By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- When Tom Brady announced that he was officially moving on from the New England Patriots in March, much of America was stunned. The New England Patriots and the quarterback -- the greatest quarterback -- had been linked for as long as anyone knew his name. A breakup after 20 years together was nothing short of shocking to much of the American football-conscious public.
Locally, though, the Brady-Patriots divorce went down as significant but not surprising. Those of us who watched closely saw that end coming for some time.
Yet now, after a Sunday when Brady's Buccaneers partook in an absolute romp simultaneously with maybe the most miserable Patriots game in the history of Gillette Stadium, America can see clearly what Brady saw last year and why the QB fled for Florida.
If anything positive has come out of the Patriots' offense this year, it's that the world can now understand what it's like when a mere mortal is at the helm. Thus far, that mortal has mostly been Cam Newton, with a dash of Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham sprinkled in.
Operating largely the same offense that Brady worked in last year, that trio of quarterbacks has combined for three touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.
Surrounded by roughly the same talent, Brady threw 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions a year ago.
Even in the final two months of the year, when Brady's play was getting picked apart and dissected at every turn, the then-42-year-old year old threw 11 touchdowns and four interceptions over the Patriots' final eight games of the season.
The Patriots' quarterbacks in 2020 -- again, playing with roughly the same collection of talent, basically with just Damiere Byrd standing in place of Phillip Dorsett -- have already thrown eleven interceptions in just six games played.
What's more: This year's Patriots team is significantly more efficient in the running game. After Sunday's loss, the Patriots still rank fourth in the NFL in rushing yards per game (155.0), fourth in rushing yards per attempt (5.0), and tied for sixth in rushing touchdowns (8).
Last year's team ranked 18th, 25th, and tied for 10th in those respective categories.
Despite that effective ground game, the Patriots' passing offense is simply not thriving or even existing. It's a disaster.
The Patriots rank 28th in passing yards per game (197.2) and 23rd in yards per attempt (6.1). They are dead last with just three touchdown passes, one fewer than ... the New York Jets. Their 65.0 team passer rating is likewise worst in the NFL, one-tenth of a point worse than ... you guessed it, the New York Jets.
This is the passing offense that was built by the Patriots over the past several years. When Brady was under center, it was at least mediocre.
And if Brady's performance thus far in 2020 is any indication, the old man is a whole lot better than mediocre.
Brady casually tossed four touchdowns while sneaking for another one during the Bucs' 45-20 win over the Raiders on Sunday. Brady completed 33 of his 45 passes (73.3 percent) for 369 yards with the four touchdowns and zero interceptions. For comparison's sake, against that same Raiders defense, Cam Newton completed 17 of his 28 passes (60.7 percent) for 162 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Newton did break off a 21-yard run in that game but rushed for just eight total yards on his six other non-kneeldown rushing attempts.
Brady now has 18 touchdown passes, which ranks him second in the entire NFL. More than Aaron Rodgers. More than Patrick Mahomes. More than Deshaun Watson, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, and everyone else not named Russell Wilson.
His 18-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio has him on pace to finish his age 43 season with 41 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Historically, that is an outrageous pace to even consider for a quarterback of his age.
But in relation to the present, it shows that Tom Brady is a whole lot better than the mediocre quarterback who was under center in the Patriots' offense last year. Even at this age -- and even after all of that success -- Brady can still perform as one of the very best quarterbacks on earth.
Brady's team has now scored 83 points in its last two games. The Patriots have just 115 points in the entire season.
The Bucs have 222.
Now, will Brady turn that into championship success in Tampa? Probably not. Despite consecutive big wins, the Bucs still make a whole lot of mistakes. Antonio Brown seems to be a sure bet to disrupt the locker room. Bruce Arians' track record suggests that Brady may well end up longing for the days of having a head coach who demands mistake-free football instead of preaching a mantra of "Win or lose, we booze." But that part of this story is yet to be determined.
For now, it feels safe to say that anyone who couldn't quite understand what it was that led to Brady dreaming of something better than what he had in New England during this very late stage of his career can now understand. Brady had the physical and mental capabilities to play at the highest level; he just needed a little bit of help.
The talent bleed in New England started slowly enough. Martellus Bennett. Dion Lewis. Danny Amendola. Alone, the departure of each of those players could be accounted for. But the Patriots were slow to restock the talent. The team also tried to trade Rob Gronkowski to the Lions for some reason. Then the team traded away Brandin Cooks, replacing him with ... the ever-reliable Josh Gordon, after the season started?
Then, after winning Super Bowl LIII -- a championship Brady seemed truly shocked to have had a chance to win -- the team watched Gronkowski retire and then expended no real effort to replace him. No draft picks. No nothing. The Patriots got Ben Watson to come out of retirement and give it a go, alongside Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo.
Here's the thing: It didn't work.
The Patriots did technically try to boost the wide receiving corps. They just didn't try in a successful way. N'Keal Harry's rookie year was a bust (undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers had a better season, which isn't saying too much), and Mohamed Sanu for a second-round pick will go down as one of the worst acquisitions of the Belichick era.
Add in the loss of Trent Brown at left tackle and the injuries to James Develin, David Andrews and Isaiah Wynn, and the combination of bad decisions and bad luck led to an offense that just ... couldn't ... go.
When they put up just 13 points in a home loss in the playoffs, it was an all-too-predictable ending to a season that never had legs.
The problem some folks made was looking at No. 12 and ascribing much of the fault with the QB himself instead of his situation. But with Brady currently on pace to throw his most touchdowns since -- GULP! -- the 2007 season, and with the Patriots owning one of the NFL's worst passing offenses and a 2-4 record ... well, a whole lot of things are making sense for a whole lot of people right about now.
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