One of the main storylines from "Thursday Night Football" this week will be Tom Brady's decline, and how far he has slipped at age 45.
In a different space, we'd be celebrating a 45-year-old quarterback who is playing at Brady's level. It has never happened before, or even close. The problem is that 44-year-old Brady set the bar too high.
Brady's season and the struggles of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be a big focus of the Amazon Prime Video broadcast when the Bucs take on the Baltimore Ravens. Tampa Bay is coming off back-to-back losses against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers, who are 2-10 against the rest of the NFL. Brady and the Bucs were shut out for three quarters last week, then got a field goal in the 21-3 loss to Carolina. The Buccaneers are in danger of losing for the fifth time in six games, which Greg Auman of The Athletic said has never happened to Brady in his long career.
Brady hasn't been bad. Far from it. But he's not playing at an MVP level this season, and everyone has noticed.
Tom Brady is one of a kind
Let's forget that Brady was the greatest 44-year-old quarterback by a mile. And the best ever, at least by passer rating, at age 40, 41, 42 and 43 too. He's the best at 45 basically by default. Almost nobody else has even really lasted this long.
Here's the entire list of quarterbacks who attempted a pass at age 45 or older, before Brady:
George Blanda: 7-of-22 for 116 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT over four seasons.
That's it. Blanda never started a game after age 41. What Brady is doing this season isn't simply unprecedented. It's so far ahead of anything that has happened since the NFL started in 1920 that it's unfathomable. At some point, that should be a big part of what we remember from Brady's 2022 season.
But not yet. Now the story is that Brady isn't playing up to his normal standard. That's not fair, because Brady is being compared to his own greatness. Last season he led the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns and finished second in the NFL MVP voting. Looking back, he probably should have won the award over Aaron Rodgers.
He won't win an MVP award this season. A dip in play — though not to a below-average level — and all the other circumstances surrounding Brady's odd 2022, make it seem like the sky is falling.
Most other QBs faded in their 30s
We have seen great quarterbacks, usually in their late 30s, hit a wall hard. Ben Roethlisberger the past two seasons is a good example. Peyton Manning in 2015 is an obvious example, though the football gods smiled on him and sent him out with a Super Bowl ring, thanks to a great Denver Broncos defense. We've seen the expiration date hit other quarterbacks, and they suddenly fall apart.
Brady isn't close to the wheels falling off. He has been pretty good. In seven games he has 1,942 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating of 92.8 is tied for ninth among passers with at least 100 attempts. Brady is the sixth-best quarterback this season in Pro Football Focus' grades. His numbers are down across the board from last season, aside from his interception rate, but we have to remember he was pretty amazing last season. He has been a good-not-great NFL quarterback this season and again, that's absolutely unbelievable for a 45-year-old. Consider this stat:
Brady touchdown passes after his 45th birthday: 8
Combined completions for every other QB after their 45th birthday: 7
You'll hear a lot about Brady's rocky season. It included a 40-day retirement, a much-publicized rift with his wife and criticism for taking a leave during training camp and being excused from a walkthrough practice to attend Patriots team owner Robert Kraft's surprise wedding earlier this month. It also has included a 3-4 record for the Buccaneers with some shocking losses in which the offense does close to nothing.
However, it's still historic. There needs to be some perspective on Thursday night and the rest of the season. Brady is still a heck of a story, even if he's not quite as great as he was for two decades.