Was Week 1 the beginning of the end for Tom Brady?

The first postmortem for the career of Tom Brady was written by many sports analysts on the evening of September 29, 2014 after he completed 14-of-23 passes for 159 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions when the Patriots were destroyed 41-14 in a Monday night game at Kansas City. Those who predicted his demise quickly learned that betting against this legend proved to be a lesson in futility, and after the next five games were in the books, all Patriots victories, he had thrown 18 touchdown passes without an interception, and on February 1, he was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

• As we flash forward roughly three years, in another matchup with the Chiefs on national television, the 40-year-old version of Brady completed 16-of-36 passes with no touchdowns or interceptions as the Pats were blown out 42-27. However, this time there seemed to be nothing resembling a career postmortem in the media since everyone learned that we should never, ever doubt Brady. Who can argue? It seems that anytime he’s told he can’t do something, he finds a way to make the impossible happen. There’s no need to give examples, as we simply can point to something each year that makes the sporting world stop in its tracks to marvel at what Brady continues to achieve.
• During this past offseason, we’ve heard more than ever about his training methods and his strict dietary regimen, and as Brady talked about playing into his mid-40s, we knew better than to even blink when hearing that. In addition and as a fantasy football analyst, I believed that the Patriots had built an offense that was nearly indefensible this offseason, as they had dual threat running backs and tight ends along with versatile wide receivers who could be equally effective running routes on the inside or from the slot. Defenses would have to give up something in their coverage on each play, and Brady, the master of his craft, would easily diagnose the defense and make the correct read. So what’s the problem? I made him my top-rated quarterback this season, ahead of Aaron Rodgers.
• However, the one opponent that seemingly everyone underestimates is ‘Father Time.’ He’s undefeated and unchallenged and legendary quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, Steve Young, Brett Favre, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino went from having a very good season to bottoming out in the last season of their careers in the very next campaign, which for each came between the ages of 36 and 41. I saw something in the season opener that made me believe that ‘Father Time’ has put Brady in a bear hug.
• During that game, he was quite effective throwing the ball over the middle of the field, but he wasn’t even close to throwing a reasonably-catchable ball on a number of attempts that he threw down the sidelines. Had he been throwing poorly on all of his throws, I might have chalked it up to him having a bad game, but the fact he consistently was bad on the most demanding throws that a quarterback makes, causes me to believe that the aging process has taken effect. So what now?
• All right, so if he can’t make the deep sideline throws, then he’ll simply adjust, right? That might not be so easy if defensive coordinators saw the same thing. They could choose to flood the middle of the field with defenders while making Brady beat single coverage down the sidelines. If age took away Brady’s ability to make these throws, the passes can’t be ‘willed’ to the receivers- he simply has the ability to make those throws or he doesn’t.
• Finally, here are a couple things that make me wonder if both he and the coaching staff may have realized that Brady’s beginning his descent—
• First, if you watched the Week 1 game in the second half, it didn’t seem that Brady was as animated as he’s always been when the Pats were getting beat. Maybe it was nothing, but it’s also possible that he began to realize that he was physically struggling to make throws he made with relative ease in the past. If he knew that his physical inability was a primary reason why the offense struggled, it would be pointless to exhort teammates to step up.
• Also, if the Patriots really did get offers for Jimmy Garropolo in the offseason, knowing that his contract was set to expire at the end of the 2017 season, why wouldn’t they have gotten something in return unless they were worried that Brady was starting to show subtle signs of aging in practices, etc.?
• At the end of the day, time will tell if last week’s game was simply a bad game or if it was a signal that ‘Father Time’ made an unexpected visit in New England on September 7, 2017, but he’s at an age that very few have ever continued to thrive, so don’t be surprised if he’s the latest all-time great on ‘Father Time’s’ hit list.