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2013 Patriots Midseason Report: No Longer Elite?

Kenbrell Thompkins (Stephan Savoia/AP)

We are officially midway through the Patriots’ 2013 season and, for the first time in what feels like a decade, the Patriots status as an elite team feels questionable at best and nonexistent at worse. They are 6-2, and look to have the edge on another AFC East title, but not much besides that seems certain. While the Pats have struggled with devastating injuries, inexperienced wide receivers and inclement weather, we must sit back as Peyton Manning looks almost infallible, the Colts are playing some of the best football in the league and the Chiefs (!) are undefeated. I am sure I am not alone in feeling as if we are on the outside looking in when it comes to the best teams in both our conference and the league.

As we simultaneously reflect on the past eight games and look forward to the upcoming slate, our analysis inevitably begins at the same point from which the Patriots success will be dictated: Number 12, one Mr. Thomas Brady. So far, Brady’s performance has been disappointing, to the say the least (Also see: Grass, green and Sky, blue). To save us both some time, here’s a quick look at his stats this year compared to the past three seasons, courtesy of NFL.com:

(From NFL.com)

In one word, woof. The question is, of course, what has caused this precipitous downfall. I chose this split so you could see that his performance is not entirely isolated. Brady’s stats have been in steady decline, this year simply marks the most significant dropoff. In fact, these three seasons represent three of his four best seasons, the other being his Randy Moss-aided 2007 campaign. Of course, there is no simple explanation for his shortcomings this year. Perhaps it’s his injured hand. Perhaps it’s his young receivers. Perhaps it’s the defensive struggles keeping the offense off the field and interrupting the offensive rhythm. Perhaps it’s simply the ravages of time.

Therein lies the problem with “The Problem with Tom Brady”: There is no single issue, rather he finds himself at the unfortunate intersection of the difficulties the Patriots are having as a whole. As fans, we love narratives. They make sports so easy to understand! So we obviously want to tie the Pats’ season up into a nice little packaged narrative. This gives us someone to blame and a remedy that we believe should be applied. The reality is much harsher: This season may be a lost one for both Brady and the Patriots as a whole. Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo (amongst others) are not coming back. Danny Amendola is still injury-prone. Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson are still works-in-progress. Tom Brady is indeed declining.

Groucho Marx famously said, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” Sports can oftentimes seem the same way, and the quote feels especially prescient for the insofar-disappointing Patriots season. There is, however, a lesson to be gleaned from Marx’s observation. Now is not the time to panic. Now is not the time to fret over problems that may be only superficial or may not be as permanent as we like to think. We do not want to diagnose the wrong problem and apply the wrong remedies. Now is an important time to remember that Belichick is still our coach, Brady is still our quarterback and sometimes, the second half can be an entirely different game than the first.

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