Patriots Positional Playoff Preview: Quarterback
|01.03.12 at 4:50 pm ET|
With the Patriots off this weekend and the postseason ready to begin, we’ve got the Patriots Positional Playoff Preview, a weeklong, position-by-position look at the Patriots and how they look heading into the postseason. We’ve already broken down the running backs. Now, it’s quarterback:
Overview: Brady had plenty of bumps and bruises along the way — there were several stretches throughout the season where his usual trademark accuracy betrayed him — but ultimately, the quarterback would go on to have one of the finest seasons of his career, throwing for 5,235 yards. (If it weren’t for the out-of-this-world effort from Drew Brees, he would have stood alone atop the all-time passing yardage record, breaking the 27-year-old mark of 5,084 by Dan Marino that stood from 1984 until Brees surpassed the mark, one week before Brady did so.) He broke the 300-yard mark 11 times, and threw just two interceptions over the second half of the season.
Really, Brady was a statistical marvel this year: His 39 touchdown passes were the second-most of his career (only trailing the 50 he threw in 2007), he extended his streak of 32 consecutive games in which he threw at least one touchdown pass (fourth all-time behind Johnny Unitas, Brees and Brett Favre) and reached the 300-touchdown plateau, becoming the sixth player in history to reach that mark.
There were times where he appeared to struggle, and the New England offense has gotten off to some slow starts over the second half of the season, some of which can be tied indirectly to the work of the quarterback. But in the end, no quarterback in the NFL has a better grasp of his system and what his coach ultimately wants him to accomplish on a weekly basis than Brady. (He and Bill Belichick have the longest active quarterback-coach relationship in the league.)
For Brady, the postseason will bring a new set of challenges: Four of New England’s potential AFC playoff opponents (Pittsburgh, Houston, Baltimore and Cincinnati) are in the Top 10 in the league in almost every major category when it comes to pass defense. While the same thing is true for other powerful teams with several other high-profile quarterbacks (including the Packers and Saints), it’s a safe bet to say that when it comes to this year’s playoff field, no team’s success is more tied to the fortunes of its quarterback than New England. In the postseason, Brady will have to be at his absolute best throughout if the Patriots want to get to the Super Bowl, let alone win the whole thing.
Best Moment: He had several statistical milestones this season, but was at his absolute best in the regular season opener against the Dolphins, when he went 32-for-48 for 517 yards and four touchdowns, including a 99-yard pass play to Wes Welker that tied the league record for longest play from scrimmage in NFL history. He completed passes of 99, 46, 30, 24 and 23 yards to five different receivers, and ended up with completions to eight different receivers.
Worst Moment: While not all of the four interceptions could be blamed on him, the four-pick nightmare against the Bills in September was statistically one of the worst games of his career.
By the numbers, courtesy of Nuggetpalooza: Brady completed just two passes thrown 30+ yards downfield this year, tying his 2001 season for the fewest of his career (not including his backup year of 2000). As a team, the Patriots’ had only one season (1995, one) with fewer such completions in the 21 years they’ve tracked the stat. They also had two such completions in the Matt Cassel year of 2008.
Money quote: ‘I’m happy I was out there to start 16 weeks. I think that’s what I’m probably most proud of, that I was able to be there for my teammates and come out every week and start the game. To be durable and to try to be a consistent player on our team, that’s probably what I’m most proud of.’ — Brady on his season