Monday, November 15, 2010

Tom Brady: Is He the NFL's Most Underappreciated Player?

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was in destroy mode Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In the team’s 39-26 victory over a team that has a strong defense, and who many opine is the best team in the NFL, Brady led the way. He went 30-for-43 for 350 yards and three touchdowns, as well as one rush that earned him another touchdown.

For his career, Brady 6-1 against the Steelers—4-1 at Heinz Field—and has 14 touchdowns against the Steelers and only three interceptions.

Part of it is game planning: New England throws the ball against Pittsburgh 73 percent of the time and only rushes on 27 percent of the plays, as opposed to throwing it 55 percent of the time and rushing it 45 percent against every other team in the league.

Still, in order to continue that trend, the Pats need to be successful throwing the ball. That comes down to Tom Brady taking charge.

It isn’t just against the Steelers, though. New England, especially the way it is currently constructed, places all of its burdens on Brady.

It’s cliché to say the team will go as far as he does, but there is no better way to describe it.

Which begs the question, is Tom Brady underappreciated?

Many would say it’s impossible for a quarterback to be underappreciated. That they get all the attention, and Tom Brady and his hair get more airtime on ESPN than all the players in the league not named Brett Favre.

But do people realize how important Tom Brady is to this team? And does his team undervalue him?

Take last week’s loss against Cleveland.

The loss wasn’t Brady’s fault; the team was bad in all phases of the game. But Brady was certainly not on his mark.

He completed only 19-of 36 passes. Although he had two touchdowns compared to zero interceptions, one of those TDs he was bailed out by Aaron Hernandez, who was able to make an amazing play off a deflected pass.

Brady was out of sync with his receivers and just didn’t have it going for him that day.

It happens.

It’s difficult to play at top level for the entirety of the season. But the Patriots are hard-pressed to find anyone to pick up Brady’s slack.

The running game is at its worst in recent memory. The defense is extremely vulnerable, with a lacking pass rush and a very inexperienced and inconsistent pass defense.

If Brady has a bad game, then the rest of the team is doomed. Even if you point to the Week 4 thrashing of Miami where special teams were the focus, Brady was still very accurate, going 19-for-24 and a touchdown.

Brady is the emotional leader of this team as well.

Look at the barking he did on the sidelines against Pittsburgh. He knows what the team needs to do to be successful.

If it isn’t getting done, he’s going to tell everybody what they need to be doing. He’s competitive, he’s tough (he missed a practice this week with a foot injury) and he’s fearless.

With an elite player like Brady on the roster, most teams would do whatever it took to put the best team around him and maximize his potential to take them to the Super Bowl.

The Patriots organization, however, insists on getting rid of its top players. Major weapons on offense and defense (Randy Moss and Richard Seymour come to mind) have been traded away for draft picks.

The Patriots have placed around Brady a bunch of journeymen, retreads and rookies.

While there was a definite need to make the defense younger, the Patriots waited too long. Instead of bringing guys along, they are throwing players into the fire now.

That’s not to say guys like Brandon Spikes and Devin McCourty won’t be good pros—because they do have a lot of potential—but as long as Tom Brady is on the roster, they should be trying to win now.

People will say Peyton Manning does a lot with a mostly unknown cast of players, but the Colts don’t trade away all their best players—they just all get hurt.

Brady will do everything he can to win games and put the young guys on his shoulders. But there will be days where it will be too much, and the Patriots haven’t put together a team ready to win without his heroic efforts.

He’s the ultimate team player. But for a team that believes the player is a part of a system, Brady seems to be getting the short end of the stick.

By not getting the best possible players, are the Patriots really undervaluing Brady? Are they wasting the remainder of his productive seasons?

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