Tom Brady has a solid track record. The five-time Super Bowl champion is now forty years old, and has no plans of retiring anytime soon. Commentators and writers love to remind NFL fans of how well Tom Brady has played in recent years, showing an outright disrespect of Father Time. Unfortunately for Brady, time is undefeated, and no vegan diet, or all-pro offensive line, or Hall of Fame coach, can protect him forever.
To understand Brady’s continued success, one must first understand the circumstances that have constantly surrounded Brady. The New England Patriots have been a historically great team since 2000. Their defense has been pioneered by legendary defenders like Tedy Bruschi, to Ty Law, to Rodney Harrison. Even last season, the Patriots defense flew under the radar, despite having the best scoring defense in the league. Think of Super Bowl LI, everyone remembers the 28-3 deficit, but do they remember how incredible the defense was in the fourth quarter? They allowed no points to one of the best offenses in the league, and forced a game-changing turnover on a strip-sack by Dont’a Hightower. Brady has always had a safety net of a league-leading defense, but a great defense can’t save him forever.
The quarterback position is highly cerebral, the ability to read a defense is important, but is rarely an issue for veteran quarterbacks. The difficulties arise in the physical demands of the quarterback position, at a certain point, even the best quarterbacks hit a wall, and their production drops off of a cliff. They become less mobile in the pocket, they become less accurate, their arm strength can’t make the throws downfield, so they have to rely on dump offs, and underneath routes. They become predictable, and their team suffers the effect. The best example of a quarterback struggling with age is still fresh in the memory of football fans. In 2013, Peyton Manning had the best season by any quarterback in NFL history. He shattered record for passing touchdowns in a season with 55, posted a record 5,477 passing yards, and completed 68.2% of his passes en route to his fifth MVP award. These feats were completed at the ripe age of 37. His next season was less than perfect, but still impressive. Manning threw 39 touchdowns against just fifteen interceptions. However, just two years after his record breaking 2013 season, Peyton Manning hit his wall. Father Time caught Peyton Manning, and hit him hard. In 2015, the Denver Broncos quarterback and all-time great threw just nine touchdowns and seventeen interceptions in nine starts. It was sad. The entire league watched as Manning struggled to get on to the field because of a foot injury, and then watched the artist-formerly-known-as Peyton Manning throw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. He was so bad that the Broncos willingly started Brock Osweiler, who isn’t even good enough for the Cleveland Browns or Houston Texans. The team still managed to win the Super Bowl, as they were carried by the best defense in the league, and Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset. In his last NFL season, Peyton Manning was bad. Not just bad by Peyton Manning standards, but outright and truly bad. This decline was fast, and ruthless. Two years before, Manning had the best NFL season ever. Father Time didn’t care, as Manning was forced into retirement. Tom Brady should learn from history. He isn’t going to play when he’s forty-five. He says he feels great now, and this may be true, but it could change in the blink of an eye.
As the NFL season kicked off on Thursday night, fans couldn’t help but wonder if Tom Brady had finally started to decline. On the first play of the 2017 season, Brady made an errant throw to a wide open receiver on the sideline. This was surprising, but could be written off as opening day jitters. But it never got much better. Brady overthrew wide-open receivers, forced throws to receivers in coverage, with another man uncovered on the other side of the field; it wasn’t great. Tom Brady, considered by many to be the greatest football player of all-time, was outclassed by Alex Smith: game manager. Brady posted a rating of 70.0, with no touchdowns, and a 44.4% completion percentage. That isn’t just bad for Brady; that’s bad for anyone.
Who knows, maybe Brady bounces back and silences all the critics. It wouldn’t be the first time in his career, but it’s different now. Tom Brady is forty years old. That isn’t to say that he can’t still play at a high level, just that it’ll be much more difficult.
Header Photo Credit- Paul Sancya/ AP Photo