Why Tom Brady should be poised for Super Sunday
PHOENIX — NFL survival for a 37-year-old quarterback is usually about physical maintenance.
Not for Tom Terrific.
All of 2014 was about building a better Brady — and the fruits of this reconstruction will be on display Sunday against Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX.
The 2007 and 2011 Patriots teams that played for championships peaked too early. The same goes for Tom Brady. His passer rating in a Super Bowl XLII loss to the New York Giants was a meager 53.8 with Brady being sacked five times. He was statistically better in Super Bowl XLVI but the Patriots only scored 17 points and a last-minute comeback attempt fell short in a rematch against the Giants.
Brady was more hurt during those contests than he or the team let on because of respective foot and shoulder injuries. But after AFC championship games losses the past two seasons to Baltimore and Denver, Brady faced a career crossroads.
He could continue the same offseason workout routine that has helped him become one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play. Or he could go outside his comfort zone and place greater emphasis on footwork to give defenses something new to worry about.
Brady chose the latter, and it has made a significant difference.
While his speed will never be compared to that of Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, Brady is no longer a sitting duck in the pocket. He is better at scrambling than at any prior point in his 15-year career. While Brady’s best runs remain his almost unstoppable quarterback sneaks, he provided an emotional lift for his team with scampers in Week 15 against Miami and in the AFC title victory over Indianapolis.
"He worked extremely hard in the offseason training camp and OTAs in his ability to move," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels told me Tuesday at Super Bowl XLIX media day. "It has never been a strength of his, but this is a guy that has made some significant plays with his legs this year. He has done more of that this year than I ever remember. That is strictly because we worked hard at it and continues to work hard at it every day."
There are other factors that have contributed to Brady looking better than ever while preparing for an NFL-record sixth career Super Bowl start:
Good health: Brady has avoided notable injury this season, which speaks well of his offensive line. Brady was sacked 21 times in 2014, the lowest total surrendered by the Patriots since the 2009 campaign.
Brady allowed Wednesday that he is fighting a cold but promised he would "be good" for the Super Bowl.
A healthy Rob Gronkowski: Along with Brady aggravating a shoulder injury in the second half of Super Bowl XLVI, a major reason for New England’s offensive ineffectiveness against the Giants stemmed from Gronkowski being greatly limited by a sprained ankle. Brady’s favorite target then missed 14 games over the past two seasons and wasn’t in uniform during New England’s subsequent AFC title game losses.
Gronkowski has now moved past those forearm and knee ailments to reemerge as the NFL’s top tight end. He caught 82 passes for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns during the regular season.
"Gronk is a phenomenal athlete," Brady said Wednesday. "He’s got great presence, a great understanding of the game and how to get open on different types of cover guys whether they’re big or small. What I think he’s done a great job at over the last few years is really understanding his individual technique of what he needs to do to try and be a better player. I thought in a lot of ways he’s taken his game to the next level."
A cutting-edge offense: Brady posted yet another stellar stat-line — 4,109 yards, 33 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 64.1 completion percentage — during the regular season despite not having an all-star group of wide receivers. But even more impressive, no team can shift gears like the Patriots. In a second-round playoff win over Baltimore, New England abandoned the run in the second quarter and relied on Brady to spearhead comebacks from two 14-point deficits. In the AFC title game, Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount gouged the Colts for 148 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Gadget plays also have worked like Julian Edelman’s 51-yard touchdown pass to fellow wide receiver Danny Amendola against Baltimore and the eligible-/ineligible-receiver gimmick that confused both the Ravens and Colts.
The ability to display such diversity stems in part from the strong working relationship that McDaniels and Brady have developed in their second go-around working together. McDaniels left the Patriots in 2009 to become head coach in Denver before ultimately returning in the 2011 postseason.
"We have really grown up," said McDaniels, who is just one year older than Brady. "Many, many years of our careers have been intertwined together so there are a lot of things that he (and) I have seen that we talk about from the past.
"There are a lot of those conversations that come back during the course of the week. It’s relevant to the two of us because we experienced it and it is a similar situation (now)."
The quest for redemption: Patriots owner Robert Kraft will never forget Brady’s postgame reaction following the Super Bowl XLVI loss to the Giants. Brady sat with a towel over his head staring at the floor in front of his locker long after the game had ended.
Kraft said Brady is determined the same thing won’t happen again.
"We talked about it," Kraft said Tuesday. "We’re happy and privileged that we got a chance to come back and close the order and do what we have to do.
"He is driven. He’s watched tape of every one of Seattle’s games. I don’t think fans understand how hard he prepares and takes care of himself. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t have a great day Sunday."
If he does, there’s no question Brady has earned it.