Tom Brady Locks down MVP Award with Extraordinary Performance
Writing about Tom Brady’s excellence can get redundant. There are only so many ways to call him the greatest of all-time and marvel at his brilliance. But Brady’s performance Monday against the Baltimore Ravens was extraordinary even by his standards. It showed the Patriots can make a Super Bowl run without Rob Gronkowski and also locked down Brady’s place at the top of the MVP ballot—despite missing four games earlier this season due to deflated footballs.
The Patriots defeated the Ravens 30-23 on Monday Night Football in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate. Two Patriots fumbles on punt and kick returns within 14 seconds of each other essentially spotted the Ravens two touchdowns, allowing them to crawl back from a 16-point deficit. But then Brady connected with wide receiver Chris Hogan on a 79-yard bomb, and put the game out of reach. He completed 25-of-38 passes for 406 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
— NFL (@NFL) December 13, 2016
Heading into Monday, Brady had been a mediocre quarterback without Gronkowsi on the field. His passer rating was 83.2—nearly 14 points below his 97.1 career average. Since the Ravens have the best defense in the league, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that Brady would struggle. Baltimore, which defeated the Patriots in the AFC Championship four years ago, is also one of the few clubs that’s shown it can win at Gillette Stadium.
But after a lethargic start, it was apparent Brady was at the top of his game. He completed 8-of-10 passes on two consecutive touchdown drives in the first and second quarters, spreading the ball out to four different receivers. Besides the Hogan toss, Brady’s most impressive throw of the night was a six-yard touchdown pass to rookie wideout Malcolm Mitchell with 9:31 remaining in the first half. Faced with pressure on a 3rd-and-goal, Brady rifled the ball into Mitchell’s chest with pinpoint accuracy.
Perfect throw. Touchdown, #Patriots.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 13, 2016
It was Mitchell’s fourth touchdown catch in four weeks and further established his place in the Brady Circle of Trust. That’s no small feat for anybody, especially a rookie. The last quality wide receiver the Patriots developed was Deion Branch, and he was selected in the second-round of the 2002 NFL Draft.
If Brady is going to excel without Gronkowski, Mitchell must continue his ascension. Another key player is tight end Martellus Bennett, who bounced back with a strong outing after recording just six catches in the previous three weeks. Brady went 11-for-12 when he targeted Mitchell, Bennett, and running back James White. Another highlight of the night was White’s 61-yard reception in the second quarter, which happened after the 5-foot-10 back lined up as a wide receiver on the play and outran a Ravens linebacker. Even without Gronkowski, the Patriots found a way to create matchup problems.
Entering the playoffs with a limited Gronkowski or without him entirely is nothing new for the Patriots. They’ve done it in five of the last seven years—perhaps costing them multiple Super Bowls. But Monday showed this season can be different. The much-maligned defense made several big plays, including a Trey Flowers sack that should’ve been ruled a fumble, and Brady made his somewhat motley group of pass-catchers look like All-Pros.
In nine games this season, Brady is 8-1 while averaging 320 yards and 2.5 touchdowns per contest. He leads the league in passer-rating and has only thrown two picks. MVP voters can’t dock him for missing four weeks in September if he carries the Patriots through December and January.
Brady is the best player in football at 39 years old, and while Gronkowski spends the rest of the season recovering from back surgery, he may have to carry his biggest load yet. He’s up to the task.