Brady, Patriots deal with lackluster 3-2 start

October 16, 2009

Tom Brady launched a long pass to Randy Moss that was too long. He threw a short pass and hit an open Wes Welker - in the foot. Later in last Sunday's NFL game, Brady tried to stage a go-ahead drive in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter but lost a fumble when he was sacked and the New England Patriots lost to the Denver Broncos 20-17 in overtime. The quarterback known for his comebacks hasn't regained his form after a knee injury ended his 2008 season in the first game. Brady hasn't been terrible, he just hasn't been Brady. The 2007 NFL most valuable player has become the 2009 poster boy for the team's lackluster 3-2 start. "Everyone counts on me to perform at a certain level. I count on them to do their job," Brady said. "When you're not doing it, it's very frustrating. You really feel, in a way, that you're letting your teammates down. You also have to have the resiliency to go back out there and give it your best." Yet the Patriots' problems go far beyond a star quarterback working his way back from knee surgery. The defense allowed the Broncos touchdown drives of 90 and 98 yards. The secondary has one interception. The retirements of Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi left New England without a vocal defensive leader, one reason they re-signed 40-year-old linebacker Junior Seau this week. The offense lacks a reliable third receiver, a role Joey Galloway has failed to fill, and that's allowed teams to focus on shutting down Moss, who had just one catch against Denver. The play-calling has become more predictable with the departure of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, now the Broncos head coach. Coach Bill Belichick isn't putting all the blame on Brady. "It's not one position, it's not one player, it's not one particular type of play," he said. "Overall, we're just not as efficient and precise as we need to be. There's no other way to put it." But the focus always falls on one position - quarterback. Brady ranks 19th in the NFL in passer rating, and has six touchdown passes after throwing an NFL record 50 in 2007. His longest completion is 36 yards. His left knee may be healthy enough for him to play. But there's more to it than that. "When you're healthy, you're liable to (follow) all the way through and risk getting hit," said Tom Martinez, a quarterback coach in northern California who has worked with Brady since he was about 13. "When you're coming back from knee surgery and you realize how close your career was to being over, it's like boxing. You've got to learn how to throw a punch, take a punch, and mechanics suffer." Martinez noticed Brady not following through on some passes, which gives him more time to prepare for a hit but hurts his accuracy. Martinez says he also saw that last year from Peyton Manning, who had an infected bursa sac removed from his left knee. Manning missed the preseason and the Indianapolis Colts were 3-4 before winning their last nine regular-season games. Cincinnati's Carson Palmer had reconstructive left knee surgery in January 2006, and played in the next season opener. "I was told way back when I had the surgery that it was going to get better year after year," Palmer said. "I was going to feel 100 percent, but wouldn't realize I was 100 percent until the following year and the following year." How long will it take Brady to return to his pre-surgery level? That's tough to predict. Martinez is optimistic that Brady will be his old self again - this season. "When he's good, Brady's as good mechanically as anybody," Martinez said. "It would be like Tiger Woods coming out of his knee surgery and maybe for X number of matches he wasn't hitting the ball quite like he wanted to. "The great ones will be fine." The Patriots were 2-3 in 2001 and 3-2 in 2003 and went on to win Super Bowls both times. In 2007, they were 18-0 before losing the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. Last year, they were 11-5 without Brady. "History doesn't affect anything that we do here now," tight end Chris Baker said. "There's a lot of new guys in the locker room. I think we'll be all right." ---