FOXBORO -- Forget questions about his shirtless jacket wardrobe at the Aerosmith concert on Commonwealth Ave. or what he's doing at home to get ready for a third child. Here's what I want to know: How good does Tom Brady have to be in the second half of the season to get the Patriots back to the Super Bowl and give them a chance to win a fourth Lombardi trophy?
The question has so many layers and yet is so simple.
Right now, entering Week 10 of the NFL season, Brady is considered to be a step behind Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and arch-rival Peyton Manning in the MVP race. There are those who would even put Houston defensive lineman J.J. Watt ahead of him.
There are those who would say no unit on any team has been more valuable than the Bears defense. Just ask any opposing quarterback not named Aaron Rodgers and anyone who owns the Bears defense-special teams unit in fantasy, and they’ll tell you they are the collective MVPs so far.
After all, any defense that can make Jay Cutler look that good has to have something special going for it, right?
OK, enough of the cheap shots. I digress.
The Patriots don't need another MVP season from their quarterback. If we've learned anything from the last six seasons, MVPs and 50-point games mean nothing. Brady doesn't need another MVP. He needs his team to play well around him. He understands he shoulders a huge load if the team is going anywhere. But there’s a fine line between doing your job and overcompensating.
In the NFL, what Brady really aims for is “complementary” football. It’s when special teams and defense make big plays so the offense isn’t trying to do it all.
It was complementary football that kicked off the dynasty in 2001. Go back to the AFC championship. Brady injured his ankle and Drew Bledsoe came in and steered the ship. The biggest plays came on special teams as Troy Brown took a punt return to the house for a touchdown and the defense picked off Kordell Stewart with the game on the line.
In the Super Bowl, Brady returned but it was the defense that put him in position to win as Ty Law took a pass to the house for a pick-6 that set the tempo and allowed Brady to simply manage the game.
Brady was clutch but not dominant or overpowering in the passing game like he is now. He didn’t need to be. He didn’t have the weapons he does now. That’s not how the team was built back then.
It was just last year, as the Patriots were dancing in the confetti on the Gillette Stadium turf after beating the Ravens in the AFC championship, Brady had to “apologize” to the celebrating crowd and Robert Kraft for his dismal performance. But it didn’t matter. The Patriots played complementary football that day and went to the Super Bowl.
On Wednesday, Brady reminded everyone just how important complementary football will be going forward if the Pats are to travel on the path to New Orleans in February.
“No question, I think that you have to play well in all phases, especially against teams that are playing well on a particular day,” Brady said. “You don’t have many games where the other team just plays terrible and you play not your best game and you still win.
“I think as the season gets going, you realize there’s less margin for error and every game is more important and then you try to play better each week. Hopefully we’re playing better now than we did at the beginning of the year, but we’ve got to go out there and do it. I said that yesterday, but it is about going out there and proving it.”
What has Brady proved in the first half? Beyond being the quarterback of a 5-3 team that has played inconsistently at times, he has put up numbers that compare favorably with the best seasons of his career. He’s thrown 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He’s completed 65.4 percent of his passes and thrown for 2,408 yards and a quarterback rating of 100.6. His rating and completion percentage are better than his career average.
“I’d like to play better over the second half and there is always room for improvement,” Brady said. “There are certain areas where I need to improve and it’s been really a point of emphasis, so we’re going to try to do those things.”
“I think he can improve a lot,” added Bill Belichick, the only head coach Brady has known in the NFL. “He works hard at it every day, every day there are things that we talk to him about for that week or from the previous practice or whatever it is. He’s always very anxious to hear them; he has a lot of his own ideas, he has things that he feels like he or we can do. I think there’s always room for improvement for all of us.
“He’s been doing them pretty consistently here for a while. He’s been pretty consistent."
Told that his numbers in the first half are outstanding -- MVP-worthy even -- Belichick reminded us this week what’s really at stake.
“Yeah, but there are things we can all do better,” said the coach. “We’re 5-3 so there are things we can all do better.”
Brady’s on pace for 32 touchdowns, which would be fourth best in his career, behind just 2007 (50), 2011 (39) and 2010 (36).
But Brady and Belichick know full well none of those seasons ended with a Vince Lombardi trophy in Foxboro.
The most important takeaway from all of this is what we’ve known for a while. Tom Brady doesn’t have to be an NFL MVP. Those are for great regular season stats.
Let Matt Ryan get the Falcons to a perfect 16-0. Let Aaron Rodgers fire up the cheeseheads, using the bogus touchdown in Seattle as inspiration for a run to the NFC title game. Let Jay Cutler be the beneficiary of the NFL’s most fearsome defense. And let Peyton Manning rediscover his brilliance that will lead to another playoff run in Denver, ending in another postseason loss at Gillette Stadium.
The man who’s about to become a father for a third time is done with individual honors and achievements.
For his legacy, Brady needs to get his team back to the biggest game and play mistake-free football. That should be good enough to win a fourth Super Bowl and that’s all the Patriots and their fans really want out of their future Hall of Fame quarterback.
No MVP award. No 5,000-yard season. No need to light up scoreboards like video games.
All Brady needs to do is keep himself healthy, be there for Gisele, and get the Patriots playing complementary football in the second half. History has taught us how Lombardi trophies are collected in Foxboro.
We head to the Trags Bag to get a feeling from Patriots fans on whether Tom Brady is a legitimate MVP candidate and what they're expecting from No. 12 in the second half of the season.
@Farmstrong27 I love Tom Brady, but how is he an MVP candidate?
@gX5 I've watched every game so far, and the eyeball test tells me that Brady isn't the MVP.
@AlessandraBruzi As a Pats fan, I think Matt Ryan should be MVP.
@teala He should be getting MVP consideration but no one is paying attention to him. People were pumping Manning as a candidate and Brady has been better than him. 1. Matt Ryan 2. J.J. Watt 3 and 4. Brady/Rodgers.
@ThatPatsGirl I have a feeling Peyton will win the MVP this year... Brady & Matt Ryan have been decent this season as well. He's def a candidate.
@KCBRUIN As a Pats' fan I'd have to go Peyton for MVP.