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Is Tom Brady's time as the Golden Boy over?
Judging from the grumbling you're hearing throughout New England, it might be. I think everybody thought it was going to be like old times with Brady under center for the Pats - 50 touchdown passes, 4,500 yards passing and 13 wins. We all thought, if Matt Cassel can win 11 games, what can a healthy Brady do?
Well, the Pats are 3-2 despite playing a tough early schedule -- Bills, Jets, Ravens, Atlanta and Denver. Frankly, 3-2 is a pretty good record through five games.
Through five games, Brady has thrown for 1,344 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions with a quarterback rating of 85.9 -- the same rating he had in 2003, when the Patriots won the Super Bowl and he was the toast of the town.
Why, then, all the carping about Brady?
THE PERFECT PLAYERS
For seven years, Brady was the quarterback you'd pick to start a team -- strong-armed, worked harder than anyone else on the team, spent countless hours in the weight room, good leader, made all the right calls, linked with supermodels and actresses.
When you win that many championships that early in your career, fans and writers expect that it will happen all the time. When everything you touch turns to gold, people don't know how to react when you touch something and it only turns to silver.
Take Derek Jeter as an example.
Jeter comes up as a rookie in 1996 and is a key part of a world championship team. Then, after a disappointing 1997 (for the team, not for Jeter) the team runs off three more championships. Five years into your career, you heard about Jeter as the best winner in the league, the most composed player in the league, the most clutch player in the league. He was linked with Mariah Carey, Tara Reid and lately Minka Kelly, among others. He was bigger than the game.
When the Yankees stopped winning championships, the sniping began.
He didn't do enough to help Alex Rodriguez fit in with his teammates. His defense isn't as good as it used to be. He didn't get big hits in playoff series the Yankees lost. He's getting old. His on-base percentage isn't high enough. He doesn't hit for enough power. Would the Yankees be better off without him?
Jeter and Brady are very much the same guy -- the best player on big-market teams who experienced success early and often. They're (allegedly) good looking. They're guys who use cliches with reporters. They're guys who do the right things with their teammates. They have an inner drive most of us don't that allows them to push their bodies past normal tolerances of pain and endurance and to focus under pressure like Kevin Costner in For Love Of The Game.
Why do people turn on them, then?
Everyone knew that Alex Rodriguez or LeBron James would be great players. It was almost pre-ordained. They have the proto-type bodies, perfect smiles, big numbers and the ability to make their chosen sport look ridiculously easy.
Those guys get more leeway than their peers. When their performance slips a little, it usually isn't noticed. When their performance slips, they're still head and shoulders above the rest of the league.
It isn't that way for a Jeter or a Brady.
They came out of nowhere. Brady couldn't win the starting job at the University of Michigan (not because he wasn't good, but because Lloyd Carr was an idiot). He was the third string quarterback for the Patriots behind Drew Bledsoe and John Friez. He was replacing a multiple-time Pro Bowl quarterback in 2001 for a team that had no expectations.
Jeter was a rookie shortstop who had made 70 errors in his first minor league season. He was a skinny kid who nobody thought could hit. He didn't look like an athlete.
Words get attached to players like Brady and Jeter -- good intangibles, heady, has guts, makes his teammates better, good leader, hard worker. You're the perfect teammate and the guy everybody wants on your team -- until your team stops winning.
Every year, Jeter wins the award as most overrated player in baseball even though he's an undisputed first-ballot Hall of Fame player. Statisticians say he can't play defense. People say you can't quantify late-inning success - which means Jeter isn't clutch, just lucky. Writers try to make Jeter the equal of lesser players like Edgar Renteria or Jason Bartlett.
It's happening now to Brady.
When he missed Randy Moss in the end zone against Denver and then threw behind and low to Wes Welker with a chance to come from behind and win that game, it just brought the roars to a crescendo. These were actual e-mails sent to Mike Reiss for a mailbag on ESPN.com this week.
Q: I don't think it's time to hit the panic button, but Tom Brady was responsible for the loss in Denver. If he hits Moss in the end zone during the first half or hits Welker in stride during that final fourth-quarter series, the Pats win. He should have been in the "down" column. This one was on the QB. With that said he's won plenty of big games, so I'm giving him plenty of room to grow post-injury and am confident he plays at an elite level by mid-November. -- Aroon (Orlando)
Q: Tom Brady's performance Sunday was shockingly bad. I had hoped he would come into the press conference and take the loss squarely on his shoulders, where it clearly belonged. Instead he passed it off as 11 eleven guys not on the same page. What I saw was Brady making one bad throw after another, missing open guys. The end-zone throw to Moss in the first quarter is a fairly routine throw for an NFL quarterback. The pass protection was pretty good most of the game. My question: is Brady in denial about how bad he's been this year? -- Tom (Boston)
Three seasons ago, these comments never happen.
GOLDEN NO LONGER?
Back to my original question -- is Tom Brady's time as the Golden Boy over?
The short answer is yes.
Once you lose that Midas touch, it's gone for good. It's not fair, but it's the way it is. What, then, does that make Brady?
He's a guy you can absolutely win a championship with. It's just not as pretty as it once was. You're probably not going to see another 2007, but you won't see Trent Edwards/JaMarcus Russell either.
There will probably be some playoff flameouts. Much like the playoff game with Denver a few years ago, he'll make a mistake or not come through like fans are accustomed to. The outcome isn't assured anymore. You don't go into games knowing your team is going to win. You don't have that confident feeling in the pit of your stomach that good things are going to happen. Instead of expecting to win, you hope to win. You worry about your guy, hope he comes through with the big hit.
Here's the funny thing.
It was fun being a Patriots fan when Brady could do no wrong. It was great when people made the overrated speech. It was great when you just knew that somehow, Brady would come through in the end. I won't say I didn't enjoy it.
But, diminished expectations can be good for players and fans, too. I'm having more fun with this year's baseball playoffs than I have since 1996. There is no pressure. Eventually, you start hitting career milestones that make everybody realize how good you have been, and how good you still are -- kind of like what Jeter has had this season.
Becoming the Yankees all-time hit leader put Jeter's career into perspective -- he's a consistent, heady player who has been the same year after year. You haven't even hard complaints about his defense. When Jeter hit the home run to tie Game 1 against the Twins, it was like an old friend had come to visit.
Mark my words, Brady will have the same sort of late-career resurgence.
For now, Tom, welcome to the start of the twilight of your career.
On to the picks.
Houston at Cincinnati: Both of these teams confuse me more than high school algebra. After five weeks, I have no clue what to think of them or expect from them. Houston should be turning the corner by now and be challenging for the playoffs, and I just don't see the consistency I should see from them. Cincinnati is surprising so far, but I don't know if I trust their defense. For letting me down less than Houston, though, I'm picking Cincinnati.
Detroit at Green Bay: Detroit is showing signs of life for the first time in two seasons, and Green Bay seems ripe for an upset. Even if Matthew Stafford doesn't play, I think I'm taking the Lions. They're officially better than the Bills.
St. Louis at Jacksonville: Not that anyone in Jacksonville will see it, since the game will probably be blacked out, but the News Cat Presents, a News Cat production, the NEWS CAT'S CAT POOP SALAD Game of the Week. Sorry, the News Cat was upset he didn't' get enough press in last week's column. Is it bad I can get more mileage out of our cat than I can from talking about this game? What a hunk of poop. I'm picking Jacksonville.
Baltimore at Minnesota: Game of the Week. Can Brett Favre hold it together against a good defense? Can Ray Lewis and Ed Reed rebound from two disappointing weeks? Can Adrian Peterson run against a really good run defense? Can Minnesota's defense create enough plays to bail out the offense if Brett Favre struggles? Can Ray Lewis refrain from getting a game-changing unnecessary roughness penalty? Will Ray Lewis bring a gun to the field and shoot the next official who throws a flag against him? I like Baltimore to hand the Vikings their first loss of the season.
NY Giants at New Orleans: Game of the Week Part 2. This game should help figure out whether or not New Orleans' defense is for real and also tell us if a young and inexperienced, though talented, New York Giants' wide receiving corps can keep the Giants in a shootout. I'm taking New Orleans. The Saints have lost games like this in the past, and this might be Drew Brees' best chance to get over the hump. I said hump. That's cool.
Cleveland at Pittsburgh: Cleveland wins a game and has to face a Pittsburgh team coming off a loss. Um, yeah, good luck with that.
Carolina at Tampa Bay: What do you get when you have Mexican food for lunch, followed by Burger King for lunch the next day? You get Carolina and Tampa Bay, only on Fox. I'm taking Carolina because I can't foresee any possible way the stars align in such a way that Tampa Bay wins this game. Ugh. How did the Bucs not beat Buffalo?
Kansas City at Washington: Matt Cassel and the Chiefs haven't won all season, and lo and behold, here are the Redskins on this week's schedule. Yep, I'm taking the bait. If Washington loses this game, Jim Zorn might want to make an appointment with the unemployment office.
Philadelphia at Oakland: Philadelphia is the obvious pick in this game. I'd pay to see the Eagles score four quick touchdowns and then, just to avoid injuries to Brian Westbrook and Donovan McNabb - who are on my fantasy team - kneel three times and punt every offensive possession in the entire second half, just so we can see more horrible JaMarcus Russell passes. I'd kill to see JaMarcus, Byron Leftwich and Derek Anderson in their own Quarterback "Skills" Challenge. How would this not get better ratings than Cougartown?
Arizona at Seattle: With Matt Hasselback healthy, Seattle's starting to look a little frisky. The smart money says Arizona wins this one, but Hasselback's Rogaine contract says Seattle further muddles the NFC West picture by knocking off the Cardinals.
Tennessee at New England: If ever there was a game for Tom Brady and his receivers to get back on the same page, it's against Tennessee, whose secondary is more beat up than a 1979 Datsun right now. I don't see any way, other than the Pats' linebackers forgetting how to tackle Chris Johnson and Lendale White for an entire game, that Tennessee wins this game. I can see Brady throwing for three touchdowns, probably two to Randy Moss, in a rout.
NY Jets at Buffalo: If Dick Jauron showed up on the sidelines Sunday wearing a rubber Bernie Madoff, would he get more cheers from Bills fans? You know that guy's getting booed Sunday when he comes out of the tunnel, and kicked in the jewels if he comes near the Whitless Wonder. The Bills are almost in Cleveland/Oakland territory, where you never take them unless they're playing one of the other unpickable teams. Well, the Jets are definitely pickable, and mad after last week. Trent Edwards might not get out of this game in one piece.
Chicago at Atlanta: A bit of a gut-check game for both teams. We know the Falcons and the Bears will both beat the teams they should beat, but what do they do against a better or equal team? Since they're at home, I'm taking Atlanta, but it should be close.
Denver at San Diego: I like the way Denver's playing right now. Doing the little things works in football just as well as it does in baseball. San Diego is more talented, but also more prone to make mistakes and have certain guys off doing their own thing rather than fitting into a team. I like Denver to win by a field goal.
Last Week's Record: 6-8.