Philadelphia, PA – (SportsNetwork.com) - Analytics are generally helpful when trying to break down professional sports but every once in a while you will come across a player who isn't defined by the statistics some have turned into a religion.
Tom Brady is that player in the NFL.
Citing a drop in "production" during the 2013 season, one prominent website, which is based solely on analytics, claimed the 37-year-old Brady was no longer among the NFL's top five quarterbacks.
Whether that was a look-at-me piece to generate traffic or a real opinion based on black-and-white data is inconsequential. The reaction to it around the league was virtually unanimous -- it was met with laughter.
When the Patriots arrived in Buffalo for the season opener last September Aaron Hernandez was in jail, Wes Welker had relocated to Denver, Danny Woodhead picked San Diego as his new home, Brandon Lloyd was picking up an unemployment check, and all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski was still sidelined after multiple surgeries on his forearm and back.
If you did the math surrounding that, here was the stark realization -- the recipients of 338 of New England's 402 total receptions from 2012 weren't available to Brady when he took the field against the Bills.
Admittedly Brady's raw numbers of 4,343 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2013 were a dip from his norm as he threw to the then- unproven Julian Edelman and the oft-injured Danny Amendola, along with rookies like Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins.
For most signal callers facing similar hurdles, however, those numbers may have generated MVP talk, especially when you consider the end game. When it was all said and done for Brady and Co. in 2013 the Pats were 12-4 and AFC East champs before losing in the conference championship game, the exact same result with all those proven commodities in 2012.
And we haven't even addressed a series of crippling injuries to the New England defense which robbed Bill Belichick of players like Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly.
The ultimate analytic is or at least should be wins and Brady piles up those better than just about anyone in the history of the game. The three-time Super bowl champ now has 148 regular-season wins as a starting QB, tied with Hall of Famer John Elway for third on the all-time list.
He also makes others better, the kind of trait which can't be measured by advanced statistics and is therefore dismissed as folly by those who worship solely at the altar of numbers.
Take Edelman, a player who is certainly never going to be mistaken for Randy Moss or Terrell Owens but finished last season with 105 receptions and 1,056 receiving yards to join Wes Welker and Troy Brown as the only Patriots players to reach 100 receptions in a season. If you are wondering his previous career highs were a pedestrian 37 catches for 359 yards.
This year look out for former Panther Brandon LaFell, a tall athletic receiver who could develop into a big target for Brady, especially on inside routes that can move the chains.
"I've really enjoyed being with him," Brady told reporters this week when asked about LaFell. "He's added a lot. He's got a real love for the game, and he does a great job out there getting open. He just keeps making more plays. It's really fun for a quarterback to see guys out there really working hard to make the improvements and then really do it, and hopefully it continues to carry over."
If you ever get a chance to watch "Tom Terrific" during 1-on-1 drills, you might think you are peering over the shoulder of a brilliant surgeon. Nearly every pass attempt is delivered with pinpoint accuracy and his touch with the football is almost unfair, forcing frustrated defenders to work blue and let the expletives fly as they lunge at passes just out of their reach.
"When we do things as well, when we don't make unforced errors, when we control what the New England Patriots can control, we can be a pretty good team," Brady said. "We just can't do things really that are unforced errors, things that the other team doesn't have to do anything to stop us, but we stop ourselves."
New England hit the Powerball 14 years ago and it continues to pay off all these years later.
That said the window is certainly closing in Foxboro because the one bout everyone loses and Brady will ultimately succumb to is the fight against "Father Time."
The Patriots haven't hoisted the Lombardi Trophy since 2005 but there is still a little bit of that precious time to take advantage of perhaps the best quarterback/coaching tandem in NFL history, and New England plans to take advantage of it.
"Everyone has been working hard. I think the competition has been at a high level," Brady said. "There are a lot of guys that are competing for spots. It always brings out the best in all of us when you see that and when guys dig deep. It's been a lot of fun to see."