The End Zone: Is Tom Brady Too Old For Professional Football?

“Oh god, Tom Brady, what are you doing?” That was the prevalent thought across most football fans minds – even the ones that loathe the New England Patriots with every fiber of their being – after Tom Brady fumbled his way through a disastrous game against the Kansas City Chiefs, playing arguably the worst game of his career. But one disastrous game can be written off – whereas the Patriots shaky offense all season might be cause for a bigger worry: is Tom Brady too old to keep playing at an elite quarterback level?

There’s no argument against the fact that Brady is one of the finest quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen. He’s taken the Pats to the Super Bowl five times, and won them three championships. He’s led the Patriots to more divisional titles than any other quarterback in NFL history, and he’s in the top ten of all NFL players for both passing yards and touchdown passes. But at the age of 37, Brady has now been in the league a long, long time, and the wear and tear of 14 seasons is starting to show.

As The Boston Globe discussed, despite three of the NFL’s best current starting quarterbacks being in their mid-30s (aside from Brady, Drew Brees is 35, Peyton Manning is 38), very few quarterbacks make it to their mid-30s and are still starting. Ruling out the injuries and those who were bumped for brighter, shinier young stars, and you’re still left with a slim number of quarterbacks who simply stay good enough to compete at the level necessary to bring home consistent wins. Around the age of 37, even if wins are still being accrued, performance starts to decline: passes aren’t thrown for as many yards, interception rates increase, feet start to look less steady in the pressure-filled pocket. While some players can buck these statistics even as they approach 37 – Dan Marino just got better towards the end of his career on the Dolphins, and it’s not unnoticed that Manning, who appeared in the Super Bowl last year, is having a great second wind leading the Broncos – for the most part, performance does tend to drop off, as it is for Brady.

But it’s not just Brady that’s falling apart – it’s the entire Patriots offensive line. The Patriots’ linesmen were outplayed by Kansas City, but they’ve been playing abysmally all season, and if you watch games closely, Brady is still throwing great passes even despite the additional pressure of defensive lines bearing down on him, when his offense can’t hold them off. His receivers are all but non-existent: tight end of choice, Rob Gronkowski isn’t back at full capacity yet, Danny Amendola has fallen from a must-start to a third-string choice at best, and Julian Edelman was a receiver pickup that no one else in the league wanted, who faces double coverage on nearly every play. The problem isn’t just in how well Brady can throw the ball – what does it matter, if no one is around to catch it?

This happens, though. Teams get old. Dynasties go through cycles, and Patriots fans knew when their legendary offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia retired at the end of last season, that things would get worse for the Patriots before they’d get better. At a time when their offense was already hurting from the loss of wide receiver Wes Welker in the 2013-2014 season in general (who would go on to help Peyton Manning carry the Broncos to last year’s Super Bowl against the Seahawks), the Patriots needed a steady hand, instead of something else to rock the boat, and with the loss of Welker, Scarnecchia, and the diminishing capacities of Brady’s age, they have a ways to go before they turn it around.

Can the Patriots turn it around? Sure – historically, they need to look no further than next door for inspiration. After a championship win filled ’80s, the Boston Celtics slipped in the ’90s, before slowly recircling their wagons in the 2000s to reestablish dominance as one of the preeminent basketball franchises in NBA league history. Their 2008 championship win cemented them in current NBA history as the winningest team in basketball. But will the Patriots turn it around with Tom Brady? That remains to be seen.

[Photo: Getty Images]

The End Zone, The Frisky’s new weekly football column by Beejoli Shah, is sponsored by Smirnoff Ice. Smirnoff Ice is not a sponsor of the NFL.