COMMENTARY | He's missing his inhumanly-dominant tight end, his position-redefining slot receiver and closest facsimile, his aging former Super Bowl MVP security blanket and newest explosive option out of the backfield. There's no doubt, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is facing more challenges on the offensive side of the football than at any point in his soon to be Hall of Fame career. But surprisingly, at least through three weeks of the season, he has not risen to the challenge.
Now, let's get the histrionics out of the way.
"The Patriots would be 0-3 without Tom Brady!" Correct.
"Brady is making undrafted free agents into household names!" Yup.
"Tom Brady is perfect and there should never be a word or criticism leveled his way!" Well, that's where I disagree.
There is absolutely no doubt that Brady has lifted the Patriots sorry offense on his shoulders as best he can so far this season. To not only turn over an entire wide receiving corps, but also lose two dominant tight ends in one offseason? That's something no other active quarterback has had to face. Not Peyton Manning, not Aaron Rodgers, not Drew Brees. None of Brady's peers have been handed a rookie starting wide receiver, an undrafted rookie wide receiver, a fifth-year former college quarterback wide receiver with a career-high of 37 receptions and an undrafted tight end and been told "go win a Super Bowl."
But that's what Brady and the Patriots are facing. So far, it's been a mixed bag. The one constant has been the uncharacteristically inconsistent play of Brady himself.
Take last Sunday's win over the Tampa Bay Bucs as an example. It was the best performance by the New England offense so far. Brady and his rookies finally appeared to be on the same page, connecting on 10 passes for 93 yards and two scores. But it could have been so much more.
Twice in the red zone, New England missed scoring chances because of errant throws.
For example, on the Patriots' first drive of the second half, they had a first-and-goal from the six-yard line. What ensued was one of the most disastrous series in Brady's career.
On first down, Aaron Dobson was so alone in the end zone it looked like he was the only guy with priority boarding at the airport. As pressure began to collapse the pocket, Brady uncorked a wild, errant throw that sailed wide for an incompletion.
After failing to connect on second down with Kenbrell Thompkins, Brady went back to Dobson on third down. The only problem? He forgot to check the safety, and Mark Barron easily leaped for the interception.
A Tom Brady interception in the red zone is rare. Like a funny episode of "Two and a Half Men," rare.
In fact, Brady hasn't thrown a red zone pick since December of 2011. So there's no doubt that he wasn't at his best.
Brady was wildly inaccurate on at least four throws. That might be commonplace for some NFL quarterbacks, but not the three-time Super Bowl champion. Patriots fans just aren't used to seeing mistakes from Brady, but so far there have been plenty.
Unlike in week two against the New York Jets, when it looked like Thompkins and Dobson were still running plays from their college playbooks, the young duo was much more reliable versus Tampa. But the Pats still only managed 358 total yards, and Brady didn't hit on a completion longer than 20.
Will this uneven play continue from Brady? I wouldn't bet on it. Rob Gronkowski looks like he'll be ready to suit up Sunday night against the Atlanta Falcons. And since "Gronk" is the NFL's most deadly red zone target, it's fair to assume many of Brady's problems hitting open receivers for scores will be "Gronk spiked."
But the Pats have dropped from nearly 35 points per game in 2012, to less than 20 so far in 2012. That's a precipitous fall. And it will take more than just the return of Gronk and Danny Amendola to turn things around.
The Pats are moving in the right direction. They just need their all-world quarterback to start playing like it, to get to their ultimate destination.
Evan Fitzgerald was born and raised near Boston, following all things Boston sports. A veteran of nearly 10 years in sports journalism, you can catch him covering college sports on the Big 10 Network. Follow Evan on Twitter @Evanwfitzgerald.
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