New storylines emerge every week. Some are reasonable, most are not. "The Week in Overreactions" focuses on the latter. Those items that offer a cursory "How do you do?" as they blow past reality straight for THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER! We're here to keep everything in perspective. Questions, comments, casserole ideas? Hit us up on Twitter at @ryanwilson_07.
'Nothing to see here, Tom Brady is fine'
"Don't worry. He's Tom Brady."
That's the knee-jerk response from most people whenever Brady, a future first-ballot Hall of Famer doesn't look very Brady-like. In much the same way Tony Romo's critic's reflexively shout "choker!" any time he falls shorts of franchise quarterback expectations, Brady almost always gets a pass whenever he looks human.
This is what a career front-loaded with Lombardi Trophies affords you; a lot of leeway when things aren't going well. And, frankly, that has seldom happened in Foxborough -- until now. The truth is, Brady has been a below-average NFL quarterback through seven games this season.
This isn't Blaine Gabbert awfulness we're talking about, but it's unfamiliar territory for Brady nonetheless.
Any conversation about the 2013 Patriots offense starts with this: Brady began this season without his top five receivers from a year ago. That would affect any quarterback. It's similar to what happened in 2006, when names like Reche Caldwell, Troy Brown, Doug Gabriel were New England's leading wide receivers.
That team went 12-4 and lost to the Colts in the AFC Championship game. But Brady ranked fifth in total value that year. Put another way: With nowhere near the weapons he would have in '07 (hello, Randy Moss and Wes Welker!), Brady was his usual efficient self. For completeness, here are Brady's year-by-year QB rankings:
Taken in the context of the last five seasons, Brady's middle-of-the-pack ranking through seven weeks is troubling. Losing Welker, Brandon Lloyd Rob Gronkowski (for the first six games of '13), Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead obviously has something to do with that, but it's not like the '06 group of pass-catchers were anything other than journeymen at that point in their careers.
For an idea of just how ridiculous things have gotten, the Pats' top five receivers coming into last Sunday's game against the Jets were Julian Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola and Brandon Bolden. By Sunday night, Rob Gronkowski, who made his debut in Week 7, replaced Bolden on the list after an eight-catch, 114-yard performance.
Getting Gronk back certainly helps, but it doesn't magically fix Brady, whose issues are bigger than one player. Early in the third quarter against the Jets with the Patriots leading 21-10, Brady forced a pass to Gronkowski. It was intercepted by cornerback Antonio Allen, who returned it 23 yards for a touchdown.
In the screenshot below, Gronk runs a crossing route. The Jets are in two-deep, man-under, which means that Allen will be in single coverage on Gronkowksi, with deep help over the top. As former NFL safety Matt Bown pointed out in his weekly Tale of the Tape column for Bleacher Report, the coverage allows Allen to "sit hard to the inside hip [of the receiver] and use the safety protection over the top to challenge routes."
And that's exactly what happened.
"Watching film, they ran out-routes in a certain look," Allen said after the game, via NewsDay.com. "So I just jumped the route and came up with the pick. It gave us a spark for the game. It's only [the Jets'] second [interception] this year. We knew we had to force a turnover to win the game. We got the spark, and everybody's on their high horse."
Brady was glad to have Gronk back in the lineup, so much so that he targeted the tight end 17 times.
"They went to him 17 times?" Allen said. "That's a great amount. You know he's going to get the ball. When I heard he was activated, I said, 'Get your feet ready.'"
Still, Brady's 2013 completion percentage of 55.4 is a full eight points below his career average. On three occasions this season -- including the loss to the Jets -- he completed fewer than 50 percent of his throws. Some of that falls on his young, inexperienced receivers. But a lot of it is on him.
“That's a ball I shouldn't throw,” Brady said of the pick-six to Allen. “You can't do that, throw interceptions for touchdowns. That's one way to get you beat.”
It was the first time since Sept. 25, 2011 that Brady had thrown a pick-six.
Against the Jets, Brady finished 22 of 46 for 228 yards (Gronk was targeted on 37 percent of Brady's dropbacks), with a touchdown and the aforementioned interception. He was also sacked four times and the offense converted just one of 12 third-downs attempts.
And here's how ProFootballFocus.com's Steve Palazzolo described Brady's peformance:
"[He] continued his uneven play as he finished with a career-low effort. He looked comfortable early, relying on Gronkowski to move the chains and work the seam, but Brady may have forced the ball his way too much. ...
"The errors became more egregious in the second half [with Allen's interception]. ... [Brady] made a similar error during a fourth-quarter comeback attempt as his pass to wide receiver Austin Collie was undercut by Calvin Pace and nearly intercepted on a pass that also screamed pick-six.
"In addition to the previous throws, Brady simply left too many plays on the field, including potential game-winners."
Brady sounded a similar tone after the game.
“We just haven't been good on third down all year," the quarterback said. "Obviously, that's a big problem. We certainly need to be better on third downs and in the red area. ... You're not going to win many football games going 1 of 12. ... No excuses. We just didn't play well. I [have] to do a better job out there. That's what I need to do.”
And that's the thing -- no excuses. Because we can wave our arms about Brady's receivers, but to quote every coach or player who ever uttered a word to the media, "it is what it is."
This is the team coach Bill Belichick assembled, and these are the guys the Pats are going to win -- or lose -- with. Also: There wasn't much complaining in Week 6, when Brady's season-long slump was all but forgotten after he led the Brady-iest last-minute drive ever against the Saints. It ended with an improbable game-winning touchdown grab by Thompkins, the rookie who has struggled at various points during the first half of the season.
And we illustrated in the play above, Brady locked on to his favorite target and missed badly on what should have been a relatively easy throw. He can't even blame it on his lineman's feet getting in the way.
More bad news: ProFootballFocus.com ranks Brady 26th among all QBs this season. Going back to 2009 (the earliest year PFF has data), Brady has averaged 3.8 below-average performances per season (this is based on PFF's play-by-play grading system). This season: He has three through seven games.
Back in '06, Brady was also the beneficiary of a stout defense that ranked seventh in the NFL, according to FootballOutsiders.com. In 2013, this group is 12th -- but they're now without anchors Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo. Which puts even more pressure on New England's offense.
For weeks, we've contended that the Patriots remain the favorites in the AFC East because of three things: Belichick, Brady and little competition from the Jets, Dolphins and Bills. We still feel that way, but if the Pats hope to advance beyond the first round of the postseason, Brady will need to play a hell of a lot better.
Trenchant analysis, we know, but what are we going to tell Tom Brady about the nuances of the quarterback position? He hasn't been good for any number of reasons, but he also knows his game better than anyone. It'll be up to him to sort this out, pray Gronk can stay healthy, and hope Thompkins, Dobson et al can keep up.
Short of that, Brady will need to get his hands on a time machine and set it for pretty much any year but this one (and 2008, duh).