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In the third quarter on Monday night, I texted my Patriots fan buddy Matt, “Is it possible that we suck? Maybe the run is finally over.” Bill Barnwell mused on this, and Aaron Schatz also wrote about it. It was hard not to think that, given the way the Patriots were manhandled by a mediocre team playing without several key players. It looked every bit as bad as the 41-14 score and maybe worse.

I remember the last time I wondered if the Pats were done. In a 34-14 loss to the Browns in 2010, the Patriots looked pretty impotent. In that game, as in the Chiefs one, the Pats had just under 300 yards of offense. Peyton Hillis ran over the Patriots. Of course, that wasn’t the end. Maybe this time is different, though. If anything the Chiefs game was even worse, so it’s possible this time really is the end.1

Will the Patriots offense be good later this year? To provide a little insight into this, I went back and looked at performance trends for quarterbacks who have had long careers. The first table looks at quarterbacks since 1969 who have the biggest single-season drops in adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A) from the previous five year trend. I look just at quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts in a season and I weight by the number of attempts when calculating the average ANY/A over the previous five years.

QuarterbackYearTeamAgeAttemptsANY/AANY/A Prev 5 yearsChg in ANY/A
Bob Lee1974ATL281720.065.21-5.15
Steve Grogan1988NWE351401.76.23-4.53
Dan Pastorini1981RAM32152-0.124.12-4.24
Bill Kenney1988KAN331141.715.74-4.03
Erik Kramer1999SDG351412.145.76-3.62
Joe Namath1976NYJ332301.224.84-3.62
Mark Rypien1993WAS313193.166.63-3.47
Bubby Brister1995NYJ331701.745.17-3.43
Boomer Esiason1992CIN312782.76.09-3.39
Mike Tomczak1995PIT331132.015.31-3.3
Joe Theismann1985WAS363012.665.74-3.08
Trent Dilfer2007SFO352192.375.33-2.96
Jake Delhomme2009CAR343213.426.28-2.86
Matt Hasselbeck2008SEA332093.286.13-2.85
Erik Kramer1996CHI321503.36.06-2.76
Wade Wilson1991MIN321223.025.78-2.76
Ty Detmer2001DET341512.715.45-2.74
Scott Mitchell2000CIN321872.885.59-2.71
Randall Cunningham1995PHI321212.695.34-2.65
Aaron Brooks2006OAK301922.895.48-2.59
Mike Tomczak1990CHI281042.495.05-2.56
Daunte Culpepper2005MIN282163.956.5-2.55
Daunte Culpepper2008DET311153.886.4-2.52
Matt Schaub2013HOU323584.537-2.47
Jeff Garcia2005DET351733.876.32-2.45
Archie Manning19822TM331322.524.94-2.42
Ken Anderson1978CIN293193.425.83-2.41
Daunte Culpepper2009DET321573.676.05-2.38
Jeff Hostetler1997WAS361443.235.57-2.34
Vince Ferragamo1985BUF312872.875.2-2.33
Trent Green2006KAN361984.286.61-2.33
Chris Chandler2003CHI381923.375.66-2.29
Ken Stabler1978OAK334063.545.83-2.29
Jim Hart1979STL353783.265.52-2.26
Jeff Kemp19912TM322953.395.64-2.25
Bobby Hebert1994ATL341033.425.67-2.25
Marc Bulger2007STL303784.026.27-2.25
Joe Namath1975NYJ323263.045.27-2.23
Troy Aikman2000DAL342623.826.04-2.22
Jake Delhomme2010CLE351493.545.74-2.2
Rich Gannon1993WAS281252.574.76-2.19
Fran Tarkenton1977MIN372583.765.94-2.18
Turk Schonert1986ATL291543.125.29-2.17
John Hadl1975GNB353532.544.7-2.16
Jim Everett1993RAM302743.936.04-2.11
Dan Fouts1986SDG354304.856.96-2.11
Roman Gabriel1974PHI343383.355.45-2.1
Cody Carlson1994HOU311323.075.16-2.09
Eli Manning2013NYG325514.556.63-2.08
Steve Bartkowski1986RAM341263.475.52-2.05
Joe Namath1977SDG302113.315.36-2.05
Steve DeBerg1992TAM381253.945.98-2.04

Other than incredible near-zero ANY/A for Bob Lee and Dan Pastorini, one thing that jumps out is the infrequency with which great quarterbacks appear on the list. Joe Namath is the Hall of Famer who ranks highest. His age 32 and 33 seasons were huge drop-offs from his previous performance trend, as Chase has described before while focusing on his early career success. Further down the list, we find should-be HOFer Ken Anderson, deserving-of-consideration Trent Green, Dan Fouts, Troy Aikman, and Fran Tarkenton.

The relative lack of HOF-worthy QBs is a little surprising since they have further to fall by virtue of starting so high. Of course, Brady isn’t actually a likely candidate for this list, since his fall in ANY/A started in 2012. He fell to 6.13 last year and is at the very pedestrian 5.00 this year. To get a handle on quarterbacks who have a more gradual fall, here’s a list of quarterbacks who fell by at least two ANY/A over a previous five year high in any season at least two after the previous high.

QuarterbackYearLast YearPeak YrTeamAgeAttemptsANY/AHighest ANY/ADiff
Steve Grogan198819901987NWE351401.76.43-4.73
Joe Namath197619771974NYJ332301.225.67-4.45
Boomer Esiason199219971990CIN312782.76.76-4.06
Erik Kramer199919991996SDG351412.146.06-3.92
Craig Morton197619821974NYG332842.665.73-3.07
Chris Chandler200320041999CHI381923.376.41-3.04
Scott Mitchell200020011997CIN321872.885.83-2.95
Gus Frerotte200720082005STL361673.125.99-2.87
Daunte Culpepper200920092005DET321573.676.5-2.83
Aaron Brooks200620062005OAK301922.895.7-2.81
Vinny Testaverde200520072000NYJ421063.66.39-2.79
Vince Ferragamo198519861983BUF312872.875.64-2.77
Troy Aikman200020001996DAL342623.826.58-2.76
Jeff Kemp1991199119882TM322953.396.15-2.76
Jake Delhomme201020112009CLE351493.546.28-2.74
Jeff Hostetler199719971994WAS361443.235.94-2.71
John Hadl197619771974HOU361132.274.96-2.69
Joe Namath197519771974NYJ323263.045.67-2.63
Boomer Esiason199519971990NYJ343894.146.76-2.62
Daunte Culpepper200820092005DET311153.886.5-2.62
Jim Hart197919841977STL353783.265.82-2.56
Matt Schaub201320132012HOU323584.537.02-2.49
Joe Namath197719771974RAM341073.25.67-2.47
Ken Stabler197819841977OAK334063.545.98-2.44
John Hadl197519771974GNB353532.544.96-2.42
Dan Marino199919991988MIA383694.917.28-2.37
Bobby Hebert199419961993ATL341033.425.78-2.36
Ken Stabler198319841977NOR383113.645.98-2.34
Vinny Testaverde200720072000CAR441724.076.39-2.32
Steve Bartkowski198619861985RAM341263.475.73-2.26
Jim Everett199319971991RAM302743.936.18-2.25
Mark Brunell200420112001WAS342373.816.03-2.22
Steve McNair200720072004BAL342054.116.32-2.21
Chris Chandler200220041999CHI371614.236.41-2.18
Ken Stabler198119841977HOU362853.835.98-2.15
Dan Fouts198719871986SDG363644.816.96-2.15
Fran Tarkenton197819781977MIN385723.85.94-2.14
Joe Ferguson198419901983BUF343442.935.05-2.12
Brett Favre200520101999GNB366074.456.56-2.11
Daunte Culpepper200620092005MIA291344.416.5-2.09
Jay Schroeder199219941991RAI312533.675.74-2.07
Brian Sipe198219831981CLE331853.375.43-2.06
Tom Brady201320142012NWE366286.138.19-2.06
Steve Grogan198919901987NWE362614.46.43-2.03

Note that Brady’s fall from a high of 8.19 ANY/A over a five-year period to 6.13 last year already appears on the list. His fall to 5.00 ANY/A this year would rank fifth. It is unlikely that he will stay there, but his fall to 6.13 ANY/A last year was already unlikely. Note that this list has some additional great quarterbacks on it in Dan Marino and Brett Favre, too. I don’t know that either of them are all that instructive for Brady, though. Marino’s best five year run ended in his age 26 season, Favre’s in his age 29 season. Brady’s best run ended in his age 34 season.

The main takeaway is that there is not much historical precedent for a quarterback of Brady’s late-career success having a drop in performance as big as we are seeing. It happened to Fouts2 and maybe Tarkenton if you want to count him in that class.3 There is also not a lot of historical precedent for a quarterback having Brady’s kind of late career success. The limited evidence we do have suggests it’s unlikely Brady will continue under to post numbers even nearly so poor.

One Interesting Play for Brady

There was a play in the second quarter that Barnwell referenced that also got me thinking, but for different reasons. Barnwell already made a gif out of it. Watching it initially, I thought Brady should have run for the first down. Watching it from that angle, though, I wondered whether Brady in an earlier year might even have bypassed the throw to Edelman and gone downfield to LaFell.

LaFell starts the play in the slot and I think he’s just running a corner to clear out some traffic. As Brady steps up, though, the safety cheats and it looks to me like he could throw LaFell open to the inside down the field. This may not have worked. LaFell was turned to the outside and he may not be on the same page with Brady enough. But it is a play that Brady has made in the past. He isn’t making these kinds of plays now. Part of it is the line, part of it is Brady, and part of it may be that lack of like-mindedness that he shared with limited players like Deion Branch.

A Few Thoughts on Jack Tatum and Football Violence

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how I actually find it easier to watch football than I used to because the gratuitous violence, particularly to the head, has decreased dramatically. A few additional thoughts:

  • I appreciate a good, clean hit. To me, a clean hit means a hit on someone who has some clue that it’s coming and an ability to defend himself. It is possible that my preference for speed and strategy as a football fan comes from my own relative strengths as an athlete and otherwise. Someone with hitting experience may have a different perspective.
  • When I wrote the initial post, I tried to figure out whether NFL Films had edited the tape of the Tatum hit on Sammy White in recent years. In the original Super Bowl highlights film, I could have sworn that they replayed the hit three or four times with the Raider theme in the background and John Facenda saying something like the hit was “a symbol of Raider intimidation.”4 That piece does not appear in the video now. I did not feel as clearly in the past that Tatum’s hit was unacceptable as I do now, but I think I was just wrong in the past. Sure, that hit is intimidating. Using your helmet to nail someone who has no idea you’re coming will always be intimidating. Not a lot of courage in it, though.
  • What Tatum did to Darryl Stingley (in a preseason game, no less) is indefensible. Yes, it was legal. It shouldn’t have been. And it is important to make a distinction between what’s legally OK and what’s morally right. Tatum’s hit on Stingley was immoral. What George Atkinson did to Lynn Swann in this picture was also immoral.
Atkinson hits Swann

Away from the play, he whales a guy in the head who has no idea it’s coming, and knocks him out. It is infinitely weird that anybody ever celebrated this as symbolizing toughness. As Swann said at the time, it was basically “a criminal act.”5

All of this revisiting the bad stuff past is meant to point out the improvements. By getting rid of this kind of stuff, what happens on the field is considerably more moral now than it used to be.

The Stone-Cold (I Think There May Be a 60% Chance This Bet Will Win) Mega-Lock of the Week

Everybody who plays poker takes bad beats, those times when you have a 90% chance to win when the money goes in and the 10% chance comes in. The more excruciating thing about having football bets is watching them unfold over the course of three hours and those excruciating fourth quarter moments.

Last week’s Steelers-Buccaneers game was one of those very tough ones. I need the Steelers to win by more than one point to seal my tease. The Steelers dominated most of the game after falling behind early. Antonio Brown dropped a deep pass in the fourth that would have sealed it, and Ben Roethlisberger missed him on another a few plays later.

Then, Pittsburgh has the ball under two minutes and the announcers are coming close to saying the game is over. But the time is just right for them to get another chance. As the Steelers line up to punt with about fifty seconds left, I’m saying to myself, “Just get a 40-yard net and we’re good.” And, of course, Brad Wing boots it 28 yards.6 All the stats still favor the Steelers there, but none of it can overrule the sinking feeling in your gut after that punt.

So I lost. Again. Sweet fancy Moses. I beginning to think writing about bets is the best way to jinx your bets, but I still offer my bet of the week:

Two-team teaser: Seahawks down to -1.5 and Chargers down to -1

I am more worried about the Jets end of this bet.7 Philip Rivers has struggled against the Jets the two times he’s played them in the Rex Ryan era. He had a 47.8 QBR in the 2009-10 playoffs and a 30.9 QBR in the 2011 regular season. The one time he’s looked bad in 2014 was when Arizona repeatedly brought double A-gap blitzes, and you might expect Ryan to do a fair bit of that on Sunday.

Season record: 1-3

  1. And those Pats were 6-1 at the time of the loss to the Browns. []
  2. Fouts even kept most of his weapons intact, but suffered through injuries in 1986. []
  3. Some evidence from Chase that we should count him in that class []
  4. To be clear, I love NFL Films. They are a huge part of why I love football. []
  5. Thinking about another physical sport, those Tatum hits and that Atkinson hit and others they doled out symbolized toughness about as much as this hit that Dale Hunter sucker punch on Pierre Turgeon. []
  6. I’m no punting expert, but watching him kick that ball was actually pretty odd. As he made contact, I remember thinking it looked like he was going to fall over backwards and to the right as if he’d been recoiling as in Newman’s recollection of the spitting incident with Keith Hernandez. []
  7. Chase note: No, you don’t get to pick against the Jets and then argue that they might win. []
  • Kibbles

    Wait, why would anyone not include Fran Tarkenton in that class, even without Chase’s context?

    • One thing about writing blog posts is that I am going to be wrong, and I think I am here. I am just totally and completely wrong. I should have checked the stats a little more closely and I’d forgotten some of the evidence from Chase’s posts. I was writing a little quickly and didn’t era adjust sufficiently for his ANY/A. He ranked in the top five in seven seasons. His ANY/A aren’t quite as impressive as Brady and Fouts, but still they’re not as far off as I was thinking.

      Anyway, Chase added that note and so now my wrong point has a correct footnote. Far from the first time he’s fixed a mistake of mine.

  • Ty

    A majority of the first list has a bunch of washed up QBs, with the exception of 1995 Cunningham, 1978 Ken Anderson, and 1993 Rich Gannon. That isn’t a good list to be on.

    I recall Brady saying he wanted to play into his mid-40s a couple of years ago, and the way he was playing (at the time), while I didn’t think he would play that far, playing into his early 40s wasn’t that farfetched (players like Favre and Moon had success at 40, and Brady is better than both). Right now, even though it isn’t all on Brady, this is the 2nd consecutive year that he hasn’t played to his former standards. With an even worse deep ball from years past, the defense can compact within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. I think Brady can have a revival, sort of like Favre did in his last year in GB or first year in MN, but it might not be in New England (unless they do a 180 on the offense).

    • Gronk being a little slower also helps defenses compact the field. Those seams and corners have been maybe the Pats best way to stretch the field when he’s healthy.

  • The Marion Campbell nut must point out: Bob Lee in 1974 still had an ANY/A 1.71 higher than Kim McQuilken. Seriously.

    Wow that Brady play has some impressively bad blocking. I keep wondering if the Scarnecchia retirement has a second problem: I remember a few different people who knew offensive lines and/or the Broncos talking about McDaniels having this unusual offensive line scheme that he was trying to install that they universally described as beautiful, nigh-unbeatable, and probably impossible to use because it required all of the linemen to make the same reads together and follow an extremely complex and specific type of footwork. The line in Denver was a mess under McDaniels. I keep wondering if, without Scarnecchia, he’s trying to install the same (or a similar) scheme and that’s creating some of the problems.

    • Wow, you do love Marion Campbell. And wow on Kim McQuilken, too. -1.36 career ANY/A on over 250 attempts. The worst QB ever: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?p=545.

      That’s a great thought about the line problems. If that’s right, it would be even more important to avoid turnover on the line, so the Mankins trade would be even more questionable.

      • I do have a reputation to uphold, and Kim McQuilken should always be mentioned when possible. Even if it weren’t for his insanely bad numbers, his name was McQuilken!

        I actually could see such a schematic change being a justification for the Mankins trade–perhaps Mankins was insisting on doing what Scarnecchia taught him and ignoring McDaniels, couldn’t handle the changes in footwork required, or something similar? If that were the case, though, I would expect that story to come out one way or another.

  • I do not know if you have ever made a post about this topic, but I would be interested to know what are the best NFL teams to fire their head coach. I suspect that the 2002 49ers are among the best NFL teams ever to fire their head coach.

    • Greg

      C Bolton, the 2006 14-2 Chargers fired their coach.

      • I consider each playoff game equivalent of at least 4-8 regular season games. The 2002 49ers won a playoff game, and the 2006 Chargers lost their only playoff game.

    • Richie

      I suspect that the 2002 49ers are among the best NFL teams ever to fire their head coach.

      How about the 1996 49ers? 12-4 with a playoff win.

      • From what I recall, the 49ers did not fire Seifert. I believe Seifert resigned after they wanted to hire Mariucci as an offensive coordinator. After Seifert resigned, Mariucci was made head coach and not assistant coach.

        • Richie

          Hard to tell what really happened there. But I don’t think the 49ers really wanted to keep him. I found 2 articles that say Seifert was essentially forced out.

          This one says the 49ers didn’t give him a contract extension, so he would have been a lame duck in 1998: http://articles.latimes.com/1997-01-16/sports/sp-19241_1_head-coach

          This one just says he was forced out: http://articles.philly.com/1997-01-16/sports/25560213_1_coaches-ray-rhodes-senior-bowl

          I have no idea what the truth is. Though, I guess technically, he did resign.

          • They pursued Mariucci in a way that made it look like they wanted Mariucci to be their future head coach. Sometimes, teams hire an assistant coach who they believe would make a good head coach after they have more experience as an assistant coach. Seifert wanted to get it over with, and let the 49ers have the head coach who they really want.

  • Chase Stuart

    Good post as always, Andrew. Subjectively, I think Brady does have a hard time bouncing back this year. Most of that is due to age and the supporting cast, because I actually don’t think Brady has played all that badly. But he’s more inconsistent than he used to be, and his deep ball accuracy is 0. He can probably still be very, very effective in the right circumstances, but those don’t exist in NE. This doesn’t mean he’ll have a 5.00 ANY/A this year, but I could see him finally finishing below average in ANY/A after flirting with that line in 2013.

  • Richie

    There is also not a lot of historical precedent for a quarterback having Brady’s kind of late career success. The limited evidence we do have suggests it’s unlikely Brady will continue under to post numbers even nearly so poor.

    How did you come to that conclusion? You said Brady doesn’t have much historical predecessors. So what leads you to believe it’s unlikely he would continue to fall? (I’m not saying you are right or wrong – just wondering how you got from A to Z.)

    • jack sprat

      Umm…JG, but the Bell Curve seems a good and sufficient reason.

    • Andrew Healy

      Meant to respond way back when. I think I might have been looking at Ken Anderson and Brett Favre as examples of guys who bounced back (so thinking that the great players come back more often). Also seemed like they were holding back Gronkowski and unlikely to stay that bad on the line, but that’s separate from the historical stuff.

  • MrGJG

    So what happened? I mean did Brady bounce back? Don’t leave us hanging.

    • Andrew Healy

      Yes, I guess that prediction worked out OK. His ANY/A certainly bounced back just a bit.