The end of the regular season is not the most exciting time for Patriot fans. Having been to the past six AFC Championship games and having won the AFC East 15 out of the past 17 years, the team is usually not playing for much by the time Week 17 comes around. Their opponents? Well, they are usually division rivals that have their eyes set on the next year or are scrapping for a Wild Card berth.
Regardless of their opponents, staying focused and ending the regular season on a high note is something Coach Belichick stresses every year. Momentum is very important for the teams that have earned the right to play in the playoffs. We have seen players and teams ride hot streaks into the playoffs and go deep into the postseason, and we have seen other teams limp into the final stretch and get bounced in the first round.
Momentum is especially important for teams like the Patriots that earn first round byes. With Sunday’s victory over the Bills, the Patriots have now strung together two solid wins in a row. Coming off of their emotionally draining victory over the Steelers, the team needed to move on to Buffalo as the Bills still had aspirations of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1999 and would not be an easy out.
While the team took strides in improving their third down production and their run defense, quarterback Tom Brady continued his own streak as well. For the fifth game in a row, the Michigan alum threw an interception, something he had not done since his early days as a game manager.
Tom Brady has thrown an interception in 5 straight games, which ties the longest streak of his career.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 24, 2017
His prior streak happened from Week 2-6 in 2002. pic.twitter.com/uv2TpmQEZ3
Overall, it has been a puzzling five game stretch for the G.O.A.T. Brady has not been bad by any means, but his production has not matched the MVP level at which he was playing earlier in the season. Brady, whose play usually improves as we move into December, is averaging season lows in completion percentage, quarterback rating, and yards per game compared to other months. The interceptions are concerning to say the least and are worth taking a look at to see what is at the root of these unusual mistakes.
Week 12 vs Miami
The Dolphins show blitz by aligning two linebackers in the A gaps with a total of six defenders on the line. Miami only ends up rushing five as Kiki Alonzo drops into coverage. The line and specifically James White do a great job of picking this up, allowing Brady to maneuver and step up in the pocket.
Brady’s resulting decision is questionable. Miami deserves credit for how they are able to cover New England’s receivers but the subsequent throw by Brady is one he should not have made. Seeing that it was third down at around midfield, Brady should have taken the sack and allowed the punt team to come in.
Ryan Allen would have been able to pin the Dolphins deep inside of their own territory but instead, Miami got the ball at around the 35-yard line.
Week 13 at Buffalo
Let’s just assume that Bills’ defensive back Tre'Davious White did not hold Rob Gronkowski. While we are at it, let’s just forget about the blatant push off by White right before he makes the interception. Similar to the Dolphins, the Bills show pressure at the line but drop out into coverage. The line once again does a great job of working through this confusion and giving Brady enough time to go through his reads and progressions.
I will never say that throwing a jump ball up to Gronk is a bad idea, but the execution could have been a little better. Brady needs to put this ball in a place where only Gronk can get it as White does a great job of positioning himself to make a play on the ball. Gronk could have also done a little bit more to make sure that White does not come down with this ball but at the end of the day, the blame has to come back to Brady (and the refs).
Week 14 at Miami (1)
The end zone view of this play offers a great perspective of what Brady was seeing. Miami sends linebacker Stephone Anthony on a blitz up the middle while simultaneously running a double stunt where both edge rushers loop around the interior lineman. Once again, the line and James White do a magnificent job of picking this up and giving Brady time.
But as we can see from the end zone camera, none of the receivers are able to create separation, something the group had trouble doing all night in lieu of Gronk’s suspension. Brady should have just thrown this ball away. Once again this was a third down interception that gave the Dolphins excellent field position around midfield.
Week 14 at Miami (2)
You cannot fault Brady on this play as Xavien Howard makes a great play on the ball for his second interception of the game. This was most likely Brady’s primary option on the play. Brandin Cooks was able to get a few steps on Howard but Brady just did not have enough arm strength to complete this pass. Being that it was third down, this interception served as a punt and so this is not that big of a deal.
Week 15 at Pittsburgh
This is arguably Brady’s worst interception of the streak. Brady feels pressure coming from the interior of the line and throws a pass he knows he should not have made. The Steelers deserve credit not only for that interior rush, but also for their coverage on the receivers. They handled the crossing patterns long enough for the rush to impact Brady.
With that being said, this is once again a play where Brady needs to eat the ball and take the sack. Turning the ball over like this deep in your own territory puts the defense in a bad spot and almost always leads to points for the opponent as it did here. These are the type of mistakes Brady cannot afford to make come playoff time.
Week 16 vs Buffalo
As Tony Romo pointed out during the Broadcast, the Bills and Jordan Poyer do a great job of disguising coverage, reading Brady’s eyes, and making a jump on the ball. Brady most likely does not see Poyer or he does not believe that Poyer will be able to get there in time to make a play.
Something could also be said about newly acquired receiver Kenny Britt, who does not continue running his route as he feels Poyer breaking towards the ball. Chemistry and trust are two things that Brady strongly values with his receivers and the two just do not have it yet.
There are two reoccurring themes in all of these interceptions. The first is the receiver’s inability to create separation from the defensive backs. This is something that is evidence not just in these interceptions but also on the stat sheet.
In the month of December, Brandin Cooks has a total of 7 receptions for 115 yards. Those should be single game stats, not monthly totals and are quite frankly embarrassing for someone of his stature. Danny Amendola has also been quiet, registering 10 catches for 133 yards this month.
While the injuries to players like Chris Hogan, Rex Burkhead, and James White have played a role in this problem, those two players have no excuse for their lack of production.
The second theme is Brady’s poor decision making. As you have probably noticed, all of these interceptions occurred on third down. Brady needs to do a better job of being aware of the situation and just taking sacks, allowing the punt team to do its job and pin the opponent deep inside of their own territory instead of giving them good field position. Trying to force these throws into tight/non-existent windows has only hurt the team and put the defense in tough situations.
Regaining his MVP form should be of prime concern to Brady and the Patriots as we move into the playoffs. As more players come back from injury, there should be more openings in the passing game but Brady’s decision-making needs to improve if the Patriots hope to go into the playoffs with some momentum.
Of course, Brady has shown us multiple times in the past that he is quite capable of rebounding from tough stretches. I expect Brady to be flying high into the playoffs.