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Bye-week breakdown: Quarterback

11.09.13 at 7:30 am ET
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With the Patriots off this weekend, we’€™ve got our Bye-Week Breakdown, a position-by-position look at the team to this point in the season. We kicked things off with a look at the special teamers, wide receivers, running backs and tight ends. Now, it’s the quarterback.

Overview: In many ways, it has been the most difficult season of Tom Brady‘s career. Now 36 and stripped of many of the essential elements that made him an MVP, he’s helped create the best of an occasionally bad situation on the way to a 7-2 start and the No. 2 playoff seed in the AFC. He was able to pull out wins worth fourth-quarter drives against the Bills and Saints, and engineered a series at the end of regulation against the Jets that forced overtime.

That’s not to say he’s always been the Brady of old — he’s missed several throws over the first nine games. He’s completed less than 60 percent of his passes (he’s never finished at less than 60 percent for the season), his streak of games with a touchdown pass was snapped at 52 in a loss to the Bengals, and he’s has had three games in which he’s thrown for less than 190 yards. In addition, the occasional sideline fits of Marinoesque rage directed toward his younger receivers came off as small and immature. (Considering what was surrounded with, there were moments where you couldn’t blame him. Imprecise routes and dropped passes are a relatively new problem to adjust to, especially for a veteran quarterback who has won multiple Super Bowls.)

However, if last weekend is any indication, things have started to turn for Brady and the offense. The sideline outbursts have subsided, the drops have decreased and with the return of Rob Gronkowski, the offense appears to have (at least for now) righted itself. Surrounded by 95 percent of his elite offensive options (everyone except Shane Vereen, really), the quarterback had a thunderous 432-yard passing performance last Sunday against the Steelers.

As we have written on multiple occasions, there’s a growing sense that this team mirrors the 2006 group in that there’s a lot of new talent, but it’s taken some time for the passing game to come together. That team found its rhythm roughly around the halfway point, and would go on to finish 12-4 and make it all the way to the AFC title game. If Brady can somehow will the offense to a similar finish — or even better — it could go down as the most impressive season of his career for several reasons, including the fact that he would be just the fifth quarterback of all time to win a Super Bowls after his 35th birthday: Johnny Unitas was 37 when he led the Colts to a win in Super Bowl V; Roger Staubach was 35 when the Cowboys won Super Bowl XII; a 36-year-old Jim Plunkett led the Raiders to victory in Super Bowl XVIII; and John Elway was 37 and 38 when he led the Broncos to Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII. Pretty good company.

Depth chart: Brady (194-for-340, 57 percent, 2,256 yards, 13 TDs, 6 INTs), Ryan Mallett.

Best moment: In terms of best singular moment, you can’t overlook the fourth-quarter comeback against the Saints, where he was pretty bad for the better part of the afternoon, but managed to wake up the echoes late in the day and lead a game-winning drive almost 12 years after doing it for the first time as a pro in 2001. But the start-to-finish performance against the Steelers — 23-for-33, 432 yards, 4 TDs — was vintage Brady. If you’re looking for a complete game, might be as close as you’re going to get this season.

Worst moment: The loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati was one of the worst of recent memory: he finished 18-for-38 for a season-low 47 percent completion rate, didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 53 straight games, was sacked four times and with the game on the line in the fourth quarter and a chance to tie, misfired on the final drive of the afternoon.

By the numbers: 38. The number of times Brady has led his team to victory following a fourth-quarter deficit or tie, including two times in 2013 when he led the team to a win at Buffalo and vs. New Orleans.

Money quote: ‘€œIn my opinion, [it'€™s] by far the most impressive performance in any season that Tom has had. I know the numbers are not Tom Brady-like numbers. But based on the situation, the cast around him, the fact he is more of a player-coach, which is always tough; you’€™re teaching in the huddle, at the line, getting guys lined up. It is a testament to how good he really is.’€ — Brett Favre, speaking about Brady on Oct. 20 on NFL Network.

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