I can already hear it now.
Tom Brady wasn't good against the Bears.
Tom Brady wasn't any better in Monday night's 25-6 win over the Bills.
Maybe time is starting to catch with Brady.
Just stop. Please.
For what he's had to put up with this season, Tom Brady should be given a medal.
With most elder statesmen at quarterback, the team tries to surround that player with a little bit more talent to ease the burden because -- let's face it -- those players are in the overtime of their career, and nobody is sure how long it will last. Maybe a bell-cow running back to distribute the workload. Maybe a stable group of targets that know where they're supposed to be going.
The past two weeks, the Patriots have had neither.
And, not coincidentally, the Patriots have largely (for them) been a mess offensively the past two weeks and it's only by the grace of Brady, James White and Julian Edelman — the only true fully-functioning specialists on offense — they've been able to muddle through wins over the Bears and Bills. For what it's worth, these are teams that normally by the midway point of the season would be blown off the field by the Patriots.
(And don't misconstrue this. When I say mess, I'm comparing it to past Patriots offenses and their normal highly precise offensive machine. Not the league average — the Patriots are never average.)
And the reason they're here is that their offensive personnel has been in constant flux, not just for injury-related issues. Most of it is their own doing — to Brady's detriment.
Don't mistake this as some sort of proclamation that Sony Michel makes all the difference in the world for this offense, either. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn't. I don't think he does, but there are way too many variables from week to week as far as opponent, health of that opponent in that game, matchups and game situations to draw any definitive takes either way (and the analytics that take out those variables over at FootballOutsiders.com tell you that coming into this game, all the Patriots' other running backs have been better than Michel. Don't shoot the messenger).
No, this is partially about having a functional running back — not Cordarrelle Patterson getting as many carries (10) as James White (eight) and Kenjon Barner (two) combined — available to execute a real offense. If Barner is not capable of doing that for whatever reason, find someone who can.
Because what the Patriots made Brady go through Monday night was cruel and unusual punishment.
The percentage of plays and yards that fell on Brady's shoulders hit a season-high against the Bills. His 47 pass attempts represented 65.3 percent of the plays the Patriots ran — one of only two games this season they were over 60 percent (Colts, 65.7 percent). In terms of yards, Brady's 311 represent 80.4 percent of the offense — by far the most of the season.
In a game everyone knew the Patriots were going to win — opposing that punchless Bills offense, New England only needed Stephen Gostkowski's three field goals in the first 25 minutes of the game to win — Brady should not have been asked to carry that kind of load. Or at least he shouldn't have until it was needed.
The decision could have been made because of matchups — the Bills do have talent up front, even though their run defense was in the middle of the pack (16th) in efficiency. But if the decision to not run the ball was made because of personnel, that's the Patriots' own fault.
They started the season with a loaded backfield of Jeremy Hill/Rex Burkhead as the every-down backs, White in his usual third-down role, and Michel as the joker whenever he was ready. Obviously, the Patriots thought running back was a big deal heading into the season, perhaps because of Brady's age. But once the season began?
Meh ... we can muddle through.
Hill was hurt in the first game of the season ... and no one was brought in to replace him.
Burkhead was hurt in the third game of the season ... and he wasn't replaced.
Come again? The Patriots, who had more backs than they knew what to do with entering the season, now can't be bothered about running back depth. Yes, Burkhead could return in Week 12, but the Patriots were short at the position before Michel and his knee issues cropped up again.
And let the record show that in the two games where the Patriots ran the ball more than they passed — Miami and Kansas City — they had their best offensive games of the season. Maybe they were onto something with the running game. They should get back to that.
But the offensive issues are actually more about the intersection of the running and passing games.
The Patriots, especially once Edelman returned from suspension, had started their usual offensive uptick. After bottoming out against the Lions, New England put together three efficient offensive performances against the Dolphins, Colts and Chiefs. Against Kansas City (admittedly a very poor defense), the Patriots achieved Xanadu with nearly a perfect 50-50 run/pass balance and, wouldn't you know it, Brady had by far his best yards per attempt of the season (9.71).
In the past two games, however, Brady's yards per attempt have slipped to 7.69 (Bears) and 7.20 (Bills) — both are his lowest marks since the Detroit debacle. At the same time, his burden of the offense has increased from 68 percent of the yards (Chiefs) to 71.7 (Bears) and a season-high 80.4 against the Bills.
In seasons past, Brady bearing the brunt of the workload has not been an issue. But it is this season, and it has nothing to do with his age.
With Rob Gronkowski obviously not at full strength and only being used for spot passing duty, the trickle down is immense. That basically means Brady is down to White and Edelman as receivers he has ultimate trust in. Outside of that, it's a mixed bag. Chris Hogan certainly knows where to go, but for some reason, Brady has tried not to become reliant on him.
The Josh Gordon experiment has worked in fits and starts. The Patriots will certainly take what Gordon has done to this point, but he has as many bad as good plays in terms of route running. And when he's on the field at the same time as Patterson — which happened a lot more against the Bears than it did against the Bills (maybe the Patriots learned their lesson) — Brady obviously has no idea whether either of them are going to end up running the right route (Patterson often can't even line up correctly).
The third-down play late in the third quarter against the Bills — where Brady threw behind Edelman with Gordon in the same space — was a perfect example of Gordon's growing pains and the effect it has on the efficiency of the offense. The Bills changed from their usual two-deep zone look to a single-high safety pressure with man coverage right before the snap. No issue for receivers versed in this offense. Newcomers? More of a struggle.
Brady tells Gordon pre-snap to watch the safety, and after the snap, Brady initially looks at Gordon, who runs a slant. I don't know if Gordon was supposed to convert his pattern into a go route to take the corner out of the play/take advantage of the one-on-one matchup, or perhaps Brady doesn't throw the slant because the linebacker is looming.
In any event, if Gordon clears out his coverage — either with the go, or taking his slant up the seam — then Edelman has about 30 yards of open space. Instead, Edelman spies Gordon coming to the same area and stops his route. He doesn't connect with Brady, who is hit on the play.
There are multiple examples of plays like this, since Gordon saw his playing time increase against the Chiefs. Obviously, the coaches think this the best way to get him up to speed and that's fine. Perhaps it pays off by the end of the season. But forcing Gordon and Patterson on Brady instead of featuring players who know what they're doing, like Hogan and Phillip Dorsett (who has been MIA lately), is going to cause the passing offense to look very ugly at times.
So you combine the lack of a running game, and the growing pains of Gordon and Patterson (with Gronk's health issues), and Brady has to work that much harder to make this offense work. For a person who is driven by precision and toward perfection in his offense, that has to be very tough for Brady to deal with.
The burden, right now, is immense on Brady. And people need to realize that.