During the early part of the 2013 season, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady went through quite a transition as he dealt with breaking in a new group of wide receivers, as well as waiting for Rob Gronkowski to get back on the field.

Through the first eight games his completion percentage was just 56%, significantly below the 63% completion rate he had last season and he had thrown just 9 touchdowns and six interceptions.  For a region that was used to a high-powered, high-scoring offense, it was quite a culture shock to see things unfolding the way they were.


Over the past several games, Tom Brady has finally started to find his groove.
(USA TODAY Images)

From the outside the critics looked at the numbers without understanding the full story.  After all, to someone who didn’t understand what was really going on it was hard to make sense of how someone of Brady’s caliber could be struggling so badly.  They blamed his decline on father time and started writing the epitaph of a career that has been one that will one day undoubtedly see end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But slowly things have begun to settle in, and suddenly the Patriots are becoming one of the powerhouses in the AFC again, especially after spotting the Broncos a 24 point lead Sunday night and then roaring back to deliver the knock out blow to Peyton Manning and company in a thrilling 34-31 finish.  It was one of the biggest wins of the season, and depending on how New England finishes the next five weeks may even have playoff implications.

It’s funny how quickly things can change, but after the offensive explosion against the Steelers game a few weeks ago, these past three games more or less tell the story.

Through the first eight weeks Brady was 171-of-307 (56%) for 1824yds along with 9 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.  Game seven was the disappointing loss in New York against the Jets, which was Rob Groknowski’s first return to action since missing the beginning of the season coming off of back and forearm surgeries. In that contest they were also without Danny Amendola, who was sidelined after suffering a concussion against the Saints the week before.  One week later Amendola was back and the two hit the field together for the first time, and despite getting off to a slow start against the Dolphins after trailing 17-3 at the half, they exploded for 24 second half points to beat them 27-17.

It all came together one week later against the Steelers, with the Patriots putting up 55 points in a rout that showed the potential of what this team can do now that they’re finally beginning to click.  You’ve seen the difference over the past three games. Brady’s completed 86-of-123 (70%)  attempts for 1072 yards, 8 touchdowns and 1 interception.

Granted they suffered a setback against Carolina, but they lost that game primarily because their defense couldn’t get off the field on third down (the Panthers converted 8-of-11 that night) and because of a critical turnover by Stevan Ridley early in the game that killed a potential – at the worst – field goal attempt that may have caused that final drive to turn out a little differently.  When it comes down to it give Carolina credit, they played a perfect game and New England didn’t, and that’s the reason why they ended up winning the football game.

But if nothing else Brady’s accuracy has improved in most areas, including his third down passing.  During weeks 1-8 he was 42-of-79 (53%) throwing the football, compared to 24-of-30 (80%) over the past three games.  Of those 24 completions 17 have gone for a first down, with Shane Vereen (6), Rob Gronkowski (5), Danny Amendola (3), Aaron Dobson (2), and Julian Edelman (1) accounting for those times they moved the chains.

Overall Gronkowski, and recently Vereen have certainly changed the dynamic of New England’s offense.  The two account for 28 of the Patriots 56 passing first downs over the past three weeks (Vereen’s now been back for two games), and Brady overall has completed 37-of-49 (76%) of his passes when targeting those two players.

It’s funny how much better you can start to play when all of your weapons on the field together.

Another knock on Brady has been his success throwing the deep ball.  But if you take out the 1-for-6 performance Sunday night in the frigid high-wind environment, Brady is 5-of-9 (56%) targeting deep left throws, 1-of-2 (50%) on deep throws down the middle, and 3-of-4 (75%) on deep right attempts over that span.

Gronkowski has actually been the biggest factor there, with Brady completing 4-of-6 passing to him when trying to go down the field.  He’s 1-of-2 on deep left attempts, 1-of-2 on deep middle attempts, and 2-of-2 on deep right attempts.  Having him back has helped open up other opportunities for other players, and it’s clear now that he’s starting to settle back in that he’s helping make everyone else around him more effective.

But for those who didn’t think Brady still had it in him, these last few weeks will hopefully change their minds.  Considering how much things have changed just in a few weeks, we’ll see if he can change them even further should New England make yet another return to the postseason.

HE’S TOUGH, BUT EVEN HE DOESN’T GET IT

Former Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan was known for his grit and toughness, which is one of the reasons why he was such a fan favorite here in New England.  However, when the cold weather came, he had no desire to be one of those players who went out there with no sleeves during sub-freezing temperatures.

In this morning’s Grogan’s Grade (Now Available) he was asked whether or not that psychological ploy often seen by offensive and defensive linemen really works at this level, and even he doesn’t understand why players do that.

“Actually I’ve never figured out why anyone would want to do that,” said Grogan.  ”I recall back to my days when the linemen would do that on really bitterly cold days, and then they’d get in the shower afterwards and as their body warmed up, their bruises would start to show. You couldn’t see them. It was so cold, it was forcing the blood toward the inner part of their body and then when they got in the shower and warmed up, the blood came to the surface they were bruised and battered all over the place. So I just don’t understand personally why anyone would want to play that way.”

KRAFT AND SEVERAL PLAYERS SPEND TUESDAY HANDING OUT FOOD BASKETS:

Patriots owner Robert Kraft joined several players, including Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Shane Vereen among others at the team’s annual Thanksgiving visit to Goodwill’s Boston Headquarters.  According to the Boston Globe they handed out food baskets to more than 200 people from Goodwill’s job training and youth programs.  It’s always great to see them out in the community, and this is a story that didn’t seem to get much notice elsewhere this morning.

BRADY NOMINATED FOR FEDEX AIR PLAYER OF THE WEEK:

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is among several names nominated for “FedEx Air Player of the Week” following his come-from-behind performance on Sunday night against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.  Brady finished the night completing 34 passes for 344 yards along with three toucdhwons during New England’s 34-31 overtime victory, and you can vote for him by Clicking Here.

ON TO THIS MORNING’S LINKS:

BOSTON HERALD:

Rob Gronkowski ‘that guy’ on offense - Karen Guregian – Guregian has an article looking at life in the Patriots offense ‘before Gronk’ and ‘after Gronk’.

Kraft: Belichick’s wind call a classic shocker - Karen Guregian – Guregian has comments from Robert Kraft, who even he was surprised when the head coach opted to take the wind in overtime instead of the football.

Bill Belichick touts Texans – Mark Daniels – Daniels files his notebook this morning, which leads off with some comments from Belichick on what he feels is still a very good Texans team.

BOSTON GLOBE:

NOTEBOOK: Bill Belichick says Texans will be tough challenge - Michael Whitmer – Whitmer files his notebook this morning which leads off with the fact Belichick pointed out that despite losing nine straight, Houston has been close against some of the best teams.

Injuries have really hurt struggling Texans - Ben Volin – Volin takes a look at the Texans, who he writes unlike the Patriots haven’t been able to overcome the loss of core players.

Bill Belichick stuck to Patriots’ plan for Broncos – Ben Volin – Volin files his midweek report and writes that the Patriots offense resembled a basketball team in the second half of Sunday’s win over Denver.

Patriots hand off turkeys — without a fumble – Mark Shanahan and Meridith Goldstein – This is a good article on Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who was at the Goodwill headquarters with several players handing out turkeys on Tuesday.

ESPN BOSTON:

Patriots can’t afford to look past Texans - Field Yates – Yates writes that Belichick noted that Houston looks a lot like the same team that finished 12-4 last season and he expects a tough match-up this weekend.

WEEI:

Tough Enough: Patriots Have Found Right Mix of Mental, Physical Resilience – Christopher Price – Price writes that putting together a team with talent and mentally tough is difficult to do, but this year’s team seems to be the perfect mix.

Cole on M&M: Doubts about Manning persist - Conor Ryan – Ryan has comments from Yahoo! Sports columnist Jason Cole, who joined Mut & Merloni on Tuesday afternoon and after watching Manning, Cole has doubts about Manning’s cold weather, big game ability.

What History Tells Us About Bill Belichick and Fumble-Prone Running Backs – Christopher Price – Price looks back at some previous running backs who have played under Belichick and how he handled them.

MASSLIVE:

Grading the Patriots vs. Broncos: New England goes nickel to stop Peyton Manning – Nick Underhill – Underhill has his report card this week and looks at what the Patriots did to slow down Manning and the Broncos.

CSNNE:

Sizing up the AFC Playoff field – Rich Levine – Levine writes that the next time New England takes the field it will be December, and he ponders several different playoff scenarios.

WORCESTER TELEGRAM:

Patriots release Marcus Forston, Justin Green – The newspaper has a quick note on the release of Forston and Green, who were both let go by New England yesterday.

ATTLEBORO SUN CHRONICLE: 

Andruzzi Foundation to Tackle Cancer – The newspaper has an article this morning on an upcoming event by former Patriots offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi’s foundation on Monday December 2nd at the Putnam Club at Gillette Stadium.

Patriots right back in the complicated mix for No. 1 overall seed – Paul Kenyon – Kenyon takes a look at the playoff picture and whether or not New England can pull off the number one seed over the course of the remainder of the season.