When looking simply at the numbers, one would be inclined to say that Tom Brady had a bad day at the office against the Dallas Cowboys: the New England Patriots’ quarterback completed just 17 of his 37 pass attempts for a mere 190 yards and a rather pedestrian 5.1-yard gain per attempt while also throwing just a single touchdown. By all statistical measures, Brady had a second straight underwhelming performance.
However, football is not played on the stat sheet and the numbers Brady put up against Dallas do not do his overall outing justice. After all, context is highly important in order to properly and accurate read into the stats. And this context paints the following picture for Sunday’s game against a Cowboys defense that ranked 13 in the league in scoring before the weekend:
- Two of the Patriots’ top wide receivers were out
- Two rookie wide receivers played considerable snaps
- The conditions were difficult, leading to plenty of drops
- Brady’s ball placement was strong nevertheless
Let’s go through those points — bundled together in pairs — to evaluate Brady’s performance against Dallas more accurately than a simple look at the stat sheet would make possible.
The wide receiver carousel
While Brady’s favorite target — Julian Edelman — was active and again played a big role in the Patriots’ aerial attack, the next two men down the depth chart did not dress versus the Cowboys because of injury: Mohamed Sanu missed the contest after hurting his ankle last week against the Philadelphia Eagles; Phillip Dorsett was out because of a concussion also suffered during last week’s game.
The two veterans, who were targeted on 26 of Brady’s 93 pass attempts over the two games leading up to the Cowboys contest, were replaced by two players who had a combined 18 career catches on their name before Sunday: first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry played 57 of a possible 70 offensive snaps in just his second ever NFL game; undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers was on the field for 54 snaps in his 10th in-game appearance.
While the two youngsters were far from perfect, they did perform admirably and made some strong plays during New England’s 13-9 victory. Harry caught the only touchdown of the game, when he and Brady connected on a perfectly executed back-shoulder from 10 yards out. Meyers, meanwhile, caught just four of eight catchable footballs thrown towards him but he did gain 74 yards and convert two third downs along the way.
“I think both those rookie receivers really answered the call,” Brady said on WEEI on Monday. “When you’re put in that position and you don’t have a lot of football under your belt and you’re playing on a team that is competing for titles and so forth, there’s a lot of pressure. Both those guys have embraced it, and I think Julian [Edelman] has really shown great leadership for that whole group. Hopefully, if we can get everyone healthy, we can see what we can do.”
Brady’s ball placement in difficult conditions
It was rainy at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, and the wind was blowing with up to 16 miles per hour. Needless to say that moving the ball through the air was difficult, but Brady still did a good job of placing it in the right spot more often than not — despite finishing the game with more incompletions than successful connections. According to Pro Football Focus, however, the pass catchers did not necessarily help their quarterback achieve better numbers: six passes were dropped, and four contested ones fell incomplete.
On top of it all, Brady also threw the football away three times including in the final seconds of the game to essentially run out the clock. In an ideal albeit unrealistic scenario, the 42-year-old could therefore have finished the game 27 of 37 instead of 17 of 37. Of course, he did not, but some of the incomplete passes he threw were still very well placed as this one intended for Jakobi Meyers shows:
Big hit on Jakobi Meyers by Jeff Heath forces the 3rd down drop and a punt.pic.twitter.com/04WL7p1phC— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) November 24, 2019
The seam pass hit Meyers in the hands and would not only have completed a 3rd and 3 but also moved the Patriots into Dallas territory. However, the rookie wideout bobbled the catch and ultimately lost the football for an incompletion upon safety Jeff Heath hitting him in stride. On the stat sheet, the play counts as an incomplete pass by Brady even though he made the correct decision and a perfect throw.
Brady also threw some very good balls on passes that actually did end up as completions, like the touchdown to Harry mentioned above:
As is the case on the pass to Meyers above, Brady put the football in the perfect location for his target to make a play. In this case, the future Hall of Famer threw the pigskin away from the defender to where only Harry could grab it — which he did for his first ever touchdown in the NFL, and the only one scored during the defensively-dominated battle between the Patriots and Cowboys.
Brady also was spot-on with his ball placement on a 20-yard hookup with Edelman to convert a 3rd and 20, and later on another 20-yarder to the MVP of last season’s Super Bowl. In the fourth period, he also threw a beautiful touch pass to Edelman that ended with a 23-yard gain for the Patriots offense. Despite the weather being a factor, all three of the passes were put in the ideal spot for the wide receiver to make a play.
Of course, not every pass thrown and decision made by the veteran quarterback were as perfect as the few examples we looked at. Among his worst throws of the day was a deep attempt intended for Benjamin Watson up the seam in the fourth quarter — a play that would have given the Patriots a first-and-goal on a drive that ultimately ended in a field goal. Brady threw behind the tight end and the ball landed on the ground.
A handful of bad throws and a sub-50% completion percentage, however, do not necessarily a bad day make. Between his wide receivers’ inexperience, the drops suffered by his teammates, and an offensive line that started slowly before settling down later during the game, New England’s quarterback had a solid day against the Cowboys. Was he perfect? No, he was not. But he was perfect enough.
Given the way the Patriots were playing on defense and in the kicking game, it was all Brady needed to be. And based on his performance in difficult circumstances against a very good Cowboys team, there should not be much concern that he can’t be something else if that’s what it takes New England to win a game.