, which in turn hurt his statistics. All in all, Brady appeared to be uncomfortable within the offense from time to time. However, I think the win over the Bills last week showed that he can still be a highly accurate passer capable of spreading the ball around well. I have not seen this on a regular basis, but last week’s game was an encouraging development.”
As to why Brady was not a Pro Bowl selection, Buchmasser explained, “I think Brady having set the bar incredibly high over the last two decades certainly does not help him, but based on how his season went so far compared to other passers’ I have no problem with him not making the Pro Bowl. Sure, his supporting cast may have contributed but he also failed to elevate both its and his own play at times. Do I think Brady can still play at a Pro Bowl-level? I most certainly do and he looked that part last week, but due to various factors he did not before the voting process ended.”
Finally, I asked if Brady is really starting to show the decline people have been predicting for years. “Statistically, yes, but I think I have made it clear by now that the numbers are in parts a product of the circumstances,” Buchmasser stated. “Of course, I also do not think that Brady is on that aforementioned 2015-2017 plateau any more — his lack of chemistry with his pass catchers and sometimes sped-up internal clock are reasons for that. However, we are far from that Peyton-Manning-in-2015-level of drop-off.”
There has been plenty of speculation this year that Brady could be playing his last season with New England, either looking to opt-out of his contract to sign somewhere else this offseason or retiring. Brady is not seen as the league MVP quarterback he once was, and Buchmasser seems to agree that the early signs of decline are showing. Brady’s career may not have hit the cliff Manning’s did, but the end is closer than it seemed even just a year ago.
What should we expect to see from the Patriots in the playoffs? Buchmasser gives us his expectations for this postseason later today. You can also head over to Pats Pulpit for more on New England ahead of today’s game.