Tom Brady’s legacy as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game has long been cemented, but if Monday night’s colossally disappointing performance against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Playoffs is his NFL curtain call, he’ll have gone out with a whimper rather than a roar.
Brady’s 351-yard with 2 touchdowns and 1 costly interception in the end zone stat line doesn’t tell the whole story. Throughout the Buccaneers‘ 31-14 loss, Brady consistently did everything possible to avoid contact. Worse, at times looked ill prepared to take on a swarming Cowboys defense.
“He’s done,” an NFL quarterbacks coach told Heavy, when asked what he believes is next for Brady, following Monday night’s playoff disappointment.
This wasn’t Michael Jordan crossing over Byron Russell to sink the game-winner in the 1996 NBA Finals. No, Brady against the Cowboys more closely resembled a 40-year old Jordan, who hung around to score 15 points wearing a Washington Wizards uniform to close out his career in a 2003 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
However, there is plenty of blame to go around for the Bucs’ debacle, well beyond Brady’s uncharacteristic struggles.
“Tampa Struggled to protect up the middle, where you must with Tom,” former Patriots linebacker and teammate of Brady, Matt Chatham told Heavy. “They struggled to run the football effectively, even a little bit to release the pressure and even to get stops defensively for long stretches. Those are tough conditions for any quarterback, and the results aren’t likely to be good.”
After regressing in his three seasons in Tampa Bay from beating the Kansas City Chiefs to hoist the Lombardi in Super Bowl LV, to falling in the NFC Divisional round to the Los Angeles Rams last season, and getting knocked out to close Super Wild Card weekend this season, the questions now mount for Brady and the Buccaneers.
How general manager Jason Licht plugs the holes of a leaky roster, and whether Brady has the desire to continue playing will be two of the more scrutinized storylines of this NFL offseason.
Brady already has a deal in place to join the FOX broadcast booth whenever his playing days are done.
Some inside the league believe that time has finally come.
“I don’t think so,” an NFL Scouting Director told heavy, when asked if he believes Brady can be effective in 2023. “At least not as a Super Bowl winning quarterback anymore.”
“He’s the greatest of all time,” an NFC East scout said. “He can definitely still do it.”
Despite a disjointed offensive scheme, and the clear drop off in ability from his peak, Brady still finished the 2022 campaign as the league’s third-leading passer, completing 66.8 percent of his attempts for 4,694 yards with 25 touchdowns to just 9 interceptions. He also orchestrated 5 fourth quarter comebacks this season.
So, what does Brady’s football future hold?
“I have no idea what his options will be,” Chatham admitted, when it comes to Brady’s future. “My guess is it depends on the potential to win now and his familiarity with wherever it is. If the best suitors are too speculative on those things, I could see him not playing.”
There have already been rumblings that the Las Vegas Raiders, offering the familiarity of reuniting with Josh McDaniels, Brady’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for 8 seasons in New England, and a talented offensive supporting cast could come knocking. Likewise, teams such as the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints could be in the market for veteran quarterback help.
One NFL Personnel Executive suggests Brady still has enough left in the tank to give a team on the cusp of contending exactly what they need to get over the top.
“There are a few teams that would probably be interested,” the executive suggests. “They’d have to be in a position to think they already have a pretty good team, but they don’t have a quarterback. I’d think the Colts would look into the possibility of adding a Tom Brady, because at least numbers wise, he’s still a top-five guy in this league.”
However, the scouting director thinks those teams in the veteran quarterback market should look in a different direction.
“Tom’s one drawback has been that his arm was never great,” the scouting director says. “But, he can’t throw off balance anymore. He needs to be clean in the pocket.”
That was evident in Monday night’s blowout loss to the Cowboys. As a result, Brady’s future is far from evident.
The 2022 NFL regular season is in the books. Here’s a look at my choices for the end of season awards.
MVP: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
This was supposed to be the season, after the Kansas City Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill away to the Miami Dolphins, that Patrick Mahomes showed some sort of regression. Not quite.
Even without his most prolific weapon to date, Mahomes passed for a career-high 5,250 yards with 41 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, leading the Chiefs to the AFC’s top seed for the 5th consecutive season. Mahomes is the most gifted quarterback at the position, and the reason the Chiefs have been knocking on the Super Bowl doorstep since hoisting the Lombardi in Super Bowl LIV.
Offensive Player of The Year: Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Burrow has been playing like a man on an absolute mission down the stretch. Guiding to an 8-game winning streak to close out the season as AFC North champions, Burrow completed 67.44 percent of his passes for 2,146 yards with 18 touchdowns to 6 interceptions over the closing stretch. During that span, Burrow also became the first quarterback to beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs 3 times in the course of a calendar year. Even if Burrow comes up short of knocking off Mahomes for MVP honors, few boast a stronger Offensive Player of The Year resume.
Defensive Player of The Year: Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco finished as the league’s top-rated defense, thanks in large part to Bosa’s dominance up front. Bosa posted a league-high 18.5 sacks, adding 90 quarterback pressures and 30 hits. Nearly unblockable this season, and continues to be among the more disruptive defenders in the game.
Offensive Rookie of The Year: Kenneth Walker, Seattle Seahawks
Kenneth Walker’s rookie season was history making. The Michigan State alum joins Curt Warner as the only Seahawks to surpass 1,000 rushing yards as a rookie, with 1,050 yards and 9 touchdowns. Despite only playing 11 games, Walker led all rookies in rushing, finishing with the league’s 12th-highest total. Instrumental to Seattle’s run to the postseason, Walker established himself as a building block of the Seahawks’ future in 2022.
Defensive Rookie of The Year: Sauce Gardner, New York Jets
The Jets’ first-round pick is already one of the premier players at his position. Beyond intercepting a pair of passes, Gardner already has established a reputation as ‘Sauce Island’, holding opposing quarterbacks to a meager 52.5 passer rating when targeted as a rookie. New York’s cornerback duo of Gardner and D.J. Reed proved formidable in 2022, and as Gardner continues to develop it is going to get increasingly difficult to stretch the field on the Jets’ perimeter.
Comeback Player of The Year: Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
This is the player the Giants hoped they were getting when they chose Barkley No. 2 overall, out of Penn State, in the 2018 NFL Draft. Now two years removed from a torn ACL, Barkley rushed for a career-high 1,312 yards with 10 touchdowns, and was as dangerous as ever as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, hauling in 57 passes for 338 yards. The Giants made a conscious effort all season to utilize Barkley in space, and were rewarded.
Coach of The Year: Brian Daboll, New York Giants
Brian Daboll has a strong case as the most impressive coaching hire in NFL history. Between Daboll guiding the Giants to the postseason for the first time since 2016, and instilling a hyper-competitive culture from the season opener against the Titans onward, this has been one of the starker turnarounds we have seen in recent memory. In addition to ending the Giants’ playoff drought, the job of player development done by Daboll’s staff; offensive coordinator Mike Kafka and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, particularly when it comes to the rapid improvements of quarterback Daniel Jones and Dexter Lawrence signal a bright future is rising in the Big Apple.
Executive of The Year: Howie Roseman, Philadelphia Eagles
Howie Roseman’s last 12 months have been a masterclass in team building, cap management, and asset allocation, resulting in the Eagles racing out to an 8-0 start, 14-3 finish, and winning homefield advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs. Between trading for Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, a draft night heist of A.J. Brown from the Titans, and a deadline deal for Robert Quinn, along with signing veterans Haason Reddick, James Bradberry, and midseason pickups Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh, this has been one of the more impressive performances from the executive suite in recent memory. Roseman and the Eagles now have the talent and ammunition to build a consistent Super Bowl contender around Jalen Hurts for years to come.
Quote of The Week: Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy on Mike Maher
“We’re going to forge ahead.”
Mike Maher was trending on social media on Monday night for all the wrong reasons, living through the nightmare of placekickers everywhere.
Maher missed four extra points for the Cowboys on Monday night. While McCarthy offered a vote of confidence that the Cowboys won’t be bringing in a kicker ahead of Sunday’s clash with the 49ers, he didn’t show much confidence when opting to go for it on 4th-and-4 from the Buccaneers’ 18, sending Dak Prescott rolling out for an insurance touchdown rather than letting Maher attempt a chip shot field goal.
Time will tell if Maher can turn things around from a night even the dictionary was trolling him, and be of use to the Cowboys against a 49ers defense where every point could prove precious.
The San Francisco 49ers are aiming to be the first team to hoist the Lombardi after finishing the season with the No. 1 ranked defense since the 2015 Denver broncos. And, Saturday afternoon in Santa Clara, it was DeMeco Ryans’ unit that led the charge into the NFC Divisional round.
Saturday’s 41-23 drubbing of the Seahawks might prove a harbinger of things to come for San Francisco.
“They have great talent,” an NFC Offensive Coordinator told Heavy. “Along the defensive line, linebackers, they’re solid in the secondary, everywhere. All that, plus their scheme is really aggressive. That pass rush is especially hard to deal with.”
When Peyton Manning guided the Broncos to the Super Bowl win, inside Levi’s Stadium, Denver’s defense produced seven turnovers over the course of the postseason scoring 21 points off those takeaways
In a contest they trailed at halftime, the trajectory of Saturday’s NFC Wild Card game changed dramatically when Charles Omenihu stripped Geno Smith and Nick Bosa recovered the fumble at the 49ers’ 30-yard line. Just 7 plays and 70 yards later, San Francisco extended its lead to 31-17.
San Francisco’s swarming defense, paired with an offense with game-breakers Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, Brandon Aiyuk, and Elijah Mitchell allow the 49ers to play complementary football, as they did against the Seahawks, rattling off 25 unanswered points after halftime.
Ryans will undoubtedly land one of the head coaching vacancies in coming weeks, after his Niners defense held opponents to a league-low 16.3 points per game. However, Ryans’ next job will have to wait as San Francisco aims to finish the job of bringing home the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl championship.
Heavy In The Trenches is a weekly Wednesday column by Heavy’s NFL insider Matt Lombardo, bringing you insight on the latest storylines and rumblings around the league. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattLombardoNFL.