Julian Edelman is Tom Brady's No. 1 receiver. The New England Patriots are 5-1. Pour these two statements together, mix in a breathtaking, game-winning throw, and suddenly folks are drunk on a narrative that positions this as one of Brady's most impressive seasons.
It isn't. Not yet anyhow.
Even accounting for all the changes around him, Brady has struggled much of this year. He's just not nearly as bad as traditional statistics suggest. His yards per attempt rank 30th out of 35, behind Chad Henne and Brandon Weeden. His completion percentage is 27th at 56.9, below Christian Ponder and Mike Glennon.
No one is suggesting Brady belongs in a group with those quarterbacks. Drops and inexperience from his receivers have badly hurt Brady's numbers. So have missed throws. Even the Brady supporters riding unicorns and show ponies have to admit his accuracy has come and gone more than usual this season.
The advanced metrics on FootballOutsiders, ProFootballFocus and ESPN's QBR rating all have Brady in the middle of the pack of starting quarterbacks this year. That sounds about right after watching him every week.
Brady has looked like himself more often lately. His game in Atlanta was Brady at his best, and his first half against the Saints wasn't far behind. His pocket presence isn't what it was early in his career, but that's when he rivaled anyone who's ever played.
Separating out an individual's performance in the ultimate team sport always will be tricky. But we can try. It's OK to admit that the Patriots are winning with defense, special teams and just enough timely throws. They won a couple of Super Bowls that way.
On to this week's quarterback rankings, which are based on 2013 performance alone.
Alone at the top
Even in his worst start of the season, Manning can put together a fun, if occasionally wobbly, highlight reel:
Notes: Brees had his worst completion percentage against New England since Week 1 of 2012. Yes, the defense has had a lot to do with the Patriots' fast start. ... Rivers jumps over Luck for the week after another performance filled with unremarkable third-and-7 completions that slowly bleed an opponent to death. Luck was hampered by drops.
Rodgers' performance against the Ravens reminded me of Brady's season. Rodgers had to rely too much on an untested receiver (Jarrett Boykin) and it hurt. There were a few wild throws and a lot of pressure. Late in the game, however, Rodgers made play after play to put the Ravens away. A scramble on a third-and-long set up his vertical strike to Jordy Nelson. A wild job buying time in the pocket set up a terrific throw to Jermichael Finley and more points. Rodgers has learned how to adapt.
The next level after that
6. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
7. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
8. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
9. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
10. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
11. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
12. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Marc Sessler said on our podcast Sunday night that Stafford's performance against his beloved Browns was one of the best games of Stafford's career. I was dubious after checking the stats; 5.8 yards per attempt is in the Gabbert Zone.
After cranking out some quality time with Game Rewind, I can't argue. The Lions dropped at least seven passes, some on beautiful Stafford throws. They are the most drop-prone team in the league. Stafford is quietly making the players around him better. Calvin Johnson wasn't himself, Nate Burleson is long gone and Ryan Broyles isn't ready. So Stafford is working with guys like Kris Durham, Joseph Fauria and Kevin Ogletree.
Stafford might always be imprecise with his accuracy, but his "wow play" to "oh no" ratio is much higher this year. (This is not a real stat. Do not look it up.) Stafford is going through his progressions and throwing in rhythm. He's moving better in the pocket and avoiding pressure. He's looking like a veteran. While some of the young quarterbacks have stagnated this season, Stafford is taking a step forward.
Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles: Don't overlook his performance in Tampa. Foles showed he could do a little bit of everything in perhaps Philadelphia's most impressive offensive outing of the season. The Eagles' offense did not dip at all without Michael Vick.
Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: It wasn't the toughest matchup in the world, but Glennon made a number of third down throws against Philadelphia that were impressive no matter the opponent. He wasn't Tampa's problem.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens: It's not all Flacco's fault. But defenses have consistently done a good job confusing the Ravens with blitz packages. Flacco is making more mental errors and getting a little jumpy in the pocket because of his protection.