Tom Brady's Patriots may be a full six seasons removed from their last Super Bowl victory, but don't blame him. Since 2007, Brady has gone from great quarterback on a fantastic team to the engine which powers otherwise mediocre squads to division titles. Over the past four-and-a-half years -- 56 games due to Brady's 2008 injury, only the second year of his career in which the Patriots missed the postseason -- the former sixth-round pick has a shocking 132-to-33 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Brady has backed that up with a stellar 6.8 adjusted yards per attempt as well, a mark which would rank only behind Aaron Rodgers this season.
This is a particularly impressive performance given Tom Brady's age. In August, Brady turned 34, an age which usually signals the end of a career for many players, much less the beginning of a decline phase. Brady's age 34 season, though, has been far from a decline year. He ranks first in WPA, third in EPA per play, and fourth in adjusted yards per attempt so far through 2011.
Of course, the Giants are familiar with facing an on-point Tom Brady, and they were up to the challenge once again in Sunday's 24-20 victory at Foxboro. Despite a final-drive fueled 0.47 WPA, Brady wasn't the infallible field general we've grown accustomed to. Brady took two sacks, threw two interceptions, and finished with a mediocre 4.7 adjusted yards per attempt at the end of the day, clearly leaving points on the board and allowing Eli Manning the chance to win the game in the fourth quarter.
Obviously, the fault lies on more than just Brady. The run game failed to get going, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, and Stevan Ridley combining for a mere 0.6 EPA and a success rate around 40%. The defense allowed players like Victor Cruz (+3.0 EPA, 7.6 YPT) and Jake Ballard (+3.8 EPA, 9.6 YPT) to make a big impact, combining for +0.73 WPA. But such is the construction of this instance of Bill Belichick's Patriots: either Tom Brady wins it, or they lose it.
Despite spending much of the day slogging through his worst game of the season, Brady almost did win it -- credit the Patriots defense for keeping it close. But the second and third quarters in particular were very unlike Brady, as he spent much of the middle part of the game hurting the team instead of helping. Observe:
Between his 17th and 32nd pass attempted, Brady's passes decreased the Patriots' expected points by a whopping 10. In what eventually amounted to a four point game -- more importantly, a one-possession game -- one could argue this cost the Patriots the game. Every opportunity to cut away at a 10-0 halftime lead was squandered until into the fourth quarter, where Brady's efforts eventually became too little, too late thanks to the heroics of Eli Manning and Jake Ballard.
With the Jets defeating the Bills on Sunday, the top three teams in the AFC East are separated by all of nothing. Between these three teams and the three teams heading the AFC North all competing for the two AFC wild card slots, chances are a third place finish in the East won't cut it. In every year he's been healthy, Tom Brady has led the Patriots to the playoffs. Even after this loss, there's no reason to start doubting him, but Week Nine made it painfully clear: without Brady at his best, the Patriots will not go far.