By: Bob George/
February 19, 2007

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This begins our annual series of positional analysis on the New England Patriots. Today: Quarterback.

All year long, it just didn't feel like Tom Brady.

Sure, you can say it was because he lost both Deion Branch and David Givens in the same offseason. You can also say that he still hasn't gotten over the loss of former offensive boss Charlie Weis, about whom he professes a great deal of affection for in the latter's ongoing medical malpractice trial. Others could also point to the new hot story of the day, that being Bridget Moynahan, Brady's ex-girlfriend, telling everyone she's pregnant with Brady's child, and that Brady knew about it as far back as the just concluded postseason.

Whatever the cause, you looked at Brady and saw a great quarterback who seemed off kilter at times during the season. There was a great deal of discomfort for Brady and his new receiving corps, literally gutted and rebuilt following the 2005 season. That discomfort showed up in the form of misfires and uncharacteristic interceptions. It left some observers to wonder if Brady's confidence level was lowering, and others to ponder if Brady, who turns 30 in August, is a quarterback whose best days are behind him.

If you were to look at the three possible reasons for Brady looking less than invincible out there (change in receivers, loss of Weis, Bridget's pregnancy), you might want to start with Weis and go from there. Both the 2005 and 2006 postseasons had similar endings for Brady, with 2006 extended one extra game thanks to a stunning play by Troy Brown in San Diego. Brady ended the 2005 season with a miserable game in Denver (two interceptions, including the backbreaker for 100 yards by Champ Bailey), then followed it with three interceptions and a 57.6 rating at San Diego and a game-ending pick at Indianapolis in 2006. In all cases, Brady was trying to do things he really shouldn't have been doing, which could also trace its way back to adverse play calling from the coaching staff.

Many people thought that Brady was to the quarterback position what Bill Belichick is to coaching. It doesn't matter what personnel you throw out there, Belichick has the great system and Brady is that talented that you could win three more Super Bowls with 98-pound geeks out there. These last two years might be shedding a new light on that belief, meaning that the Patriots perhaps overrated Brady's talent, if that's possible. Now that he has been stripped of Weis, Branch and Givens (but not Brown), he has suddenly become fallible and at times capable of making the wrong play at the wrong time.

By saying this, the implication is merely that Brady is still one of the all-time greats, but he is not Superman. He still needs great receivers like everyone else. And he needs someone on the sidelines to provide some guidance and direction at critical times, because even though several quarterbacks might brag that they can do it all themselves, very few out there in history could actually take over completely without even the help of coaching.

It is fair to say that Brady could very well have craved Branch this season. During the 2006 season, you had a bust in Doug Gabriel (who looked almost exactly like Donald Hayes out there), a rookie named Chad Jackson who unfortunately might be the next Bethel Johnson, and a couple of retreads named Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney. And Brady also had Brown, who is still Ol' Reliable but not anything resembling a go-to guy (as he was in 2001). Givens was a first down machine, but he suffered a sever injury in Tennessee and may not even be ready for the start of the 2007 season. That leaves Branch, who played well in Seattle but probably would have gotten another ring had he been able to stay put in Foxborough.

The numbers back this up, to some extent. His completion percentage (61.8) dropped two points in 2006 from 2005, but in each of the last two Super Bowl winning seasons, his percentage was even lower. He threw for about 6,000 fewer yards in 2006 versus 2005, but his total (3,529 yards) was again comparable to 2003 and 2004. His interception total (12) continued his "tradition" of having either 12 or 14 picks in every one of his seasons (excepting 2000). His passer rating dropped to 87.9 after two straight seasons at 92.

What this suggests is that he had a less productive season than 2005, but not much else. In his championship seasons of 2003 and 2004, he did more by throwing less. One might draw the conclusion that, for the Patriots to be successful and contend for more championships, they need to put Brady in positions where he does not have to put up monster passing numbers to win games. It could be that the Patriots were not as skilled at wide receiver as they needed to be for Brady to succeed with big passing numbers, or it could also suggest that the running game was a disappointment in 2006 (running game gets grilled later on in this series).

As for the situation with Moynahan, one might possibly infer that this pregnancy was on his mind during the postseason and might have affected his concentration. Brady has a lot of Joe Montana in him, but he may also have a lot of Steve Young as well. Young was more of a swinging bachelor who married later in life where Montana was a consummate family man, yet both managed to be great quarterbacks on the field. This whole affair should have no affect whatsoever on the field, but if Brady did allow himself to be consumed by this problem, someone needs to sit him down and have a talk. Brady, who is now dating Victoria's Secret model Gisele Bundschen and currently squiring her over in Paris, sometimes gives you mixed impressions about himself personally, in that he was not worldly enough to date party girl Tara Reid but manages to drop big bucks on movie stars and superstar models. But if Brady can run in the fast lane and get back to winning more Vinces, what he does in the fast lane should not concern anyone not named Myra Kraft.

While everything Brady does gets front page news and tabloid treatment, Matt Cassel sits by and watches, staying ready for the one moment nobody hopes ever comes. Cassel did get some game action in 2006, throwing eight passes and completing five of them, with most of his action coming in consecutive games (loss at Miami, win against Houston). Cassel remains the most prohibitive number two guy in the league, but one who really doesn't figure to get greatly challenged in July for his job. Vinny Testaverde was nothing more than window dressing, allowed to throw a touchdown pass against Tennessee to pad his career stats and not much else.

As for Brady, it might be time for everyone to realize that he is the steering wheel and not the entire vehicle himself. His ability is still world class, but the Patriots do need to upgrade those around him. If they do, life will likely remain good in Foxborough.

And as long as people like Mike Felger report on him instead of Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa, life really will remain good.

Next installment: running backs.