Until Sunday, Tom Brady wasn’t just having a bad year. He was having by far the worst year of his NFL career.
Heading into Sunday’s games, the list of quarterbacks who had a higher passer rating than Brady this season included Chad Henne, Matt Schaub, Mike Glennon and Thad Lewis. Brady’s passer rating was a career-low 74.9. Brady’s completion rate was a career-low 55.7 percent. Brady’s average yards per pass was a career-low 5.9. Brady was throwing touchdowns a career-low rate, with only nine in his 307 attempts through eight games. There was talk that Brady’s hand was hurting, that he was getting old, that he couldn’t adjust to all the turnover in his receiving corps. In short, Brady stunk.
And now Brady is back.
In Sunday’s 55-31 win over the Steelers, Brady completed 23 of 33 passes for 432 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Brady led the Patriots to 33 first downs and 610 yards, and the 55 points were the most ever allowed by the Steelers, in the 81-year history of the franchise. It was as good a game as Brady has ever played, and it should pretty well silence any talk that there was anything wrong with Brady over the first half of the season that won’t be fixed over the second half of the season.
“It feels good,” Brady said after the game. “They don’t always go like that. That was a fun day. It was good execution. I think for the most part, that was our best day of execution. You don’t wake up in the morning and think they’re going to be like that. That was pretty sweet.”
That was pretty great. Brady was the player who impressed me most on Sunday. Here are my other thoughts:
If workplace harassment is common in the NFL, the NFL has a problem. The odd story of Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin, who left the team as a result of apparent harassment from his teammates, has some people to say hazing goes on in every locker room, and it’s just a part of the culture of being a professional football player. To which I say, so what? If Martin didn’t like the way he was being treated, it was incumbent on others to stop treating him that way. And it was incumbent on the Dolphins to see to it that their employee wasn’t mistreated. The Dolphins showed they’re taking this seriously by suspending Richie Incognito for his treatment of Martin. Now it’s incumbent on the NFL to ensure that every player and every team knows that players mistreating their teammates will not be tolerated.
The NFL’s modified sudden-death overtime is great. It used to feel like such an anticlimax when an overtime game would be decided by the team that won the coin toss driving down to the 30-yard line and winning on a 48-yard field goal. The new sudden-death, which requires the team that wins the toss to score a touchdown to win on its first possession, is so much better. On Sunday Washington ran a great game-winning drive in overtime that included five plays after they were already in field goal range. A long, sustained drive is a lot more fun to watch than a short drive and a long field goal.
Yes, the Jets are improving. I was skeptical last week, when Jets owner Woody Johnson said his team was improving rapidly — days after the Jets had lost 49-9 to the Bengals. But I’ll have to eat some crow after the Jets beat the Saints on Sunday. Rex Ryan knows how to build a defense, and Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is doing a nice job of calling plays that take advantage of rookie quarterback Geno Smith’s strengths and mask some of his weaknesses as a passer. The Jets aren’t a great team, but they’re getting better.
Good call. My favorite play call of the day came in Carolina, where the Panthers went for it on fourth-and-1, lined up as if they were going to run power to the left, then had Cam Newton roll to the right and hit a wide-open Greg Olsen for a 14-yard touchdown. A great decision by head coach Ron Rivera to go for it, and a well-designed play by offensive coordinator Mike Shula.
Bad call. With the Bills leading the Chiefs 10-3 in the third quarter and facing third-and-1 at the 1-yard line, the obviously right thing to do was to play it safe, hand it off to Fred Jackson or C.J. Spiller, and kick the field goal if you don’t score. Instead, the Bills let undrafted rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel, making his first NFL start, throw a pass. The result: Tuel throws it right into the hands of Chiefs defensive back Sean Smith, who picks off the pass and runs it back 100 yards. Instead of the Bills leading 17-3 or 13-3, they found themselves tied 10-10. It was a terrible decision by Tuel but an even worse decision by the Bills’ coaches to put the game in their third-string quarterback’s hands in that situation.
Ugly call. What on earth was that end-around the Saints ran on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter against the Jets? New Orleans coach Sean Payton has always been a creative offensive play caller, but sometimes he outsmarts himself. That was a prime example.
Why was Brandon Weeden ever the Browns’ starting quarterback? The Browns have now started three quarterbacks this season: Weeden had the job at the beginning of the year, then relinquished it when he hurt his thumb, then got it back after his replacement Brian Hoyer suffered a season-ending knee injury, then lost it to Jason Campbell. We’ve now seen enough of all three quarterbacks to make it clear: Weeden is by far the worst of the bunch. Hoyer played very well early in the season, and now Campbell has played two straight strong games, including leading the Browns to a victory over the Ravens on Sunday. It’s hard to imagine what the Browns were thinking putting Weeden ahead of both Hoyer and Campbell on the depth chart, when he’s clearly not as good as either of them. The Browns have a good defense, and they play in the weak AFC North. They don’t need a great quarterback to win their division, just a competent quarterback. With Campbell, they have a chance to catch the Bengals in the AFC North. Unfortunately, the Browns may not be able to overcome the four games they lost with Weeden as their quarterback.
Chip Kelly is an offensive genius again. Nick Foles tied the NFL record with seven touchdown passes in Sunday’s win over the Raiders, and Kelly’s Philadelphia offense looked outstanding. It’s hard to understand how an offense that looked so awful in losses to the Cowboys and Giants could look so good in Oakland, but when Kelly’s offense is rolling, it’s a nightmare for opposing defenses.
Gronk is great, when he’s healthy. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is such a unique offensive weapon — you just don’t find guys that big and strong who also have soft hands and run great routes. Gronkowski had nine catches for 143 yards against the Steelers on Sunday and was a big part of Brady’s big day — and a constant matchup nightmare for Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, Gronkowski’s arm and back injuries have caused him to miss 11 of the Patriots’ last 14 games. As long as the Patriots have a healthy Gronk, they can expect to have Brady at his best.